Category Archives: shot-making

Why you should switch from a draw to a fade

To hit more fairways and more greens, play a reliable fade. It’s an easy shot to hit, an easy one to repeat. Isn’t that what we all want in golf? Something that works which we can do time after time?

Many instructors say recreational golfers should learn to hit a draw. What they really want you to learn is an anti-slice swing, that gets you a little more distance to boot. Sounds good.

But you don’t slice. You hit a draw that turns nasty without warning and it’s making you crazy.

The clubface is closing at impact when you hit a draw, and moving in the same counter-clockwise direction as the clubhead. The swing naturally encourages you to close the clubface, but when these two factors compound each other, bad things happen.

Set up with your clubface open just one or two degrees, and aim left. Take the club back slightly outside. Swing down at the ball slightly from the outside, rather than coming in low from the inside. Your drawing habits won’t let you actually come down from the outside, but rather from straight behind the ball with the clubface that bit open.

Hold off your release a touch through impact, and you’ve got it. The ball will get off the ground nicely, curve gently to the right and land softly. You’re now hitting a marvelous control shot. Believe me, to make fairways and greens your game, this is the shot.

This swing makes sense with your longer clubs, but from the 7-iron on down, you don’t really need to make these adjustments.

Several things accompany a fade. I would imagine, if you play a draw, that you hit fat more often than you want to, because the clubhead comes into the ball from a relatively low angle. Even if you don’t take up turf, the ball first, ground second kind of contact is hard to achieve. With this fade swing, it’s as simple as putting the club on the ball, since the clubhead trajectory is steeper.

Second, your swing will be easier to make. It’s literally, turn, turn. There are no complicated swing mechanics involved. You can use this swing for hitting your driver, a 70-yard pitch, and everything in between — the same swing. That really simplifies your shot-making.

Finally, if you have back problems, this swing might be one to look into since the finish is very upright. You don’t have to twist your lower back through impact, or be all kinked up at the finish. A fade swing lets you stand tall and straight all the way through.

What might seem like a drawback is that you won’t be releasing the club as strongly as before, which, in combination with higher ball flight, means you will lose a bit of distance. It shouldn’t be more than half a club, though. Given the revolution in accuracy in your shot-making, this is more than a fair trade.

If you want to change your game from a hard 85 to an easy 80 (or less!), play with a fade. Once you learn how to hit it, it’s hard to stop putting one ball after another out there where you want it to go.

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What I learned at the range – 7

1. I have this problem with hooking the ball off the tee. Not the classic draw that all the pros say recreational players should learn how to hit.

It’s more like a hook that looks like it’s turning down even as it’s rising off the ground, if it even gets that high. Low left, aim at the right edge of the fairway and hope it doesn’t run out into the rough on the other side.

All in all, a useless shot, and I’ve had enough. If this shot is yours, too, pay attention.

I teed the ball lower, aimed a bit left, squared the clubface to my aim line, and took the club back a bit outside. I brought it into the ball a bit outside, too. Not a lot, a bit. It doesn’t take much of a change in impact geometry to make a big difference.

The result is a shot that takes off along the aim line, gets good elevation, turns a bit to the right and stays in the fairway. Love that last bit.

And it stayed in, shot after shot. Try this if low, running hooks with your driver are making you crazy.

2. They say “14 clubs, one swing.” (Well, maybe not your putter.) I don’t agree. The swing I described to you above works with my hybrid irons, too, but not with my irons, especially my short irons.

The swing I find more productive with those clubs is my standard swing, which brings the clubhead into the ball low and on line. I can keep the clubface square with my irons more easily than with the longer clubs, so it all works out.

That means I have two swings, one for the big-headed clubs, and another for the small-headed clubs.

3. Want to know how to hit that wedge shot that flies low into the green, bites once, and stops? It’s easy.

Hit it with a sand wedge by taking the clubhead back very low and letting the wrists hinge. As the clubhead comes back into the ball, let the wrists hinge back to where they were at address as you meet the ball, but at that point arrest the hinging. Keep the back of the left hand in a straight line with the left arm as you follow through.

Important! Keep the clubhead very low in the follow-through, and keep the clubface aimed at your target. Do not let it rotate over.

All this will put lots of spin on the ball. It will hit and stop within a few feet of where it lands.

Use this shot if you have to chip from, say, twenty yards to a pin in front with no room for roll-out. You get that a lot, and if you can hit this shot, you’ll get up and down at last.

Multitasking in Golf

I used to watch this show on the Food Network called Good Eats. The host spent a good deal of time taking about kitchen gadgets, and he said you should not have anything in your drawer that does not multitask. That applies just as well to your golf clubs. Each of them should be able to do many things. (O.K., except for your driver. Driver off the deck is verboten unless you need a microscope to see your handicap.)

For example, can you hit a 9-iron, and 8-iron and a 7-iron 120 yards? Same distance, with different clubs? If so, then you can play in the wind, play to different pin positions, or even have a safer shot to play when another one isn’t working so well that day.

The same thing would be true for your wedges. If a pin is 40 yards away, can you hit into it with a gap wedge, a sand wedge, or a lob wedge? Depending on what you’re facing, each one of those clubs could be the right choice and the other two not so good. How about 50 yards?

How about this one? Say the pin is 40 yards away and there are 30 yards of green to work with. Or, the pin is 40 yards away and there are ten yards of green to work with. Could you hit both shots with a lob wedge, but run the ball to the hole in the first instance, and fly the ball up close and stop it in the second?

I could go on. Try playing a round with only five clubs plus your putter. You’ll have to do things with those clubs that you’ve never done with them before. The more things you can do with any one club, the more options you have for solving problems the course gives you. This is a great way to become a better scorer.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

What I learned at the range – 1

Every time I go to the range I learn something new. This is the start of a series of posts telling you what that was so you can go try it out for yourself.

1. Reading subtle breaks
I have noticed that I can stand to the side of someone putting and tell if they will miss to the right or left. I’m always, correct, too. I got to wondering what it was I was seeing from that angle. Maybe it was something difficult to see from behind the ball, which was why all those putts were missed.

I set a ball down on the practice green about fifteen feet away from the hole on a flattish surface and looked at the putt from both sides (at a right angle to the line of the putt). It was clear that on one side I was looking into a slope and on the other side I was looking down the slope. That was not clear when I looked at the putt from behind.

Then I stepped behind the ball and looked toward the hole. Like I say, the ground looked flattish. So I took one big step to the right and saw the ground coming toward me. I went to a point one step to the left of the ball and saw the ground falling away from me. It could not have been clearer.

This meant the putt would break to the right. I aimed inside left, and the ball went in. Easy as that.

I tried reading the break in this way on many different spots around this rather large green, and the two looks from just off to either side always told the truth.

Now most of the time it’s obvious that the green breaks one way or another. But there are times when you can’t tell. This method fixes up those putts that you swear will go straight in, but miss to one side by two inches.

2. Problematic chip
I had a shot around the green in the last two rounds I played that gave me fits. It was a short chip over a mound to a tight pin. I have 8-10 yards of mound to carry, and about half that distance to stop the ball. Long story short, here’s the shot I came up with.

Take out a lob wedge. Play the ball back of center. Take the club generous distance back for this short of a shot, and let the clubhead fall into the ball. Don’t swing the club, just let it drop in a controlled way. Hit down on the ball and there won’t be much of a follow-through.

The ball pops up and lands with enough roll left to get to the pin. When I tried this with a sand wedge, the ball rolled out too far.

Hope this all helps.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

The Importance of Technical Golf

Ansel Adams (click the link to get a Google search, then click the Images link on that page) was a legendary American photographer of the mid-20th century. His breathtaking landscape photographs set standards that few have met and none exceeded. He was a virtuoso artist whose medium was the photograph. Behind the beauty of every photograph he released, though, was a master of the photographic craft.

Most of the dramatic prints he made were photographs of fairly mundane scenes. But Adams knew, before he pressed the shutter, that if he gave this much exposure to the scene on this kind of film, and developed the film with this kind of developer, and printed it on this kind of paper using this kind of print developer, and by manipulating the heck out of the negative while he made the print, he would produce a masterwork.

Because he had mastered the technical side of photography, he could concentrate on the art of photography: choosing just the right the subject and framing the shot just right.

Golf is the same way. If you have done your homework on the range, you will know in any given situation which club to use, and which setup and swing variables to select in order to hit just the right shot for the situation you’re in.

For example, consider the short pitches from 25 to 60 yards. The main course variables are the distance from your ball to the edge of the green, and from the edge to the pin.

If you have truly learned how to hit these shots, then for any combination of these two distances, you will know without thinking which club to use, and which setup and swing variables to tack on. Then you can concentrate on the feel of the situation and have the clear mind necessary to pull off all that technique.

When you’re trying to figure out the technique for the shot at the same time you’re trying to keep your mind focused, you won’t be able to accomplish either one.

A few years ago I saw Retief Goosen on TV hitting from about seventy yards to the right of the green, in front of the one on the neighboring fairway. He had little green to work with, and the shot was blind because he had to hit over a cluster of trees. He flew the trees and stopped the ball inside six feet from the pin.

Don’t tell me that was lucky. He knew from his practice exactly how to hit that shot.

The more technical shot-making skills you can develop on the practice ground, the easier this game gets and the better you will play.

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A Golf Shot’s Four Parameters

Note: The September Recreational Golfer Newsletter will be published this Saturday, September 1. To have it sent to you, please sign up at my home page.

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When you have a shot from the tee or from the fairway, there are four things you can do with the ball. A shot-maker will consider all of them. They are the parameters of shot-making which, when mastered, turn golf into a whole new game. They are direction, distance, trajectory, and curvature.

Direction seems obvious. There’s the fairway, or the green, so hit the ball in that direction. You know there’s more to it than that. Which side of the fairway do you want to hit? Do you go for the pin or give it room because of disaster lurking nearby?

Distance seems obvious, too, but there’s a great deal of finesse in a shot to a pin 170 yards away. Do you want the ball to land hole-high and stop, or land short and release? Maybe you want the ball to fly beyond the hole. Only one of those shots will go 170 yards.

From the tee, it’s the same story. The driver is not meant for you to hit the ball as far as you can. It’s meant to put the ball in a certain place in the fairway. We start driving the ball consistently well when we pick a distance and try to drive the ball that same distance every time.

Trajectory controls placement of the ball upon landing. Pin in front, hit a high shot to the pin that stops. Pin in back, hit a low shot the center of the green that runs to the back. If there’s wind, you need to keep the ball low to give the wind less control of the ball, and you, more.

Curvature is something most golfers have no problem with other than it’s the wrong curvature at the wrong time. Once you learn to hit the ball straight, then you can play with curvature at will to maneuver the ball around the course when needed.

You don’t have to curve the ball very often, though. Nine times out of ten, a straight shot will do. But if you have to hit the ball around something, or there’s a tucked pin you can get to, give it a go.

Admittedly, some of these parameters involve advanced shot-making skills. The only way to learn those skills, though, is to see the need and start developing them based on real-life situations you face every time you play. When the motivation to learn the shot is a real-life problem, you will learn faster, and better.

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Getting Out of a Greenside Bunker

O.K., we’re going to get this shot down, once and for all. The pros say how easy it is to get out of a greenside bunker and you still can’t do it. Following a great shower of sand the ball is still sitting there, two feet in front of where it was, or else it gets picked clean and takes off across the green like a bullet.

There is a way.

1. Take out your sand wedge and open the clubface until it is almost lying flat on the ground. Really open. Don’t worry about how open that is. I watched Kari Webb do this in a practice bunker and couldn’t believe how much she had opened the clubface. And how easily she made the ball pop out of the bunker.


2. Align your stance about twenty degrees to the left of the pin.

3. Swing with your hands and arms as in your normal golf swing, along your stance line (and not toward the pin), but keep your lower body as still as you can.

So far, so good. Now for the magic ingredient.

4. Swing the club through the sand as if you were going to slide the club underneath the ball without touching it. You could do this if the ball were sitting on top of 3-inch rough. Think that you’re going to do the same thing here. The club slides through the sand on its sole, the part that is primed for the task because of how much you opened the blade when you set up.

5. Practice. There has to be a range near you with a practice bunker. If there’s high grass around the bunker, swing through the grass a few times to get the idea of sliding the club through a medium, then step into the bunker and do the same thing.

This shot is like learning to ride a bike. As soon as you learn how to do it, it’s easy. It really is.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

When the Golf Ball Just Can’t Go Right – or Left

There are holes where a miss to either side is playable and all you have to do is put your normal swing on the ball. Wherever it goes is all right with you. There are times, though, when there is one side of the course to where the ball just cannot go to.

For example, I play a course on which the 2nd tee is hard against the right side, which is also out of bounds. You just have to get the ball to the left side of the fairway, and hitting the ball with even the smallest fade is disastrous. Fortunately, taking one side out of the shot with certainty is easy to do.


When the clubhead approaches impact, it is open to the target line, but closing. It is square at impact (hopefully), and continues closing after impact. That is what we will work with to solve both problems.

When the ball can’t go right, we have to make sure that the clubface does not get left open when it hits the ball. The way to do that is to be turning your right palm down as you hit the ball. This accelerates the closing of the clubface, which puts a draw spin on the ball. You might get a hook, but the ball will not go right. Be careful, because turning your right hand down too much, too soon, will smother the shot.

If you have to keep the ball away from the left side of the fairway, you’ll do the opposite thing with your right palm. Delay its turning downward as you bring the clubhead through the ball. That delays the closing of the clubface, which puts a fade spin on the ball. As before, you might get more sidespin than you want, but the ball will not go left.

I would caution you to save these techniques for times when they are absolutely necessary, when there is trouble on one side and playability on the other. They should not be used as the favored way to curve the ball, because it’s hard to be precise with these techniques without a lot of practice. All they’re meant to do is guarantee that the ball will not go in one direction or the other.

Work out these two moves at the range so you have them under control and get manageable sidespin. The guarantee is void if you try one for the first time on the course when you’re under the gun.

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Elevated Tees

It is not unusual for a course to have a par-3 hole where the tee is elevated above the green. This throws a wrinkle into your club selection, and that’s not all. The way you play the shot needs to change, too.

A golf ball in flight obviously has a vertical component of motion and a horizontal one. When the ball descends, it is going down, but still forward as well. A green that is lower than the tee allows the ball to fall down farther, which at the same time will also carry it farther forward. That means you need less club for a given distance. A general rule is to use one less club for very 50 feet of elevation difference.

If the tee is on a level with A’, B’, and the green at A, B, you can see that a club which would leave you short on level ground will be just right once it has completed its extra fall downward.

It’s hard to describe 50 vertical feet looks like, and hard to tell just by looking because the difference is stretched out over the length of the hole. I’m something of a nut on this, so I go to library and pull out the USGS topographic map containing the course and estimate using the 40-foot contour lines. Maybe an easier way is just to use one less club as a rule the first time you play the hole, then adjust from there.


The other danger that an elevated tee presents is that the ball spends more time in the air before it hits the ground. Every aspect of its flight gets exaggerated. We’ve dealt with forward-back motion with club selection, but there’s side-to-side motion as well. Your fade that lands nicely on the green could fade itself right off the green by the time it hits the ground when launched from an elevated tee. It makes sense, then, to keep the ball as low as possible with this shot.

This is especially true if there is any wind blowing. One course I play has a par 3 with an elevated tee. In the afternoon there is a strong afternoon wind that blows from right to left. You have to aim about ten yards off the right side of the green to have a chance for the tee shot to hang onto the left side of the green. All the way around, hit a low-flying shot off the tee, or even a fairway, into a green that is significantly below your feet.

Those of you who have a copy of Better Recreational Golf on your bookshelf should look up the Hard Chip. This is the shot to play. For the rest of you, this shot is like a greenside chip except bigger. Take the club back to where your hands are hip-high then hit down and through, not releasing the club. There is little or no wrist break. The follow-through should end hip-high on the other side. The hole I mentioned above is 120 yards long. A Hard Chip with my 7-iron, which normally goes 150 yards, is just right.

All that said, I leave to you figure out the Mother of Elevated Tees, this hole at the Legend Golf Course in South Africa. It is 1,400 feet from the tee down to the green. You need a helicopter to get up to the tee. And to get back down.

See also Elevated Greens

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Elevated Greens

When the green is higher than the fairway or tee you’re standing on, you have a problem to solve. Elevation adds yards to the shot. As the ball descends, it is also still going forward. When the ground the ball will land on is higher than the ground the ball took off from, the descending arc gets cut off. The ball will not fall as far, and it will not carry forward as far, too.

You therefore have to do two things when hitting toward higher ground: take more cub, and hit a ball with a higher-than-normal trajectory. But first, you have to read the slope.


This diagram below shows how an elevated green changes things. The curve does not truly reflect actual ball flight, but the general idea is the same. A ball starting off at point O on the left will land on the green between points A and B. If the green is elevated, now defined by points A’ and B’, a ball hit in the same way will land short of the green. Also, its angle of approach to the elevated green, θ’, is shallower than the angle of approach to the coplanar green at θ.

One kind of elevated green is easy to see. The fairway runs reasonably level toward a sharp upslope that the greens sit atop of. Another kind can fool you if you aren’t paying attention. This would be a green that sits at the end of a gentle but constant rise from where the ball is, up to the green. A three-degree slope doesn’t look like much, but it rises almost 8 yards over a distance of 150 yards.

A higher target requires more club. Figure adding one club for every thirty feet of added elevation. Always err of the side of extra club.

You might have to hit the ball with a higher trajectory if you are significantly lower than the green. As the diagram shows, the ball will land at a point in its downward arc where it still has a significant horizontal component to its flight, it will run farther than usual after landing. If the pin is in the back of the green, you can aim for the front of the green and let the ball release the rest of the way. If the pin is in front, you have to hit a shot with a high trajectory so the ball will fall down straighter and stop faster.

To hit the high shot, take out one more club than the distance calls for. Set up to the ball as you normally would. Step back with your right foot about one inch, moving your body and hands back with it. You are now behind the ball. Swing so that you keep your hands behind the ball at impact. This will add loft to the club so you hit it higher than usual. Do not try to lift the ball in the air.

See also Elevated Tees

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