SI Vault
Mike Perpich
February 18, 2002
Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal won the Buick Invitational because he did what J.L. Lewis couldn't: stiff a wedge on the final hole
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February 18, 2002

Big Play

Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal won the Buick Invitational because he did what J.L. Lewis couldn't: stiff a wedge on the final hole

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Olaz�bal did what you'd expect of a player who learned the game at Seve Ballesteros's knee: On Sunday, on the par-5 18th, he hit a perfect 94-yard wedge (above), his ball flying low, landing 10 feet past the flag-stick and sucking back down the slope for a tap-in birdie. That moved him to 13 under and tied for the lead with J.L. Lewis. A half-hour later Lewis arrived at 18, still at 13 under. He did what you'd expect from a 41-year-old journeyman who's never finished better than 66th on the money list. "I choked," was Lewis's blunt assessment. He blasted his layup through the fairway, leaving a delicate 72-yard wedge from the rough, and with a tentative swing he flew the shot 40 feet past the flag.

Lewis's failure to control his distance might not have mattered had he not missed five putts of 15 feet or less on the back nine on Sunday, including the deciding eight-footer for par at 18. Lewis, perennially one of the Tour's worst putters, switched to a longer-shafted belly-button model last fall in search of a cure, but it hasn't helped. Belly-button putters are supposed to take the arms and hands out of the stroke, allowing the player to swing solely with the shoulders. On Sunday, Lewis was too twitchy, using his hands and arms instead of his shoulders, with calamitous results.

Olaz�bal does with his wedges what Lewis needs to do with his putter: He uses his pivot, or shoulder turn, as the foundation of his swing, instead of his arms and hands. Olaz�bal's action also sustains superb width, which he has been fine-tuning with Butch Harmon for a year. "You have to go backward to improve, and that's what I did," says Olaz�bal. Width is the distance from the tip of your left shoulder—if you're right-handed—to the point where your left wrist hinges (picture 3, below). Proper width allows your arm to act like a spoke on a wheel, helping to generate power and control.

I love Torrey Pines's new 18th hole. The renovations transformed it from a cream-puff eagle opportunity into a true three-shotter that rewards brains as much as brawn. Golf's longest hitters, John Daly and Tiger Woods, were in contention on Sunday, but both hit errant drives on 18 and couldn't get home in two. Lewis and Olaz�bal also laid up, and the man who hit the best wedge went home with the trophy.