Category Archives: shot-making

Many clubs one distance drill

Being able to play golf at a top level is all about knowing how to control the club. Last week I gave you a drill designed to teach you how to control the clubface, in order to be in command of trajectory and curvature.

This week the drill is about controlling distance.

One of the things my pro taught me to do, or rather, suggested I learn (teach myself) how to do is to be able to hit a ball a given distance with three different clubs.

For example, hit the ball 125 yards with a 9-iron, 8-iron, and 7-iron. Can you do that?

There are uses on the course for each of these shots, but what this was was another way of being able to control my swing.

So I learned how to do that.

Perch Boomer, a legendary teacher and author of On Learning Golf, the first book ever written about the feel of the golf swing, talked at one point about a drill he accomplished once after considerable effort.

I’m going to quote at length from that part of the book because it makes the point of what becoming a golfer really means. Or as Johnny Miller would say, a player. [Boomer’s emphasis follows.]

“We can play—or we should be able to play—the three-quarter shot with the full swing or a full shot the three-quarter swing. I realize that this conception may be difficult to grasp, but it lies at the root of the superiority of the really great golfer.

“I say a really great golfer because there are many well-known and successful players who can play nothing but full shots; a controlled shot is right outside their golfing range. Yet the great golfer plays every shot controlled, that is he plays every shot with what he feels to be the correct degree of power not at full pressure. This control is the secret of his greatness.

“The test of a golfer’s control is in his ability to play a shot of 70 yards with every iron club in his bag. Think that out; it will give you an idea of what control of power really means. Every shot will be played firmly, but the power applied will obviously have to be varied greatly with the different clubs.

“I do not claim but I was ever a great player but I did teach myself to perform this tour de force, for a tour de force it is. It took me most of my golfing life to learn how to do it. ‘And why,’ you may ask, ‘should you expect us ordinary golfers to be able to do a thing which it took you, an expert, your lifetime to learn?’ Well, I did not say I expected you to be able to do it . . . what I do say is that understanding how it is done and endeavoring to do it yourself will give you a real conception of controlled power in the golf swing.

“In my opinion we cannot lay too much stress upon this matter of getting the right conceptions. It is surprising what you can get people to do once they clearly understand what it is that has to be done. To reverse this, I contend that many of us are playing bad golf not because we are incapable of playing good golf but simply because we are thinking of golf in the wrong way.”

So there you have it. 70 yards with every iron club. Not with part swings, but with full swings of varying power. Boomer played in the long iron days, so you will have to throw in your hybrid irons.

This is the hardest drill in golf. Being able to do it isn’t everything, but making the effort to is.

I’ll end with a story about Ben Hogan, who one day at Shady Oaks was accompanied by an annoying out-of-town golfer who had worked his way into the gangsome.

The guy was a pretty good golfer, and on the 6th hole, they both hit their tee shot about the same distance. Hogan was away and hit into the green, 10 feet left of the pin with a 7-iron. The Guy said, “What club did you hit?” Wrong question.

Hogan asked his caddy for a ball, took a club out of his bag, and hit it just right of the hole. He asked his caddy for another ball, took a different club out of his bag, and hit just left of the hole.

“I hit an 8, a 7, and a 6.”

Point made, and there weren’t any questions for the rest of the day.

Nine Shot Drill

About ten years ago, I told my teaching pro that I needed to get out of the rut I was in and play golf at a higher level.

What we worked on was my swing. It wasn’t reliable. I could not predictably control the ball. I just hit and hoped. Most of the time it worked out well, but too many times it didn’t.

He gave me five lessons, and gave me the homework of hitting about 100 balls three times a week. This was a three-month process, and when I was finished, golf had become a different game.

He also showed me the nine shot drill.

You might have heard of it. The picture below shows you nine shots. The one in the middle is your standard hit-it-straight shot. The one in the upper right is your standard fade, and the one on the lower left is your standard draw. You might be able to hit those three on command already.

But there are six others that are not so obvious. Few golfers know how to hit them, let alone knowing that they can hit them.

I knew how to hit the first three shots, but the pro left me to figure them out the others on my own, which I did, and learned a lot about what worked, and what didn’t work, in the process.

I won’t go into how to hit them here. That’s a chapter in a book, and not a blog post. Besides, that would just spoil your fun.

The purpose of this drill was not to turn me into a “shotmaker.” Rather, my pro wanted me to learn how to control my swing. If you can hit all those nine shots, you can certainly hit the one in the middle reliably, and really, that shot, medium straight, is all you need to play good golf.

But here’s the real challenge if you want to try it after you have learned how to hit them all: hit those nine shots with nine balls. No do-overs. And you say in advance, “I’m going to hit this one,” and that’s the one you hit.

Here’s Johnny Miller talking about it.

If you can do this, you have complete command of your swing and you have accomplished the second-hardest drill in golf.

I’ll tell you what the hardest one is next week.

An Easy Way to Fade or Draw

There are several posts on this blog on how to fade or draw the ball. They all work, but the methods I presented are all somewhat mechanical.

Today’s method, a more intuitive one, was mentioned in an earlier post on the subject (method five). I want to develop it more here.

When the ball fades, it is because the clubface was open to the path. Another way to say this is that the heel of the club went through impact before the toe did.

Drawing the ball is the opposite. The clubface is closed to the swing path, so the toe of the club goes through impact before the heel does.

Looking at it that way, to get either effect, take your normal backswing, and on the way down, think “heel first” to fade, or “toe first” to draw.

Your unconscious mind adjusts your lower hand on the handle accordingly during the forward swing. No conscious effort on your part is required, or should be made. If you try to guide your hand, the rest of your swing will suffer.

Let your unconscious mind take care of it, and swing at a pace that allows the adjustment to be made in time and not get overpowered.

IOW, slow it down if you have to.

One adjustment you will have to make in your setup is to aim to one side of the target or the other to allow for the impending curvature, but that’s the only one. From there, make your regular swing right along your stance line.

Like anything, this method takes a bit of practice. The practice is to think the appropriate thought and then stay out of its way and let it happen.

That might not be easy to do at first, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first two times you try. Remember that it’s a mental thing, not a physical thing.

Bonus: If you have been thinking ahead, you would know that to hit a straight shot you might think, “face first” to send a square clubface at the ball.

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).

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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.

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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.

Notes:
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.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

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.