Editor’s Note: Back in 2009, former Golf Tips editor Ryan Noll got together with renowned Southern California-based teaching pro A.J. Bonar, who has long been known for his unique approach to golf instruction. The 10 tips you’ll discover in the following pages will help shave strokes off your scorecard in places you might not have thought of. We hope you’ll find that it’s the perfect spring tune-up prescription to have more fun and think of the game in new ways. — Vic Williams
If you’ve ever received a lesson, or better yet, a series of lessons, it’s likely you’ve been told to do the same thing more than once. Golf instruction is often plagued with repetition, which, if you’re an astute student of the game, you’d know is a necessary directive for helping you improve. But it also can be a bit tedious to be told the same thing over and over. So instead of doing that, I’ve put together 10 of my favorite, lesser-known swing tips that will break you free from the monotony of typical golf instruction and help you not only lower you scores, but also have a whole lot more fun in the process. Turn the page and get started on improving your game, the atypical way.
1. HIT THE DRIVER FROM THE BUNKER
It’s not uncommon to see PGA Tour players occasionally hitting the driver off the fairway, but what would you say if I said it was possible to hit the driver from the bunker? You can!
Hitting a driver from the sand is actually doable, so long as you follow a few simple guidelines. First, the ball needs to be sitting up on a clean lie. Second, the sand should be on the firmer side. Third, it helps to have a slight uphill lie. And fourth, make sure there isn’t a big lip between the ball and the target.
If your shot passes those four variables, here’s what else you need to know. Play the ball as you normally would, with the ball positioned forward in your stance. As for your swing, try not to swing at 100 percent; instead swing as hard as you can without your feet sliding around. Finally, unlike your normal driver swing, which requires you to shift your weight forward, it’s okay to hang back a little and let the club swing out in front of you. Hitting it fat isn’t likely, mainly because the driver has such a flat, wide sole, making it easier to slide across and bounce off the sand instead of digging down into it.
2. HOOK YOUR WEDGES
Becoming a good wedge player means you have to hit consistent shots. Many amateurs struggle with hitting consistent shots from within 125 yards. Sometimes the ball spins; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it flies straight; other times not so much. Trajectory control becomes tricky too, with some shots flying high and others flying low. Whew, with that many variables, what’s one to do?
A great way to dial in some consistency with your wedge shots is to learn a shot that I personally love to hit. It’s a medium-height draw that, upon landing, trickles forward onto the green and rolls out about 10 feet. It’s not a high-spinning shot that trickles back toward the pin, nor does it stop dead on the green—although neither of those two types of shots are easy to predict. A draw however is easy to duplicate, and with some practice, you’ll quickly learn how the ball reacts on the green and soon start using this shot to your advantage.
How you hit this draw is simple. Address the ball as you normally would, with a comfortable ball position. Only now, close your clubface about 20 degrees. To get an idea of what that should look like to you, the photo to the left shows what I mean. The two tees on top are pointing to the right of the target, and the two tees slanting down are where the face is pointing. The key to hitting this shot requires you to swing along the top two tees just to the right of the target, with a closed face.
3. HIT YOUR HYBRID LIKE A 6-IRON
HIT DOWN WITH THE TWO-BALL DRILL
If you don’t know the right way to hit a high-lofted fairway wood or hybrid, look no further than your 6-iron. That’s right, your 6-iron. High-lofted woods and hybrids actually are designed to strike the ball with a descending blow, not a sweeping or ascending one that you need with a driver or fairway wood.
Mentally, this is a tough obstacle to get past, but with this simple drill, you’ll ingrain not only the proper visual, but also the right feel for hitting down on the ball with a club that’s not an iron. First, set up a shot as you normally would, with the ball slightly forward of center. Back off the shot, and position a second ball, this time on a tee about a foot or two behind the ball as I’ve done here. Then, without hitting the golf ball behind the ball on the ground, make a few practice swings and then go ahead and hit a few shots.
This drill steepens your swing so you can more effectively hit down and into the turf after contact with the golf ball. In no time, you’ll see better results!
4. STRENGTHEN YOUR GRIP TO HIT A FADE
One of the most misunderstood aspects of the golf swing is the grip. In actuality, whether you have a strong or weak left hand, you still can find a way to hit either a draw or fade. Typically, instructors equate a fade with a weak left hand, but I’m hear to tell you that’s not the only way.
An effective way to hit a surefire fade is to adopt a strong left-hand grip. The only possible caveat from attempting this shot is that the hands will have a delayed release, meaning you’ll likely lose some power. But if it’s a fade you want, here’s how you do it.
The trick is to hold the left hand in a strong position at impact, as I’m illustrating in the above photo. What will be required to pull this off is a strong rotation of the body, which should continue rotating well after impact with the golf ball.
And again, because the act of holding the hand in this position will delay the release and rotation of the clubhead, the fade you produce won’t have a ton of power. But if you’re looking for a repeatable, accurate shot that flies high and lands softly, the delayed-release fade is ideal.
To prevent your fade from becoming a slice, make sure you keep rotating your body through the shot. Also, the clubhead will need to release at some point. If you try to stifle your release entirely, you not only run the risk of injury, but also will slice more and lose even more power and control.
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that although releasing the hands and rotating the hands should happen simultaneously, they’re not the same thing. The hands will release, but in the case of this shot, the rotation is what you should try to lessen in order to hit a powerful fade.
The Power Fade
One of the most prolific and exciting players to ever play the game, Fred Couples has made a hefty career out of hitting a big, powerful fade off the tee—with a strong left-hand grip, mind you.
Like A.J. said, the key to Couples’ ability in hitting a fade is his big body rotation through the shot, which then prevents him from blocking and slicing the ball to the right. But where does his power come from? Like most Tour players known for power, Couples is among the best at not only making a solid rotation, but also retaining the angle between his left arm and the shaft in the few microseconds before making impact with the ball. Also, like A.J. said, Couples is able to release the club (unload the angle between the shaft and his left arm) without rotating the clubface closed (which otherwise would produce a straight shot or even a draw). Releasing and rotating are two different things. To hit the power fade like Freddie, you have to make a strong release with less rotation.
5. HIT THE DRIVER, NOT THE 3-WOOD
Sometimes the right choice is the bigger one. Fairway woods have indeed come a long way. I’d actually say that my current fairway is both bigger and longer than my driver was 20 to 30 years ago. And yet, despite the advances in fairway woods, drivers have exploded in size, making them not only bigger, but also enormously longer and more forgiving.
So, why not use one as often as you can? If you’re faced with a choice between driver and fairway wood on a tight hole, consider the bigger, more forgiving alternative. You could do more with it, such as choking down on the grip, teeing the ball lower or even making a three-quarter swing to mimic a fairway wood but still take advantage of the bigger, more forgiving head.
Speaking of which, as you can see, I use a 460cc driver so I can maximize my distance and get as much forgiveness across the clubface as possible.
6. PLAY THE RIGHT BALL
The best players in the world use the best golf balls for their game. Why is it then that most amateurs do the complete opposite? Tour professionals require their golf balls to do certain things that the rest of us can do without. Do you want more sidespin? Are you hoping to hit your drives lower? How about your wedges shorter? Tour pros sometimes put those kinds of demands on their golf balls, which is contrary to what amateurs generally need.
Instead, amateurs (mid- to high-handicap ones) should consider golf balls built for distance and minimizing spin, two factors that will help hit straighter and longer shots. And by the way, distance balls no longer feel like rocks. Some are extra soft for added feel and performance.
Are Pros Better Off Hitting The Driver, Too?
To answer that question, let’s take Robert Garrigus for example. As of the end of August this year, Garrigus was leading the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average bomb of 312 yards. In addition to being long, Garrigus was ranked 7th in greens in regulation (GIR), hitting approximately 70 percent of all greens. Coincidence? We think not. Longer drives generally mean shorter and easier approach shots—even if they’re hit from the rough. (The USGA also realized this and has put restrictions on grooves to counteract the lessening effects of missing the fairway. We’ll see how that changes things in ’10.)
But what about you? Well, like A.J. said, if you’re just as accurate with your driver as you are with your fairway wood, then hit the driver! It’s longer and more forgiving off the tee than any fairway wood.
—Thomas Howell Jr., GOLFTEC
7. HIT A KNOCKDOWN LOB SHOT
It may seem counterintuitive to use “knockdown” and “flop shot” in the same sentence, but I’m here to tell you it works. Hitting a good, go-to flop shot is easier than you think! First, make sure you notice the loft of your lob wedge. Most hover in the 58- to 60-degree range, meaning you’ll have no problem lifting the ball into the air. There’s no need to try to lift the ball upwards!
To hit the knockdown flop shot, position the ball front of center in your stance, with your hands just ahead of the golf ball. Because you already have plenty of loft, there’s no need to rotate the face open. Keep it square to the target.
As you initiate your backswing, cock your wrists so the club is already parallel to the ground when the hands reach your thighs. Continue your backswing as you normally would, and keep that angle! As you transition from the top of your swing to impact, here’s the most important bit of info: Keep the hands ahead of the ball and stay low! If you try to flip the ball up, sure, you may occasionally hit a lobber. But good luck controlling it. Instead, stay low both at impact and through the finish, as I’m doing in this sequence. The result will be a nice mid-high lob shot that trickles a few feet forward once it hits the green.
8. OPEN-FACE SLICE KILL
Can you hit a draw with an open face? Yes! Here’s a little secret. Hitting a draw actually can be achieved with a slightly open face at impact, so long as the clubhead is continually closing through the impact zone.
To hit an open-faced draw, first make a few practice swings and work on excessively closing the clubface through the hitting area. In fact, it’s a good idea to go as far as hitting a series of snap hooks off the tee, again with the clubface rolling shut through the hit.
Once you’ve mastered the hook, the trick is to begin dialing back your timing so you continue to rotate and release the club; only you need to learn how to initiate the rotation later in your downswing than before.
To work on timing your release later in your swing, you’ll have to test it a few times and determine where in the swing you can go ahead and get the club rotating. Odds are, after a few practice sessions, you’ll learn that the right spot is a few feet before the ball with a slightly open face at impact.
9. PUTT FROM ABOVE THE HOLE
One of the toughest shots around the green is the chip from above the hole. But, who said you have to chip it? You don’t!
Try putting it instead. You’re going to have to practice to get a feel for how the ball reacts out of the rough or fringe, but even from above the hole, using the “ole Texas wedge” is a high-percentage option for most amateurs to consider. The longer rough will slow the ball down, and even though it’s a downhill putt, the ball still will lose momentum (mainly from the friction of the grass). Just make sure you have a decent lie and some green to work with, and play for plenty of break. In a few tries, you’ll soon wonder why you ever messed with hitting chips and lobs from here in the first place.
10. IT’S OKAY TO LEAVE IT SHORT (Sometimes)
Much has been said about leaving putts short, and how it means the ball had no chance of ever going in. Well, what about putts that wind up a few feet past the hole? They didn’t go in either!
Sometimes, the smart play is to leave the ball short. Situations such as uphill putts or steep breaking putts are better missed on the short side because generally it means you will have an easier, uphill putt left to contend with. Rather, if you ram every putt past the hole, the ball may roll too far from you, leaving either lengthy putts or tough downhillers to make in order to prevent three-putts. A short putt isn’t all bad, especially from long range.
How short is too short? Before I get into trouble advising golfers to leave all their putts short, know this: I’m not saying leave them a few feet short. I’m talking inches, folks.
And, this isn’t true for all putts. Most putts should be hit with the full intention of making it, which means the ball needs enough roll to get to the hole. If you get in a pattern of leaving the ball short too often, instead of becoming a panic-putter and developing the yips, try a different approach.
Work on your chipping. Sharpen up your wedge and iron game. You can become a better putter if you have shorter putts to putt. This is one reason touring professionals are such great putters. They have shorter putts than you do. From long range, they don’t make many more than you do, but thanks to having a sharper iron and short game, they’re much more proficient at the short putts. (I’m willing to bet they practice short putts a whole lot more than amateurs do.) Get out there and practice!
A.J. Bonar is the head teaching professional at the AJ Golf School in Encinitas, Calif. He’s also author of the popular Truth About Golf DVD series, as well as inventor of the Truth Club. For more information, visit ajgolf.com.