The game of golf is full of excuses. Whether it’s an excuse for a bad shot, a bad pair of slacks or the dreaded excuse for a late or missed tee time, golf is littered with blame. Rarely, however, does a golfer blame himself or herself for a poorly hit shot. It could have been a distraction, a bad lie, a miscalculated yardage or my favorite—an unexpected 40 mph gust of wind. In any case, and despite the plethora of excuses for what seems like everything in golf, if you want to get better at actually playing golf, you must check your ego at the door.
Flubbed Bunker Shots
What you see on the PGA Tour doesn’t work for everyone. Often, golfers exaggerate what they see on TV and open the clubface too much at address. Also, the camera plays tricks on the eye. It may look like players are aiming wide left, but in actuality, they’re aiming just slightly left. The truth is, the more you open the clubface, the smaller your window becomes for a successful result.
Use a stronger grip and move with your hands slightly ahead of the ball. Set up so the ball is in the center of your stance and aim your body slightly to the left. Do the same with the clubface in the opposite direction. The key is instead of exaggerating an open clubface, open it slightly to the right—just about as much as the body is to the left. (The left rod is my body line, and the middle rod is the direction of the clubface; my intended target is between the two.) As you swing, do so along your body line (left rod) and concentrate on hitting two inches behind the ball. The bounce of the sand wedge will determine how much sand you’ll catch between the ball and clubface, so remember to hold the face slightly open through impact and accelerate through the ball. Don’t scoop—let the club do the work.
Golfers often err by flipping the hands over through the sand, usually resulting in a poorly hit bunker shot. Instead, trust your ability and the design of your sand wedge. The bounce is designed to allow for just the right amount of sand to lift the ball, but to take advantage of it, you have to hit down on the sand! I know, it seems counterintuitive to have to hit down and hard on the sand to lift the ball high and softly. But in the bunker, that’s how to get it done.
Equipfix: Bounce Angles
By Ryan Noll
When was the last time you considered the bounce angle of your wedges? Truth is, there’s a lot more to low, mid and high bounce angles than meets the eye. Bounce angle refers to the slope from the rear of the sole to the front, with respect to a flat surface and a vertical shaft angle. Typically, if you’re a player who tends to hit fat wedge shots or if you have trouble getting the ball out from the bunker, a high-bounce wedge model will work far better for you than a low- or mid-bounce wedge. Reason being, more bounce means just that! The club will resist digging into the turf or sand and effectively “bounce” off the surface for a crisper shot due to the lower rear end of the sole and the higher leading edge.
Conversely, if you’re a player who plays golf on very firm conditions or if you struggle more with thin shots and/or if you’re an advanced player, a low-bounce sand wedge will likely produce better results. Low-bounce wedges have less angle between the rear and front of the sole, thus they’re beneficial for players seeking a more descending angle of attack.
For the undetermined, there’s always the mid-level bounce angles that prove to be versatile options for all skill levels and all playing conditions. To help decide which wedge may be best for you, don’t miss the 2007 Golf Equipment Buyer’s Guide, with a full round-up of today’s hottest wedges and the technology that drives golf’s most intricate scoring club.
Topped Fairway Woods
There’s more than a few ways to top a fairway wood shot, but the most common fault is the result of what I call a “missed radius.” The radius is the straight line formed by the left arm and clubshaft. When this radius isn’t fully extended at impact, the body will lead the arms into a late-hitting position, and unless you’re Tiger Woods, the average player can’t release his or her arms fast enough to make solid contact.
To fix a broken radius, stop listening to what TV commentators have to say! While the ideal downswing features considerable lag for a whip-through effect at impact, the average player doesn’t swing fast enough to garner such an effect. Instead of holding the angle formed by the arms and clubshaft through the downswing, the means to eliminating the missed radius fault is to release the hands and arms earlier than usual. This will prevent the topped shot and help golfers with average to slow swing speeds make better contact.
To make a full extension through impact, imagine casting a fishing line toward the ground as soon as your hands reach hip high on the downswing. Use a weaker grip as well.
Pulled Iron Shots
A pulled shot is often the result of how golfers approach the ball. Typically, the shoulders face way left of the target at address (to the right for southpaws), the ball is too far forward, and weight tends to reside too much on the forward foot at address. The result is an outside-to-inside swing path, a deep divot and a shut clubface.
Fixing the pull is as simple as altering the setup. Begin with a stance parallel to the target, with the hips and shoulders aligned perpendicular to the clubshaft. Maintain a ball position toward the middle region of the stance. As you swing, allow the arms to lead the backswing inside the target line. On the downswing, allow the body to turn and concentrate on keeping the right elbow tucked in through impact.
The key to eliminating the pulled iron shot is to remember to swing from the inside of the target line to outside the target line. Try and trace this inside-out swing path on both the backswing and downswing in slow motion a few times, until you’re in the right position at impact. As you can see at left, my hips have already cleared, and the arrow indicates I’ve swung from the inside of the target line to outside the line. From here, allow the club to release and square through impact as you turn toward the target.
Equipfix: Lie Detector
By Mike Chwasky
If you’ve ever purchased a pair of slacks off the rack, you know that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. In fact, if you want your clothes to look and feel right, it’s important to employ a decent tailor once in a while to nip here and tuck there. The same thing can be said for golf clubs, particularly if you don’t fit into the “average” category of height and build. Of course, nobody really fits into this group, not exactly anyway, so basically all golfers need to consider fitting their clubs to both their body and swing.
One of the most critical aspects of clubfitting in regard to iron play is lie angle (the angle formed between the hosel of the club and the ground). This angle, as the name suggests, refers to the way in which the sole of the club lies on the ground in the address position. This is called the static lie angle. The dynamic lie angle refers to how the sole of the club meets the ground during the swing, which in reality, is what really matters.
If the dynamic lie angle of an iron is too upright, meaning the toe of the club is higher than the heel through impact, the heel of the club will meet the turf first and twist the club closed. The result is pulls and hooks. In contrast, if the lie angle of an iron is too flat, meaning the heel of the club is higher than the toe through impact, the toe of the club will meet the turf first, opening the clubface and causing pushes and slices. A properly fit lie angle will cause the sole of the club to meet the ground flush, creating shallow, rectangular divots.
Golfers who struggle with distance control usually err because they just don’t know what clubs work best for certain shots. Sure, we’d all love to chip like Phil Mickelson or Jim Furyk, but their one-club-for-all system isn’t ideal for the average player.
Change the club, not the swing! Whether chipping with a 5-iron, pitching wedge or even a fairway wood, using the same stroke is a quick means for developing consistency around the greens. First, address the ball with the ball centered or slightly back (it’s better to err too far back than too far forward), hands pressed slightly forward and weight evenly distributed over both feet. Swing the club back with little to no wrist cock and accelerate through the ball. The key is to experiment with a variety of clubs and see how far and how much roll each provides. Taking guesswork out of the swing is a lot more effective than taking the guesswork out of choosing the right club.
Try chipping in the same manner as you putt. Use your putting grip, stance and the same pre-shot routine. With practice, you’ll develop a more consistent stroke, and for varying shots, all you have to do is change your club. Just take the time to practice and get a feel for distance and roll with all your odd-numbered clubs, from your 5-iron up through your sand wedge.
Equiptip: Get A Grip
By Mike Chwasky
Grips are oft-overlooked golf club components that can and do have a significant effect on club performance. After all, the grip is the golfer’s only physical connection to the club, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If a grip is too big, for example, it can significantly impede the ability to release the clubhead, which can cause slicing and a lack of power. At the same time, grips that are too small often tend to promote more hand action through the swing and a tendency to release the club too soon, causing hooks and generally poor contact. To avoid these problems, check in with your local golf professional or trusty repair shop at least once a year, and replace your grips with new ones that fit both your hands and your sense of feel.
Fat And Thin Iron Shots
Although fat and thin shots produce very different results, they tend to be caused by the same fault—a swing that’s routed too much from the inside out. And while a swing that moves from inside the target line to outside the target line is desirable, if it’s overdone, you’ll have difficulty hitting solid shots. The best means to fixing the thin and fat shots is a matter of making adjustments to the setup and paying careful attention to not taking the club back too much to the inside on the takeaway.
Make sure the ball is centered or even slightly forward. Your weight should be positioned evenly over both feet. As you initiate the backswing, remember to take the club back along the target line and not to the inside of the target line. Let the upper body trigger the backswing and once the club reaches knee high, allow the body to begin turning away. As you reach the top of your backswing, the key is to be sure you allow your arms to initiate the downswing as your body begins turning toward the target. If your arms are late and your body is turning before your hands have time to drop, you’ll get “stuck” behind the ball and come too much from the inside, hence the fat or thinned shot to the right. Concentrate on getting your arms down and your hips cleared in that order on the downswing and you’ll start seeing quick results.
Stay connected. In a great golf swing, very few parts of the body function independently; rather, the golf swing requires a series of movements that happen simultaneously. Although I’m suggesting an arms-first backswing and arms-first downswing, the reality is both movements are triggers that initiate the beginning of a series of chain reactions for the body to follow.
The flubbed pitch shot is often the result of two things: 1) a ball positioned too far forward; or 2) a decelerating downswing. When the ball is too far forward, the club bottoms out behind the ball on the downswing, resulting in a fat, powerless shot. With a decelerating blow, the body outraces the hands and the downswing becomes excessively steep.
On the backswing, the shoulders and arms should turn away at the same time, as opposed to letting the arms get out ahead of the body. Most importantly, one must remember that the length of the backswing and forwardswing should mirror each other. However far you take the club back should determine the length of your swing postimpact. The difference? The downswing always should be faster than the backswing. Also, keep your weight toward the forward foot at address.
Atop the backswing, the key to solid contact is to begin turning the body toward the target while the arms drop downward. Stay loose, too.
Equipfix: Bridge The Gap
By Mike Chwasky
Wedges are arguably the most important scoring tools in the bag, yet a large percentage of golfers don’t have a properly gapped set of wedges in their bag. The simple cause of this problem is that over the past 10 years or so, iron lofts have grown stronger, yet wedge lofts have stayed about the same.
So what was once an eight-degree gap between a 48-degree pitching wedge and 56-degree sand wedge is now 10 degrees due to the modern 46-degree pitching wedge. The result is a huge distance gap in the set, and a lot of tricky, in-between yardages. To fill this gap, most golfers would do well to put a fourth wedge, or gap wedge, into their set. This wedge should feature a loft that’s comfortably between the pitching wedge and sand wedge (generally between 50 and 52 degrees).
Beat The Chunked Fairway Bunker Shot
Don’t worry about the fairway bunker shot, especially if you have a decent lie. There’s a good chance you can still reach the green or at least get it close.
Because golfers assume they need more club to get out of the bunker, they often sacrifice the loft that’s needed to get the ball out. Wrong! You need to add loft! Take a higher-lofted club and address the ball with an aggressive, hands-forward stance. As you make a smooth and easy swing, keep your weight centered, as opposed to letting your weight shift during the swing. This will help ensure the needed downward blow.
To play this shot effectively, imagine playing a shot into a stiff breeze. “When it’s breezy, swing easy” and don’t try to muscle the ball out!
Craig Bunker is a longtime teaching instructor and oversees the John Jacobs Golf Schools located throughout the U.S. For more info, visit www.jacobsgolf.com and find a learning center near you.