Nobody considered Darren Clarke a legitimate threat to win the 2011 Open Championship. Sure, the affable Northern Irishman had won something called the Iberdrola Open in May to break a three-year drought. But the consensus was that Clarke’s best days were in the past.
Of course, Clarke proved the doubters wrong with a stirring three-shot victory at Royal St. George’s. At 5-under-par, he was one of only four players to finish in red numbers for the week in blustery conditions on the English coast.
It may have come from out of the blue, but Clarke’s triumph was no fluke. His mastery of the knock-down, aka the punch shot, gave Clarke a clear edge on the field.
What it looks like: The classic knock-down is a low, penetrating bullet that minimizes the wind’s effect, especially when hit into a headwind. Any time you see a pro make a very short finish, he’s probably playing a knock-down.
While the shot comes more naturally to golfers who grow up, as Clarke did, playing windswept Irish links, there’s plenty of technique involved.
Clarke is a big guy at about 6’3”, 200 pounds (at least), but his swing is very compact. He turns around his core with minimal hand and wrist movement, displaying an abbreviated backswing and follow-through. At impact, Clarke’s shoulders are nearly level, whereas most golfers’ left shoulder is higher than the right. Clarke’s position keeps the shaft leaning toward the target and traps the ball against the turf with a de-lofted clubface – the key to drilling low, powerful shots.
How you can do it: The basic steps are the same as a standard knock-down, with a couple extra points of emphasis. First, the setup:
- Grip down an inch or more on the club.
- Play the ball in the center of your stance.
- Place slightly more weight on your left (lead) foot than your right.
- Press the hands forward to lean the shaft toward the target.
Now for the swing:
- Take the club back to a three-quarter position, but don’t make a big weight shift onto your right leg.
- Focus on keeping your head centered over the ball.
- As you swing into impact, try to maintain level shoulders, with the hands ahead of the clubhead.
- Mirror your three-quarter backswing on the follow-through.
One final thought: The old adage, “When it’s breezy, swing easy,” applies to Clarke’s knock-down technique just like any other. Take an extra club or two, make a smooth swing and the ball will fly lower than with a 100-percent swing using less club – every single time.