Watching some of the world's best golfers work the golf ball both ways is incredible. It's impressive to watch that level of skill pulled off on demand and with such effortless style and grace.
No one would blame you for feeling that similar creative shotmaking is beyond your golfing capabilities. If you're anything like some of the mid-high handicap golfers here at Hole19 HQ, you'll tend to focus more on doing everything possible to keep the ball in play.
When it comes to improving your weekend round, you might be more interested in getting rid of a nasty slice to keep your ball from carving into a whole heap of trouble deep in the trees. We get it. But should ALL your time at the driving range be spent pursuing a single reliable shot shape? Perhaps not.
If you aspire to become a low handicapper, shaping the ball will be essential. Regardless of your current skill level, it will benefit your game greatly if you're willing to experiment with draws or fades at the range. Many golf coaches would argue that if you can play different shot shapes on demand, your ability to hit straight golf shots will skyrocket as a result.
And remember, you're always going to need to have some understanding of how to escape the tricky positions you put yourself into on the golf course.
So, do you fancy being able to work the golf ball to attack tucked pins or escape the trees with greater ease? Of course you do. Well, with a bit of practice and patience, you can become an impressive shot-maker too.
Why learn to shape your shots?
The likelihood is that you have your own natural shot shape. Even if you're inconsistent and hit your fair share of fats and thins, you will naturally curve the ball one way or the other, and at a generally consistent height when you strike the ball as you intend.
Learning to work the ball both ways and hit different trajectories will help you intelligently navigate any golf course, and deal with challenging conditions, troublesome obstacles and devilishly placed hazards.
As mentioned above, getting a little more creative in your practice and improving your ability to hit fades and draws, stingers and high shots heightens your understanding of the golf swing. The knock-on effect should be that you find more consistency in your swing, and you should be able to make adjustments more easily when you're having a difficult time on the course.
Your newfound clubface control and better understanding of swing path will be a skill which can stand you in good stead as you progress in your golf journey. Whatever level you play at, developing an ability to hit different shapes will make you a better golfer and gives you a competitive edge.
Tips to shape your golf shots
Before we get into the specifics about how to hit the four key shot shapes, it is probably best to lay down a few tips to help you develop the skills.
- Driving range practice is a must - the first thing to say about shot shaping is that you must commit to hitting the driving range with a high degree of regularity to excel. Developing new shot shapes will require repetition away from the course. If you try to hit an unfamiliar shot shape during your weekend round, sure, it might come off, but you could just as easily sail horrendously OB.
- Understand your own swing path - to get an idea of your stock swing path, video your swing. To make adjustments when shaping your shots, you need to know what your standard swing path looks like.
- Use alignment sticks - if you're not used to swinging on anything other than your normal swing path, alignment sticks can be a great way to represent your set-up positions and swing path visually.
- Choose the right club - when you're trying to move the golf ball for the first time, it makes sense to try it with a golf club you are comfortable with. That means probably not your 3-iron, and more likely something like a 7-iron or 8-iron.
When it comes to the shot shapes you may need to play out on the golf course, there's no need to overcomplicate things. There are four main shot shapes: the low shot, the high shot, the draw and the fade. Of course, you can have combinations of these shots, but we will focus on the four to keep things simple.
So, finally, we get to the important bit: how do you play each of these shots? Well, without further ado, check out the standard swing requirements of a low shot, high shot, fade and draw below.
The Low Shot
Having a low golf shot in your locker can help you when it's windy, when you're out of position in the trees, or even if you want to maximise the distance of your next golf shot.
Often referred to as punch shots, they come out like bullets and can run forever when they land on the fairway. And then there's the famous Tiger stinger, which is a slightly different shot, but for the purposes of this piece we will focus on the standard low golf shot.
How to play the low golf shot
- Reduce loft - you must arrive into impact with plenty of shaft lean to deloft the club. Ideally, it would be best to preset the shaft lean at address.
- Club up - if the yardage calls for your 7-iron, grab your 6-iron.
- Ball position in the centre of your stance, or just back of centre.
- Less speed - speed gets the ball more airborne so try swinging at around 80% of your normal swing speed.
The High Shot
How often have you been blocked out and needed to go over a tree on approach to the green? If it's happened more times than you would like, you'll probably understand that having a high golf shot in your arsenal can be a real shot-saver on the golf course.
Many golfers can get quite active in trying to lift the ball in this situation. This could lead to you thinning or fatting it, so we suggest you avoid any scooping motions as you approach impact.
Instead, think about maintaining speed, maximising compression and trusting that the loft of your golf club will see your ball climb through the air and easily clear the tallest branch.
How to play a high golf shot
- Move the ball about a ball further forward - the further back in your stance you position the ball, the more you deloft the club. We want to increase the loft to hit the ball higher, so nudge the ball forward.
- Go for a steeper swing - lifting the club more steeply should create a more downward strike to help the ball pop up.
- Maintain speed through the hitting area - swinging with more speed into and slightly beyond impact will keep the backspin up which will get the ball soaring into the air. That extra juice is vital.
- Finish with high hands - you will need to finish high to get one properly airborne.
- If it's a tee shot, use a longer or higher tee than normal.
We all know the slice only too well, but with a few changes here and there, you can quickly turn the nastiest of shots into a controlled fade. The fade, for right-handed golfers, is a golf shot where the ball starts left of the target and moves to the right.
If you struggle with a slice at the minute, working back to a fade might be the easiest shot shape to master initially on your way to becoming a more complete golfer.
How to hit a fade
- Align your body slightly left of the target (for a right-handed golfer) - this will promote a swing path that moves towards the left.
- Ensure your clubface points left, but not as far left, and it should be open relative to the rest of your body.
- Swing along the line of your feet, hips and shoulders on an out-to-in swing plane. This should start the ball out left and allow the open club face to curve it back right.
For slicers, the thought of learning to play a draw sounds like a bit of a pipe dream. It needn't be though.
It will be a little more difficult to master than the fade - because it's an entirely different set-up and feeling to what you are used to - but with plenty of practice, you can learn to develop a controlled right-to-left ball flight.
In order to hit a draw, the opposite to that of a fade applies. To get the ball moving right-to-left through the air, you need the club working from the inside, and the clubface should be open to the target but closed to the path.
How to play the draw golf shot
- Align your body slightly right of the target (for a right-handed golfer) - this will promote a swing path that moves towards the right.
- Swing direction is in-to-out and moving to the right of the target.
- Your clubface should be a little closed to the path, but it should still remain open to the target line.
No matter your skill level, learning to shape shots will be vital on your way to better golf and lower scores. To become a master at escaping trouble, rounding a dogleg, attacking a tucked pin, staying under the wind (the list goes on), take time to work on the key shot shapes. With time and patience, your scorecard will thank you.