For some, golf is stress relief—a pastoral stroll interspersed by 70 or 80 golf swings and maybe a stop for a hot dog at the turn. For others, it’s a fist-clenching, nerve-racking, nearly out-of-body experience where success is often defined by getting through 18 holes without feeling like you need to see a therapist afterward. We've been there, too. For the latter, the adventure is only exacerbated when playing for money, or in a tournament, or with strangers, or in front of a crowd—or all of the above.
If you're faced with needing to execute in one of these competitive moments, but your central nervous system is failing like the Manhattan power grid on a 95-degree day, you need a go-to shot you can rely on. What’s a go-to shot? It’s one that might not make the highlight reel on a newscast or go viral on YouTube, but it’s so reliable and easy to execute that you can use it even when flop sweat is blurring your vision. Here are seven shots that will become second-nature once you've worked on them:
OFF THE TEE
Let’s start with a little honesty. Most golfers lean on their driver when they need a great tee shot. You know it, we know it. We’ve got a clutch drive when getting it in play is paramount. This shot will come out low, probably move a little left to right (for right-handers), and chase down the fairway when it lands.
1 . Tee the ball down about half as high as normal.
2 . Grip down an inch on your driver.
3 . Play the ball halfway between center in your stance and your lead heel.
4 . Make a slow, steady backswing.
5 . When you swing down into the ball, feel like your chest is on top of it.
6 . Swing through impact, finishing when your right shoulder is pointing at the target.
APPROACH FROM THE DEEP STUFF
Unless the ball is sitting up in the grass, flying it all the way to the hole might be too much to ask for in pressure situations. You need a shot that advances the ball, so it lands back in the fairway or possibly chases up near the green leaving you with an easy chip or putt. If there’s a window, you might roll it on.This is the play.
1 . Take a high-lofted club.
2 . Grip down an inch.
3 . Take a stance that gives you the best chance at minimizing contact with the rough, bush, fescue, etc.
4 . Make a steep backswing, feeling like you’re lifting the club nearly straight up.
5 . Swing down directly at the ball, but with less-than-full effort, so you maintain your address posture.
6 . Follow through as best you can, an expect the ball to come out hot and roll once it lands.
APPROACHES FROM THE FAIRWAY (OR FIRST CUT)
Hitting a green when you’re nervous is a lot simpler if your go-to shot is a shortened one that you've practiced. If you go with a full swing, you’ll have too much time for your brain to short-circuit and produce a wonky move. A cut-off iron shot will give you your best chance at solid contact. It also flies lower and is more accurate. The three-quarter iron shot might soon be your best friend.
1 . Use a club one longer than normal.
2 . Play the ball roughly center in your stance.
3 . Make an unhurried swing back and through, focusing on solid contact.
4 . Think: shoulder height to shoulder height. Your swing ends going back when your hands are shoulder high and ends going through when they reach the opposite shoulder.
IN THE ROUGH AROUND THE GREEN
There are a number of pressure situations when just getting the ball on the green is enough to make you breathe easier. You need a pitch that delivers every time. So forget about the low-percentage lob shot. And we’re certainly not talking about taking it in low and hoping there’s enough spin on the ball for it to check up. You need a technique that’s simple to repeat and is forgiving enough to still work even if you hit it a little fat.
1 . Grab your highest-lofted wedge.
2 . Take a slightly wider-than-normal stance, and open your body in relation to the target.
3 . Play the ball roughly in line with your front foot’s heel.
4 . Take the club back until the butt end of the shaft is pointing downward at the ball.
5 . While rotating your entire body toward the target, pull the butt end of the club toward the ball, keeping your left hand palm down and your trail hand palm up.
6 . Don’t stop the swing or your body rotation until your hands are at least shoulder height in the follow-through.
Sand shots should be easy because you can strike an area anywhere from right behind the ball to four inches behind it and still get the ball on the green. But when something is on the line, the fear of catching too much ball can creep into your mind and you end up making a short, choppy swing that leaves it in the sand. Don’t let that happen again by using this reliable bunker shot.
1 . Grab your highest-lofted wedge.
2 . Address the ball off your front foot.
3 . Take a wider stance, put all your weight on your front foot, and open your body in a little in relation to the target.
4 . Pick a spot two inches behind the ball and stare at that spot intently, erasing the ball from your mind.
5 . Hinge the club up quickly in the backswing.
6 . Splash the back of the club down on the spot you were staring at.
7 . Finish with the club over your lead shoulder. (Don’t stop short of that.)
JUST OFF THE GREEN
Chipping it close when a match or round is on the line is a skill that doesn’t have to be reserved for better players only. There’s a technique you can employ that makes it fairly easy to get the ball on the green quickly and rolling like a putt. Try this.
1 . Use a gap wedge or a 9-iron.
2 . Play the ball center in your stance.
3 . Pick a spot that’s a third of the way to the hole on the line you think it would roll along to the hole if it were a putt.
4 . Take your putting grip and set the clubshaft nearly vertical.
5 . Mimic a putting stroke at the same fluid pace (and length) as if you were putting from that distance.
6 . Keep the clubface low and moving toward your target after impact.
When it comes to putting, the bad news is that you can do everything right and still miss. Imperfections in the green, cleat marks, a gust of wind—it doesn’t take much for a putt to rim out. That being said, you can give your makable putts a real chance of going in if you focus on one thing—face control.
1 . Once you’re confident in your read, set up to the ball so you’re eye closest to the target is directly over the ball or just inside of it.
2 . Hold the putter in whatever way minimizes control of the handle with your dominant hand. You just want that hand to lightly hold on. (The claw-style grip can help.)
3 . When you make the stroke, keep your lower body as still as possible.
4 . Trace the putterhead down the line of putt after it strikes the ball.
5 . Hold your finish position, including posture, until the ball falls in the cup.