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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Eliminating One Side of the Course

A lot of you may already know the stuff in this post, but a lot of weekend players don't. And since this is important to your strategy if you want to lower your score, I figured this was a good time to do a post on it.

If you watch any of the instructional shows on Golf Channel, it won't be long before someone brings up "eliminating one side of the course." Sometimes they specifically mention eliminating the left side of the course; that's because most of the right-handed Tour pros have a problem with hooking the ball when they goof up. It doesn't really matter which side you eliminate... but as a general rule, you want to eliminate the one that gives you the most trouble!

Here's the reason, and it's one I bet you've had some trouble with: You're having trouble hitting the ball in the fairway, but you miss it all over the place. Sometimes it goes in the left rough, sometimes it goes in the right rough... but the trick is that you never know which miss you're going to have THIS time. If you just knew which way the ball was going to go, you could aim so the ball had a better chance of landing somewhere that you could play from.

That's the idea behind "eliminating one side of the course." It's also behind the idea of having a "go-to shot," which simply means that you can hit that shot and know where the ball is going to go, even when you're under a lot of pressure and likely to screw up. A go-to shot may not be very pretty and it may not even fly as far as normal... but at least the player knows he or she will be able to find it and play it.

There are two ways to eliminate one side of the course, and both can work. You can either:
  1. learn to control your bad shot, or
  2. learn a foolproof way to hit the opposite shot.
That second one is what the Tour pros tend to try because they believe it's a more dependable strategy. They have trouble with hooking the ball, so they work hard to develop a foolproof fade. That's why you hear about so many pros working on "swinging left." As long as they can figure out a way to keep the clubface from closing at impact, they know the ball will fade. (And when they swing left but close the clubface unintentionally, they get what they call a "double cross.")

That's also why some players have really unusual swings. For example, Ben Hogan created what we call the "modern swing" because he fought a duck hook so bad he called it "the terror of the field mice." Lee Trevino's swing developed the same way.

The first choice -- learning to control your bad shot -- can be an interesting possibility. If your normal miss is a big slice and you can learn to control it, you may NEVER have to worry about the other side of the course. The trick becomes learning to control it so that it's always a fade and never a banana ball. You need a shot you can count on, one that you know will almost always be in play. If you can figure out how to reduce your current miss to something acceptable, you'll have a dependable go-to shot.

It's not the choice most players make, but I can think of one great player who did: Billy Casper. He won 3 majors (1959 & 1966 US Open, 1970 Masters) and 51 total PGA Tour wins (7th all time) with a big 50-yard hook.

Regardless of which route you decide to take, you have to learn why you hit the shots you hit and then you have to work out a way to get the ball to go the way you want. But the first thing you need to do is make sure you have good fundamentals: 
  • Check your grip. Make sure it's not too strong or too weak because that can cause hooks and slices even if everything else is correct.
  • Make sure you have good alignment at address. The ball tends to go where you aim. And I'd be willing to guess that this is a more common problem than most players believe.
  • Check that your ball position is consistent. Even the pros get careless with that sometimes.
And here's a good thing to try: Try hitting some balls with a full swing but don't try to knock the cover off the ball. (Think practice swing.) If you can hit it where you want it when you swing slower, then you're doing something wrong when you try to create more power. (That means it's not a setup problem. It's a movement problem.) And then maybe you can use your practice swing as a go-to shot!

You may need to spend some time with a teaching pro to learn how to do it. But like I said, eliminating one side of the course is an important part of your scoring strategy. It's worth taking some time to figure out how to do it.


  1. Martin Hall calls fundamentals face, path, and distance

  2. I really like Martin Hall, but this is one of the reasons golf seems so complicated to most folks -- everybody uses the same words to mean different things. For example, face is controlled by many things, like grip and alignment and posture. It seems to me that the word "fundamentals" should describe the smallest things that a player has to learn (like grip and alignment) in order to control those bigger components of the game (like face and path).

  3. I should also add that the word "fundamentals" takes on a slightly different meaning depending on what you're talking about. The fundamentals for creating a good golf swing are a different matter than the fundamentals for describing the shape of a golf shot. Maybe we need to create a new vocabulary for teaching golf.