THE KEY TO HITTING the golf ball a long way is to generate significant clubhead speed and make solid contact. If you're hitting the ball in the center of the clubface and maximizing your power sources, then it's time you add some variety to your shot shapes and conquer some of the different situations you may find yourself in.
FADE IT LIKE FREDDY
Fred Couples isn't just one of the game's best-loved golfers, he's also one of its biggest hitters. Even now, at 51, he bombs it an average of 295.7 yards off the tee.
How does he do it? Well, Freddy might look like he's swinging smooth and slow, but in reality, all his easygoing relaxation helps him eliminate tension so he can swing the club incredibly fast at just the right time–in the impact zone just before and after impact.
Although Freddy can draw the ball, the shot he's famous for is the power fade. His fade gives him the best chance of keeping the ball in play while still smashing it. To hit the Fred Couples Fade, set up with your body lines aiming left like you see in the above left photo. This setup position promotes making a big turn and then coming into the ball from the inside. This is key. When many of us think fade, we think of an outside-to-inside swing path. But Freddy drops his club to the inside on the downswing and hits the ball hard from the inside, all the while making sure he releases and keeps the clubface from turning over through impact.
LAUNCH IT HIGH, BUST IT LOW
Power can be applied to all shot shapes. Consider the setups you see me in here. In the photo above, I'm setting up to launch my drive high. In the photo below, I'm setting up to bust it low. Let's walk through them both.
To hit it high and launch your golf ball, tee the ball high and just inside your left foot, angle your shoulders away from the target and place about 60% of your weight on your right foot. This lean-back setup creates the perfect conditions for you to hit the ball on a slightly ascending angle so you catch the ball on the top of your club's face. When you're playing a shot downwind or are playing a soft golf course, a higher trajectory will help you maximize your distance. Learn to launch it high and you'll see huge dividends.
On the other hand, if you're playing a shot into the wind or the golf course is firm, a lower-trajectory shot might give you the best chance to maximize your distance. To sting it low, tee the ball down and set up so it's a little farther back in your stance. Distribute your weight more on the left side, which will help your shoulders feel more level at address. Throughout the swing, try to keep your weight on the left side. This helps the club swing more downward into impact, and your ball will launch on a lower angle than normal.
Here are two photos that illustrate two very different impact positions. Obviously the one on the left isn't good. In fact, it's bad–very bad!
The most obvious error is that my hands are well behind the ball, and I've stayed on my right side. My weight hasn't transferred forward at all. While it's obvious that my impact position is incorrect, you'd be surprised how frequently I see golfers look like this. Why? Because they either don't trust or don't know that by hitting down on the ball, they'll get it airborne. They feel the need to lift the ball or help it up in the air. What happens instead is that they hit up on it, around the ball's equator (or even higher) and hit thin shots or just flat out top it.
To sustain your line of compression, I want you to look more like the photo at right. Notice how my hands are ahead of the ball and my weight has shifted to my left side? These two factors tell me that I've hit down on the ball. I've compressed the ball, and my solid contact will produce the proper trajectory and control. Also, from a power standpoint, the good impact position brings the clubface into the ball with the correct amount of loft, while a player who throws the club at the ball is effectively adding loft to his club at impact, turning 6-irons into 7-irons and so on. And more loft equals less distance! A good way to practice this is to make rehearsal swings where you focus on using your body to swing the club through impact to a full finish as opposed to using your hands to flip the club at the ball. Your hands, or the grip end of your club, should beat the clubhead to the ball. This is sustaining the line of compression!
PUNCH OUT? NO WAY!
If you've ever found yourself in a situation like the one I'm in here–behind a tree, with the green about 140 yards away–you know that you've got a couple options. Option 1 is to play it safe–be smart and punch it out. And although you may have to do this on occasion, it eliminates the chance to have an easy two-putt par, and quite frankly, it isn't any fun.
The other, more daring and more powerful option is to blast a shot over the tree and onto the green. If you can pull that off, you'll improve your chances of making par. Hey, you might even make a birdie.
Here's how to do it: Before you even consider trying to pull off a shot like this, you have to have a decent lie, and there has to be a window for you to hit the ball through or, in this case, over.
Fortunately I have both. In fact, it's a little bit of a flier, where the ball is sitting up and there's a little grass between my club and the ball. If you have that, then address the ball as you see here, so it's in the middle of your stance and your hands are about even with your belt buckle. If they're too far ahead (or if the ball is too far back in your stance), it's impossible to hit it high. Then make a balanced, powerful, full swing.
The key to this shot is to pick a club that has enough loft to get the ball over the tree so you can swing down and into the ball. You can't try to help this ball up in the air. If you do, you'll probably catch it thin, which will produce a lower ballflight. A confident swing through impact will launch it over the tree, so it hopefully lands on the green.
THE HIGH DRAW, THE POWER FADE AND THE NEUTRAL SETUP
Golf instruction can sometimes get too complicated. When it comes to shaping your shots, all you really have to do is follow a few key setup fundamentals that you see me demonstrating here.
To hit a high draw, first strengthen your grip. That is, your hands should rotate to your right a little bit to promote a release where the club will turn over through impact. Also, close your stance a bit. Aiming your body down the right side of the hole promotes a swing that will come a little more from the inside. Combining this with a good release of the club should start the ball along your body line and then draw back to the middle of the fairway.
To hit a power fade, rotate your hands to the left a little, weakening your grip. (Just because it's a weak grip doesn't mean you'll hit a weak shot. It just means, by turning your hands a little to the left, your hands and wrists will release the club in a manner that will keep the clubface slightly open at impact.) Aim your body down the left side of the hole (an open stance). This promotes a swing path that travels more left at impact. This gets the ball started down the left side. Your release position should help the ball curve back to the center of the fairway, a perfect power fade!
IN THICK ROUGH? STEEPEN YOUR ANGLE OF ATTACK
To escape gnarly rough, you have to approach the ball from a steep angle. Consider the photos you see here. In the first photo, my angle of approach is shallow, and the club is coming from the inside. Typically, this is a pretty good thing, but in thick rough, a club coming from the inside is liable to catch a great deal of grass before impact. If this occurs, the grass will tend to turn the club over so there's very little effective loft at impact. Plus the thick grass will slow down the clubhead speed. No speed and no loft is a bad idea when trying to escape from the hay.
Instead, you want to swing your club on a steeper angle of approach, so the club can avoid most of the tall grass. Make sure to take a club with plenty of loft, place a little more weight on your left side at address and make a conscious effort to swing the club from high to low. By doing this, I not only limit the amount of interference between the clubhead and my ball, but my steeper angle of attack makes it easier for me to hit down and launch the ball out.
Sometimes you just get stymied. Here, I've got a tall ponderosa pine tree between the green and me. I could knock it up the right-hand side, but I'll still be in the rough, or I could pitch it out straight left, but then I'd still have a good 175 yards to the green. Instead, I'm going to take a risk and hit a quick, powerful rope hook around the tree so I can reach the green.
Here's how I do it: First, I aim the clubface where I want the ball to end up. Next, I aim my body lines toward where I want the ball to start. Then I swing along my body lines–not in the clubface's direction! Just before impact, I make sure I release the club aggressively through the shot and try to finish with the clubhead swinging left and closed. It's the easiest, fastest way to hit a snap hook, and with a powerful swing, you'll be amazed at how quickly it whips right around that tree.
We've all hit a shot that feels really good at impact, only to look up to see that it has traveled well left of the target. It probably also went a long way because a pull is a very powerful shot. With that in mind, why not use it to your advantage. That's right, pull it on purpose!
To purposefully hit a powerful pull, set up with your body aiming down the right side of the hole in a closed position. This promotes a backswing that travels inside and to the top of your swing.
The trick to hitting a controlled pull happens in the downswing. From the top of your swing, come over the top a little as you turn your chest through the shot. This starts the ball left of your body lines. Make sure to release the club through impact and swing all the way to a full finish. The ball should come out on a little lower than normal trajectory with maybe just a touch of movement based on your release conditions. By shifting your weight forward through the shot, your whole body should be moving through the shot which should help maximize your power.
Steve Dahlby, PGA, is the director of instruction at Forest Highlands Golf Club. He has taught numerous Tour players.