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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Are the Keys to DJ's Chipping? (Video)

With all the Golf Channel coverage from the US Open, many of you may have missed this little piece from ESPN's Sport Science. Host John Brenkus tested Dustin Johnson's chipping prowess with a carnival-style game gallery, complete with scientific measurements of his performance.

A few interesting facts about DJ's technique may be of help to you:
  • DJ says there is no conscious difference between a 10-yard chip and a 20-yard chip. When Brenkus explains how DJ adjusts his swing to chip the ball farther, you'll note that DJ doesn't try to speed up his swing in any way. He changes the distance purely by lengthening his swing, which he learns through repetition. And given that his swing speed increases by a mere 1mph to chip the ball an extra five yards, you can see why.
  • When DJ tries to pick off the ducks -- demonstrating trajectory control -- note that he doesn't try to manipulate the clubface to lower his trajectory. Rather, he changes his club and lets the loft of the club create the lower ball flight. He doesn't change his hand action, which is part of the reason he's so consistent with his ball contact and ball flight.
  • With the fishbowl test -- demonstrating distance control -- Brenkus says that he has to "calibrate the necessary launch conditions." This isn't explained (shame on you, John!) but given how DJ keeps checking the face of his club, I'd guess that he's going through a process he would normally use around the green. (The leading edge of the wedge can't possibly be digging into the artificial turf.) Why would he keep checking the face? If it's digging in, then the ball is too far back in his stance.
  • As for the dunk tank... forget about that "half-a-millimeter margin of error" stuff. As DJ hints at early on, you can't consciously control things that accurately. Under normal circumstances out on the course, you wouldn't need to be that accurate anyway. The thing to note here is that DJ's trajectory continues to be consistent, which means he's not trying to manipulate the club. DJ has a very quiet technique; he's letting the club do the work.
All-in-all, it's a very impressive demonstration of why Dustin Johnson continues to put up good numbers, even when his game seems to be a bit off. And given all the chipping areas around the greens at Erin Hills, it helps you understand why DJ will be a favorite to defend his title this week.



  2. Good commentary as usual, Mike. So do you think DJ just uses gravity to allow his club to swing through into the ball? I was also trying to determine if he was more or less wristy in his swing -- couldn't really tell. What think you?

    1. When Dr. David Williams did his original studies on the golf swing of Bobby Jones (published in The Science of the Golf Swing, 1969), he used computer analysis of the Jones swing to measure what Jones did when he hit the ball. The particular video he used (from 1930 -- I believe I've posted that video at least once, because it's on YouTube) showed Jones hitting the ball 250-260 yards. He measured Jones's hands and arms dropping at about 34 ft/sec². That's only 2 ft/sec² faster than gravity... but it IS faster. So I think DJ HAS to be doing the same thing.

      If you look at the slo-mo chip shot that starts around the :49 second point -- the one where they label the extra 9° of travel -- you can see that DJ's not using his wrists when he sets them at the change of direction, which is when it would be most noticeable if a player was deliberately making a wristy stroke. But it does look like he uses them a bit right at impact, so the bounce of the club hits the ground.

      And it looks like he's using his wrists even more as he nears impact when he does the fishbowl challenge.

      I don't know that either wrist motion is conscious, though. They appear to be very gradual movements that happen naturally. So I'd say he's NOT trying to use his wrists, but he's okay if they move a little. That's what I would expect from a player with a more relaxed grip on the club.

  3. although YTD he's T-57 in scrambling inside 10 yards (essentially chipping)