As golfers, we are all under no illusions that this game is - to put it mildly - pretty darn hard. Trying to develop a dependable, repeatable golf swing can be a real headache, and, even when you do, an 18-hole round can still be mentally taxing and play havoc with your emotions.
But if you can find time to practice and expand your golf shot repertoire, those frustrations will eventually give way to a more enjoyable on-course experience - and plenty of 'great shot' compliments from your playing partners.
With that in mind, learn to master these five essential golf shots and you'll be bang on your way to better golf!
Bump and run
The bump and run - or low running chip shot - is a shot every player needs to be able to play. It's a lower tariff approach when you're somewhere around the green, but perhaps you don't have a perfect lie that would allow you to reach for your putter.
Sure, it might not be the most glamorous shot in the game, but hey, let’s not get hung up on the aesthetics. It's perfect when you've got a tight lie, a little tree trouble, or perhaps you're playing on a links course - and that’s where this shot becomes a real weapon.
Remember, there are no pictures on your scorecard, so don't be afraid to shun the sexy high-lofted play for the rather more understated low chip shot! It’s all about getting it done in the fewest strokes possible.
How to play the bump and run
Mastering the bump and run isn't rocket science, but you’ll need to be consistent with it. The key is limited movement and intelligently picking a landing spot that'll allow for the right amount of roll out.
The keys to executing an effective bump and run are:
- Keep your weight forward.
- Ball position is in the middle of your narrow stance.
- Grip down to the base of the club shaft.
- No need for any wrist hinge.
- Try to mimic your putting stroke.
- Pick a landing spot and swing back and through.
At times on the golf course, you'll find yourself in a sticky situation that calls for a low-flying golf shot. Whether you're trying to keep the ball out of the wind or dodge branches, knowing how to hit a punch shot when you need it could help you dodge a card-wrecker!
Controlling your ball flight becomes even more important in windy conditions. Headwinds and crosswinds can be a real pain and make it harder to get the right distance and accuracy.
Having the ability to control your trajectory, spin rate, and the height of your golf shots will help you stay out of the blustery conditions. Get practicing the punch shot and you'll be shaving strokes off your score in no time.
How to play the punch shot
The punch shot has a few key requirements, and whatever your reason for needing to keep the trajectory low, follow our tips, and you'll be on the right track.
The keys to an effective punch shot are:
- Use more club to reduce loft - if you want the ball to travel lower than it normally would, the first step is to club up.
- Ball position back of centre - this promotes a further reduction in the effective loft of the club.
- Choke down - as this places more focus on control.
- Hands more forward - as this reduces the dynamic loft.
- Slightly more weight on lead side at address - this promotes a clean strike at the ball.
- Shorter follow-through - focus on keeping your hands pressed forward during the follow-through.
Lofted chip over a bunker
The chip shot over the bunker is a scary, scary golf shot. But should it be? Are we in the habit of over-complicating this scenario?
When you've taken the pin on and pulled or pushed your approach just short of the sandtrap, let’s just avoid compounding the error with another.
The key - for mid-high handicap golfers, at least - is damage limitation. Avoid too much tension in your swing, as this can lead to you dumping the ball into the sand. Your focus is to find the green and make no worse than two putts.
Some golfers will split the green into zones. You might have a safer play with less bunker carry (the green light zone). Even if it leaves you further from the flag, it's worth considering. Don't even think about going for the flag (often the red zone) until you're confident with this style of golf shot.
How to play the chip shot over the bunker
To play the lofted chip over the bunker with more confidence and consistency, check out these tips below:
- Use your highest lofted wedge - loft is key to getting the ball popping up and stopping more quickly
- Get the ball position forward - to help with presenting the loft to the ball at impact.
- Lower the handle & stay low - this allows the loft to be pointed towards the target.
- Keep the loft on the club throughout the swing - it's vital to present the maximum loft to the ball at impact.
- Turn your body towards the target in downswing.
- Vary the swing length based on the required distance - find the time to practice this shot in between rounds to get a feel for what's required.
Pitch shots from 50+ yards
How is it that such a tiny shot can give golfers so much grief? The pros make the half swing pitch shot look like a piece of cake, but it can be maddeningly tough to get the hang of. From 50 yards, you could almost throw the golf ball onto the green, but how many times have you clunked or bladed your pitch?
The problem is that it's a shot that very few of us practice, but without repetition, the blunders will keep on ruining your chances of saving par - or making birdie on par-5s and short par-4s.
The cause could be swing issues, a poor set-up, selecting the wrong club for the job, or maybe all three!
How to play the pitch shots from 50+ yards
- Choose a club as your go-to pitching club - if you hit all your pitch shots with one club, it will help make results more predictable.
- Think small - you'll want a 'small' set up for what is a small swing. Get your feet closer together, and don't bend forward as much.
- Place the ball in the middle of your stance and lean your lower body towards the target.
- Work on a simple, fluid, repeatable motion - let your arms swing back and get your arms and torso turning through in the downswing.
- Hit the range, or drop a few balls 50 yards out the next time you're on a quiet golf course. Practice can make perfect.
Shots from the rough
The rough, or the 'thick-stuff' as we often call it, comes in all shapes and sizes. From grass just off the fairway that’s a little longer and easily manageable, all the way up to St Andrews-esque gnarly ball-stealing rough.
No matter the situation, playing your ball from the rough presents a set of challenges that you won't find on the driving range (it's pretty hard to simulate coming out of 6-inch tall grass on a range mat!).
Although we would all love to have a few consecutive rounds where we keep the ball exclusively in the short-stuff, the undeniable reality is that you'll be hitting out of rough at some point the next time you tee it up.
That could lead to some wild and wacky shots!
How to play golf shots from the rough
Let's assume that your ball has come to rest in some deep rough and has nestled down.
When playing from heavy rough, your number one aim should be to get the ball back in play. The ball won't travel anywhere near full shot distance, but if you find the fairway, it's a job well done.
Let's assume that your ball has taken a wrong turn and ended up nestled down in some deep rough. Your number one aim should be to get the ball back in play. You’ve got zero chance to hit the shot full distance, but if you manage to find the fairway, consider it a job well done.
From deep rough, you will need to:
- Choose one of your most lofted clubs.
- Put around 80% of your weight on your lead side (left side for right-handed golfer).
- Have the ball positioned back in your stance - along with the weight being forward this will ensure a steep angle of attack.
- Create more wrist set in the backswing - again, this helps create the steepest angle of attack possible.
- Grip the club tightly - as you won't have much of a follow-through, gripping tighter helps you control the clubface.
- Swing hard - trust that the loft will get the ball airborne and headed back towards the fairway.
If you can work on mastering these five separate golf shots, you'll be on your way to better scores and, ultimately, a lower handicap.