If you’re like most golfers, you probably have a unique or “go-to shot.” Maybe you play a high cut that works with pretty much every club in the bag. Or maybe you play a low draw that you can count on more often than not.
But let me ask… do you know how to hit the opposite shot?
When things go bad and your ball ends up in a tough spot, do you have a golf shot shaping strategy to get yourself out of trouble?
Perhaps no better player at carving the golf against all odds is the “Goat”, Tiger Woods. Despite clubs and golf balls not allowing as much you could in the past, so many times he constantly defies all odds.
Look no further than his infamous fairway bunker shot at the WGC Mexico tournament. Somehow Tiger was able to carve a 9-iron around a tree with a 20-yard slice and a crazy follow through.
The shot found the green with a ton of left to right spin and ended up only 11 feet from the hole. Even though he missed the putt (which was surprising), it was still one of the best shots in recent years. I’m confident that almost no one else in the world can pull that off.
Let’s face it, every golfer finds themselves in a few challenging spots during the round. But it’s how you bounce back and play these shots that can make a huge difference. Often times a difficult shot can save your round and give you tons of momentum.
Here’s how you can channel your inner Tiger to play some incredible shots in the future.
Five Shot Shaping Rules
While carving shots are fun and usually impressive your playing buddies, here are a few general rules to keep in mind.
1. Never Penalize a Straight Shot
I stole this tip from Tiger’s book, “How I Play Golf” and think it’s super important to mention here. When carving shots and creating a game plan for specific shots, make sure you never penalize yourself for hitting one dead straight.
For example, never aim at the water and hope that it draws to get on the green or in the fairway. Even though the straight shot is arguably the hardest shot in the game, you never want to penalize yourself for accidentally doing it.
2. Practice On the Range
When it comes to hitting big hooks, high moon balls or other uncommon shots you don’t normally attempt, make sure you try them on the range first. While of course, you can’t practice every shot, you want to make sure that you understand the basics for each shot before trying it out on the links.
3. Use Jack’s Method
One of the biggest mistakes I see so many golfers make when trying to shape shots is they change their swing entirely. Instead, keep it simple! As Jack Nicklaus said, “To shape a shot, better to change your setup than your swing.”
You want to make a concentrated effort on adjusting your setup, not your full swing. It’s a lot easier to change your setup than a swing that you’ve ingrained over years or even decades.
Here’s how Jack Nicklaus played the two main shots in golf — the fade and draw. To play a fade, he said to aim the clubface where you want the ball to come down. Then, you want to align your body to the left.
When you want to play a draw, you do the exact opposite. To curve it right to left, aim the face where you want the ball to finish and align the rest of your body to the right.
For both ball flights, make sure to swing the club where your body is aimed.
4. Commit to the Shot
Another rule is to commit to the shot. While I’ll talk about this in-depth in the next section, make sure you are 100% committed to the shot you want to pull off. Even if it seems unlikely and challenging, you want to think you can pull it off. I promise the chances of pulling it off will increase dramatically.
5. Getting Mentally Ready
Before diving into the mechanics of shaping all kinds of golf shots, it’s important to start with your mentality. Because if you don’t believe you can pull it off, you probably won’t. So before you pick out the intended weapon from your bag, get clear on what shot you want to hit.
Standing behind the ball, imagine in vivid detail, what the ball will need to do to get to where you want. Think about how high or low it will go. Think about if it needs to cut 20 yards and carry it to the front of the green. Or, think about if it needs to snap hook around a tree and run-up to the green.
The more detail you can provide your mind, the more likely you are to pull the shot off. Once you have the ideal shot, take 2-4 practice swings with the swing that will require it. With these swings, you want to overemphasize what it will require to get your mind fully invested. Then, finish your routine, commit to the shot at hand, and live with the results.
Shot Shaping 101
First things first. If you haven’t already, it is required reading: The New Ball Flight Laws. This will give you a few fundamentals that make the concepts below a little easier. Also, make sure to read our article Draw vs Fade where we talk about the pros / cons of both shot shapes.
Curve the Ball Left to Right
Making the ball go left to right is pretty natural for a majority of amateurs golfers. Hitting it left to right, also known as a slice, cut or fade requires a slightly open clubface at impact. This usually happens when you don’t roll your wrist enough or come into the ball from the outside at impact.
Here’s how to play a fade:
- Aim your body (feet, shoulders, and forearms) to the left and clubface at the target.
- Move the ball position more in the front of your stance.
- Swing on the path of your body and the ball should curve left to right.
- If you need to play a slice, change your swing to go outside to inside
Curve the Ball Right to Left
Making the ball go right to left in golf is not nearly as natural for most amateurs golfers. Hitting it right to left, also known as a draw, hook or trap draw requires a slightly closed clubface at impact. This usually happens when you roll your wrist over or come into the ball from the inside at impact.
- Aim your body (feet, shoulders, and forearms) to the right and clubface at the target.
- Move the ball position more in the back of your stance to trap it at impact.
- Swing on the path of your body and the ball should curve right to left.
- If you need to play a hook, change your swing to go inside to outside
How to Hit a Golf Ball High
Now that you understand how to shape the ball left and right, let’s focus on the trajectory. Sometimes you might put yourself behind an obstacle (i.e. a tree) and need to get the ball up quickly.
Once you have a mental blueprint for the shot, the next thing to make sure it that the club you want can actually get that high up. Remember, shorter clubs have more loft which means they can go climb higher faster. While longer clubs have less loft and require you to swing harder to them airborne.
If the club can reach the height needed, make these few adjustments to hit a golf ball high:
- Put the club 1-2 inches farther forward in your stance.
- Take the club up quicker and steeper. This will create a more downward blow which will make the ball go up.
- Swing slightly harder than normal. You’ll need a little extra juice to get the shot to climb higher than normal
- Finish high. You need to have a high finish to launch one higher than normal.
How to Hit a Golf Ball Low
The final shot shape you will need in your bag is the ability to hit it low which is commonly known as a punch shot or a knockdown. This one is arguably the easiest out of the four shots as you don’t need to change much.
- To hit a punch, you want to take a club with less loft (usually a 3-5 iron) so you can keep it low.
- Put the ball slightly back in your stance but don’t need to do anything else at address.
- On the way back, you want to take a ½ to ¾ swing, depending on what type of shot is needed. Anything longer will make it very difficult to finish low and hit it low.
The main thing you need to do is to finish low. A good visual is to imagine the club never going past your rib cage. The lower you want to hit it, the lower your follow-through.
An alternate method to hitting the ball low is to choke down on the grip. This can make any club go lower than normal and can be an extremely handy tool to have in the bag.
A little more advanced, but go here to learn Tiger’s Stinger shot. The ultimate low shot when the pressure is on.
Combining More Than One Shot
As you probably know, you rarely just need to play one type of golf shot on the course. For example, one some holes if you hit your driver in the trees, you might need a low slice or a high draw to get your ball back into play. If this happens, what do you focus on!?
So let’s say that you need to play a low slice. Should you think more about hitting it low or slicing?
First off, it depends on the situation and what trouble is looming if you strike it too high, don’t slice it enough or overcook one. Once you determine that
What is shot shaping in golf?
Shot shaping is using your creative mind to play all kinds of different golf shots. It’s the opposite of trying to play it straight by instead changing your swing or set up to shape the ball to the right or left.
What is the best shot shape?
Have you ever wondered, “Should I play a fade or a draw?”
While there is no precise answer, here are a few things to think about. First off, a cut or fade tends to get you in less trouble as it won’t roll out as much tends to not move quite as much. But it also doesn’t travel as far as a draw.
That being said, a draw has it downsides as well. A good quote is “You can’t talk to a draw like a cut.” Meaning, draws can get you in a lot more trouble if you over-rotate your wrists. They tend to roll out further which means they could end up in a hazard, bunker, etc.
Also, finding the best shape also means taking a good hard look at your swing. If you consistently come over the top, it’s going to be very difficult and requires a ton of manipulation near impact to play the shot. Instead, find the shot that most aligns with your game to keep it simple.
How do you practice shaping shots in golf?
You can practice shaping shots a few different ways. If you’re on the range, you never want to hit a shot more than twice so you are constantly keeping your mind guessing.
For example, hit a couple of low, punch 6-irons. Then switch and hit a few high wedges imagining the ball having to clear a tree. Then hit a few fairway woods with a 10-yard draw by picking a few targets in the distance. Constantly mixing it up will activate your imagination and make it easier to do when you’re the course.
If you’re playing by yourself or messing around with a buddy, drop a few balls on the course that you’ve been working on at the range. Test yourself on the course by hitting high shots, punch shots, and ones with a ton of movement. The more you can practice these, the better you will get.
What is the best way to play a dogleg?
A lot of golfers get a little overwhelmed when it comes to playing a hole that doglegs to the right or left. So what is the best way to play a dogleg?
This depends on a few factors. For example, let’s say you’re playing a par-4 that doglegs right to left but you primarily play a cut shot. Should you hit a draw to match the hole or should you play your normal cut shot?
The first factor is determining where the trouble is? If you have water or out of bounds on the right side of the hole but tons of room left, I would choose the shot you feel most comfortable with missing it left. Remember, you never want to have your ball end up in trouble if you play the hardest shot in golf… aka the straight shot!
The second factor is your confidence levels. If you’re someone that plays a cut but understand how to play a draw and can do it in practice, give it a go. In general, it’s more beneficial to play a shot that matches the hole layout.
The final factor is your skill level. Scratch players probably won’t have an issue shaping the shots both ways on most holes.
But if you can’t break 100, don’t try to be a superhero out there. Instead, play your go-to cut shot and aim down the left side of the fairway. Again, only try to pull the shot off if you can do it in practice regularly.
Read our full article on how to play a dogleg.
What are the different types of golf shots?
While there are a seemingly endless amount of golf shots, they all fall into one of nine types.
- Straight (high, medium, and low ball flight)
- Left to right (high, medium, and low ball flight)
- Right to left (high, medium, and low ball flight)
If you want to get better at shaping the ball, practice the 9-ball drill. Using a 6-iron, try to each of the shots above. It’s a lot harder than you probably think!
Whether you are a PGA Tour player or a beginner golfer, learning how to shape shots is crucial to getting out of trouble and shooting your best scores. I’ve found that hitting difficult shots that require more focus can build the most momentum during the round.
But to pull these shots off, you need to mentally and physically rehearse them. Remember, if your mind isn’t on board, it’s nearly impossible for you to play a recovery shot. Before addressing the ball, make sure you have a clear picture in your mind of the intended shot and a few practice swings to match it as well.
Also, don’t forget to practice these shots at the range a few times and on the course during non-formal rounds. Not only will practicing them build your confidence, but recovery shots are a great way to keep your mind engaged on the range instead of mindlessly hitting balls.
Finally, make sure to have some fun with it. Think about all of Tiger’s great shots you’ve seen over the years when you’re practicing and enjoy the process of getting better.