It doesn’t matter how great or poor you’re playing, any given round requires at least one spectacular shot to win a skin, save a much-needed stroke or, in some cases, avert a disaster. We like to call these “money shots,” as opposed to “miracle shots,” because we believe that with practice, these types of shots will be your go-to plays when the game is on the line.
Better yet, learning a few money shots will not only help you lower scores, but your overall game is likely to improve, thanks to a newfound confidence in knowing you can face anything that comes your way.
1. Stinger 3-Wood
Hitting the 3-wood stinger requires a different approach to weight shift because, basically, there isn’t much of one. This swing is all about the turn! Set up, just as you would with a normally played 3-wood. Flex at the knees, stay centered and position your hands over the golf ball. With a light grip, choke down on the shaft one inch. As you take the club up to the top, try to limit the shift of weight to your rear foot as much as possible. This will encourage a de-lofted stroke through the ball and a lower, more penetrating ball flight.
When hitting a 3-wood stinger, notice how low my hands are immediately post-impact. This is because my weight never made it over to my back foot and I’m ahead of the ball. Many golfers think the stinger requires a three-quarter swing. That’s incorrect! To hit this money shot, one must turn harder to make up for less weight shift.
2. Aggressive Putting
To make putts, sometimes you have to be aggressive. But it’s just as important to remember that it’s better to play it safe and avoid disaster.
Put it this way: When below the hole, you should always be aggressive. The adage “Never up, never in!” always applies, so make sure you get the ball to the hole if you want any chance of making it. Putting from downhill positions is a bit trickier. Some putts call for a more aggressive stroke, while others demand a delicate touch to avoid a lengthy comebacker for par. To learn how to be aggressive, you have to become an expert green reader. First, evaluate how much slope there is behind the hole. If the green slopes away, heed your speed and play it safe. If there’s an uphill slope or the green flattens out, consider a run at the hole.
Secondly, you have to become proficient at reading grains. Take a look at the grass and note which way the grain is going. If it turns out that your downhill putt is with the grain, then know it’s going to be extra-slippery. If you’re putting into the grain (the grain is facing away from the hole), this is your green light to make a more aggressive stroke. If the green is going either left or right of you, note that the putt will break more in the direction of the grain.
The best putting stance is the one that matches your stroke. If you swing open to closed, standing more upright will help. If you have a more squared stroke, address the ball in a lower position, but allow the arms to hang freely. Always assess the slope before you putt and don’t forget to look at the grain.
3. Southpaw Swing
If you really want to impress your foursome, practice this shot for an amazing recovery.
It happens—a tree, bush or frankly any kind of obstacle blocking you from addressing the ball. In this case, my ball is up against a tree. When faced with this predicament, before you take an unplayable lie penalty and get relief, first consider if you can at least move the ball forward or into the fairway for a shorter approach than you would have with a penalty drop. Take your pitching wedge, and set up as you would a left-handed shot, only invert the club head so the toe is pointed down.
To hit this shot, make an abbreviated swing and expect the ball to sharply roll to your right, hopefully back toward the fairway. If that shot sounds too daunting, try the backhanded chip. Turn facing away from the target and with your right hand, swat at the club in a straight up and down manner. Even if the ball moves just a few yards, you’re at least one club length closer than you would have been had you taken a penalty drop.
Keep the head steady and know that the key is to move the ball back into the fairway, not to hit the green.
4. Divot Blast
Hitting from a divot isn’t as hard as you think. It’s all in the know-how. Instead, factor this scenario as you would a simple knockdown shot. Position the ball in the rear portion of your stance and take a stronger grip than usual. Be sure the club face is square, since it’s likely to try and open at impact. The important factor in this shot is to keep your hands ahead of the ball well into the impact position to ensure a crisp, downward blow through impact.
Also, concentrate on the back side of the golf ball. This will prevent your body from rushing too far forward and hitting it too fat or thin. Since you’re essentially hitting a knockdown shot, the swing will be abbreviated, so don’t forget to add at least one more club than usual. Remember, don’t force the shot, but do expect a low trajectory with some roll.
Always grip the club before you set up to the ball, not after. This will keep things consistent.
5. Severe Downhill Greenside Chip
No doubt a tough shot, the downhill chip requires a good read of the green. When facing a downhill greenside chip, it’s critical you pay attention to how the green breaks. Reason being, from a downhill position, the ball is going to roll more than normal, thus you’re going to need to factor break and speed to have any chance of getting the ball near the hole. Begin with choosing the most lofted club in your bag and address the ball with an open stance. Try and adjust your weight to the slope of the hill, meaning align your club as perpendicular to the ground as possible. This will force most of your weight forward, which is where it should be.
Play the ball in the back of your stance, hands forward and club face aiming at the desired spot on the green or fringe where you want the ball to begin rolling. As you begin your backswing, swing along the ground and keep your hands low, well into the finish. Don’t try to scoop it!
Keeping the hands low and club face open is key, as is choosing a club with a lot of loft. Also, on tight pins, don’t hesitate to land the ball in the fringe since the ball will have some roll to it. Also, hold the club face open as long as possible.
6. What Trees?
Negotiating a shot around trees is a matter of first deciding what shot gives you the highest percentage for success. If there’s a tree blocking your view from the green, decide whether the smart play is to try and go over it or punch a shot below it. Going over will require crisp contact and a lot of carry, making it the option if you need to get it close to the pin with little roll or if there’s a bunker guarding the front of the green. A safer play is to hit under the tree, barring any hazards near the green that could get in the way. To hit it high, position the ball forward in your stance, open the face and keep your weight on your back foot. As you take the club back, make a full backswing with a swift wrist cock. Begin the downswing by turning and not shifting forward, and keep the face open well through impact.
To hit it low, take a long iron and choke down. Position the ball in the middle of your stance, with your hands and weight on your forward foot. With minimal cock in the wrists, make a sweeping motion through the ball and concentrate on ball-first contact.
7. Fairway Bunker Recovery
In case you thought it wasn’t possible to hit a fairway wood from the bunker, think again.
If you face a fairway bunker and a fairway wood is necessary to reach the green, consider going for it as long as the bunker features a shallow lip. If not, take your medicine and move on to the next money shot. If you do have clearance, here’s how to do it. First, make sure your feet are secure; dig into the sand to prevent slippage. Position the ball slightly back of center but with your weight more over your forward foot. Choke down and aim left of the intended target. Because your ball is slightly back from center and your weight is toward your front foot, the flight path will steer right, so account for a low fade.
As you take the club back, expect your swing to be a little more upright than usual. This is due to the fact that your feet are planted and your weight is slightly forward. So despite the steep backswing, don’t feel the need to stab down at the ball. Instead, swing freely and make ball-first contact. The ball will fly low with lots of roll—hopefully enough to get you on the green.
This shot is also effective with a hybrid club. Just be sure you have a decent lie and there isn’t a big lip in front of you. Even with a hybrid, you’ll still get a low ball flight.
Always be sure your hands work together for every shot. In this case, you don’t need a strong grip so allow your hands to stay loose, but remain connected.
8. Sidehill Lie Into Green
Okay, you have a shot and you must hit the green. Don’t forget to factor the effects of a sidehill lie.
Sidehill lies can be challenging, but not if you know what to expect when you encounter one. For starters, when the ball is above your feet, it’s going to hook. Below your feet, the likely shot will be a fade. With longer irons, the ball will hook or fade more than it will with shorter clubs.
In my case, the ball is above my feet. This means the ball will launch right of the target and draw back toward the pin. However, since I’m in the rough, there won’t be as much draw spin had I been in the fairway, so I can take a more aggressive line at the target. I start by addressing the ball with a slightly closed stance, a centered ball position and my weight evenly distributed over both heels. Since I’m on a slope, I’m going to take the club back on an inside-out path that will produce a drawing trajectory. The key is to not force a straight-back backswing into the slope. The opposite is true for a fade. Just allow the slope to dictate what swing path is best.
Let the slope determine the shape of your swing and allow for the necessary side-spin needed to hit the green. In the rough, expect a straighter shot than from the fairway.
9. Rough Removal
Hitting it close from the rough is critical if you want to stay in the game. Playing your short irons from the rough requires a strong grip and a descending blow to avoid getting caught up in the turf. The key lies in the ability to retain the right angle formed by the club and your left arm at the top of your swing. Holding this angle will help generate the additional clubhead speed as well as encourage a more descending blow because it prevents your arms and hands from releasing too early. And when you release early in the rough, you’re going to hit a lot of grass and, sometimes, no ball. Make sure your hands are in front of the ball at address and the ball is slightly forward in your stance. Add more club, choke down and be ready to hold that right angle as long as you can to generate a whip effect through impact. The ball may fly lower, but that’s a whole lot better than a short, flubbed shot.
Strength is key from the rough, and no better place to find it than in retaining wrist cock through the swing for as long as possible. Tiger woods is a master at this, hence his amazing power.
10. Hit The High Draw
When it comes time to win the long-drive contest, knowing how to hit the high draw is key to milking a few extra yards.
Begin by using the left side of the tee box and position the feet and body more closed than normal. Concentrate on your rear shoulder and make sure it’s lower than your forward shoulder at address. Second, tee the ball high—you want to catch the ball in the “hot zone,” just above the sweet spot. The hands should be slightly back behind the ball, which is positioned just off the inside of your forward heel. Square up the club face to the target.
As you begin your backswing, follow an inside-out path, and on the downswing remember to rotate and not slide. Rotating will keep your body behind the ball, allowing for an upward, inside-out path. Presto! You have a high draw in your arsenal.
When playing a high draw off the tee, my hands will release sooner, resulting in a high, drawing ball flight.
Paul Ito and Todd Stewart are both Hawaii-based teaching professionals