Stop The Drop-Kick
With the longer clubs, especially fairway woods, one common mis-hit is the drop-kick. It's a fat shot and a thin shot wrapped into one, and you're lucky to get 100 yards out of it. Here's what happens: The clubhead bottoms out well behind the ball (the fat part) but skips off the ground, catching the ball on the upswing (the thin part).
Why do golfers hit this shot? Usually because they're trying to help the ball into the air. They don't trust the loft on the club to get the ball up, so they hang back and try to lift it. With a longer club, the swing arc is wider, so the clubhead comes in at a shallower angle. That's why it skips when it hits the ground.
To fix the drop-kick, don't try to sweep the ball off the turf. From the top, shift your weight to your front foot and swing the club down and through (above, right). It's a good idea to make a little divot after impact. I remember as a kid watching Ben Hogan take some grass with his fairway woods. I asked my dad why, and he said, "Because he's hitting down on it." You should, too.
Here's a question I get all the time: How do I know if I'm standing the correct distance from the ball? Easy. Take your normal setup with a driver (1), then drop your lower hand off the grip and let it hang. It should be right across from where you took it off (2). If you stand too far from the ball, your hand will move closer to you when you drop it off the grip. If you stand too close, your hand will move away from you. This drill works with any club, because your hand position should be consistent.
HARMON is a Golf Digest Teaching Professional and runs the Butch Harmon School of Golf, at Rio Secco, in Henderson, Nev.