Golf 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.