Category Archives: shot-making

Shaping Your Golf Shots

I’ve written several times on how to hit fades and draws, and this one is probably my best post on the subject.

There are other ways to get this done, though, and you should be acquainted with a few of them. The ones I am going to talk about today involve the hands.

Let’s review the problem to be solved. To fade, the clubface must be open to the swing path. To draw, the clubface must be closed to the swing path.

Here are several ways to get that done with your hands alone.

When you set up, your right palm (left palm for left-handed golfers) faces a certain direction, and you can feel the orientation of that palm against the club and in relation to the other hand. I wrote about this a few weeks ago.

When you take the club back and through and that feeling of orientation doesn’t change, you will hit a straight shot, all things being equal.

To hit a draw, feel like your palm has turned toward the other hand just a little bit as you bring the club into impact. That “just a little bit” part is important. Don’t overdo it.

To hit a fade, do the opposite. Feel as if the right palm has turned away from from the other hand and you come into the ball.

Note: this does not mean the hands have gotten closer together or separated. They stay as united as they were at address.

If you have feeling of the palm having moved, you will get it right. If you actually move the palm, you will overdo it and hit a slice or a hook, which you don’t want.

Another way to get this done is by altering the orientation of your hands during the takeaway.

When you take the club away, your forearms naturally rotate. Retard the rotation slightly and the clubface closes. Over-rotate slightly from normal and the clubface opens.

From there, hold that orientation throughout the backswing and forward into the ball.

A third way is a different way of looking at the first way. To draw, turn your right palm down as the club comes into the ball. To fade, turn the right palm upward.

A fourth way is entirely mental and relies on giving your unconscious mind instructions and then staying out of its way as it tells your body what to do.

If you look at your hands as they approach impact, the right palm faces somewhat upward, squares up at impact, and appears to turn and face downward following through. It is as if your hands are rotating. They aren’t, though. It’s the forearms that are rotating, but you get the idea.

To fade, think about delaying the rotation until a touch after impact. That will leave the clubface open at impact. To draw, think about rotating a tiny bit early. The clubface will then be closed at impact.

A fifth way is to swing back normally, and on the forward swing, to fade, think of the heel of the clubhead leading the clubface into the ball. To draw, think of the toe of the clubhead leading the clubface into the ball.

These thoughts will be felt in a subtle movement of the right hand of which there is no need to control deliberately. The shift will happen by itself and hopefully give you a controllable amount of curve.

Five ways to think about working the ball. Five ways of saying the same thing, probably. Pick one and work on it.

The benefit of these methods is that you can use the same setup and the same swing and still be able to move the ball. The more things you do that are the same, the easier golf is.

But to do something different with the ball, you have to change something that you do, which means you have to practice until you own that change.

Drawing and Fading

Look at the two pictures below.   Because there is a bunker near the pin, you really don’t want shoot straight for it.   It would be better to start the ball closer to the center of the green and curve it into the pin.   If the curve doesn’t come off, you’re still OK.

In picture 1, you see how to set up for hitting a draw.   Aim your stance at the target (yellow circle), aim the clubface to the right of it (blue circle), and swing through the ball toward a spot even farther to the right (red circle).


You may click the picture to enlarge it and see this more clearly.

Even though the clubface is open to the target line, it is closed to the swing line, and the ball will curve to the left.

To fade the ball, set up a show in picture 2.   Aim your stance to the left (red circle) of the target (yellow circle), and aim the clubface between the two (blue circle).   Swing through the ball toward the red circle.


The clubface will be open to the swing line, start off to the right of it, and curve further right toward the target.

In both cases, it is most important that you think of hitting the ball straight toward the red circle.   Do you see where the tree line in the background drops down to a low point behind the red circle?   That is where you should think of hitting the ball, in each case.   Your setup and swing path will curve the ball in the direction you want it to go.

If instead you have the target in mind, you could unconsciously try to steer the ball in the direction you want it to go, ruining everything.

Don’t get too caught up by the circles being unevenly spaced here.   They might or might not be the exact positions for your golf, but their relative positions and their proximity to the pin are.   Hit little draws, and little fades, not big ones.

Approach Shot Accuracy

Here’s a rule of thumb for recreational golfers regarding iron play.

Take the number of the club and add a zero to it. That’s the percentage of the time you should hit the green with that club.

With a seven-iron, you should hit the green seventy percent of the time. Five-iron, fifty percent. And so on.

If you can achieve this, and you play from the right set of tees, you should score pretty well.

How to Hit a Fade or a Draw, in 50 Words

(and one video, q.v.)

1. Always align your body parallel to the yellow rod.

2. Always aim the clubface halfway between the two rods.

3. Fade: the orange rod is the target line and the yellow rod is the swing line.

4. Draw: The yellow rod is the target line and the orange rod is the swing line.

All this is predicated on being able to hit the ball straight at will. Otherwise, you’ll just be adding more uncertainty to your game.

Practice these shots before you use them on the course.

Make sure the swing line points in a direction that won’t hurt you if the curve doesn’t come off as planned.

When you set up, disregard your target. Think only of the direction you want the ball to start. If you think of where you want the ball to end up, you will try to move the ball there deliberately, ruining everything.

The amount of curvature you get depends on the angle between the two rods and your ability to curve the ball. Experiment to find out your results.

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.


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 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 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.


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.


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.