Golf is undoubtedly one of the most technically challenging sports in the world, and in my opinion, it’s in the top two, along with tennis.
Each and every golf course has its own distinctive characteristics from yardages, fairway undulations, hazards, green speed, and weather conditions. These unique characteristics mean that certain shots need to be played in specific circumstances.
But playing these shots can be challenging, and if you don’t have the correct technical foundations, then disaster in the way of hitting out-of-bounds or into the water is more than likely.
In this how-to guide, we’ll take a look at three of the most common and iconic shots in the game.
- The Fade
- The Bunker shot
We’ll provide simple instructional steps on why to play each shot, when to play them, and most importantly, how to play them.
Let’s get started!
How to Play a Fade
If you’re an avid golf fan, then you’re probably glued to the Golf Channel 24/7, watching in awe as the world’s best players shape the ball left-to-right and right-to-left. It’s impressive.
And while most amateur players are obsessed with bombing a long draw off the tee, the fade is the go-to shot for length and consistency, in the opinion of many experts.
How to Hit a Fade
It can be daunting when it comes to hitting a fade, especially if your predominant shape is a draw. But in reality, hitting the fade only requires three simple steps, well, four if you factor in the countless hours of practice.
- First, start by making sure your clubface is aligned correctly with your target.
- Now, open your stance, and lastly,
- With your clubface square to the target, ensure that your swing path follows the line of your feet
It’s that simple. But how do the steps above result in a golf shot that moves left-to-right? [for this example, we are describing the fade for right handers]
By opening your stance slightly in relation to your target and then swinging the club on the line of your feet, you create what we call an “out-to-in” swing path. By keeping the clubface square to the target at address, means that you’ve effectively created an “open path” translating into a left-to-right ball flight.
One of the most common mistakes amateurs make when playing the fade is they open the clubface too much, resulting in a slice. The fade is much sounder than the slice in controlling the ball. The slice can be tough to control the amount of shape and the distance on the ball. In contrast, the fade moves ever so slightly from right to left.
Remember hitting a fade requires three simple steps; open your stance, keep the clubface square at address and make sure you swing along the line of your feet.
How to Fade with a Driver
Two of the simplest ways to consistently hit a fade off the tee is by moving the ball back in your stance and teeing the ball lower than usual.
Combined, these two actions create an “out-to-in” swing path resulting in a lower ball flight and one that moves left-to-right. You will, however, lose some distance off the tee but gain more control of the ball. It’s a trade-off well worth it for most golfers, particularly beginner or high handicappers.
By playing a fade off the tee, you’ll hit more fairways consistently, which should set you up for easier approaches into the green and hopefully more looks at birdie. If you struggle with the lower tee, you can keep your standard tee height and open your stance slightly.
Fading with an Iron
- Position the ball towards the middle of your address position
- Slightly open your stance to the target and finally,
- Ensure your swing path follows the line of your feet.
To prevent the ball from moving excessively through the air, it’s crucial you keep your wrists “locked” while making impact with the ball. Doing this reduces the chance of the clubface moving too much, potentially resulting in a slice and a triple-bogey.
Hitting a Low Fade
Learning how to play a low fade can be another excellent tool in your bag of tricks. The low fade is perfect for windy conditions as the lower ball flight penetrates through the wind and lands relatively softly.
Playing the low fade is similar to a regular fade with two distinct differences.
- When playing a low fade, the ball must be positioned toward the back of your stance at address, as opposed to the middle and
- Your stance needs to be open significantly more than the regular fade; the reason for this is to counteract the ball being back in your stance.
Next time you’re out on the practice range, try experimenting with different stances and ball positions. It can actually be a lot of fun learning and experimenting with new shots. You never know; you might find a hidden talent you never knew you had.
Advantages of Hitting a Fade
When you compare hitting the fade to the draw, most professional instructors will tell you the fade is much easier to control, and they’re right. The left-to-right ball flight is easy to control, and distance is only minimally sacrificed.
The fade also has the added advantage of landing softly and therefore stopping quicker. Landing softly is particularly handy when attacking a flag cut close to a hazard or slope.
The fade, however, does come with a couple of disadvantages. When playing the fade, you give up a bit of distance, although minimal, and if the ball flight “balloons,” the wind can affect the end result. Also, if you’re not careful and open the clubface too much at impact, you can go from hitting a fade to a slice in a heartbeat.
How to Play a Bunker Shot
Whether you’re playing the iconic sandbelt courses in Australia or the epic links-style courses in Scotland, one thing is certain you’re sure to come across your fair share of bunkers.
Hitting a beautiful approach to the green only to see it run off into a bunker is the one thing all golfers dread to see. Bunkers strike fear into the hearts of beginners and low-handicappers; my father can attest to that; he’s spent more time in the sand than David Hasselhoff.
But in reality, once you understand how to play out of the sand, bunkers shots are actually pretty straightforward depending on the lie. Learning how to get up and down out of the sand is essential if you’re going to lower your handicap.
Let’s take a look at how.
Choosing the Correct Club
Depending on the lie and position of the ball, a couple of different options are available to you. Let’s say, for example, you’ve “short-sided” yourself, which means you have little to no green. In this situation, you want to choose a sand wedge or possibly a lob wedge to get the ball up and out and stopping as quickly as possible.
In contrast, if the pin is further and away, meaning you have more green to work with, a lower lofted club like a gap wedge or nine iron will help get the ball out and rolling. Remember, although the sand wedge is specifically designed for bunker use, it’s not the only option.
Correct Set Up is Critical
As with any shot you play, your set-up is crucial to the shot’s outcome, but set-up plays an even more critical role when it comes to the bunker shot.
- The first priority is to “dig” your feet into the sand, ensuring you have a balanced stance.
- Next, make sure you play the ball off the front of your stance. Doing this gets the ball up and stopping quicker; if you want a lower ball flight and more “run,” play the shot back in your stance.
- The next step is critical; open your clubface and stance; this promotes a higher ball flight and an even softer landing.
- Your bodyweight should be distributed with 80% of your weight on your front foot. Distributing the weight like this allows a steep angle of attack and hopefully some backspin.
Swing Mechanics of the Bunker Shot
Ok, you’ve got the correct set-up, and it’s finally time to go ahead and pull the trigger.
Its vitally important here to understand the swing path must be “outside-to-inside.” Making sure your wrist is slightly hinged at the top of the swing is essential, and depending on the distance, will depend on how far your wrist hinges.
Swinging from an out-to-in path is what gets the ball up and stopping so quickly. You will need to practice it like any other shot, especially as the “out-to-in” swing path is an unnatural motion for most golfers.
Swing speed is everything when playing your bunker shots and can mean the difference between spinning one back to a foot or leaving it in the sand.
You should be accelerating well past impact to gain the maximum club speed and the chance to put some mustard on the ball. Decelerate too early, and the club digs in, leaving you and your ball in the sand.
Coming up out of your stance too early will also spell disaster and increase your chance of “thinning” one 50 yards back down the fairway.
How to Play a Knock-Down
A shot made famous by Tiger Woods, the knock-down has become one of the most iconic shots in golf. Depending on which “expert” you ask, the knock-down is not even a traditional shot at all; it’s more of a long-winded, powerful chip shot than anything else.
With a bit of practice, you can play the knock-down with any club in the bag, but generally, the most used clubs for this type of shot are five irons through to wedge. It really depends on how far and how low you intend on hitting the shot.
The knock-down shot is perfect for playing in windy conditions as the lower ball flight penetrates through the wind allowing the ball to “hold its line.” As for the set-up, it’s very similar to playing a chip shot. The majority of your weight should be on your left side, you should be gripping down on the shaft, and the ball should be back in your stance.
Four Steps to a Successful Knock-Down
Playing the knock-down requires you to follow four simple yet crucial steps to achieve the result you want; A low, penetrating ball flight.
- The main difference between a knock-down and a regular iron shot is that you need to address the ball further back in your stance. By placing the ball back in your stance, you’ve effectively reduced the club’s loft, which is what keeps the ball low and penetrating.
- The next step in hitting an effective knock-down is to “grip down” on the shaft. By gripping down on the club, the shot becomes much easier to control and has the added bonus of producing less spin. The shorter action also keeps the ball’s flight holding it’s line longer and promotes solid contact.
- The griping down technique creates a shorter swing. To counteract this, you’ll need to take one “extra” club for the same distance. For example, if you hit a 7 iron 150 yards, you’ll need to take a 6 iron to reach the same yardage. The other added benefit is that you won’t need to swing as hard, meaning you are much more likely to make solid contact.
- Keeping your movements to a minimum during the swing is critical for playing the knock-down. Focusing on maintaining your nose about one inch behind the ball helps keep your weight from moving laterally and reduces unwanted movement in the hips. Holding good posture throughout the stroke will also aid in keeping the ball flight low and penetrating.
The 18th Hole
Well there you have it. Learning to play these three iconic shots, takes time, dedication and hours of practice.
But in all honesty, not only are they fun to play, learning to play the fade, bunker, and knock-downs shots, will improve your scores and have you well on your way to a single digit handicap.