All golfers are under no illusions that this game we all love is - to put it mildly - pretty hard. It can be tricky to develop a reliable, repeatable golf swing, and, even when you do, an 18-hole round can still be mentally challenging and play havoc with your emotions.
If you can find time to practice and increase the array of golf shots at your disposal, those frustrations will gradually give way to a more enjoyable on-course experience - and many shouts of 'great shot' from your playing partners.
Master these five essential golf shots and they will serve you well throughout your journey to better golf.
Bump and run
The bump and run - or low running chip shot - is a shot every player needs to have in their golfing arsenal. 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.
OK, so it might not be the most glamorous shot in the game, but we love any option that can still get you pretty close to the hole, even when you mishit it a little. It's perfect when you've got a tight lie, or tree trouble, or perhaps you're playing on a links course where this shot comes into its own.
There are no pictures on your scorecard, so don't get hung up on going for the sexy lofted chip shot every time.
How to play the bump and run
The bump and run isn't particularly difficult to master, but you must approach it consistently each time. The secret is limited movement and intelligently selecting a landing zone that can feed your ball down towards the hole.
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 will find yourself in a position that calls for a golf shot with a lower trajectory. Whether you're trying to keep the ball under the wind, or below the limbs of a tree, knowing how to hit a punch shot on demand could be a real shot-saver.
Controlling your ball flight becomes more important as we head further into autumn/fall and towards winter (in the Northern Hemisphere). Windy conditions are particularly tricky, with headwinds and crosswinds playing havoc with your distance and accuracy.
Developing an ability to better control trajectory, spin rate, and the height of your golf shots will help you keep the ball out of blustery conditions.
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 hitting Tiger-like stingers in no-time.
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 shot just short of the sandtrap, it's time for clarity of thought and not to compound the error with another.
The key here - for mid-high handicap golfers, at least - is damage limitation. You want to absolutely 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.
It pays to 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 such a little shot can cause golfers so much heartache? The pros make the half swing pitch shot look simple, but it can be infuriatingly difficult to master. From 50 yards, you could almost throw the golf ball onto the green, but how many times have you chunked or thinned one of these short shots?
The main problem is that it's a shot very few of us practice, but without repetition, the mistakes will continue to ruin your chances of saving par - or making birdie on par-5s and short par-4s.
The cause could be a misunderstanding of the swing, a poor set-up, selecting the wrong club for the job, or perhaps a combination of the 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, affectionately referred to as the 'thick-stuff', comes in all shapes and sizes. From the just off the fairway, fringe type rough, right the way up to St Andrews-esque ball-stealing rough.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, playing your golf ball from the rough presents a set of challenges that aren't often practiced for on the driving range (it's pretty hard to simulate coming out of 6-inch tall grass from a range mat!).
While we would all like have a few consecutive rounds where we keep the ball exculsively 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.
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.
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.