It takes dozens of co-ordinated muscles to create the range of complex physical actions required to swing – it is a wonder we ever make contact with the ball. As for getting it airborne and heading in the right direction that’s another ball game.
With odds stacked against golfers, wouldn’t it be great when we hit wild shots, the causes were immediately apparent and the remedies equally simple?
But take heart, this section highlights the 10 most common faults in golf, and provides instant on-course cures as well as suggesting simple practice drills.
You thin the ball when you grip the club too tightly, which causes muscles in your arms to contract and shorten, pulling the club fractionally up and away from the ground. The fault is more mental than physical, and often occurs when you are under pressure.
One way to get rid tension in your arms is to make sure that your elbows are relaxed and well away from your body at address. You will find it more difficult to squeeze the handle of the club tightly when your elbows are not clamped against your sides.
Firstly, always make a conscious effort to relax your arms and grip the club lightly when hitting practice shots. Secondly, it is important to keep flex in your right knee throughout the swing to stop topping. Hit practice shots with the butt, or grip end of a club, placed against the back of your right knee so you keep your height through the swing, ensuring you swing within yourself.
In most instances a sky is caused by the club travelling too steeply in the downswing – you may also sky if you tee the ball too high. Too much weight on your left side at address can encourage the club to travel back too steeply, resulting in tilting, rather than turning in the backswing. This results in a sharp downward strike at impact, which forces the ball steeply into the air.
Try teeing the ball lower, and concentrate on brushing the sole of the club back along the grass for a foot as you take the club away. This helps build width in your backswing and stops you picking the club up steeply. Sweeping the club make you shift your weight onto your right side and help you rotate.
Place a second ball eight inches behind your ball. Aim to nudge it away with the back of the golf club as you start your backswing. This not only helps you have a flatter swing path, but also encourages a slower and more rhythmic start to your swing.
Also known as the ‘fat’ shot, this fault happens when the amateur golfer forgets the ball is in the way of a movement, which starts at the top of the backswing and ends with the follow-through. Instead of allowing the club to follow that natural swing path, the player hits at the ball with the right arm moving away from the body too early in the downswing, leading to the club hitting the ground first, not ball.
On course cure:
If you find you are hitting shots heavy, or fat, make sure you are gripping the handle of the club firmly with the last three fingers of your top hand. This shortens the muscles in your left arm, which pulls the club fractionally higher from the ground at the bottom of your swing arc.
To stop hitting the ground behind the ball, practice hitting shots with a bag towel or head cover tucked under your right arm. Make sure it remains firmly in place until you reach the point in your downswing where your arms are fully extended though impact, when it will fall naturally to the ground.
This nasty and embarrassing fault happens on short putts, especially when you feel under pressure. This pressure makes the small muscles in your arms overactive, resulting in a jerky, sometimes uncontrollable, putting stroke. Anxiety may make you look up too soon while putting, which pulls your body, arms and hands out of line, causing the putter to either open or close through the stroke.
If you are struck down with yips during a round, focus on seeing the line and feeling the distance of the putt, rather than your putting stroke. Look at the hole and not the putter head when making your practice stroke. Keep your eyes fixed on where the ball was before you struck it, and hear the ball drop in the hole, rather than see it.
To defeat the yips, avoid practice that puts you under pressure. Try hitting casual, single-handed putts, with your one hand tucked into your pocket. Hit short putts with your eyes closed, which means that you can’t see the moment of impact and allows you to swing the putter through with complete freedom and greater feel. There can only be two outcomes to a putt; the ball with either go in or it will miss – keep your thought process that simple.
This fault is caused by the ball striking the hosel rather than the face of the club, as a result of the club coming into the ball from well outside the target line. A shank happens if you address the ball towards the heel of the club, then come over the top slightly in your downswing.
On course cure:
Set up with the ball opposite the toe of the clubface rather than the centre. Also turn the clubface inwards, to stop the toe area of the clubface striking the ball first and not the hosel. This will produce a lower ball flight, better than hitting another shank.
Place a headcover on the ground a few inches outside the ball. When you are hitting practice balls this will help you swing the club more from the inside as you avoid the headcover. It is hard to shank when you swing from the inside.
This is a result of poor alignment. Your feet, hips and knees may be pointing down the target line, but your shoulders aim right. To compound the error, you may have played the ball too far back in your stance, leading to an open clubface at address. As you swing, the club will follow the line of your shoulders, so the ball flies straight right.
To prevent your right shoulder being pulled back from the ball-to-target line at address, when you set up to the ball start by holding the club in your left hand only. After lining your feet, knees and hips, bring your right hand onto the club and complete your address position. Remember to place the ball forward in your stance.
Place two clubs on the ground with the shafts parallel to each other. Set your feet, knees, hips parallel to the shaft of one of the clubs, then square your shoulders parallel to the shaft of the second club. Hit balls from this position, taking time before each shot to check that everything is square to the target line before you start the club back.
A pull is often caused by the opposite faults to a push. Your feet, knees and hips may be square to your target line but your shoulders point left of the target. If you position the ball too forward in your stance, you will mis-align your shoulders. The forward ball position will shut the clubface at address and this, along with the shoulders aiming left, make a pull shot inevitable.
On course cure:
Begin your set-up by holding the club in your right hand only. Then, checking that the ball is not too far forward, set your feet, knees and hips square to your target line, before placing your left hand on the club. Check that your shoulders and the clubface are square to your target line.
The drill for curing pulled shots is exactly the same as for pushed shots.
The critical factor with both faults is usually poor shoulder alignment. So practice hitting shots using the shafts of two golf clubs laid on the ground square to your target line: one club is used as reference points for checking your feet, knees and hips, the other is a guide for your shoulders.
This often happens as a result of taking the club back too quickly and inside the ball-to-target line. This traps the club behind your body as you start your downswing. In an effort to ‘save’ the shot, golfers roll their hands over through the hitting area, closing the clubface at impact, hooking the ball left.
A hook usually happens when you allow the clubhead to move quicker than the hands. Concentrate on moving the butt of the club first in the takeaway, rather than allow the clubhead. This helps with a one piece takeaway, keeping the shaft on-line longer, preventing the club getting trapped behind your body in the downswing.
First, lay a club along your feet. Position another club, which will extend that line further back along the line of your feet. Take up your normal address, swing the club back to hip height and stop. Look back along your shaft – it should be parallel to the clubs on the ground to avoid a hook. Hit practice shots from this position. Stop your backswing at waist-height and check the club is on-line, then continue the swing and strike the ball.
Golfers slice because the club travels on an out-to-in swing path in the downswing, with the clubface pointing to the target line at impact. A poor address position, with the shoulders set open (facing too far left of the target) at address, with the ball too far forward may cause a slice. You may slice if you are too aggressive at the start of the downswing and the right shoulder gets overactive, forcing the club out of line.
Check your ball position. The ball should be set inside your left heel for normal tee shots, with your right elbow pointing at your right hip to help square up your shoulders. Think ‘rhythm’ NOT ‘power’. Create the feeling that you are dropping the clubhead inside the ball-to-target line in your practice swings and picture the clubface striking the back of the ball.
So your shoulders don’t get too active at the start of your downswing, hit shots with your right foot drawn back. Practice hitting three-quarter shots, making a conscious effort to cross your forearms over through impact. When you use this drill, make your forearms touch in the follow through.
A top is when the leading edge of the club strikes the top half of the ball causing the ball to run weakly along the ground. Topped shots happen when your posture changes through the swing – your legs straighten from a flexed position, for instance. This changes your swing, shifting it upwards, so you catch the top of the ball as opposed to the bottom.
Focus on keeping your posture, both in the backswing and throughswing. Make a couple of practice swings, trying to take a big divot. This will help enforce the thought of striking down on the ball. A good mental tip is to think ‘ball then turf’ at address.
Retaining good posture throughout the whole of your swing is the key to avoiding tops. It is a good idea to hit balls with the specific objective of maintaining your posture for as long as possible after impact. Focus on watching the clubhead strike the back of the ball. On sunny days, when your body casts a shadow on the ground, set up so you are able to check whether your shadow moves up as you swing the club back.