Bend It Like Bubba
As long as there's room to make a swing there's a way to put the ball on the green. When you know how to work the ball four ways--left, right, high and low--there's basically no combo of tree branches that can make you pitch out. This is the aggressive optimism I had to have each time I went searching for an errant drive in the pine straw at Augusta National this year, especially on the second playoff hole, when I pulled off a low escape with 40 yards of hook spin to set up my first major victory. Thing is, I would've bent that approach--though not quite as much--even if my drive had split the middle of the fairway. Flighting approach shots with or against the wind to access tucked flagsticks is useful, but golf's just way more fun for me when I make every shot "a shot." Working the ball helps me focus, plus it's a lot easier on the psyche because you hit so many more successful shots. If your goal is to draw a shot, it's a success whether it curves two yards or 20. When your goal is to hit it straight, most of the time you're going to fail, and that can wear you out. Bending shots on command might sound intimidating to a lot of amateurs, but with these tips I think you'll find it's easier than you thought.
1. DRAW: ROLL THE HANDS
See how the sand from my divot is flying to the left? That's because the path of my downswing has gone from in to out through impact (see above). Because I'm left-handed, it's like I'm swinging down the third-base line (right-handers need to swing to first base to hit a draw). You might have heard this baseball analogy before, but the key to making it work is to roll your hands through impact. As I strike down on the ball, my left hand rolls past my right hand so that the insides of my wrists brush each other. Get the clubhead moving fast and free. "Flipping the club" is the bad term for when you make this move tentatively. Go at it hard.
2. FADE: STOP THE HANDS
Opposite of what you'd do for a draw, to hit a fade your downswing needs to track from out to in through impact. You can tell I've done this from how the divot sand is spraying toward my body. Other than swing path, my main thought for hitting a fade--or even a huge cut if need be--is that my hands become very still at impact, almost stopping. This lets the clubface stay open a little longer. The other thing this thought accomplishes is, it gets my hips to clear faster than my arms. My belt buckle is almost pointing at the target here, and my left hand still hasn't rotated over my right hand. This ball is curving left, no doubt about it.
3. LOW SHOT: FINISH SHORT
When I'm trying to affect the height of a shot, I take care of most of the work in my setup (inset). To hit the ball low, I play it off my back foot with my hands ahead so the shaft leans forward. This delofts the club, turning the 7-iron I'm holding here into something more like a 5-iron. Then I think about making a short backswing with an even shorter finish. I want my swing to stop with my hands in front where I can see them. I think most golfers could benefit from attempting more of these punch shots each round. When the ball doesn't rise as high, it has less time to slide off line on its way down.
4. HIGH SHOT: LET IT GO
Maybe there's a tall tree to go over, or maybe I just want to get the ball up in the air to ride a helping breeze. Whatever the reason, I take care of launching an iron high mainly with setup (inset). I play the ball as far forward as I can and still be confident I'll make ball-first contact. (On a flat slope, that's usually just inside my front instep.) Then I let my back shoulder hang low so my spine tilts away from the target. If I'm trying to hit it really high, I might feel as much as 70 percent of my weight on my back foot. Once I feel comfortable and athletic in this setup, I just try to swing big, to a full wraparound finish. This means my hands go above my head and my back shoulder passes my front.