Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shaping Shots

When you face a tight fairway, do you visualize your shot off of the tee?  Do you see a draw or a fade?  Do you use one side of the tee box or the other?  Or, do you simply aim, hit and hope?  When you understand your swing and your tendencies, it is great if you can put those tendencies to work for you.  The way that you do that is to use the entire fairway through the use of course and game management.

We will start off talking about management today, but we will end it with a nuts and bolts discussion on shaping shots.  The first question is, what does your normal drive from the tee look like?  Do you draw or fade the ball?  Does it fly high or low?  If you miss the shot, which direction does it go?  If you have a handle on these answers, you can start to use course management to help you get your ball into position to score.

Let's say you hit a high fade.  In order to use the entire fairway, you will probably tee up toward the right side of the tee box.  (If you are left handed, please turn everything around).  Next, you will want to choose a spot on the left side of the fairway to start the ball and that will be your aim point.  In your pre-shot routine, you need to visualize the ball starting at your aim point, fading gently and landing in the middle of the fairway.  Without a clear picture or intention of what you want the ball to do, you have little hope of producing the necessary shot.  If you overcook the shot and it cuts too much, you will have the entire fairway in which to work the ball.  If you hit the dreaded straight shot, your aim point was on the left side of the fairway and you will be hitting your second shot from short grass. On a tight fairway, you have just doubled the amount of space with which you can work.  This is an important part of game management and one that is second nature to most professionals. 

When I asked if you hit it high or low, it was to help you determine club choice.  If you always pull a driver on the tee box, you might be missing some yardage that a 3 wood could add to your game.  On uphill driving holes, carry is more important than carry + roll.  Generally, your 3 wood will carry a bit further because of the trajectory of the shot.  Drivers fly lower, hit the ground sooner and generally rely on some roll for maximum distance.  When hitting uphill, the lower trajectory of a driver will eat up yardage, because the landing angle is into the hill.  Your 3 wood will have a steeper landing angle and little roll, but the carry should be further.  This is also an important factor when you face a course with hilly landing areas.  If you want a big kick off the hill, sometimes a 3 wood's landing angle will give it more kick, while a driver produces trajectory that often seems to hug the hill.

So, the question I hear so often is, how do I work the ball?  This is really important for the development of your game, because when you understand ball flight and how it relates to your game, you may be able to make adjustments to help yourself make the same mistakes over and over.  Professional athletes often make mistakes, but their reaction to them is to make an adjustment.  Mistakes allow for learning.  As amateurs, the lack of knowledge of what causes mistakes make them scary and causes them to linger.

We learned from yesterday's D Plane discussion that spin is caused by the difference between where the face aims at impact and the direction the club is moving.  We also learned that angle of attack has a big effect on the direction the club is moving.  Using this knowledge, you will need to control the face of the club and understand your path.

Let's talk about tee shots first.  As we said yesterday, the driver is contacting the ball on the upswing, unless you stack and tilt and we don't want to go there today.  In order to offset the fact that the club is moving left, you will need to set up a bit closed to your target line.  If you want to hit a draw that works back to the target, you need to aim to the right and have a club face that is also aimed to the right, but not as much.  If you set up to hit a push with a club face that is closed to the target line, the ball will hook too much.

When it is time to draw your irons, you can set up square to your target line and probably pretty square with your club face as well.  Your swing will catch the ball on the down swing while the club is moving right and the relationship between your path and the club face will dictate the spin on the ball.  If the club is moving right and the face is square, you will naturally draw the shot.  If you cast and open the face of the club or if your angle of attack is too steep, this simple logic won't work for you.

If you want to hit a high cut off the tee, you would be in good company.  I would guess that over half the pros on the PGA Tour hit a high cut.  This ball flight is thought to take away distance, but that is a misnomer.  It does carry as far as a draw, but distance lost will be in roll after the ball hits.  This makes a cut easier to control.  The reason it is easier to control is that when it hits the ground, it is usually spinning back and will not run too much.  A draw spin is over spin and will run in the direction the ball is heading.  Of course, if you are hitting into a left to right wind or a landing area that slopes to the right, you will find your fade will roll a lot, so it is best to understand how to control the spin and so you can control how much outside elements effect your ball flight.  A high cut would need to start left of your target and the face of the club would need to also aim left, but not as much.  Remember, your swing path will cause the ball to work away naturally and an open face will put fade spin on it.  This is a very easy and natural shot to hit off of the tee.  If you get too open with your aim or add loft at impact, you will find a shot that slices.  Are you a slicer?  If so, you might go against your instincts and see what squaring up does for you.

Controlling the face of the club is the key to shaping shots.  That sounds easy, but is one of those "secrets" of golf.  One of the first things I do when I teach people to control their club face is to relate the face to the back of the left hand or the watch face on their left forearm.  When they understand this concept, I ask them to exaggerate the motion and feel as though their watch points at the ground at impact.  You can overdo any lesson in golf, but I rarely see people overdoing it with the rotation of their left arm.  The majority of people hit the ball and everything stops.  The tour pros catch the ball in the middle of their swings and their hands work all the way through the finish.  

Here are four pictures of Hogan.  It seems like the back of his left hand is always perfect in pictures and relates clearly to his club face.  I read his book, Five Lessons when I was in high school and was learning the game.  His explanation of the back of the left hand relating to the club face sticks with me today, 35 years later.

If you want to draw the ball and your watch face on the left arm continues to face the target after impact, you have no chance.  Remember, you are swinging the club on an arc, so your hands need to work left with rotation.  Your watch face should face the camera in the back swing, the target at impact and behind your left hip after impact.  Stand up now and make that movement with your left arm only.  Did you feel the rotation?  Now do it again and picture your club face as you move through the swing.  That is how the hands work for a draw, but what about a fade?  Actually, not too much changes.  In your follow through, instead of having your watch look at a spot behind your left hip, it will now face behind you about chest height.  Adjustments in how much your hands release are quite small.  Address the ball with your grip holding a six iron.  Without swinging, turn the back of your left hand to the ground.  Did you see the club face close?  Now start at square again and tilt the back of your left hand slightly up to the sky.  Watch that club face open.  Those two moves are what it takes to hit a draw or a fade.  Your task is to figure out how to do it while swinging the club.
Sorry about the quality of this picture.  Here you can see the high finish and the flying left elbow used to create a fade.

This is a great place to start.  Some people do it by changing their grip.  For a hook, your hands will be stronger or move to the right.  For a slice, your hands will be weaker or move to the left.  Some people do it by thinking about the shape of their swing.  Finishing low and flat will get the back of your left hand to the ground, while a high finish with a bit of a flying left elbow will create a high fade.  Some people are so good at visualization that they simply see the shot they want to hit and their hands make it happen.  Everyone works the ball differently.  It if fun to experiment and see how you most easily work the ball.  I like to see a lot of movement at first, so really get the ball hooking and slicing.  Then when you can do those things at will, start to see what it takes to hit controlled hooks and draws.

If you have questions about hitting hooks and slices, fades and draws, drop me a line at  Being able to hit shots makes it easier to adjust after mistakes and when you start to do it, you will take over control of your game.  If you want to continue to do research along with me, (hint hint young pros) here is a great site:

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