There are so many methods and philosophies behind the “right” way to hit the ball, but at the end of the day, if the ball lands where you’re aiming, then you’ve done your job, no matter what your form looks like. We’re going to focus today on tee shots and fairway shots, and have a separate conversation about putting another time.
Before we get started, you should probably first understand a bit about how golf clubs work and how they’re intended to be used.
Obviously, you use them to hit the ball!
But you’re not using the flat-faced putter to drive the ball two hundred yards off of the tee.
There are three main parts of a golf club that any new golfer will quickly become acquainted with: the grip, the shaft, and the head. The grip of the club mostly determines the comfort and feel of the club in your hand. Picking the right grip is all about picking something that feels good to you; some golfers prefer a soft, flexible material, while others prefer firmer materials with very little give. The shaft and the head of the club play a more active role in how the club makes the ball sail across the sky.
A set of golf clubs can be specced to any size of player, but their size relative to one another makes a big difference in how to hit the ball. Longer clubs are typically for hitting the ball farther, while shorter clubs are used to achieve more close-range precision.
The heads follow a similar trend; irons with a lower loft angle are more suitable for distance shots, while irons with a higher loft angle are better for lobbing shots onto the green with pinpoint accuracy.
Definition: The loft angle refers to the angle of the face of the club head from upright. If you look at your 3 iron, you’ll notice its face has a much steeper angle than your 9 iron.
A combination of length, loft angle, and the weight of the head all play a part in how far your shot goes and how straight a line it follows. Now that we’ve broken down the club itself, let’s talk about how to get lined up for the perfect shot, wherever you are on the course.
Before you even pick up your club to take your swing, it’s important to understand how to read your shot and decide where you want to aim. This is an entire area of golf philosophy by itself, but there are some basic pointers any beginner can keep in mind to help them avoid making an embarrassing shot at their next company outing.
First off, if you’re taking your first shot of the hole, your tee shot, then you’ll always want to be using your driver (also called your 1 wood) to get the maximum distance possible. For par 3 holes, or if you’re aiming under 150 yards, you might want to use your 3 wood so you don’t overshoot.
The goal here is to land your shot in the most advantageous spot to position your ball as close to the pin (the flagpole) as possible on your next shot. This oftentimes doesn’t mean that you hit the ball straight towards the pin, either; you’ll have to consider hazards like tree branches, water, sand, and hills, which are all intentionally placed around the course to make your shots more treacherous. It’s oftentimes worth sacrificing 20 or 30 yards of distance if it means landing your ball on flat, low-cut grass, rather than hilly and rough terrain. Think about how to set yourself up for success on your next shot.
The same thinking applies to your next shot. Whether you land gracefully on the fairway, or bounce far into the deep grass, look for opportunities to set yourself up for success on the following stroke.
Once you’ve decided where you want to aim, you’ll need to pick the right club for the job. As we’ve already mentioned, you’re going to be using your 1-wood or 3-wood for your tee shots. Your putter is for putting on the green and nothing else. But what about all of those other irons?
Lower irons are for longer distance shots, and higher irons are for shorter distances. Hit the driving range and swing through a bucket of golf balls using just your irons instead of your driver, and you’ll get a feel for the distance you’re capable of reaching with each club. A consistent hitter can expect to see roughly 15 yards of difference between iron numbers, but your results will vary until you’ve nailed down your technique and can repeat it over and over again.
Your pitching wedge is designed for even shorter distance shots, and is particularly useful for clearing steep hills and dropping shots straight down onto the green. As you might’ve guessed, your sand wedge is designed to help you smack your ball out of the sand traps.
Club selection is all about experience, knowledge of your golf swing and your power, and reading the course. Even factors like the wind speed and direction have a big impact on your club selection; if you’re wavering between your 5-iron or 6-iron, and there are heavy winds blowing against you, then you should probably select the 5-iron to compensate for the distance you’re going to lose. Remember, too, that the ball is going to roll upon impact; nothing is more frustrating than watching the ball land beautifully next to the pin and roll speedily off of the green.
Your stance is one of those things that every golf pro is going to have different advice about. Some golfers favor a wide stance, but the most conventional wisdom is to stand with your feet at about shoulder width. You want your toes to point directly forward, and in parallel with each other; don’t flare your toes out in either direction. Your knees need to have some bend; if your knees are locked, you’re standing too rigidly.
You’ll hear lots of golfers say “back straight, knees bent, eye on the ball.” This advice is very sound, but what does it mean exactly? How can you keep your back straight if your knees are bent and you’re hunching over a golf ball on the ground?
Keeping your back straight should be the most important priority. This doesn’t mean standing straight upright and keeping a 90 degree angle from the ground; rather, it means keeping your spinal column as straightened as possible within your stance. You’re going to be leaned over the ball to some degree; what’s important is that your stance is comfortable and relaxed, adding as little tension to your body as possible.
So, experiment with your positioning until you find a spot where your spine is nice and straight, your knees are flexible, and your weight is distributed evenly across both feet. Finally, make sure you’re not reaching too far out to put the head up to the ball. Your elbows should rest – again – comfortable and naturally in front of you. There’s no need to flare them out or pull them in- this only creates unnecessary tension.
And remember, the pros are pros for a reason. There’s nothing wrong with trying to emulate what you see on TV, so long as you keep these important principles in mind. If you feel yourself creating tension in your body trying to recreate Ricky Fowler’s drive, you’re probably doing more to hurt yourself than help yourself.
After you’ve found a stable and relaxed stance, it’s finally time to talk about how to hit that golf ball! Just like with your stance, there are tons and tons of philosophies about how best to break down a good golf swing, but there are some classic principles that apply to most swing techniques no matter how they look in the end.
First, keep a relaxed-but-firm grip. If you feel yourself squeezing the life out of your hands, or even if you have a lot of glove marks on your fingers after playing, you’re likely gripping your club too tightly. On the flip side, make sure you’re grasping it tightly enough that it won’t slip in your hands.
For your tee shot, tee the ball up to your desired height, and take your stance. Rest the club head just behind the ball, aligning the ball with the center of the face, just slightly under the exact middle. As you pull into your backswing, initiate a rotating motion from your hips first, while keeping your head in place and fixing your eyes on the ball. As you twist back, your chest and shoulders will follow your hips; it can take some practice to really feel the separation between all of your muscle groups that allow you to twist your lower body without moving your head.
You’re pulling back too far if you can see your nose break the straight line you’ve made with the golf ball and your eyes. You can use your inside shoulder as a guide, too; if it starts going past the line between the ball and your eyes, you’re twisting your body too far.
Try to avoid letting your wrist break at the top of your backswing; this technique is more suitable for fairway shots. Once you’ve found the top of your backswing, lead the club through the foreswing by pulling your front arm forward and guiding the club head straight through the ball. Keep your eye on the ball the entire time! If you lift your head before you make contact, you’re going to break your entire stance and tee off unpredictably. Allow yourself to follow through the ball and swing all the way forward (just the way you see the pros do it). The follow through is an essential component of the swing; breaking the follow through early means tensing up your muscles before you’ve completed the full stroke, limiting the power you can achieve.
Phew! That’s a lot to keep in mind, and that’s just scratching the surface of what makes an excellent golf stroke. Whether you’re a newbie or a long-time veteran of the game, focusing down and practicing these fundamentals of your shot will help you hit the ball like a pro.
Got any thoughts to share with your fellow golfaholics? Leave us a comment and spread your knowledge!