It is time once again to get into technique and one of the most important skills if you want to be a great player. Can you control your trajectory? This is a question I ask when I teach players. If a player says yes to this question, I know that player will have a good chance to also control her distance.
When you play golf, you control two factors with every shot you hit; distance and direction. If you could choose to be great at one or the other, most 15 handicaps would choose direction, while pros would choose distance. When it is time to win tournaments, you will need to control both.
Why is trajectory control crucial to distance control? Trajectory control will allow you to land the ball where you want it to land. If you carry a high 7 iron 160 yards, you will usually carry a knocked down 7 iron 5-10 yards less. The words "knocking down" a shot is simply another way of saying you are changing the trajectory and producing a lower shot. To accomplish this, you will need to have more shaft lean at impact.
Shaft lean is dictated by where your hands are when you contact the ball. Here is a sequence of Ashley Knoll hitting wedges.
This swing is a wedge with quite a bit of shaft lean producing a lower shot trajectory. If the shot is hit with the same amount of energy as a regular wedge, it will generally land sooner, probably taking 5 yards or so off of the shot.
When you hit a full, high 7 iron 160 yards, what do you do when you are faced with a 155 yard shot? You can shorten your swing, grip down on the golf club or swing a bit smoother. All of these are viable options, but if you can knock the shot down successfully, you can use your regular tempo and not let off of the shot.
Trajectory control is important for other reasons. Playing in the wind is the most obvious example. If you are able to keep the ball low and keep back spin off of the ball, you will be a good wind player. In my years of coaching, I have always been amazed at how little effect the wind has on a solid ball striker who can control her hands. This brings up the next point of spin. As I said above, if you can keep back spin off of your ball, you will be a better wind player. Full, high shots will usually have back spin when they hit the green. You can put a lot of spin on a knock down by not only keeping your hands ahead of the club head, but controlling the face also. If you hold the face through the shot, the ball will have back spin, but if you release the toe of the club through the shot, the ball will have little spin and probably release when it hits the green. When you master that, you can move to an active release allowing the toe of the club to pass the heel of the club at impact and create a shot that will roll out. When you watch players who grow up playing windy, links courses, you will see this shot used easily.
So, how do you start? Next time you are on the golf range, see how low you can hit your wedge. You will need firm hands that are ahead of the ball at impact. You will also need soft arms that allow you to control the club through impact. If you try to accomplish this with locked elbows, you will hit it low and you will hit it left. Soft elbows and a great turn through to the target will keep the shot online. When you get the hang of it, take it out to the golf course and see if you can create different distances with the same tempo by simply keeping your hands ahead of the shot. Good luck and have fun with controlling your trajectory!