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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Understanding Your Shot Shape

Part of the Route 67 series

(12/15/2010 UPDATE: Some of the principles I talked about in this article have had to be "tweaked" because of new scientific info. After you read this post, click on this link to learn about the updated "New Ball Flight Laws.")

Another delay. When I started on the power source articles, I realized that I was going to have to repeat a large amount of material if I didn't go ahead and cover it first... so I'm going to cover it first. ;-) We'll get to the power sources soon, I promise.

However, this information is useful even without knowing about your swing's power source. Think of this as a brief troubleshooting guide.

Today's info is probably nothing new for any of you who have taken lessons. These 2 diagrams show the 9 possible shot shapes that you, as a rightie or a leftie, can make. The first chart is for the righties:

The 9 Rightie Shot Shapes

The drawing is pretty straightforward. The little player is lined up with an absolutely humongous ball (he must have seen the Munsters clip from Sunday), and that barely-visible dotted line is an aim line toward the target. The lines sprouting from the ball show all the possible ball flights. Again, I'm pointing out the obvious by saying that the shots are grouped by each of the 3 shot paths the ball can take, and each path can have 3 shot shapes.

The other chart is for the lefties, and contains the same info:

The 9 Leftie Shot Shapes

Of course, the shapes are the same, just called by different names since one player's hook is another player's slice.

Now, just to be sure we're all on the same page, let me define a couple of the terms I just used:
  • The shot path is determined by (take your choice, they all mean the same thing) your swing plane, the club head's swing path, or the path your arms take when you hit the ball.
  • The shot shape is determined by the direction your club face is pointed relative to that path when it hits the ball.
Here are a few examples, using the numbers on the charts so I can use one example to describe it and both of you (righties and lefties) can follow it:
  • If your swing path is directly toward the target and your club face is pointing left of that path, your ball will travel on ball flight #4.
  • If your swing path is headed left of the target when you hit the ball and the club face is pointed left of that path, your ball will travel on ball flight #1.
  • If your swing path is headed right of the target when you hit the ball and the club face is pointed left of that path, your ball will travel on ball flight #7.
Some path/shape combinations are better than others. Shapes #1 and #9 could be lost or out-of-bounds, while #3 and #7 may end up in the middle of the fairway just like #5.

Likewise, some different path/shape combinations can give you the same results IF you aimed yourself to take advantage of them. As one example, if I aimed my target line down the right side of the fairway and hit the #4 shot shape, I will probably get the same results as if I aimed straight down the center and hit the #7 shape.

Knowing these shot shapes can help you figure out what you're doing during your swing. For example, a rightie who hits that #9 shape is probably pushing their hips too far forward during the swing. I would know that because the ball started out to the right; if I just had the face of the club pointed right, the ball would probably go straight ahead and then turn to the right, which is the #6 shape. If I'm hitting the ball on the #9 path, am I also pointing the club face to the right? Probably... but the swing that starts the path to the right may also be causing the face to open. I'd want to fix the path first, then see if the ball still curves to the right.

Here's the first principle of troubleshooting your swing: Fix the path first, then the shape. Path problems usually mean your body is leaning one way or the other; if your body gets in the wrong position, you may be doing other things correctly but they still send the ball in the wrong direction. Working on the shape first is like trying to level some table legs when the floor isn't flat; until you fix the floor, you run the risk of just ruining the table.

Path problems caused by "throwing the club from the top" are often a combination of an improperly-timed swoosh (we've already talked about that) combined with a power source timing problem. We'll get to that soon; nevertheless, you need to fix the path first.

In an ideal world, that #5 shot would be your normal shot and you'd learn to make other shots from there. It generally doesn't work that way! What I am about to say would be considered heresy by most teachers, but I'm not worried about you mastering some kind of perfect shot. Since you're a weekend player, what you need is a consistent shot that lets you make a decent score. So here's my advice: I'm going to give you enough info that may let you get pretty close to that #5 shot... but if you can hit any of the shots from #3 through #7 consistently, you'll be able to score pretty well. Here's what you want:
  • With the #5 shot, obviously you're golden. You can learn to adjust for just about any shot you need.
  • With the #4 or #6 shots, you just aim a little left or right of target as needed and let the ball curve in. When the pros talk about "eliminating one side of the fairway," these are generally the shots they're talking about, so these are also desirable.
  • You might think it's crazy to settle for a #3 or #7 shot, especially when one of them will be a pull-slice; most teachers act like that's the kiss of death. But it's a matter of degree with these shots. If your path is just a little bit off, so you just have a slight pull or push, and you learn to get that club face pointed right at the target when it contacts the ball, you can literally aim right at the target and have it fade or draw right where you're aiming. This is almost as good a shot as #4 or #6! It will be a rare day when you can't figure out how to score using it. Bruce Lietzke, who has 13 PGA Tour wins, 7 Champions Tour wins (one major, the 2003 U.S. Senior Open), and a Shark Shootout victory made his living with a little pull-fade... and he is notorious for not practicing. (And here is a swing analysis of Lietzke's swing by Jim McLean. There's a short commercial at the beginning, but this is a 17-minute analysis... and the coolest thing is that, when the camera moves behind him, you can actually see the divots going left!)
These charts will give you a leg up on tracking down problems in your swing. Tomorrow we'll look at what kind of moves cause these shots.

1 comment:

  1. This is great Mike, thanks! Again, I completely appreciate that you think of the lefties!