Whoever said that golfing is relaxing must have forgotten what it was like to be a beginner. If you add to that being a perfectionist with extremely high standards at the same time, you’re in for some learning opportunities. If you’re just starting out in the game or even fairly new to it, do yourself a favor and cut yourself some slack. Let’s get players of all levels some tips to improve and control your long shot.
The science of why your golf ball pulls to the side. When a ball pulls to the right, it has more sidespin and backspin than the shot you had planned on making. The result will be that your shot will not go as far as you intended because of the backspin, and it will veer right because of the sidespin. What causes this phenomenon? There are four different factors that can contribute to this challenge:
- Your grip
- Your stance
- Your swing
- Your clubface position and where you’re hitting the ball
It’s all fine and dandy to understand what physically happens to the ball to cause it to curve and what technique challenges contribute to it, but what you really want to know is, “What do I do about it?” There are times when you absolutely want to slice or hook your golf ball. Here are some tips on correcting the issue and identifying how to control it when you want the ball to behave that way.
How Do You Counteract a Golf Ball’s Pull?
If you’ve watched much golf, you know that even the professionals who spend hours upon hours of time on the course still make swing mistakes. Take encouragement in that. Golf is a game that requires acute mental focus. And it doesn’t hurt to know a little about the habits of golf balls.
Now it’s time to begin your golf tutoring session.
Starting with Defining the Terms
In order to be able to effectively correct an issue, it’s important to be able to accurately identify the underlying problem. To do that, understanding the terms used about this issue will help. For purposes of this exercise, imagine you are standing in the center of a circle.
- Slice. If the ball curves away from the circle (and you) with a significant curve, it is a slice.
- If the ball curves away from the circle with a slight curve, it is a fade. In other words, a fade is a mini slice.
- If the ball follows the line of the circle and curves around the circle (and you) with a large curve, it’s called a hook.
- Draw. A less severe hook with the line of the circle is a draw.
That’s Interesting, but What Causes that to Happen?
The reason your golf ball goes to the right or left when you hit it has to do with four different scenarios:
- Your Grip – or Lack Thereof
For right-handed golfers, are you allowing your right thumb to rotate slightly as you move through your swing?
To correct this, line your hands up so that there is a clear “V” shape that points straight up the club between your thumb and index finger. When your hands are positioned correctly, you will not be able to see your left thumb.
- Your Stance
To make sure that your stance is helping you and not working against you, first lay a club on the ground that is in a parallel direction to your target. Now stand facing your club and stand exactly parallel to how your club is laying.
Your feet, knees, hips, forearms, shoulders, and eyes should be in perfect alignment. If you think of the club on the ground as the arms of a clock, it will represent 12 and 6 o’clock. You are standing centered on the 9 o’clock location facing 3 o’clock.
Note: If you are a left-handed golfer, you will stand centered at 3 o’clock and face at 9 o’clock.
- Your Swing
If your swing is going from the outside of the ball to the inside, you’re going to end up slicing the ball. This usually happens when you make a steep swing. If, on the other hand, your swing is flat and going from the inside of the ball to the outside, you’ll end up hooking your ball.
Going back to the clock scenario: your backswing will pass over the 7 o’clock point and will follow through on your forward motion over the 11 o’clock location.
Note: If you are a left-handed golfer, you will swing from the 5 o’clock position with motion over the 1 o’clock placement.
- Your Clubface Position and Where You’re Hitting the Ball
If you are hitting the ball inside or outside of the sweet spot, it will most likely result in a hook or a slice. Experts have suggested that a simple 1.5-degree change in how you have your clubface aligned can result in a ball that lands 70 feet off your intended target.
What usually happens in a slice is the clubhead cuts across the ball in a chopping motion that ends up facing away from you to the opposite side of the target and drags the golf ball. This is how the dual-spin scenario is created.
Conversely, a hook occurs when your clubhead ends up close to the ground and facing to your side of the target line – almost as if you were working on getting out of the rough or a sand trap, your ball will likely hook and fly low.
Alternatively, if you’re able to keep your swing, so the clubhead comes from the inside and follows through to the right, you will have a cleaner shot.
When Hooks and Slices are Useful
Understanding how the slice or hook happens allows you to decide when you actually want to use it as a valuable tool in your toolkit. This is one reason the professional players spend so much time at the driving range. They understand the value of a well-used hook, slice, fade, or draw.
The more extreme the factors we just covered, the sharper the curve of your hook or slice. The closer you are to a clean shot, the more likely you will be to hit a draw or a fade.
- Get out of the trees! If you’ve hooked enough balls into the trees, you know exactly why you want to be able to replicate a hook or slice. You’ve got to get around that darned tree trunk somehow! Depending on where you want your ball to go, a well-executed slice or hook can rescue your scorecard and get you back on track
- Help on the fairway. Another reason you would want to execute a perfect hook or slice will be if you are on a fairway that doglegs to get to the green. Unless you can perfectly execute your drive so that you land your first drive in the middle of the apex of the dogleg, you’re going to want to be able to unpack some fancy driving capability.
Working on Your Chip Shot
Well, if you sliced your ball into a sand hazard or the rough, you’re going to need to be able to get it back out of there with as little effort as possible. An effective chip shot can really help your short game strategy.
A chip shot is intended to get your ball out of the hazard and onto the green where it can roll to an ideal location, so you’re set up for an excellent putt. There are five steps you can take to improve the accuracy of your chip shot.
- Once Again, You Need To Get A Grip
It’s time to pretend you’re a junior golfer trying to use a club that’s too long. Choke down on the grip, so you have less club to manage. Doing this will also give you better club control.
- Where You’ll Stand In Relation To The Ball
The ball will be settled in and you’re going to want to show it the way to go. The ball should be toward the back of your stance when you address it. If you want a lower trajectory, keep the ball further back in your stance. If you want your ball to have a steeper slope, move the ball forward in relation to your stance.
- Get On Your Feet
You will want to open your stance for the chip shot. That means moving your right foot slightly away from the ball if you’re a lefty; your left foot should move slightly away from the ball if you’re a righty. Making this adjustment in your stance will give you better hip movement and create solid ball contact.
- Weight Placement
Regardless of whether you golf right or left-handed, you will want to place slightly more weight on your front foot. This was you will be able to have a swift, short stroke without requiring much shifting of your weight.
When you think about some of the awkward places the ball lands in the sand trap, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to have to shift your weight from your front foot… unless you want to make a prat fall, that is.
- Look At Your Hands
When you address the ball, your hands should be slightly in front of it. This will keep the clubface in place and allow you to get a shot that should cut loft off your ball and keep it fairly low.
The Difference Between a Chip Shot and a Pitch Shot
Whereas you want your chip shot to roll to an ideal location, your goal for your pitch shot is to loft that ball up higher than a chip shot and have it land in a specific spot. You want your pitch shot ball to sit and stay when it lands.
- A pitch shot is usually used from about 100 yards away from the pin and when the ball is too far away for a chip shot.
- A pitch shot also can be used to get over hazards – water or otherwise.
- When you hit a chip shot, you hit the ball first.
- In your pitch shot, you will hit the ball and the ground at the same time.
You can use any club of your choice when you are executing your chip shot. The pitch, however, requires a lofted club. Without that additional slope, your shot won’t get the height you’re hoping for.
Speaking of Clubs…
You already know that there are clubs specifically designed for people who are right-handed. There are different clubs made for lefties. Do NOT try to switch between them unless you are ambidextrous and equally as effective regardless of which way you hit.
Lofting the Ball with a Wedge
Since we just finished talking about chip shots and pitches, let’s go ahead and talk about the wedge. These clubs usually have shorter shafts and heavy heads.
- When used properly, pitching wedges can loft the ball between 46-51 degrees. It can also go about 130 yards.
- There are additional wedges you can get, like a sand wedge and a lob wedge, but the pitching wedge will get you started in a nice style.
- The purpose of the sand wedge is pretty self-explanatory. If you want to get out of that darned sand-trap, you’re going to want to opt for the sand wedge that will help you scoop the ball out, especially if you are in the middle of the hazard.
If you feel the need to get one, a lob wedge can be bought separately from your set of clubs. It is used specifically when the ball needs to get a quick loft to get over a hazard but doesn’t have to go very far.
Let’s Go to the Woods
Even though they’re not usually made of wood anymore, the woods are your larger clubs. They have the largest heads, which are typically hollow. They also have the longest shafts.
You will use your woods for your longest shots – including when you tee off.
Sometimes these clubs are called fairway metals, but those with deep roots in the sports still refer to them as woods.
Meet the woods:
These days, the woods are usually made of steel or titanium. Steel is less expensive than titanium, but titanium will give an extra boost to your shot. The woods are intended to allow you to strike the ball at the bottom of your swing (or the beginning of your upswing in the case of the driver).
- The 1 – This is your driver, and the longest club in your bag. The length (usually about 45 inches) makes it the most challenging to control.
- The 3 – This the first of your fairway woods. Your 3-wood will give you the least amount of loft of the rest of your “woods.” This is your second-longest club and will give you the second-longest possibility for your shot. This is the club that beginners are encouraged to use when teeing off because it’s easier to control than the driver.
- The 5 – This club will generally hit about 20 yards less than your 3-wood and is comparable to the 2-iron for distance hitting. Because the woods are easier to manage (because they’re lighter), beginners will have better results if they use the 5 wood over the 2 iron.
- The 7 – You’ll see a pattern here… the 7 will usually hit about 20 yards less than your 5 wood and is considered relatively similar to your 4 iron.
- The 9 – You guessed it… your 9 wood will typically hit about 20 yards less than your 7. Club length and head shape make the differences for these.
When you head to the driving range to practice, you will want to take your driver and your 3-wood. Just remember… the driving range is a nice, open environment. You don’t have any trees or hazards to dodge there. It is strictly for working on improving your stance and your swing.
Iron it out
Your irons will usually come in numbers three through nine and will also include your pitching wedge. The irons have smaller clubheads than your woods, and most are solid. Notice the word most… some are actually solid.
If you think you need to make a divot on the fairway because you need to get some good loft, you’re probably going to be using an iron. Just please remember to replace your divot before you move on.
The higher your iron number, the more loft you’re likely to get on your shot. The reason for this is the same as your woods: the higher the number, the shorter the shaft. Just as you saw a 20-yard difference between the woods, you can expect about a 10-15-yard difference between the irons with the 3-iron offering the shortest amount of loft.
If you’re looking for your first set of clubs, there are irons that are referred to as “game improvement” or “super game improvement” clubs. Yes, part of this is psychological marketing, but these clubs are truly designed with beginners in mind. They are specifically made to help you be as successful as possible with your swing.
The more proficient you become, the easier it will be for you to manage the longer drivers, woods, and irons.
If you’re hitting the links, chances are you have spent time watching the professionals during their tournaments.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Expecting to drive a 300-yard shot or hit 220-yards off the fairway isn’t fair to yourself and definitely won’t do your ego any good. Recreational golfers who have been golfing for a while usually hit between 150-180-yard shots. You may want to get to the place where you can Pro-Am with Rory, but for goodness sake. Cut yourself some slack!
Wondering What Happened to Your Putter?
The putter is neither a wood nor an iron. It gets its own special classification.
- Putters come in a variety of sizes and are specific to your height and preferred putting style.
- Broomstick and belly putters are taller clubs and can help a golfer get better control of the putting game if a traditional putter isn’t working out.
- Putters can also have a variety of optional heads types, whether they be flat or a mallet-type form.
Putting is Key
Putting is one of those shots that can kill your scorecard. Experts suggest that amateurs take about eight more strokes than professionals per round. Did you see that? Per Round! If you want to shave strokes off your game, practice that short game and get your putting under control.
People often misunderstand that putting is the key to their game. The long drives get a lot of attention, so they’re misperceived as being the sexier shot. Guess again. Where do most of the cheering happen during a tournament? When the ball goes in the hole, of course.
Ok. Yes, a hole in one is one of those amazing, “can you believe that just happened?” moments, but they’re also few and far between – almost in a miracle category. So, how do you beat par on a hole? Sink your putt.
Making Sure You Sink That Putt!
To take your short game seriously, you need to start with your devoted practice time. At least 50% of your practice time should be devoted to your short game. That makes sense. Of that devoted practice time, focus at least half, if not closer to two-thirds of that time strictly on putting.
You know that most courses like to make the greens a challenge, so being able to practice your putts in areas that have slight variations is to your benefit. That said, don’t get caught up in spending too much time examining your line. You end up psyching yourself out and overthinking.
The amount of break you need to play will be partly determined by how far you need to hit. If you overthink your shot, you’re likely to put too much strength into it or be too light on your touch. Either way, you just added a stroke to your game.
If you’ve ever played basketball, you know the value of a backboard. To become more effective in your putting game, play a mental game with yourself. Imagine there is a line leading to a backboard one foot to a foot-and-a-half directly on the other side of the hole.
Your mental goal is to hit the ball, so it will gently tap on the imaginary backboard, and it bounces back into the hole. This mental acrobat causes you to put just a little more into your putt and helps you land it.
Acquiring Your First Set of Clubs
So, you’ve been to the driving range and the putting green to practice and have used the rentals that are available there. You’ve even used a set at the local public course. Now you’ve decided it’s time to invest in yourself and your game. It’s time to buy your own clubs.
That’s great. There are a few things you will want to consider when you are making your decision.
New or Used?
Are you going to buy new or used clubs? If you’ve truly been bitten by the bug and are sure that this is going to be a long-term sport for you, you may really want to invest in a new set. If, on the other hand, you’re still testing out the waters and want to get a feel for the overall golfing community first, it isn’t hard to find a set of used clubs that are still in good condition.
The most important thing to consider is making sure the clubs fit your height and grip.
Leather or Rubber Grips
The organizations that oversee the rules of the game require that the grip has to be round and cannot have any obvious bumps, hollows, or lumps. They can have grooves and ridges to make it easier to hold on. Because hand sizes vary, so do the grip diameters.
The choice of using leather or rubber grips completely comes down to personal preference.
You already know that various clubs have different shaft lengths, but what we haven’t discussed is that they are also designed with different stiffness levels. Manufacturers rate the club shafts in six distinct categories:
- A – Seniors
- F – Firm
- L – Ladies
- R – Regular
- S – Stiff
- X – Extra Firm
The overall amount of stiffness in your shaft will be determined by how strong and controlled your swing is.
Every bit of energy you put into your swing is focused on the head and transferred to the golf ball when you hit it.
Hit the Links
There is a lot of science that goes into an effective golf game. It impacts everything from your stance, your swing, your putt, to how your set of clubs are designed.
It’s important to understand how the game works, but don’t let that ruin your enjoyment of a beautiful game on the course.
Now. Go sink that putt!