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Picking the Right Shot Shape Pt. 1 -- The Basics

Posted by on in Course Management
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Today, I'm going to take you through the basic criteria for determining which shot shape to play on any given shot.  Basically, what you want to do on any shot is to 1) stay away from trouble and 2) get as close to the hole as you can while doing so.  In the future, I will talk about how wind and approach angles factor in...but for now, let's keep it simple.

Two Ways to Drive

When you are deciding which route to take off the tee, you'll usually have two options, one of which will be more risky but may offer a better result when pulled off correctly...the other option being the safer route but not necessarily the best way to make a birdie.  Let's look at an example. Here is the 11th hole at Stonebridge Country Club.

Now notice I have drawn two lines here, one representing a left-to-right shot (blue) and the other a right-to-left shot (yellow).  You can see very easily that the left-to-right shot moves away from the water but toward the bunker on the right.  The right-to-left shot, on the other hand, moves away from the bunker but gets closer to the water the farther it goes.  Now, obviously you don't want to go in the in this case, the "safe" route would be to play the left-to-right shot, because even if you leak it too far right and go into the bunker, that's still better than having to take a drop.  But also notice this:  The left-to-right shot puts you farther away from the green.  This means you may have a little longer club into the green, and your chances of knocking it stiff go down slightly.

So say you are really confident hitting a right-to-left shot on this particular day.  Meaning you know that you won't overcook it and send it too far left and into the water.  In that case, and especially if you need a birdie, you may want to go for that shot, because as you can see it gets you a little closer to the green, so you may get a little shorter club in for your approach.

Now, in all of this discussion, remember that EVERY golfer has a tendency to either hit left-to-right or right-to-left on every shot.  Some people can move it both ways (and I believe that is a skill within every reasonable golfer's reach with a little practice).  But please consider which shot is the most comfortable for you, because that should be your starting point--your go-to shot--in every situation.  Sometimes, if you are only comfortable hitting your go-to shot and can't move it in the other direction on a particular day, there may be some pins you can't shoot at, and that's fine.  Don't take unnecessary risks just to hit a more aggressive shot if you don't feel comfortable doing so.  I, for example, play a fade almost all the time, and don't feel quite as comfortable hitting a draw.  So I will play my fade most of the time unless the situation dictates that I really need to hit a draw...or if I'm feeling confident hitting a draw that day.

Throw Darts or Play Defense?

Okay, now let's talk about approach shots a little bit.  In my view, there are two ways you can go about this.  The first--and more aggressive--way would be to aim at the center of the green and let the ball curve toward wherever the hole is.  The second--and safer--way is to use your predominant shot shape to either play towards or away from certain pins.

I'll illustrate this using the 9th hole of my home club.  First, here is the aggressive way to go about your approach shot:

This is the way you would play if you were really confident moving the ball in both directions.  Notice how the shots begin at the center of the green and then curve toward the pin.  So a right-handed player would start at the middle and hit a cut to a right pin, or a draw to a left pin.  Jack Nicklaus used to play this way in his prime.  Obviously the right-to-left shot brings that left-hand bunker more into play, so as I said, you must be confident that you won't hit too far left if you use this strategy.  If you're primarily a left-to-right player, don't just automatically choose to hit a right-to-left shot to every left pin.  You need to have confidence in your shot...if you don't feel comfortable hitting right-to-left, don't do it.  That brings up my next two illustrations:

In the first picture, you see how if you are predominantly a right-to-left player, you can go ahead and play aggressively toward a left pin, but you need to play away from right pin placements.  This is because in order to get to a right pin with a right-to-left shot, you'd have to start the ball on a line outside the green, which is not something you want to do...because if it doesn't move left enough, you'll miss the green altogether, and on top of that you'll be short-sided.

In the second picture you see the opposite:  a left-to-right player can play aggressively to a right pin but should play away from a left pin, for the same reasons described above.

Having such a strategy on your drives and approaches is going to give you more opportunities to post good scores on each hole.  Remember, embrace your predominant shot shape, and use it to your advantage to keep yourself out of trouble both off the tee and on the approach.  That's an important part of how you avoid making big numbers.

Until next time, keep golfing your ball!

-Tim G.