We have seen how to obtain consistency with the irons and the woods through golf club design. This chapter deals with ball striking.
Angle of attack. We have all been told to hit down on the golf ball, but what does this mean? The lowest portion of the golf swing occurs in the center of a shoulder width stance. By placing the golf ball in this spot you will make contact with the ball an instant before the club head touches the ground. This is in effect hitting down on the ball. Don’t be miss-lead by the term “hitting down on the ball”. This does not mean attacking the ball with a steep swing plane and leaving a crater. This simply means that you are hitting the ball before the club head touches the ground and leaving a small divot or a slight scar. This ball position should be used with all 1 Iron single-length golf clubs. The advantages of hitting down on the ball rather than trying to pick it clean or scooping it are numerous:
- Imparts more backspin to the ball, which aids in accuracy.
- Increases distance since the angle of attack ensures that you are pinching rather than scooping the ball.
- Allows you to consistently hit the ball from any kind of turf condition or lie.
Let me give you my own example. When I began playing golf, like most beginning golfers, I attempted to scoop the ball or come under it on each shot. Let’s face it, on most golf courses the ball rests on top of the grass a half an inch or so above the ground. For all intents and purposes, you are hitting each shot off of a tee. For about a year this worked fine. Then I played a course with bent grass fairways. If you have never played bent grass, it is like the name implies, the grass lays flat on its side, flat on the ground, and so does the ball. I shot a 120 that day when I was used to shooting in the 90’s. Literally every iron shot I hit was fat. It didn’t take me long to decide to change my method of ball striking. In previous practice, when coming under the ball, I hit my PW consistently 70 yards. Once I became proficient at hitting down on the ball my PW distance jumped to a consistent 120 yards. My accuracy with that club increased tremendously as well, and this was due to the extra ball spin I was generating. I played that same bent grass golf course a few months later and shot an 85. What you have to understand is that regardless of whether the ball is sitting up on grass or resting on hardpan, the shot you make by hitting down on the ball will produce the same result. The only way to gain consistency through ball striking is to hit the ball first and then the ground taking a small divot or leaving a small scar.
The late hit. The late hit simply refers to making ball contact prior to the full release of the wrists. What does this do? It adds power to your shot that translates into increased distance and more solid ball contact. This extra power is a function of wrist tension. I don’t mean to say a tightening of the muscles, but rather the building up of power in that hinge just before release. Power builds in the wrist hinge due to the tendons being stretched by the rearward force exerted on the golf club during the downswing. This build-up of power or tension explodes when the wrists naturally release at the bottom of the downswing. Perhaps you have heard the term “casting”. What this refers to is the releasing of the wrists at the beginning of the downswing; it looks like the golfer is casting a fishing rod. Once the wrists release, the power of that hinge is gone, the swing fault of casting causing vastly reduced distance. This is the reason you want to develop a late hit or late release. It is really nothing that you have to think about. Generally it will occur naturally as long as you consistently hit down on the ball. This ensures that ball contact is made before you reach the bottom of your swing where the wrists naturally release.
An often overlooked factor in swing consistency is that the same set-up and swing posture should be used on every shot regardless if it is a tee shot, fairway shot, pitch shot, or chip shot. This means that for a chip shot three feet off the green you should use exactly the same set-up, swing posture, and so forth as you would for a full shot from the fairway. The only difference is that you would not bring the club back as far or hit with the same amount of power. Personally, when I chip I only take the club back four or five inches depending on how hard I wish to hit the ball. The same is true for pitch shots where you normally see the golfer choking down on the club and bending way over. You never want to choke down on any club or for any shot, but rather, take your normal set-up and address position and only bring the club back half-way or so. The reason is simple – consistency. Any time you introduce a new swing or set-up into your game you will lose the consistency/simplicity that is necessary for low scoring.
There is a secondary reason for never choking down on a golf club. Human eyesight has evolved over millions of years to judge distance and direction with the eyes in a horizontal plane toward a point of reference (in golf this would be your target). This is the way you look at your target in every sport or game known to man; i.e.: darts, bowling, archery, baseball, billiards, etc. In a round of golf, once you bend over after choking down on a golf club your eyes are in a vertical plane towards your target which greatly reduces your depth perception and accuracy in a golf shot. Prove it to yourself with this experiment: place a bucket ten feet away from you and toss tennis balls into it under-hand while facing the bucket with your eyes in the horizontal plane. Now try the same experiment facing sideways and bending over until you are facing the bucket with your eyes in the vertical plane. The difference in results is quite amazing.
Consistency also applies to club selection for your pitch and chip shots. Practically all golf instruction promulgates the use of different clubs for different length chip shots. For example: #4 or #5 iron for chips from the fringe or just beyond the fringe, #6 or #7 iron for chips two to four feet beyond the fringe, and #8, #9, or PW for chips five to fifteen feet beyond the fringe. The idea being to land the ball on the green as close to the fringe as possible and then letting the ball roll the rest of the way to the cup. This type of instruction and approach to chip shots is, in my opinion, disastrous from a consistency standpoint. First of all, becoming proficient at all of these shots using the numerous irons of varying lofts that are suggested would take a lifetime of practice. Secondly, the idea that you want to have the ball land on the green near the fringe and let it roll ten or twenty feet to the cup adds the complexity of a putt to an already intricate shot. Typical golf instruction follows the same logic for pitch shots suggesting the use of differing clubs and swings for varying distances. Again, the logic is disastrous from a consistency standpoint.
Personally, whenever I am within 90 yards to 20 yards of the green the only iron I pull out of the bag is my Lob Wedge. I used to practice with this club on a high school football field near my home in the evenings by hitting varying length shots to targets I set up on the field. It is quite amazing how quickly you can develop a feel for distance with just a little practice. Anyway, today I can drop the ball on a dime (albeit a large dime), with this club anywhere from 90 yards in. I would never have been able to develop this kind of consistency by using numerous clubs of varying lofts for my pitch shots. The same is true in my chipping game as I only use my #9 iron for all chip shots. The reason is simple – I know how far the ball will fly, its trajectory, and the distance it will roll when it hits regardless of my distance from the fringe. Again, I would never have developed any feel for this type of shot if I were constantly switching between clubs. As far as the idea of having the ball begin rolling on the green as soon as it clears the fringe, I disagree wholeheartedly. To my knowledge there is no break or undulations in the air so I want the ball to fly as far as possible towards the hole and then have minimal roll when it lands on the green. This is the reason I use my #9 iron for all chip shots – high trajectory and minimal roll.