Read an Excerpt
Chapter 16: Fixing Common Flaws
As you play the game of golf more and more frequently, you will undoubtedly begin to run into a few snags. Golf is simple, but it�s not always easy. You might have trouble with direction or with distance. Or you might have trouble consistently making good contact with the ball. Whatever the problem, rest assured there is a solution - as long as you�re prepared to work at it. In this chapter I�ll point you toward solutions to your golfing woes.
Where Did It Go?
By far the most common problem beginners struggle with is accuracy, particularly with the longer clubs. Balls go left, balls go right; will they ever go straight? Yes! Here�s how to make it happen.
Every beginner�s bane, the slice is perhaps the most frequent and annoying problem in all of golf. There is absolutely nothing good about a slice. You make what feels like a good swing and watch the ball start off straight, only to have it begin curving off to the right (for a right-handed golfer). It sails almost as far right as it does out and away from you, nearly always ending up in big trouble. Out-of-bounds, water hazard, trees, rough � you name it and your slice will find it.
A sliced golf ball doesn�t go very far, either. It carries up into the air, making it susceptible to the wind. It loses golf balls. It humbles. It enrages. It makes you want to throw your longer clubs in the lake. Yet, the majority of golfers slice the ball. For proof, just go to your local driving range, sit down, and watch. You will see banana ball after banana ball soaring up and over, balls that wouldn�t stand a chance of staying in the fairway on a real course. So if you are one of the millions who do slice the ball, realize at least that you have some company. Realize also that there is light at the end of the fairway. You can stop that nasty slice, with work and the proper technique.
Most golfers slice for a very simple reason: Their club face is open in relation to their swing path.
If a golfer�s swing is severely outside-in, which means the club face will strike across the ball with a glancing right-to-left action, the ball will also spin clockwise and slice. Combine the two swing errors, and you get the mother of all slices: a ball that has no chance of staying in play.
Slicers tend to swing more with their bodies than their hands and arms. They also tend to have much more tension in their muscles, usually because they�re afraid of hitting another slice. Additionally, most slicers try to swing the club too fast. You'll rarely see a lazy, languid swing produce a slice. It is nearly always the players trying to kill the ball who suffer from the banana ball. Another problem some slicers have is using a grip that is too weak. This can turn the club face slightly open at impact, causing a slice.
The first step in ridding yourself of a slice is to relax those arms and hands, and take a smooth, lazy swing. Don�t worry about distance; that will come. Besides, you will actually hit the ball farther with a long, lazy swing than with a fast, tense one. Next, you need to strengthen your grip a bit. Address the ball, then look at how many knuckles are visible on your left hand. If you see only one knuckle plus a bit of the second, your grip is too weak.
Grip the club so that you can see two to three knuckles of your left hand, then place your other hand on the grip so that both palms are facing one another. Using this new grip should help close the club face more at impact and reduce your chances of slicing. Now make sure you are not swinging outside-in. First, try setting up with a slightly closed stance, with your feet on a line pointing a few degrees to the right of the target line (for a right-handed golfer). Doing so will help you have a longer backswing and get the club inside the target line.
Try the two drills I described in Chapter 15, in the section called �Come from the Inside.� For the first drill, really make an effort to take the club straight back along the target line and then swing at the ball from an inside path. Swing the club head through the two outside tees and only hit the middle one. For the second drill, make sure your downswing follows the line of the outside club or yardstick, the one pointing 10 degrees right of the target. Keep it straight and simple.
Here�s another good drill to practice. Stick a pencil into the ground about two feet outside of your right foot, right in between the target line and your stance line. Swing your club straight back along your target line, making sure it stays outside the pencil. Then, on your downswing, let the club pass inside the pencil. This will ensure that the club head is coming at the ball from the inside.
Practice all three of these drills religiously and you should be able to eliminate an outside-in swing path. Try them first with a 6-iron and then slowly move up through the longer clubs until you are using a driver. Try moving the ball back in your stance about an inch. This will cause the club face to make impact with the ball sooner, while it is still coming at the ball from inside the target line. Doing so will help reduce the amount of clockwise spin on the ball and cut down on that slicing action.
Now you need to make sure your club face is not open to the target line at impact � which can happen even if your club head is coming from the inside.
Using your 6-iron again, take a normal stance and begin making three-quarter swings, concentrating on rotating your right forearm over your left (for a right-handed golfer). Try to get the back of your left hand pointing at the target at the point of impact, then turning downward immediately after. The back of your right hand should be rotating into the upward position immediately after impact. Working on becoming aware of your hand and forearm position in this manner will help you close that club face properly, thereby avoiding the dreaded open face and the resulting slice. After practicing with a three-quarter swing, move on to a full swing. Then graduate to the longer clubs until you can reliably rotate your hands and forearms through impact for all the clubs. Try hitting a few balls and see what happens.
Players who hook the ball suffer the exact opposite fate of the slicers. They hit a low tee shot that goes straight for a little bit but then makes a quick left turn and buries itself into the woods or dives into water or rough. A golfer prone to hooks has the club face closed in relation to his or her swing path, causing counterclockwise sidespin (for a right-handed golfer) and a resulting hook to the left. In most cases the problem is simple physics: The club face is closing too soon so that it points to the left of the target at impact.
If you�re hooking the ball, you may discover that you are swinging with too much hand and arm action and not enough body movement � the opposite of a slicer. Your club head gets manipulated into the closed position by all that upper body movement, while your hips never really get to open up fully. You may also be using too strong a grip, with three or more knuckles showing on your left hand at address, causing the club face to be closed at impact.
To prevent a hook, you must first make sure your hips are turning properly through the downswing. At impact, your belt buckle should be just about pointing at your target, and your weight should have shifted almost entirely to your left foot. You should think of your arms and hands as just being along for the ride, not controlling the swing. They should be as passive as possible, like the tip of a bull whip that gets snapped through the air by the action of the longer, thicker parts of the whip. Videotape your swing (or ask an experienced golfer to watch it) to confirm that you are getting your hips turned properly and that your weight is being transferred to your left foot.
Next, try weakening your grip so that at address you see a maximum of two knuckles on your left hand. This will help open the club face up a bit at impact, lessening the chances of counterclockwise spin (for a right-handed golfer). Involving your body more (and your hands and arms less) will help rid you of that hook. Also, try moving the ball up in your stance about an inch so that the club head will have an instant more travel time before making impact. Giving the club head that extra time to travel through its arc will enable it to leave its inside path and begin traveling in a straight or outside-in direction, helping to prevent the hook spin.
The only shot worse than a slice is a shank. Caused by hitting the ball with the hosel of the club instead of the face, the ball bounces off the thin, round surface and scoots off to the left or right, barely leaving the ground and traveling in most cases only 20 or 30 yards. Hitting a shank is the most embarrassment you will ever experience on the course, worse even than missing a two-foot putt. Shanks must be avoided at all costs!
When you shank the ball too often, odds are that you are either pushing the club out and away from your body during the downswing, or you are approaching the ball on an extreme outside-in pathway, causing the hosel to lead and deliver a glancing blow before the face ever gets there. To cure this problem, first make sure your swing path is coming from the inside. When the toe of the club leads the hosel, as is the case with an inside-out swing and a properly released club head, you can�t shank.
To keep you from pushing the club head out and away from you on the downswing, try this drill. Place a tee in the ground where the ball would normally be, and then place another tee about two inches outside of the first one. Make an easy swing, trying to hit the first tee squarely while missing the outside tee. If you consistently hit both tees, you know you are pushing the club out away from you. Keep working on this drill each day until you are striking only the first tee.
If you see a ball mark on the center of the face, you are okay. But if you routinely see the mark close to the heel, you know you need to work on reducing that outside push of the club.
A pulled shot starts out going left and continues left (for a right-handed golfer). It travels perfectly straight but off target. This happens when the club head approaches the ball from outside of the target line with the face pointing the same way, instead of at the intended target. Ken Griffey, Jr. tries to pull the baseball into the right field bleachers every night because they are closer to him than the centerfield wall. He swings the bat just a hair early, causing it to be slightly ahead of the ball at impact. He doesn�t have to hit the ball straight out to center field. You do, however, so let�s solve the problem. When you pull the ball, the mechanics are the same as when Griffey does. The club gets out ahead of you too soon because your shoulders are turning too early. At impact, your shoulders have already opened up. Another cause of a pulled ball is having the ball positioned too far left in your stance. By the time the club face gets to the ball, it has already begun to close and move left of the target line (for a right-handed golfer).
To solve the pull problem, you must have your shoulders in line with the target line at impact. Make sure you are properly aimed and aligned at address, with your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders all parallel to the target line. Pay close attention to your shoulders, making sure they aren�t aimed left or right.
You must also be sure to shift your weight properly to your left side (for a right-handed golfer). Not shifting your weight properly to your left foot will open your hips and shoulders prematurely, encouraging the pull. Work on the weight shift, aim and alignment, and swinging smoothly. Don�t hit at the ball; swing through it instead, and that pull should disappear. You might also try moving the ball back slightly in your stance, which will cause the club face to make impact a moment sooner, while it is still pointing at the target and not traveling to the left. Do so in half-inch increments and see if this solves the problem.
A push starts out to the right and stays right (for a right-handed golfer) without curving at all. This happens when the club head approaches the ball from an inside path, with the face open relative to the target line. If you push the ball, most likely you are not rotating your body fully on the downswing, which is causing your arms to lag behind. It is a late hit, where the club head does not get into the hitting zone on time.
If you do not properly release the club head, you are likely to push shots even if you are coming at the ball from the inside. Yet another reason you might push the ball is if the ball is positioned too far back in your stance, causing the club head to make impact with the ball too soon. The face meets the ball before it has a chance to point straight down the target line.
To solve a push problem, you first need to practice getting your hips turning fully on the downswing so that your belt buckle points at the target by the time you have finished the swing. To achieve this, you need to make sure you are shifting your weight completely from your right foot to your left foot. Practice the weight shift at first without a club. Bring your arms back and through repeatedly, while consciously shifting your weight from back to front. Your body should not move backward and forward during the swing. Just rotate back and through. Once you get the weight shift down, pick up a club and practice again, taking note of the position of your belt buckle at the end of your swing. Your hips should whip open, with your shoulders and arms following a split second after. Opening your hips enough will make room for your arms, which need somewhere to go in order to come around properly.
Also, make sure you are releasing the club head properly, by practicing turning your right forearm over the left as you enter the impact zone (for a right-handed golfer). You should feel as if the back of your right hand is beginning to point upward just after impact. This subtle rolling feeling in the hands will help close the club face and get the ball traveling straight instead of to the right of the target.
Finally, check to see that your ball is not positioned too far back in your stance. Try moving it up a half-inch at a time and see if that solves the problem.
Unpredictable distance or direction
If the distance and direction you hit your ball varies tremendously from shot to shot, it probably means two things. First, you may not be consistently striking the ball on the sweet spot of the club, causing a substantial loss in distance. Tests show that balls hit off of the toe or heel of irons or woods can lose as much as 20 to 30 percent of their distance. If you aren�t making square contact, odds are that you may be hitting some of these heel-toe shots.
The other reason distance control can be erratic is that you are varying the length of your backswing too much. Instead, try to take the club back the same distance each time for a reliable, predictable swing speed, which will help you hit the ball the same distance each time. If you find yourself hitting the ball all over the place with no predictability whatsoever, you may be getting lazy with your alignment and aiming techniques. Be sure to have your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders parallel to the target line, and make sure to aim the club face right down the target line every time before you swing away.
In the beginning of your golfing career, you will hit your share of poor shots. That�s okay. You just need to get your timing down as well as the fundamental mechanics of the swing and of impact. While you�re learning, you will undoubtedly experience the frustration of poor contact with the ball. You make a great, smooth, well-timed swing only to have your club face hit the turf behind the ball or barely tip the top of it. Your smooth swing results not in a pretty shot, but in a shot that travels only a few miserable yards, leaving you muttering and angry. The good news is that the reasons for poor contact are often easily identified and corrected. Here are the most common, easily remedied contact errors you might be making, complete with solutions.
The fat shot
Hitting the ball fat simply means your club head strikes the ground first, before making contact with the ball. Fat shots are embarrassing, maddening, and often painful to your wrists because the ground is quite a bit less yielding than a golf ball. A fat shot will often travel less than half the desired distance, sending an immense divot up into the air in the process. Hit enough of them and your wrists will feel as if you�ve been using them for sledge hammers all day.
Most of the time when you hit a fat shot, the bottom of your swing arc is too far behind the ball. This can be caused by bending too much at the waist or knees during the downswing, or by an improper weight shift in which most of your body weight is left on your right foot instead of shifting to the left during the downswing. It can also be caused by a swing plane that is too steep. Still another cause of fat shots is simply playing the ball too far up in your stance.
To reduce the chances of hitting a fat shot, try these adjustments. First, make sure you don't bend into the ball during the downswing. You should try to maintain the same amount of bend in your knees, waist, and hips throughout the downswing. Keep your spine straight. Try watching your shadow during a swing. Have the sun directly behind you, and watch your head during the backswing and downswing. If it bobs up and down, you know you must be bending somewhere. Practice until the shadow of your head remains at the same level throughout your swing.
Keep your weight evenly balanced between your heels and the balls of your feet at address. By all means keep it off of your toes. Next, be sure to properly transfer your weight from the right foot to the left foot on the downswing, because this will help keep the club head from bottoming out too soon. Try to make as full a backswing as possible, taking care not to take the club back on too steep a plane because that will almost guarantee a fat shot. Finally, try moving the ball back about an inch in your stance so that the bottom of your swing matches up with the ball position.
The thin shot
Hitting a shot thin means your club head made contact with the ball at or slightly above the equator of the ball, sending it zooming out at no more than two or three feet off the ground. A thin shot hit with a middle iron, long iron, or wood will typically travel much less than a well-hit ball, while a thin shot hit with a wedge or short iron will travel farther than normal. Thin shots usually have very little if any backspin on them, causing the shot to roll quite a distance after touching down.
Hitting a thin shot isn�t always a disaster, especially when you�re hitting off the tee or from the fairway. The ball won�t go as far, but at least you will advance it toward the hole. If you�re trying to clear a body of water or a bunker, however, the thin shot just won�t cut it. Your ball will drop right into the hazard and ruin your day. Thin shots can also hurt because they make your club vibrate, especially if the shaft is made of steel instead of graphite. Your hands will feel as if they have just received a mild electrical shock. Basically you will want to avoid hitting the ball thin. But how?
Thin shots are the opposite of fat shots (of course!), which means most happen when the bottom of your swing is too far forward. Others are caused by raising up your body just before impact. Still others are caused by your trying to lift or scoop the ball up into the air with an iron. Incorrect ball position at address can also cause thin shots.
To avoid hitting thin, keep your spine as straight as possible during the swing, but avoid any straightening of the knees or torso on the downswing. Next, try experimenting with ball position at address. If you are thinning shots with your driver, try teeing the ball up an inch farther back in your stance, enabling the club head to contact the ball a bit sooner. Move the ball back an inch or so with your irons, too, to make sure you contact the ball while the club head is still descending. Remember, a good iron shot always makes impact with a slightly descending blow. Once the club head begins to ascend, it�s too late. Moving the ball back a bit will help ensure proper contact.
Skying a tee shot
One of the most annoying mistakes you can make on the tee is hitting a skied shot, in which the ball goes almost straight up into the air and not very far forward. This happens because the head of the driver slips underneath the ball, with only the very top of it making contact. Not only does the ball go almost nowhere, but a nasty ball mark is left on the top of your nice, shiny driver.
If you hit skied tee shots, you�re either swinging your driver into the ball at much too steep an arc or are teeing the ball up too high. If the driver makes impact at too steep an angle, a pop-up is the inevitable result. If it slides beneath the ball under too high a tee, only the very top will connect, sending the ball almost straight up.
To solve the problem, first make sure your swing arc is as shallow as possible with your driver. Take the club back low and slow, attempting to keep the club head close to the ground for as long as possible. When you reach the top of your backswing, your hands should be about a foot above your right shoulder (for a right-handed golfer) instead of way up over your head. Making sure of this will help shallow out your swing arc and prevent too steep an entry into the ball.
Additionally, try teeing up the ball a bit lower. Adjust the height of the tee so that no more than half of the ball sticks up over the head of the driver. This should help minimize the chances of a skied tee shot.
Topping your tee shot
Worse than a thinned shot, a topped shot is what you get when the club head just barely grazes the top of the ball. The resulting shot dribbles away a few yards at best. Very embarrassing and exasperating, to say the least. A player will top a ball when he or she has a lot of up and down body movement during the swing, causing the club head to rise up. If you tend to lift up your body during the downswing, chances are you may top your share of balls.
To avoid topped shots, you must keep your head as level as possible during the swing. Try turning away from the sun until your shadow is directly in front of you, and then take some practice swings. Watch for lots of up and down motion of your head. If you see your noggin bouncing up and down, you know the cause of your topped shots. Work on keeping the top of your shadow as still as possible during the swing; try to maintain the same amount of bend in your knees and torso, and don�t try to uppercut the ball in an attempt to get it airborne. Simply trust in the loft of the club face to do that for you.
Another great way to determine whether or not your swing has too much up-and-down movement is to videotape yourself swinging. Have a friend set up a camcorder on a tripod and tape your swing from the front, side, and rear. You will undoubtedly see lots of unusual movement, including back-and-forth swaying as well as up-and-down bobbing. After viewing the tape, take a deep breath and begin to work on keeping as level as possible during subsequent swings. After a day or two, tape your swing again to see if you have improved. Then hit a few balls with your new, more level swing and see what happens.
Poor Results With the Longer Clubs
Most beginners have little problem learning to hit with the shorter clubs, but they tend to have a harder time mastering shots with the longer irons and fairway woods. The reason for this is simple: The shorter the club, the easier it is to control. When you swing an 8-iron or a wedge, you can sense more easily where the club head is and what it is doing. Also, the swing arc is much tighter and steeper, adding to the feeling of control. The long irons (1 through 5) require a longer, more sweeping arc and, being several inches longer, are harder to control than the shorter clubs. Fairway woods are often harder to hit cleanly than the driver because the ball lies flush with the turf instead of up on a nice tee.
If you want to hit the longer clubs well, you must forget about swinging hard and fast. Instead, you must swing smoothly and with a sweet tempo, like Ernie Els or Fred Couples. Your swing arc must be long and shallow; as with the driver, take the long iron or fairway wood back low and slow. Unlike with the short irons and wedges, you should try not to hit down too aggressively into the ball. Instead, sweep the ball off the grass.
Also, make sure to play the ball farther up in your stance than you would with a middle or short iron. Instead of positioning the ball in the middle, try moving it up an inch or two from that point. Doing so will allow for the club�s longer shaft and wider swing arc.
Even for good players, long irons tend to be difficult to master. The small club head, long shaft, and paltry amount of loft all combine to make hitting these clubs a real art. Beginners should not even consider carrying a 1-iron, a 2-iron, or even a 3-iron; and they might even be better off leaving the 4-iron home for awhile.
Instead, many players are now replacing these hard-to-hit clubs with low-profile, low-center-of-gravity fairway woods, which tend to be much easier to hit than long irons. The larger, heavier head of the fairway wood tends to glide through the grass better and also has a larger sweet spot than a long iron, which enables you to hit a decent shot even if the club face makes contact with the ball off center.
Beginners should consider dropping the 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-irons completely and replacing them with 5-, 7-, and 9-woods, which will hit the ball just as far and with a higher trajectory that allows the ball to land more softly onto the green. Although fairway woods remain more difficult to hit than middle or short irons, they are much easier to master than the long irons will ever be.