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The Five Most Frustrating Shots in Golf

Jan. 25, 2008     By     Comments (14)

"If you watch a game, it's fun. If you play at it, it's recreation. If you work at it, it's golf." — Bob Hope

Trap Five LogoGolf is often called the most frustrating of sports. There are layers after layers of complexity to learn. Each time we think we've got it down, something new rears its head.

When we begin to play, most of us struggle to hit the ball at all, let alone hit it where we want to. After awhile we learn to advance the ball to the green without too much trouble along the way. Sure we still hit tee shots into the woods and approach shots into the water, but eventually we reach the green. But then there are all those individual skills to acquire around the green that help us shave strokes off our usual round. We have to learn to stop the ball on the green, to get it out of a bunker, to chip it close from a tight lie, to pitch it reasonably close from the lettuce, to hit it high and have it land soft, to hit it low so it runs, to get the speed of a putt right&ellip; Suffice it to say, golf ain't easy.

For those of us in colder climes, winter might well be the most frustrating time of year. But when it comes to playing the game, we've probably all had rounds where our game has so deserted us that we're ready to quit on the spot, to wrap every club around the nearest tree and throw the bag in pond.

That's our topic today: those golf shots that afflict us and sometimes make us to contemplate taking up another sport, any other sport. The best way to cure these maladies is to see a PGA professional. But barring that, I offer some totally unauthoritative swing band-aids that I've used from time to time. Use them at your own risk.

Number Five: The Lip Out
I can lip out a putt from anywhere on a green. Some rounds I'll lip out four or five. Well it feels that way, anyway. I'm not sure why I have such a propensity for this. Maybe I over-read the green or under-read it, maybe I tend to put too much pace on my putts… whatever it is, lip outs are very frustrating indeed, but at least they generally leave us with an easy par (or bogey).

If I knew how to avoid lip outs, I'd win a lot more bets with my playing partners.

Number Four: The Slice
The dreaded banana ball… it's the most common shot in golf. Stand on any tee box in America on a typical weekend day, and you're likely to see more left-to-right shots than you can shake a mashie-niblick at (assuming you're not at a course with an inordinate amount of lefties, in which case the slices would go right-to-left). A lot of players simply play for their slices, lining up way left to give the ball room to slice back to the fairway. They're so accustomed to hitting it left to right, that they've just surrendered and made it their go-to shot.

The problem with the slice is you lose distance and, when you hit a larger-than9normal slice, it's going to find somewhere ugly to finish. Even playing out of other fairways gets old. When your ball makes a right turn from your intended line of flight, it's hard to feel great about your game. I struggled with a slice for a long time, so I know of what I speak.

The slice is caused by coming over the top and/or making contact with the clubface open. Coming over the top is among the most common faults in golf. An slightly inside-out swing is much more powerful and hits the ball straighter than any over-the-top swing. A visual cue that I find useful to help square the clubface is imagining that I'm hitting a tennis ball with a tennis racket. To hit a tennis ball over the net, you have to get the racket very close to square with the net. Make that motion with your hand, then try to transfer the same feeling to your golf swing. Swing inside out and square the tennis racket. If that doesn't help your slice, aim a little farther left.

Number Three: The Hook
On the flipside of the slice is the hook. As Lee Trevino put it, "You can talk to a slice, but a hook won't listen." It's not just a clever quip, it's dead-on accurate.

The hook is infinitely more frustrating than the slice for exactly the reason Lee points to. A slice is more playable than a hook. Even big banana ball stays in the air and - if you can avoid woods, weeds and water - will generally leave you with a playable shot. A nasty duck hook, on the other hand, seems determined to dive out of the sky and bury itself in the nether regions of the course.

Minimizing the severity of your slices is generally fairly easy once you have a good idea of why you are hitting them in the first place. But a hook seems to pop up from nowhere sometimes. When the hooks start, about the only thing you can do short of running to the pro is to hold off the finish on your swing. Hooks are caused by either coming too much from the inside or closing the clubface at impact, or both. By holding off the finish, you will keep the face square or even open, and the resulting shot shape should be straight or even a fade.

Number Two: The Blade
Man, I hate it when I hit those thin shots that scream toward the green before skipping twice and running off into the rough (or worse). I also hate it when I hit fat shots, but at least a fat shot goes up in the air. The truly atrocious blade shot won't even get off the ground. It just leaves a skid mark and buries itself in the cabbage.

Bladed shots (as well as the chunks) can be caused by too much vertical head movement. That seems to be the case with me. I discovered last fall that I'd been dipping my head about four inches in my swing. Sure, I knew it was moving, but I didn't realize how much until I got videotaped. Now I'm working on keeping a level head - literally! One way to do this is to put a pen in your mouth and keep the tip of it on the ball as you swing. It will be weird at first, but it works. If you're at the range with a friend, have him or her old the grip end of a club against your head as you swing. It will be easy to tell when your head dips.

Number One: The "S" Word
None of the above would make me give up golf. Even a bladed shot can find the green on occasion (I once made an eagle on a par four with a bladed sand wedge shot when the ball landed on a wet green bounced once and rolled in this big impossible curve right into the hole).

But the "S" word, the laterals, el hoselo… that's a different story. After two or three straight rounds of hitting shanks, I'd be ready to put the clubs in the closet for a couple weeks. If I couldn't shake the shanks, that might well be it for me and golf. When every shot is going off the hosel, all joy in the game is utterly lost. If you've never been afflicted, count yourself lucky. The shanks just plain suck.

Worst of all, they are far more mysterious than a hook. I was once playing in a scramble with a friend and two strangers. I was supposed to be the go-to guy on the team, and I started out playing well. We were four-under through five holes when out of the blue, I caught a dire case of the laterals. For the rest of one very painful round, I was pretty much limited to driving and putting. Virtually every iron shot was a dead shank, even chips! You know those Southwest commercials? Yeah, I wanted to get away. We birdied 18 to finish five-under, four shots back.

Perhaps Roy McAvoy put it best in Tin Cup, "What's the problem? I'm catching it on the hosel, right? Moving my head? I'm laying off it, I'm pronating, I'm supinating, I'm clearing too early, I'm clearing too late, I'm off plane, I ain't dropping in - oh, God, my swing feels like an unfolding lawn chair."

For me, again, it's mostly my head. But I also occasionally lunge into the ball instead of swinging around my body. It's a work in progress, but it's getting there. I seem to only be hitting the occasional Lee Jansen-seeking chili pepper these days, instead of the strings of them I used to get myself into. Maybe there is golf after the shanks after all.

Have Your Say
Think my list is out of order or missing something more frustrating, you can vote in the Sand Trap forum's frustrating golf shots poll and nominate other frustrating shots. And if you've got a secret fix for lip outs, I'm all ears.

Discussion

  1. Steve Smith says:

    The "S" word? We use 'snap fade'. And it will make you quit.

  2. Marty Strumpf says:

    If I may, Number 6 is the replay immediately after Numbers 1 thru 5 that we pull off correctly. This shot is usually accompanied by one of the most used quotes in golf: "why didn't I do that the first time?"

  3. wachesawgolfer says:

    I think the lip outs come from side spin on the ball. Practicing getting the ball to roll vertically from a solid stroke will allow it more often to drop in the cup if at least half of it rolls over the hole. A glancing blow or decelerating action impact side spin on the ball giving it the lateral energy to snake around the lip of the hole....more often. Put a circular line on your ball and just stroke it so the ball rolls perfectly vertically. If I focus on the impact to roll the ball up and down rather than on the hole, I tend to lip out less often. As the break of the green can impart side spin, lip outs are not completely avoidable in any case.

  4. kwijyboy says:

    I guess I have not mastered the art of short pitch shots. I would have to replace the hook shot with the pitch (or sand shot) that goes about 2 yards. When I do that, it is often that it will be followed up by another one that goes about 4 yards.

    This is usually the case on the hole where I hit a thin shot coast to coast on the previous hole.

  5. Tony says:

    George, you are right on. The s****s will leave me nearly in tears when they show up. The most common for me is with my sand wedge when all I'm trying to do is hit a 50 yard shot to the green and all of a sudden, off it goes, dead right. It makes me want to toss my clubs in the pond and walk off the course. It's difficult to feel good about your game at that point, suck it up and hit it again.

  6. Don says:

    Nice list!

    Hard to believe, but I've been floating around a 5 handicap for the last 9 months, and in that time I have battled EVERY SINGLE ONE of these "shots" (i.e. swing flaws). Yes, even the shanks. Almost broke down in tears one day at the range after shanking about 30 5-irons in a row. Gets old quick.

    But I've slowly been curing myself. Wanna know how? Its not a magic club or magic swing tip. If you don't shoot in the 70s (and you really WANT to), do the following:
    1. Stretch. Yep. Remember, that thing they used to make you do in high-school gym class? You probably haven't done much of it since. Start with a few light stretches a day. Don't overdo it and hurt yourself. It took 30 years for your muscles to tighten, they won't come back in a day.
    2. Find a pro who does video lessons. Take a lesson. Take a long, hard look at your swing. Try not to vomit. Give yourself a moment to reflect on the last $400 driver you bought, with that $500 custom shaft. Given the twisted mess of a swing you probably see on video, what are the odds that driver made any difference? Agree with the pro as he/she points out Major Flaws #1 and #2 (or in my case #3, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc..). They're right. You are wrong. The pro should give you DRILLS to work on. Remember them.
    3. This is the most important step: FORGET ABOUT TRYING TO HIT THE BALL LIKE YOU USED TO. Accept that the DRILLS are what is important, in the short term. Drill without a ball, drill with a ball, whatever. It is incredibly easy to make swing changes if you commit to it, but otherwise it is useless. No offense, but most golfers simply can't commit to making a change. Hence most golfers can't break 90.

    I practice 3-4 times a week. Might sound like a lot, but I want to get better. Do you? Are you willing to hit a wedge for an hour, doing only a drill that your pro has suggested? What if some husky gentleman beside you at the driving range decides to wail away on his expensive new driver for an hour? Will you be tempted to stop doing your drill, pull out your driver, and herniate a disk trying to prove your manhood to this stranger? Or will you accept that doing the drill will help you improve more than a few wild driver swings will?

    In my opinion. the frustrating shots mentioned in this article aren't really "shots" at all. They are simply the results of various flawed motions with the golf club. Every single one of them can be eliminated with the proper diagnosis (from the pro) and treatment (drills), and prevention (stretching).

    And BTW, I am NOT a teaching pro trying to pad my bank account. I do take lessons from an excellent one, though. Video makes all the difference. :)

  7. Trav says:

    George, you are right on. The s****s will leave me nearly in tears when they show up. The most common for me is with my sand wedge when all I'm trying to do is hit a 50 yard shot to the green and all of a sudden, off it goes, dead right. It makes me want to toss my clubs in the pond and walk off the course. It's difficult to feel good about your game at that point, suck it up and hit it again.

    Amen, amen, amen.

  8. Kraka says:

    I think the lip outs come from side spin on the ball. Practicing getting the ball to roll vertically from a solid stroke will allow it more often to drop in the cup if at least half of it rolls over the hole. A glancing blow or decelerating action impact side spin on the ball giving it the lateral energy to snake around the lip of the hole....more often. Put a circular line on your ball and just stroke it so the ball rolls perfectly vertically. If I focus on the impact to roll the ball up and down rather than on the hole, I tend to lip out less often. As the break of the green can impart side spin, lip outs are not completely avoidable in any case.

    It's most likely a scratch on the ball, a scuff mark, a piece of dirt, or just an unbalanced ball to begin with. I lip out a lot as soon as I notice a couple of scuff marks on the ball from biting onto it with them jagged wedge grooves. But a scratch will definitely do it, and so will dirt. Make sure you always clean your ball properly once you get to the green - it is that vital these days, especially with the MOI from the putter heads to give it the proper roll onto these soft-cover balls. Dirt will make it tilt-spin to that side and make you go off line immediately, so make sure you clean your ball. If it's a really bad scuff, well, unless the ball is totally unplayable you can't change it, so bad luck.

  9. Paul says:

    I read the list over the weekend and didn't have any firsthand experience with shot #1 to date. Not so anymore. My goodness. The past two weeks in Southern California with the constant thunderstorms and cold weather have made practice scarce and ineffective.

    In short, the letup in the weather this week allowed me to go back to the range in full force. Oh my. I've never hit the ball off of the back end of the hosel before but I sure know how that feels now. Same with the extreme toe hits that seem to make the golf ball try to come back and hit me!

    I went back today and tried ever so hard to discover the root of the s**** shot. I realized that my true swing was still there. All I had to do was slow down my backswing and stay focused as I swung through the ball. Not to say that I exorcised the shank demon that's crept up recently, but I'm sure slowing down my swing and relaxing will help tremendously in getting my confidence back. It sure makes you wonder if you want to keep playing.

  10. Collin says:

    I waould have to say the chunk is more frustrating than the blade

  11. Johnny Wedge says:

    Snap Fade? Now that is funny! I'm going to have to use that one!! Regarding Frustrating Shot #1- My dear golfing buddies have affectionately (?) dubbed me as Johnny Wedge- A very worthy moniker bestowed upon me after a long and painful experience first exacted upon me about 10 years ago at Holiday Golf Club in Panama City Beach. Where I could normally draw every club in the bag, including my wedges, on this particular day of golf execution, I inexplicably began s------g every club in the bag, including my putter! It had become so bad at times that we had to warn unsuspecting walk-up playing partners not to get within 75 degrees of my parallel or there could be life-threatening consequences to which I would not be held liable!

    Over the years since, I learned that Don (above) is absolutely correct in his assessment- If you've ever
    experienced my pain, and the occasional bloodletting, you definitely need to go get at least a couple of lessons, and then go to the range at least once for every time you plan to play in a given week. Practice (on the range!) is the only way to cure what ails ya, and I promise it will work for you! However, as Don states, you have to forget your old swing- You never had one! Listen to what your pro tells you, work on that, and only that. If you really have to take it out on the course, get a Sunday tee after 4:30 PM, or maybe you can take a morning off during the week at a local pasture?

    The simple (?) tips that my pro gave to me? Tempo and balance. Simple right? Try putting a golf ball under the toe of each shoe, and really concentrate on just making a smooth swing, no matter where the ball goes. When I first started, we had to make sure no one was to the right of me on the range, including the ball-cart guy! I did get better though, and now only hit the very rare 'snap fade'. And when I do, I can usually fix it within one swing. My swing key is to have my weight back on my heels, and not come up in my shoes, as those of you who suffer this disease can surely relate. Usually it is my buddies now who will randomly summon the S-demon, and somehow blame it on me. But that is another story...

    Love the site, reviews, articles, and comments! Enjoy the game everybody, and please fix some ball marks!

  12. Mike says:

    Where would you rank the Cold Top (with any club) and the Pop Up (with a wood off the tee)? Cold Topping a ball is infinitely more painful than blading one, and it happens to everyone at some point. The Pop Up off the tee is another killer, especially when everything in your mind is telling you you're going to crush one perfectly.

  13. Dan says:

    I had to laugh when I read about the "S" word. I played in a 3 man scramble in a two day tournament last weekend. I'm a 12 handicap but that didn't matter. I had taken a couple of lessons prior to the scramble thinking that would help my game. That was probably the stupidest thing I could have done. I was actually able shank at will. No matter what I did, I either blocked it, or shanked it. It was the most miserable humiliating experience in my life. Every shot I prayed not to shank or even worse, hit somone. I only got half my prayers answered ..I did not hit anyone.

    I wanted to leave, go home, watch Tiger, go to the range anything but stay on the course. I was stuck because money was on the line. . My golfing buddies were no help. They simply laughed at first and by the end of the tournament were silent. After beverages at the 19th, they offically kicked me off the team for next year. I can honestly tell you I was relieved and did not care. The one saving grace was my putting, which came around and helped us somewhat. We ended up 7 under and the good news is we did not come in last...In our flight

  14. Bob says:

    How can no one even have mentioned the whiff?

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