Target Golf

Shots that will help you better navigate target-style golf courses

Troon North Golf Club Scottsdale, Arizona

In today's golf climate, it seems everyone is fixated on distance. Whether it's off a tee with a driver or from the fairway with a wood or an iron, we've become obsessed with hitting the ball farther and not so much on hitting more fairways and greens. That's not always a good thing, especially if you play golf on target-style layouts like the one you see here at my home club, Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Here, distance helps, but as you can see, there isn't much room for shots that veer too far offline. The course is designed more as a series of targets to land the ball on, not so much a course where the fairway unrolls all to the green.

Let's take a look at a handful of shots that not only will help you better navigate target-style golf courses, but will make you a more accurate player no matter where you choose to play.


BALL FORWARD Playing target-style golf doesn't always mean you have to scale back on distance. In fact, sometimes hitting the ball higher not only makes you more accurate, it can help you hit the ball farther, as well. To launch the ball higher so it lands more softly and with less roll, set up with the ball a little more forward in your stance. This will help you hit up on the ball for a higher launch. Also, widen your stance. This will keep you from hitting the ball too much over your left side and, again, get the ball launched higher in the air.

ADD MORE TILT! Don't get me wrong, there are some instances where lessening your shoulder tilt can help you. But come time to launch some big bombs high into the air, it's best to hit the ball with some added shoulder tilt. By that, I mean lowering the right shoulder. Now, before you go do this on your own, notice how I'm adding tilt not by artificially raising my left shoulder, but by tilting more from the base of my spine and adding tilt without adjusting my shoulders. The last thing you want to do is fake some extra shoulder tilt by raising the left shoulder and keeping your core relatively vertical. To do it right, add tilt to your shoulders by bending to the right with the lower spine, not the shoulders or neck.

Lay a club across your shoulders and add tilt from tilting at the hip, not by raising your left shoulder.

Another great way to hit the ball higher is to hit the ball more toward the top of the clubface. The top region, once dubbed "the hot spot," is where the clubface deflects, loft is added and spin is reduced, all at the same time. You may lose some ball speed here, but the net effect of less spin and a higher launch sometimes can lead to more distance than you would have had hitting it dead-center in the driver's sweet spot.

So consider adding some height to your tee, and it's okay to hit the ball more toward the top of the face. If you hit lower on the clubface, generally this means you'll create more backspin, which despite what you may think, actually can cause your drives to fly more errantly. The simple reason is, all shots have backspin, and when you hit a slice or hook, that slice-spin and hook-spin is actually backspin on a tilt. So unless you hit the ball dead-straight all the time, adding backspin actually can make your slices and hooks bigger. When in doubt, opt for less spin for more accuracy off the tee with a driver and make contact higher on the clubface. CONFICENCE!

LET 'ER RIP! Are you the type of player who hits straight drives on wide-open courses, but struggles with accuracy on tighter, narrow courses? Odds are, you make faster, more confident swings when there's less danger to contend with, and you punish more fairways when the course is free and wide. If this sounds like you, play every hole as though it's wide open! Don't tense up and worry because there's trouble left or right. A constricted swing is usually an out-of-sync swing that rarely hits the ball straight. Instead, swing aggressively and imagine a huge fairway. You'll find that a confident swing is more accurate than a swing where you're trying to steer the golf ball.


LOW + SLOW The best way to get more accurate with your woods and hybrids is to focus more on centeredness of contact. One of the more common problems I see with these clubs is, many golfers feel they need to lift the club up with their hands and hit down on the ball–again, with the hands. And while a slight angle of descent is preferred with your woods and a steeper angle is better with your hybrids, you don't want to get too steep that you end up chopping down on the golf ball and hitting it fat, thin or who knows what.

Think of having a "low and slow" takeaway to ensure you don't get too steep and run into trouble.

Set up wide and ready to take the club back low to the ground, at least for the first quarter of the golf swing. As you can see, my wrists haven't even begun to hinge, indicating I've done a great job at staying "low and slow." I'm hinging my wrists here, but it's nowhere near fully hinged. A good key to remember is, once the hands reach waist-high, the shaft should be parallel to the ground. Don't completely ignore the hinge. Just save it for later in the swing! You've already made a long, wide backswing, so all that's left is to be patient at the top and let the swing uncoil.

MOVE THROUGH IT! The swing doesn't end at impact! If you want to make more solid contact, the body must continue to work, even after you make contact with the ball. How so? Well, the swing is a series of connected events. And sometimes, where you are after impact indicates how well you were positioned at impact. So is the case when you use your body to get the clubhead on the ball, not your hands. If you get "flippy," as you can see by the above photo, you'll look like this through the shot. This isn't good.

DON'T SLOUCH If you're like most of us (even me!), your posture is frequently overlooked. Unfortunately, for many, we tend to get too comfortable over the ball, and usually when we get more comfy, it means we start slouching and arching the back. This is deadly if you want to start hitting consistent golf shots! Once you slouch, you make it difficult to hit shots from an athletic position. Instead, stand up straight! Keep the back straight (not rigid, just straight), the knees flexed slightly, and try to retain your posture through your swing.

By the way, at impact, the spine doesn't look the same as it does at setup. The reason is, at impact we aren't just leaning forward, we're leaning to the side. Nonetheless, there should still be some tilt of the spine toward the ball.

LOFT UP YOUR IRONS! Do you need to add some extra loft to your irons? Maybe hit 'em a little higher, or perhaps you need to hit to a target that falls in between the distances you usually hit with a certain couple clubs. There's a simple solution that I like to do come time to hit it higher, and/or mitigate those in-between yardages.

Before you assume it's a complicated change in the golf swing, I'm here to tell you it's the easiest change you've ever made. The simple fix is to stand a little taller and reduce some (not all!) of the forward shaft lean you have at setup. Reducing some of that lean will add loft to the iron, helping you hit it higher into the air. The ball won't travel as far because you're hitting it higher with less compression, but sometimes higher and straighter is better than farther and lower. Just move that shaft back or forward, depending on what trajectory you want.

USE YOUR PALMS! Another great way to control your irons is to consider adopting a grip that's more in the palms and less in the fingers. I know, most teachers tell you to get your handle more in the fingers and less in the palms, but in the case of hitting more controlled, straighter irons, sometimes holding the club more in the palm actually can help you hit the ball more accurately. You won't hit it higher, but you can control the ball more this way.

Just don't overdo it. As you can see in the comparison photos, my finger grip is predominantly in the fingers, and my "palm grip" is still in the fingers, too, but it hugs the pad of my palm a little more. Doing this will slow the hands down, helping you hit more controlled, and sometimes softer, iron shots.

TOE UP! This is another tip that seems to defy conventional teaching, but again, it's a tip for hitting the ball with your irons with less distance and sometimes a higher ballflight on target-style layouts.

Above, you can see I'm in the ideal position about one-quarter of the way into my backswing. The toe of the club is facing toward the ball, and I haven't under- or overrotated my wrists too much in the early part of my backswing. This is usually where I want my hands to be with my irons, and it's where I produce strong, penetrating iron shots.

But sometimes long, penetrating iron shots aren't what I want. Occasionally, I need to hit high, soft iron shots that fly a little shorter and higher, and land more softly. To do just that, I work on getting the toe of the clubhead to point more toward the sky (at the same position in the backswing). Doing this means I've fanned my clubface open relative to the path on which it's traveling, which again, is okay since I want to hit a higher, less powerful iron shot.

Try this for yourself on the practice green and see what a difference these two positions make in your golf swing. Sometimes, a toe-up backswing will help you hit more greens without having to swing easier with low-loft irons or swing harder with higher-lofted ones.

STIFF THE HIGH LOB! The high lob is a must-know shot out here at Troon North, just as it is on many target-style layouts. Hitting this shot isn't as hard as many people make it out to be, as long as you do it from the right place. For starters, unless your last name is Mickelson, hitting a high lob off a tightly mown fairway is a real challenge, so don't even try! But from some fluffy rough, it's a viable alternative for when you need to get the ball up and down with limited forward roll.

The first thing you should do is open the clubface. By that, I mean open the clubface before you grip the club. Don't twist the hands and open the club that way. Instead, let go, turn the face, then regrip it with the face open. At setup, get the hands behind the ball and lean the shaft slightly away from the target. This will add more loft. Play the ball in the front of your stance and be ready to accelerate through the golf ball.

As you swing the club back, allow the hands to engage and hinge, unhinge and rehinge after contact with the golf ball. Don't worry about your body at this point, since the high lob is a very handsy motion to begin with.

GET HANDSY! That's right, the high lob is a handsy shot, but what you probably don't know is, it's a wristy shot. That is, the right way to hit a high lob is to, again, let the hands hinge, unhinge and hinge again, only without the normal rotation of the wrists. As you can see, the high flop finish still has the gloved hand on top versus the standard finish with the ungloved hand on top.

Doug Hammer, PGA, is the director of instruction at Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information, visit

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