Cover story: Golf Instruction
When All Else Fails...
When all else fails, try these 9 tips every golfer needs--instant advice for slices, chunks, shanks and more.
September 13, 2012
We all love golf for certain shots: The downhill drive, the perched-up lie in the first cut, the last swing of the day with the sun about down and no one around. This article isn't about those shots. It's about those other shots: the ones that make you panic. We picked nine situations that golfers dread and called in our top teachers. The assignment: Give us a tip that golfers can remember when they're freaking out. Here are their one-liners, and how they work. If you buy in, you'll have a secret weapon you can count on in a pinch--or in a bunker, or over a lake, or on the first tee. You get the idea. For more tips like these, download the GolfLogix app, check out Golf Digest Live and hit the panic button.
PANIC: You're losing all your drives way rightQUICK FIX: Move the ball up in your stanceIf you're pushing the ball off the tee--or even worse, hitting shots that start right and then slice--you're probably getting pretty panicky with the driver. In many cases, you can fix a bout with "the rights" by playing the ball two to three inches farther forward than normal. Those way-right shots come from swinging down on a path that goes from well inside the target line to outside the target line after impact--too much in to out. If the ball goes straight right, your clubface is square to that path but open to your target. If the ball also curves right, the face is open to the path. Moving the ball forward helps square the face to the target at impact and will get you swinging on the correct path through the shot: from the inside, out to the ball, then back to the inside.--David Leadbetter
PANIC: You've got a long carry over waterQUICK FIX: Hit down on it, and take a divotWater hazards can psyche you out as soon as you get a look at them, when all you see between your ball and the target is wet. The biggest mistake players make is to try to lift the ball into the air. When you do that, it becomes a weak, arms-only shot. And even if you hit it square, you'll probably lack the power you need--and you'll be headed for the drop area to try again. To fly a ball over water, first make a good rehearsal. Take a practice swing adjacent to the ball while thinking about hitting down pretty aggressively, even if you're using a longer iron or hybrid. Actually make a divot even with the ball or just ahead of it, then step in and match your swing to the one you just made. Remember, the more you try to help it up, the greater your chances of going in the drink.--Randy Smith
PANIC: You're on the first tee with a gallery watchingQUICK FIX: Pick a specific target, and go through your routineIt's natural to feel nervous when teeing off in front of a crowd. Here's a little secret the great players know: Having a slight case of the nerves can actually sharpen your concentration and performance. The key is keeping a quiet mind when the body is excited. It helps to take a deep breath or two, but the best thing you can do to calm down is have a pre-shot routine you can lean on, one you've developed when you weren't feeling nervous. It doesn't matter much what your routine is, as long as you stick to it. One thing I will say: Pick a specific target, like a tree or a patch of discolored grass, not just the left or right side of the fairway. A narrow focus will help distract you from your jitters. And keep in mind, no one cares what you do, and whatever it is, it'll be forgotten before you walk off the tee.--Dr. Bob Rotella
PANIC: You're hitting your irons fat and thinQUICK FIX: Keep your chin level as you swingWhat a puzzle: You hit a couple shots fat, then all of a sudden you start hitting them thin. Then back to fat. What gives? These shots appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, so how can they happen on consecutive swings? Truth is, fat and thin contact come from the same basic fault: The low point of the swing is behind the ball. What we usually see is, players dip the right shoulder on the downswing, which makes the head move down and away from the target. That shifts the bottom of the swing behind the ball. The natural mis-hit is a fat shot, but hit a few of those, and most golfers instinctively pull up with their arms to avoid hitting it fat. That's where the thin shot comes in. To avoid both, focus on keeping your head level, as if your chin were resting on a shelf at address and stayed there through impact.--Jim McLean
PANIC: You're teeing off with trouble down both sidesQUICK FIX: Pick a club you like, and swing to the finishFirst off, don't feel as if you have to hit driver because you think that's what a good player would do. This is a survival test, not a beauty contest. Check your ego, and pick the long club you're most comfortable with, such as a 3-wood or a hybrid. You might not get home in regulation--just accept that--but you'll probably avoid a disaster off the tee. For the swing itself, focus on your rhythm. Make your practice swings at the same speed you want for your real swing. Here's a good thought for rhythm: Swing to the finish. If you focus on keeping up your clubhead speed all the way through impact and into your follow-through, you'll tend to make good contact with the ball and avoid the urge to steer it. You'll probably still be looking for balls on this hole, but I'll bet not yours.--Butch Harmon
PANIC: You're leaving the ball in the sandQUICK FIX: Play it forward, and swing hardFor a lot of golfers this is the scariest moment the game offers: Your last few bunker shots didn't make it out of the sand, and here you are again in another bunker. Same shot, less confidence. The fear of sand stems from not having a good concept of how to play the shot. Good bunker players always swing aggressively, and they play the ball well forward in their stance so the club can enter the sand behind the ball and slide under it. So position the ball forward, even with the instep of your front foot, and then swing at a 3-to-1 ratio, meaning swing as if you're trying to hit the shot three times as far as you need to. If you have a 10-yard shot, make a swing that would send it 30 yards from a fairway lie. By doing this, you'll catch the right amount of sand consistently and send the ball easily out of the bunker.--Todd Anderson
PANIC: You've got to hit it high and stop it fastQUICK FIX: Make a slow-motion, three-quarter swingThere's a reason tour players almost always hit low chip shots when they have the choice: The swing for a lob shot has more moving parts, and more potential for disaster, especially when your hands are trembling. Of course, that's no consolation when you're forced to go the high route. To hit this shot, think calm and deliberate. Open the clubface at address much more than you're probably used to--so that it's aiming 30 degrees right of the target, like on a bunker shot. Then make a slow, soft three-quarter-length swing, and trust the loft on that open face to get the ball up. Don't do anything through impact with your hands. Keep them quiet and stable. The second you flip your hands at the ball to try to help it up, you'll hit it fat or blade it over the green.--Hank Haney
PANIC: You've shanked your last two iron shotsQUICK FIX: Open the clubface, and cut across itBecause the result is so ugly and often unplayable, hitting the ball off the hosel of the club can be a serious panic situation, particularly when you do it a few times in a row. For some reason, the more you try not to shank, the more it happens. You desperately have to break the cycle, but how? You need to adjust your swing so you make contact with the ball closer to the toe of the club. This might seem radical, but I suggest you open the face of your club slightly at address and swing on a path that's outside the target line coming into the ball and inside the target line immediately after impact. In other words, swing like a slicer: Cut across the ball with an open clubface. This combination will help ensure you make contact with the ball closer to the club's toe, and you'll get rid of those shanks.--Chuck Cook
PANIC: You absolutely have to make this four-footerQUICK FIX: Smooth practice stroke, step in and repeatOf course, it's so easy to say "Don't think about needing to make the putt." But I can tell you from getting back out on the Champions Tour this season after a lengthy break from serious competition that it's tough to block out thoughts like that completely. To make a good putting stroke under pressure, the best thing you can do is try to forget about consequences and the mechanics of your stroke, and worry just about tempo. Breathe deeply, and make your practice stroke as calmly as you can. Then without hesitation, move directly into your stance, and focus on re-creating that smooth tempo you just used. You won't make them all--nobody can--but you'll give yourself your clearest mind and best chance. That's how to stop the panic.--Stan Utley
You like our lessons? You'll love your lessons
When tour players work on their games, they've got all their stats and access to the best instruction. Now you can have the same. Golf Digest, along with GolfLogix, the leading GPS app for distance in golf, has created a new way to analyze all your shots and serve up lessons based on how you're playing. To check it out, download the free GolfLogix GPS app on your smartphone. Tap the Golf Digest Live icon on the home screen and begin your 30-day trial. After the trial, annual membership costs $19.99. (Upgrading to Champion Member in GolfLogix for an additional $19.99 will enhance your ability to track stats.)