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Picking the Right Shot Shape Pt. 2 -- How to Miss!

Posted by on in Course Management
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You've heard it said before that golf is a game of misses.  Or alternatively, it's not about how good your good shots are, it's about how good your BAD shots are.  When we step up and hit a ball, only rarely does it do exactly what we want it to do.  Hogan himself said in a typical round he would only hit 2 or 3 shots that actually came off as planned.  Think about that one for a minute.

So that brings up my next point of discussion here in regards to shot shape.  How do we make those bad shots work?  Well obviously, more practice will help you straighten out those bad misses.  But keeping in with my current theme, there are ways in which you can use your predominant shot shape (or, if you can move it both ways, you can use either/or) to afford yourself the "better miss."  By "better miss," I mean to say miss where the least trouble is, so you still have a good chance of making par if you do happen to miss over there.

Let's use a couple examples again.  Here is the second hole of Indian Creek Golf Club.

Okay, so what you can see here is that there is a bunker on the right, and rough/fairway on the left.  The green is also very narrow.  I've played this course, and I know from experience that the bunker is above the level of the green, and the green slopes away from it.  That's not the type of shot you want to potentially have for your 3rd shot!  Obviously, you can see that the better place to miss, if you are going to miss, is to the left.  From there, you have an uphill chip to the hole from most likely a decent lie.

Now remember that I'm NOT advocating stepping up to a shot with the intention of missing it.  Obviously, the best place to be is near the hole.  But what I AM saying is that you should play a shot such that your err, if any, will be to the side of least trouble (if there is a "safe" side, that is). So in this case, the easiest shot to accomplish that with would be a right-to-left shot.  Those who are comfortable hitting it right-to-left can take aim at the flagstick, or just to the right of it (depending on how aggressive they are that day).  If the shot comes off as planned, it should be right around the hole.  But if it happens to move left more than normal, the penalty is minimized because the shot is missing to the safe side.  Get what I mean?

But what if you're not comfortable hitting it right-to-left?  What if a left-to-right shot is all you can do?  Well, you can still play this hole, but there may be a little more risk involved.  If you are hitting it left-to-right really well, meaning you're just hitting a little baby fade (for right-handers) that barely moves right at all (think of Nicklaus or Hogan), then you can go ahead and take your shot at the flag, aiming just left of it and letting it drop to the right.  But if your shot is more of a sweeping fade--almost a slice--as I see with so many club golfers, then you may have to take your medicine and aim a little left of the green.  This gives you some more room to the right in case you slice it more than normal, but even if the ball stays straight, you'll likely just be in the fairway left of the green.

Here's a drawing illustrating a draw and a fade on the same hole so you can get a visual idea of what I'm talking about here. 

Obviously, you would reverse all this if the worst trouble happened to be on the left side of the hole.  But now, let's talk about what you do if there's equal trouble on both sides.  Generally, the rule here is that if you are looking for the safer play, it's the one that doesn't leave you short-sided. Here's #1 at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas.

Notice that this hole has a bunker on both the right and left sides.  What you will often notice is that greenskeepers will often tuck pins near a hazard (as I have drawn here).  This gives you the option of being aggressive and going for the pin, or playing safely away from it.  Let's look at the yellow flag first.  Now, the easiest shot to play aggressively to that flag with is a left-to-right shot...starting it more or less at the center of the green and letting it work its way to the right.  But notice how that brings the right-hand bunker into play?  So if you ended up in that bunker, you leave yourself in a short-sided situation, and being in the bunker complicates that even more.  So that would be the aggressive play, the more risky endeavor.  You may knock it stiff, but if you don't, you could be looking at bogey.

So if you are looking for a safer play, look left of the yellow pin.  There's a lot of green over there.  If you were to hit a right-to-left shot, the ball would be working away from the flag, but you still have room to land the ball on the green.  Also, if it moved too far left and ended up in the left-hand bunker, you'd have plenty of green to work with.  Hitting to the yellow pin from the "yellow" bunker is a far easier shot than from the "blue" bunker.  Again, this is all reversed when considering the blue pin cut on the left-hand portion of the green.

Before I wrap up here, let me just say that I understand that most golfers cannot hit in both directions on command.  I can only do it on some days...most days, I can't.  I hit a fade for the majority of my shots.  But that doesn't mean that you can't play golf only hitting it in one direction.  It just means that you are going to be forced to play defensively on certain holes, but that's fine...because there will be other holes which will tailor to your shot shape and you can potentially gain ground on those holes.

Hopefully, so far you have gained some insight into the intricacies of how to use shot shape to your advantage.  But stay tuned, there's more to come!  I still have to talk about dealing with the wind, and how to use your shot shape to give you good approach angles into the green.

Until next time, keep golfing your ball!

-Tim G.