Trouble Shots

Don't Let Some Bad Breaks Ruin Your Round

Golf is a lot like life. Some days everything comes easily; other days nothing seems to go your way. But just like life, there are ways to deal with the ups and downs. Helping people figure this out is just one of the many reasons why I love to teach the game.

One challenge is how to deal with bad breaks. In my experience, golfers who can handle them the best usually come out on top. Read on to learn how you can best escape from these tough situations and get your game back on track.

Learning how to chip the ball well will help you save strokes, but it also has side benefits. After all, the motion you use to chip is really just a small version of your full swing. Once you learn to chip well, simply lengthen your swing into a pitch-shot length and then, with a little more motion, you have a full swing. Here are a few variations of the chip shot that will help you save shots around the greens, and maybe even help your full swing, too!

1 Hit A Low Hook Around A Tree

When I was a kid, I loved trying to make my shots hook and slice on purpose. It was fun seeing my ball curve around trees, and it helped me get out of a few tough situations, too. To hit your shot around a tree so it ends up back in a safe place, you first have to have a proper setup.

I start by aligning my body (feet, hips and shoulders) on the path I want the ball to start on (to the right of the tree). Then I align my clubface to where I want the ball to finish (in this case, the flagstick). Once that’s established, I swing my club along my body line. The ball will start out on that line and curve around the tree toward the end target.

The final key to curving the ball is to finish properly. If I want to hook the ball more, I swing the club into a flatter finish; if I want to slice it, I finish into a steeper finish.

2 The Tee Shot That Doesn’t Set Up For You

We’ve all played a hole that just doesn’t set up for our normal shot pattern. Take me: I usually hit a draw, so this hole, a dogleg right par-4, doesn’t fit my eye. Still, I can play this shot a number of different ways.

1. The most conservative play is to choose a long iron, aim to the left side of the fairway and play for a safe position. It may leave me with a longer second shot, but it takes the trees on the right and the water on the left out of play and eliminates the chance that I’ll hit my shot through the fairway.

2. The second approach is a little bit more aggressive. I choose a 3-wood and aim along the left side. This takes the trees on the right side out of play, however, there’s the chance of hitting the ball through the fairway on the left side. That can present some challenges.

3. The third way is for advanced players only: to fade your driver. But you have to practice it!
Pick a target on the fairway’s left side and fade it back to the center. If you hit the shot successfully, you’ll have a much easier approach shot; if the shot doesn’t fade, however, you’ll be in trouble through the fairway on the left.

3 First-Tee Jitters

The best way to conquer first-tee jitters is to turn your nervous energy into excitement.

Most golfers think this shot makes or breaks their entire round, but that’s not the case. To put the shot in perspective, I tell my students that it’s just one of many shots they’ll hit during their round.

Too often I see golfers walk up to the first tee thinking today’s their day to shoot the lights out, only to fear that that won’t happen if they hit a poor drive. Rather than fixating on results, I tell them, play to your strengths and focus on the type of shot you want to hit. Start preparing for that first tee shot on the practice range. Rehearse the shot several times so you gain confidence.

When you get up on the tee box, choose a specific target and make a good swing. If it helps, think back to a time when you hit a great first tee shot in front of a lot of people. Then use that feeling to conquer your jitters.

4 Avoid Trouble

It’s important to know what kind of trouble you can get into on the course and how best to avoid it. Consider the situation pictured here. There’s trouble to the right and left of the green, so I’ve broken this shot into quadrants.

First I consider where the most trouble is located–in the back-left portion of the green. I’m definitely not going to hit it there. Next, I look at the other three quadrants and determine which of them is the safest place to land. I take into account my lie, how far I am to the landing area and which quadrant is the easiest for me to hit. After committing to a quadrant, I narrow my focus to a spot where I want the ball to land.

Being as clear as possible helps you commit to the shot. It’s important to think of what you want to execute, and not shift back to what the negative consequences might be. Take in the information, develop a plan, execute it and you’ll begin to see lower numbers on your scorecard.

1. Keep it simple

5 Three Ways To Escape The Stymie

1. The easiest and most conservative play here is to chip the ball out about 10 yards back into the fairway. Since my stance and followthrough are restricted, I try to be stable and just swing my arms like a chip shot to advance the ball onto the fairway. When you do this, make sure you don’t follow through too much and hit the tree!

2. Play the reverse shot

2. The second way to advance the ball is to use just your right arm to swing the club. By doing this backwards shot, you can generate a little more power than just advancing the ball back into the fairway. The key here is to keep your arm and club in one line to make solid contact. Don’t just use your wrists. You won’t create much power, and your contact will be inconsistent.

3. Hit it left-handed

3. The third way is the riskiest, and most difficult: a left-handed shot. To pull this off, I turn over a 9-iron and follow these three key steps:

• I keep my head steady through the shot.
• I take only a 3/4 swing.
• And I keep my eyes on the ball at impact.

Make sure you first practice this shot on the range to get past the awkward feeling of swinging from the other side.

6 Handle The Wind

Playing golf in the wind can wreak havoc with your ballflight. For the best success, you have to control your shot’s trajec-tory, and the best way to do that is to play a punch shot. Hitting the ball low (and solid) minimizes the impact the wind has on your ballflight. The key to this shot is how you set up and finish. First, play the ball back in your stance, placing a majority of your weight on your forward foot and keeping your weight on that foot during your swing. As you swing through the impact position, it’s important to keep your hands in front of the club and your right shoulder lower than your left one. Feel your swing moving down through impact and keep your weight on your forward foot.

7 Launch It Over A Tree

Trouble shots are all about risk and reward. Here I have to hit the ball over a few trees to get it to the green. This requires some adjustments to my setup.

To hit the ball as high as possible, place the ball forward in your stance, near the heel of your forward foot. Next, open the clubface to increase your club’s loft. Finally, tilt your body away from the target. Keep your weight on your back foot during the swing and finish high.

8 The Short-Sided Solution(s)

Even players with great short games have trouble playing the ball from the short side of a green. Leaving yourself very little room on the green to land the ball creates a dilemma; do you try to land the ball onto the fringe and let it release toward the hole, or do you hit a short high shot to land the ball softly so it doesn’t roll past the hole?

First, you need to consider the circumstances: the lie, the firmness of the green, the amount of green between you and the hole, and the fringe’s condition. Next, visualize the entire shot: its trajectory, the landing spot and how the ball will release.

If you plan to hit the ball onto the fringe, you’ll hit a chip shot with a lofted club. Place the ball back in your stance and square the clubface with the target. Make a normal chip shot motion and land it on the fringe to slow the ball down. Then it will release onto the green.

If you want to play a lofted shot, change your setup. Move the ball farther forward in your stance (opposite your left foot) and open up your sand wedge. You’ll still make the same chip motion, however, you’ll have to make a longer swing. The shot will get up higher more quickly and land soft on the green.

9 The Three-Footer For Your Career Round

It’s easy to say that every three-foot putt is the same, but depending on the situation, your mind-set changes. Consider what happens when you have a short putt to shoot your career-best round.

Most golfers in this situation get ahead of themselves. They think only of the outcome. They get excited and start to fear that they’ll choke.

The key is to focus on the process and stroke the ball with confidence. Here are a few ways to do that:

• Take a mini time-out as you start your preshot routine. Become aware of how your body is feeling. Take some slow, deep breaths to calm your mind.
• Acknowledge that this putt is for your personal best and then turn your attention back to the process. Use a question to focus on the process like, Where is this ball going to enter the cup?
• As you look behind the ball, visualize the putt going in several times.
• Then, finally, take a practice stroke that matches how you want to stroke the putt.

The next time you have one of those important putts, remember to shift your attention from what the putt means, to how you’re going to make it.

Rick Sessinghaus Psy.D., PGA,
is a nationally known mental coach who works with professional, collegiate and top junior players to achieve focus, confidence and mental toughness. He’s the author of Golf: The Ultimate Mind Game and works out of Chevy Chase CC in Glendale, Calif.

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