The one constant in the game of golf is that each round is different. Weather conditions, course conditions, course layout and even a golfer's physical and mental state on a given day create a unique set of challenges. That means that to play well you have to learn to adapt. Golfers who maximize their scoring potential know how to do things like shape the ball around the corner of a dogleg, handle uneven lies on a hilly course, and hit the ball back in play from under low-hanging branches. Being able to change your strategy and technique to execute shots under conditions like these qualifies you as a shotmaker–and that's when you're really playing golf.
Put A New Spin On Your Game
One of the basics of shotmaking is understanding the art of applying spin to the golf ball in special ways. If you understand the way in which spin influences the flight of the ball, you'll have a better chance at intentionally applying that spin when you need it. Because the shortest route between your ball and the target isn't always a straight line, being able to curve the ball at will is a must for maximizing your scoring potential.
Fading The Ball
Clockwise sidespin makes the ball move from left to right. You impart this type of spin when the ball is struck with an open clubface relative to your swing path. As such, the easiest way to intentionally produce a shot that fades from left to right is to preset the appropriate clubface angle and swing path at address.
To fade the ball, aim your body (feet, knees, hips and shoulders) slightly left of your target or where you want the ball to start out. Now, open the clubface slightly and grip the golf club so that the clubface is aimed directly at the target–or where you want the ball to end up.
Because you swing along the path established by your body alignments, the club travels on an out-to-in path relative to the target line, starting the ball left of the target. However, because the clubface is open relative to the swing path, left-to-right sidespin is produced, curving the ball gently back to the target. Because the bottom of the swing is more forward than normal due to the open stance, position the ball slightly ahead of normal. Also, firm up the grip pressure in both hands slightly to prevent the clubface from closing too soon through the hitting area. A fade produces a shot that flies higher and stops faster with little roll once it hits the ground, so consider taking one more club than normal. It's as simple as that.
Drawing The Ball
A shot that curves from right to left naturally demands a setup position that's opposite of that for one that curves left-to-right. First, align your body slightly right of your target or in the direction you want the ball to start out. Now, grip the club so the clubface is slightly closed and aimed at the target or where you want the ball to finish. This closed body alignment promotes a takeaway that will be more to the inside than usual, resulting in a swing path that travels from inside-to-out and imparts counterclockwise spin. The path and counterclockwise spin will cause the ball to start out right, then draw back in toward the target. The more curve you want, the more you aim to the right, keeping the clubface aimed at your intended target. Because a closed stance effectively moves the bottom of the swing behind where it is normally, the ball position should be slightly back in your stance. Grip pressure should be a little lighter than normal in both hands, encouraging the clubface to close sooner through the hitting area. Since the clubface closes down at impact when you play a draw, you'll get a lower ballflight with more overspin than a straight shot. The trajectory will be lower and the ball won't fly as far in the air, but it will roll farther once it hits the ground.
Play The Over-Under
Trajectory control is just as important to playing great golf as being able to curve the ball left or right. Mastering the high and low shots will help you escape trouble, hit the ball low on a windy day or hit a high shot over an obstacle or into an elevated green.
To keep the ball low, you're going to use a partial swing, so you'll want to use more club than you would normally for the same distance. In other words, if your standard 150-yard club is a 7-iron, but you're playing a low-trajectory shot, drop down to a 6-iron or even a 5-iron. Start by gripping down one or two inches on the handle–you'll need this for the control this shot demands. Stand an inch or two closer to the ball to compensate for the shorter length of the club, and be sure to grip with firm pressure in both hands. A tighter grip pressure will help delay the release of the clubhead and produce a lower trajectory. As you address the ball, position your upper body directly on top of your lower with your shoulders almost level and move the ball back to the center of your stance to ensure that you'll strike the ball first with a descending blow. Set your hands slightly ahead of the ball. A forward hand position will naturally de-loft the clubface, helping to start the ball on a low trajectory. As with any golf shot, the length of the backswing is relative to the overall length of the shot. Concentrate on making a smooth swing with a slightly slower tempo on the forwardswing. A slower tempo will produce less spin, helping to keep the ball on a low trajectory. Stay level with your hips as you swing through the hitting area. Feel as though the handle of the club leads the clubhead through the hitting area to prevent adding loft to the shot.
Here's a great swing key to keep in mind: A low shot means a low finish. The lower you want to hit it, the lower you want to finish, not only with the hands and arms, but with the clubhead as well. With a low finish, the backswing will always be slightly longer than the forwardswing. It's important to remember that even though you have a low finish with the arms and club, you still must fully rotate your body toward the target.
If you plan to hit a high shot, you'll need at least one extra club to cover the necessary distance. For example, if you're at your 8-iron distance, use a 7-iron to produce the same yardage, but with a high trajectory. If you're preparing to hit a high shot to negotiate a tree or other obstacle, however, keep in mind that you'll need a club with enough loft to get the ball in the air quickly. Circumstances may require you to simply take a wedge and hit your ball back in the fairway and in position for the next shot.
Play the ball about an inch forward of your normal ball position to add effective loft to the club you've selected. The key to hitting the ball high is staying behind it from start to finish. To help you stay behind the shot, increase your spine tilt at address by lowering your right shoulder. Increasing your spine tilt will position more weight on your right side and will help you add loft. Remember, the finish position matches the shot trajectory. A high shot requires a high finish.
As you begin the forwardswing, make a conscious effort to stay behind the ball with your upper body and swing along the shoulder tilt you established at address. It should feel as though your weight is lagging back on the right side. Increase your tempo on the forwardswing slightly to squeeze an extra five to 10 yards out of the shot.
The World Isn't Flat
Though golf courses aren't flat, most golfers hone their fundamentals on the even, manicured surfaces of a driving range. In order to successfully take your skills to the course, however, you need to adapt to many different types of playing conditions–including hilly, sloping terrain.
Ball Above Feet
When playing a shot with the ball above your feet, the club will naturally approach impact from the inside and close down as you swing through the hitting area. When the clubface closes through the hitting area, it effectively de-lofts the club, sending the ball lower and more to the left.
You should be able to use one club less because the lie creates a lower, hooking shot that will roll more once it hits the ground. Start by gripping down on the club to accommodate the severity of the slope. Position the ball just as you would for a normal shot. Be sure to allow for the potential right-to-left movement of this shot when you aim your clubface and body. Distribute your weight evenly between your heels and toes and stand taller to accommodate the slope.
Make a three-quarters backswing, keeping your upper body level going back. It's best to think of sweeping the ball. In fact, a baseball swing is a great image to have for this shot to make sure your body stays nice and level.
Ball Below Feet
Of all the uneven lies, the most challenging is the hanging lie. The first thing you need to know is how the ball is going to react. A good rule of thumb is that the ball tends to go in the direction of the slope. From a hanging lie, the ball will tend to drift to the right because the slope effectively increases your spine tilt, making your swing more upright, and when your swing is upright, it's more difficult to square the face through the hitting area. The slope of the ground also makes the effective lie of the club flatter–another element that encourages a left-to-right ball flight. Start by using more club to account for the left-to-right shape that this shot generally produces and hold the club at the end of the handle. You'll need the entire length of the club to swing down and through the ball. Widen your stance to shoulder width and increase your knee flex to bring you down to the ball. Align the clubface along the line on which you want the ball to start and then set your body perpendicularly to the clubface. Ball position should be normal.
An uphill lie increases the effective loft of the club you're using, making the shot fly higher and shorter than normal. Start by taking one or possibly two more clubs than normal. Just as with the downhill shot, set up with your spine perpendicular to the slope and shoulders parallel to the ground. This will set more weight on your back foot. With your body arranged to match the slope, you're prepared to swing down the slope going back and up the slope on the forwardswing. From an uphill lie, you'll be fighting gravity on the forwardswing, making it harder to transfer your weight to your front foot. Play the ball where you would normally from a level lie and flare your left foot slightly to help your body unwind to the target and encourage weight transfer. It's natural for your arms to swing a little faster than your body, closing the face of the club a little sooner than from a level lie. That means the ball tends to hook a little more, so take that into account when you're aiming your clubface and body.
Set up with your spine perpendicular to the slope and shoulders parallel to the ground so you can swing up the slope on the backswing and down the slope on the forwardswing. The arrangement of your body will favor the creation of an upright swing and make it more difficult to square the face through the hitting area–that's why a shot from a downhill lie tends to curve a little to the right. To help shallow the plane and encourage a swing that's a little more around your body, drop your right foot back to close your stance slightly and match up the ball position to your stance by putting it about two inches back of normal.
The best advice I can give for a downhill shot is to swing down the slope. Some golfers respond to gravity and momentum by taking a step down the slope and toward the target after hitting the ball, and that's okay. It's an indication that you're doing what you need to do–hitting the ball first and then the ground as you swing down the slope.
There's no more useful–and spectacular–shot around the green than the flop shot. At least once or twice during a round of golf, you encounter conditions around the green that require a high, soft shot that stops quickly once it hits the green. Following are two ways to execute the flop shot, based on the condition of the lie, the overall distance and trajectory the shot requires, and the amount of green you have to work with.
The one-lever flop is easy to play and provides a good foundation for learning the standard flop because it uses the_Ê same setup and swing adjustments. It's a shot used from close range and is great for popping the ball over the collar to a close-cut pin or when the green slopes away.
Use a sand or lob wedge and open the face significantly (open your stance until the face again lies perpendicularly to the target line). Use a light grip pressure and grip down one or two inches for control and stand closer to the ball, about the same distance you gripped down.
I call this the one-lever flop because it requires a one-lever swing. That means there's little or no hinge in the wrists as you swing back. Instead, use the arms to swing the club back along the line of your shoulders. On the forwardswing, let the clubhead work down into the grass as you slide the club underneath the ball.
The key to this shot is the hit-and-resist finish. Hold the one-lever position through the impact area to keep from releasing the club and closing the clubface.
The Basic Flop
While the one-lever flop is a great weapon to have, there are times when it just doesn't fit the situation. You need a bigger swing that will require more wrist hinge when you're in heavy rough, have an obstacle to carry (like a large bunker or swale) or need to create more spin.
The setup is the same for the basic flop as for the one-lever shot. To carry the ball farther with more spin, the swing needs to be a little longer and faster. Hinge your wrists early as you take the club away, swinging along the line of your shoulders. At the top of the swing, the clubshaft should be nearly vertical, with the butt end of the club pointing to the ground.
Just as with the one-lever flop, it's important to hold the clubface open as you swing through the hitting area in the same hit-and-resist fashion to prevent the clubface from closing. Control the distance of this shot with the length of your followthrough.
Taking an unplayable lie doesn't have to be a foregone conclusion when you hit a shot that lands in a tough spot. All you need is a couple of shots that can spark your imagination and means for recovery. Here are two shots to use in these tough situations, one that's perfect when your backswing is restricted and the other for when your forwardswing is restricted. The circumstances under which they can be used are only limited by your imagination.
Stop & Go
If you're like most players, you've always tried to handle restricted backswing shots by taking multiple practice swings, gradually reworking your swing until you don't hit the branch or stake. The problem is that when you try to hit the ball, you almost always revert to your standard swing and catch the object anyway. The stop-and-go shot eliminates this problem by taking any potential surprises out of the swing.
Adopt a standard setup with a slight choke on the grip. Move the ball about an inch back in your stance to ensure solid contact. Swing back to your stopping point and hold your position. That's it–stop! Now, initiate the forwardswing with the hands, arms and upper body rotating down and through the ball together. The timing for this shot will require some practice, but don't be afraid to try it.
The explosion is the go-to shot when your followthrough is restricted. You need the explosion shot to extract your ball from a buried lie in the lip of a bunker or from really tall grass.
The explosion shot requires a sharp, descending blow, which minimizes as much material between the clubface and ball as possible. Start by gripping down on the club two inches and play the ball just right of center, with your hands set slightly ahead of the ball. The key to creating a steep, descending angle is to set up with 80 percent of your weight on your left side and leave it there throughout the swing.
Make a full backswing using your hands and arms to lift the club up sharply during the takeaway. Swing down, leading with your hands. Because your forwardswing is restricted, your followthrough will be low, with your hands ahead of the clubhead. The key to this shot is a relaxed, easy tempo on the forwardswing, letting your arms drop and creating gradual acceleration. Don't make the mistake of using too much force,_Ê which makes distance control very difficult.
To learn more about these and other great stroke-saving shots, check out The Scrambler's Dozen: 12 Shots Every Golfer Needs To Score Like The Pros, by Mike McGetrick with Tom Ferrell, published by Harper-Collins. Senior Instruction Editor and 1999 PGA Teacher of the Year Mike McGetrick previously owned and operates the McGetrick Golf Academy, located outside Denver, Colo., now Metagolf Learning Center. LPGA Class A member and author Lana Ortega is also based in Colorado; visit her site at www.lanaortegagolf.com.