Knock It Stiff

When To Go for It, When To Play It Safe

Check out these two photos. On the left, I’m playing the ball well back in my stance, and my hands are ahead of the ball. This closes the clubface and decreases my club’s loft, not only making the ball go lower, but also adding more spin. It’s the kind of shot that better players like to hit because it largely decreases headwinds, and with the increased spin, makes it easier to control the ball when it lands on the green.

In the photo at right, I’m playing the ball more forward. This adds loft to the club and allows me to hit the ball higher with less spin. Be careful—with reduced spin, golf balls tend to hop on firm greens, and are more susceptible to the wind, either shortening or lengthening your shot distance, depending on which way it blows.

The fastest (and cheapest) way to improve your game is to play the right ball. Too often, higher- handicappers buy balls that the Tour pros play, when, in reality, they should play a two-piece “distance” ball.

First, be honest and assess your strengths and weaknesses as a player. Figure out where you need help. Do you need it off the tee or around the green? Both? I bet, if you’re a higher-handicapper, you need to increase your distance by a good 10-20 yards and can’t consistently control your approach shots and how much spin you generate around the greens. In that case, up your distance so you have a shorter club on your approach shot. Next, buy a sleeve and see how these new balls feel when you putt. If you can add a few yards to your game and feel confident rolling this new “rock,” then I’d say you’ve found your ball.

If you find yourself unable to make a risk-free shot, then get out of trouble first. Chances are it’ll help you avoid making a big number.

Take a look at the photos on this page. To hit a medium-length sand shot as I’m doing here, take the club away on a slightly more inside path than normal. Getting your club started on an inside path (and staying on an inside path into and through the downswing) will ensure that you make a shallower swing path and ball-first contact. (Typical bunker shots, where you hit the sand first, travel on a steeper path.)

It’s tempting to hit toward the flag on every approach shot. That’s why superintendents take great joy in placing them in dangerous locations, like just over a water hazard, or, as you see here, just beyond a bunker and a water hazard!

When you see flags “tucked” like this, take a moment to reconsider what your target should really be. Just because the flag is there, doesn’t mean you should hit toward it.

Here you can see that I’m aiming to the left of the flag, where a strip of grass divides the two bunkers. Not only does that help me psychologically (it’s always easier to hit over grass than a hazard), it also guards against dumping it in the bunker if I’m a little short. I’ll land in grass and not be faced with a really challenging bunker shot.


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