Which is harder to learn: How to play golf, or how to talk it? Both can make the beginner’s head spin.

For now, let’s concede that learning the ins and outs of the golf swing – arguably the most complex activity in all of sports – is the more difficult task. But when you first take up the game, the lingo of golf may as well be a foreign language.

Your first step to understanding all the jargon, both technical and slang, is to bookmark this website’s Golf Terms page.

Next, you need to pare down this vast field of words and phrases to its most essential expressions – the ones you’ll hear most often, the ones your instructors and fellow golfers will assume you already know.

In fact, for this article we’ll assume you’re familiar with words like “tee,” “fairway,” “green” and “putt,” as well as self-explanatory stuff such as “grip,” “cup” and “target.” Let’s focus on a dozen need-to-know terms covering the golf swing, shot types, equipment and on-course situations.


Address/Setup: The position from which you hit a shot, with your feet in place and the clubhead behind the ball. This is called addressing or setting up to the ball.

Break: The curve of a putted ball as it rolls across the green. Before putting, the golfer attempts to determine the direction (right or left) and amount of break by “reading” the green’s slope.

Driver: The #1 wood, used to tee off on most par 4 and par 5 holes. The driver has the longest shaft, largest head and least lofted clubface of all golf clubs (except the putter, which has less loft).

Draw/Hook: For a right-handed golfer, a shot that curves slightly from right to left is a draw. A hook is an extreme right-to-left shot. Long story short: draw good, hook bad. (For lefties, draws and hooks curve left to right.)

Fade/Slice: The opposite of draws and hooks, fades and slices are shots that curve from left to right (for right-handed golfers, opposite for lefties). A fade curves gently (good), a slice severely (bad). FYI – Slicing the ball is the most common fault among amateur golfers.

Fat shot: A shot that results from the club striking the ground behind the ball. Because the clubhead doesn’t directly contact the ball, fat shots travel much shorter than the intended distance.

“Fore”: Yell this any time you (or a playing partner) hit a ball toward another player or group. A “fore” call is basically like shouting, “Look out!” or “Heads up!” Also, anytime you hear someone yell “fore” from a distance, it’s wise to duck.

“Gimme”: A very short putt, usually within 18 inches of the cup. While the rules of golf state that you must putt until your ball is in the hole (aka to “hole out” or “putt out”), most golfers simply pick up once they’ve gotten it this close. While taking gimmes speeds up play, it’s your choice whether or not you want to pick up or putt out when playing an informal round.

“Mulligan”: Another of golf’s informalities, a mulligan is a “do-over” after a poor shot attempt. Mulligans, which don’t count against your score, are most often used on the first tee to give each player a chance to start well. As an example, if you hit your opening drive into the woods, your partners will likely allow you to hit a second drive. Strictly speaking, mulligans are against the rules of golf. As a beginner, you’ll be tempted to take many mulligans during a round; but unless the course is clear and your partners are OK with it, don’t abuse the privilege.

Shank: A shot which contacts the club’s hosel and shoots directly to the right. Shanks generally occur only on shots with the irons and are the most damaging mishits in golf.

Thin or Topped (shot): Hitting the ball at or slightly above its equator produces a thin shot, which flies as a line drive with no backspin. On a top or topped shot, the bottom edge of the club strikes the very top of the ball, which immediately hits the ground and rolls – usually not very far. Both thin and topped shots may create an unpleasant vibrating sensation in the hands.

Wedge(s): The most lofted golf clubs are part of your iron set. There are four basic wedges, each with different degrees of loft: the pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge and lob wedge. Due to their high loft and short length, wedges make it easier to get the ball airborne. They’re also used for many shots around the green, such as chips and pitch shots. Most golfers carry at least two wedges (pitching and sand) in their 14-club set, while many carry three wedges and some four.