Your natural shot is the one you hit without making any adjustments to your stance or swing. Think of it like this: When you align body and club directly at the target and make a normal swing, the ball will almost certainly curve in one direction or the other. That's your natural shape.
But what if your natural shot varies from club to club? It's not impossible.
Short irons are the easiest clubs to draw because the added loft gives you a split-second more time to rotate the club into the square or slightly closed position. By the same token, most golfers find it extremely difficult to hit a draw with a long iron or the driver, whose slender lofts erase that valuable split-second and make them tougher to square up. Typically, a fade or slice results.
If you find that you tend to produce a right-to-left flight with lofted clubs and a left-to-right shot with the longer ones, that's perfectly fine. In fact, it's need-to-know info that will help you better manage the course.
Let's say your natural driver shot is a fade. When faced with a hole that doglegs to the left, the ideal shot is a draw. Because you're able to draw he short irons, you're tempted to try it with the driver. Your best bet, however, is to aim down the left side of the fairway and play your natural fade. You may sacrifice a little distance and end up with a slightly tougher angle to the green, but you've got a much better chance of hitting the short grass with your natural shot. Trying to force a draw often leads to an ugly hook or other mishit.
The same rule applies to the short irons. Let's say your natural shape is a draw, but you've got an 8-iron to a flag tucked on the right behind a bunker. Trying to play a fade – the perfect shot – requires adjusting your stance and swing and will likely land you in trouble. Instead, aim directly at the pin, make your normal swing and let the ball draw back to the center of the green. That's never a bad place to be.
To determine your natural shot shape (or shapes) work through your bag on the driving range while setting up for each shot in a square position. You'll discover where your draw becomes a fade – perhaps between the 7- and 6-iron – or where your big left-to-right curve ball begins to straighten out.
How to Determine Your Natural Shot Shape
You might not think of yourself as a 'natural' in golf. If you are like most people, the game doesn't come easy, and you have to work for the improvements that you make. There are very few players that can just walk out onto the course and play well, so don't feel bad if you aren't a natural at this great game.
Even if you don't consider yourself to be a natural talent, you still have a natural shot shape that needs to be identified. Your natural shot shape is the one that occurs when you just make a 'standard' swing without trying to alter any of your mechanics along the way. This is the shot that you should be trying to hit most of the time, as it will be the most reliable. It doesn't matter whether this shot is a draw or a fade, as it is possible to play great golf with the ball turning either direction. What is important is that you know which way the ball is going to curve, and that you can repeat that curve time and time again.
It is a mistake to try changing your natural shot shape. Sure, you can alter your swing mechanics slightly to improve the quality of the strike and the amount that your shot turns, but changing yourself from a draw to a fade (or vice versa) is a bad idea. Since you can play great with either shot, why go against your natural tendencies? You want your game to hold up even under pressure, and you will have the best chance at success when you stick to what comes naturally. Take pride in the draw or fade that you hit and work hard to improve how consistently you can execute the shot.
If you watch professional golfers play on TV, one of the things that you will notice is how incredibly consistent they are with their ball flight. Almost every player has a 'pet' shot that they use the majority of the time – and they can execute it over and over with stunning consistency. You might not ever reach the level of a Tour pro when it comes to repeating your shots, but you can work to make strides in that direction. Almost any ball flight can be a good one as long as it is reliable. When you know how the ball is going to curve before you hit the shot, you can pick a target line that will allow for the ball to bend perfectly toward the hole.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as needed.
Do Some Thinking
Before you head to the driving range to work on discovering your natural shot shape, it will be helpful to sit down away from the course to do some thinking. The following exercise can be done anytime you have a few free minutes, and it can greatly help you determine the true identity of your natural shot shape.
- Grab a piece of paper and a pencil to use for this exercise (or a spreadsheet on your computer if you feel like being digital)
- Think back to the last round of golf that you have played. Since you will need to remember details about the round, it would be helpful to do this exercise within a day or two of playing that round. If you haven't played in a while, wait until you do play and then complete this exercise shortly after
- On your sheet of paper, make a line of each of the 18 holes that you played in your most recent round
- On each line, make a note for all of the full shots that you hit. The note should simply identify whether the shot was a draw or a fade. You don't need to worry about any short game shots that you hit. In fact, any shot hit from less than 100 yards should be ignored
- Once you have written out the draw or fade information for all of your shots from more than 100 yards, total up the results. You should be left with three numbers – the total number of full swings you made, the number of draws you hit, and the number of fades
- Divide the draw total by the overall number of shots to determine your draw percentage. Do the same for your fades – obviously, those two numbers should add up to 100%
Most likely, this quick exercise is going to give you a clear picture of your natural shot shape. You should find that one of these numbers is significantly higher than the other, clearly indicating which shot is easiest for you to hit. For some amateur golfers specifically, the percentages may be 100% fade and 0% draw. That is okay. Don't worry about what these percentages say about your game at this point. The only goal during this exercise is to gain a better understanding as to whether you are a natural draw or fade player.
It is important to be honest with yourself during this exercise. If you want to hit a draw for some reason, don't allow that fact to cloud your judgement of each shot. Do your best to honestly decide if each shot was a draw or fade and then total up the results. There are no right or wrong answers in this exercise. There is nothing wrong with being a natural fade player, as some of the best golfers of all-time have preferred to move the ball from left to right.
Depending on how well you remember shots from previous rounds, you may be able to go back farther than one round when working on this exercise. If you remember two or three rounds back, go ahead and add to your set of data – more information will only make the process more accurate. In fact, if you play on a regular basis, you could get in a habit of doing this review after each round that you play in order to keep track of any changes to your ball flight patterns. The best way to improve is to learn from the past, so pay close attention to the shots you have hit in previous rounds and learn from what they are telling you.
Driving Range Test
With the 'paperwork' complete, it is time to head to the driving range to see your natural ball flight in action. It is one thing to review past rounds to look for patterns in your shots, but it is another thing to actually swing the club and watch the ball fly. With your mind focused on determining the exact pattern of your ball flight, this upcoming range session could be one of the most productive in your golf career.
Head to the driving range with your set of clubs and a bucket of balls. You will just be hitting regular shots during this visit (as opposed to doing drills), so you don't need any special equipment. However, you will want to make some notes during the practice session, so bring along a piece of paper and a pen. Also, this is a practice session that will require some focus, so try not to work on this process when visiting the driving range with a friend. There is plenty of time to be social at the golf course, but this review of your ball flight should be done when you are alone and can focus in on the task at hand.
To get started, pick your favorite club out of your bag and set aside 10 golf balls. It doesn't matter which club you choose, as long as it is a club that you can hit more than 100 yards in the air. If you love hitting your driver, that is a good choice. If you prefer hitting your mid-irons, a six or seven iron will work nicely as well. Once you have selected the club, pick a target that makes sense for that club. For example, if you picked a seven iron, find a target on the range that is about the right distance for your seven iron shots. This target will serve as your aim-point for each shot that you hit.
It is important to note that the target (in this case) is not where you want the ball to end up, but rather where you want the ball to start. You will be using the target as an aim point, and then watching the ball curve to either the left or right of that spot. This is the opposite of what you usually do on the golf course, so it is vital that you understand the difference. Align your body with the target you selected and then allow the ball to curve away.
Now that all of your preparations are complete, you can go ahead and hit some shots. Prior to each of the ten shots in this first set, go through your full pre-shot routine just as you would on the course. This process is only going to be useful if you make it as realistic as possible, so take your time and give each swing your very best effort. Remember, you aren't trying to manipulate the ball flight in any way. Simply aim at your selected target, make a great swing, and watch the ball flight closely. When the ball comes down, reach for your paper and pen and make a note as to whether the shot was a draw or a fade. Repeat this process for each of the ten shots in this set.
After those ten are complete, switch clubs and do the process over again. Depending on how many shots you want to hit, continue with this pattern of ten shots per club until you are finished with the practice session. You should have a note for each shot you hit on the range, and you can add up those totals just as you did in the previous section. Find your percentage of draws and your percentage of fades, and then compare those results to what you remembered from your recent rounds on the course.
Most likely, the results of your driving range session will match up nicely with your on-course results. Assuming that is the case, you now know for sure which ball flight comes naturally to you. So now what? Next, you will want to get to work on learning how to use that shot shape so that it performs well on the course. You don't want to change from a draw to a fade, or vice versa, but you can optimize what comes naturally in order to get great results on the scorecard.
Using Your Draw
If you have settled on a draw as your natural shot shape, it is key that you understand how to use your draw to best position your ball around the golf course. Many amateur golfers struggle with the concept of course management and it consistently costs them strokes on the scorecard. Even if you don't improve on your current swing you can start to play better golf simply by making smarter decisions. Know what your draw can do – and what it can't do – and you can put yourself in positions to be successful.
Following are a few key points for any draw player to keep in mind –
- Expect some run. When hitting a draw, you can expect the ball to land on the ground and run out a little more than it would with a fade. Generally speaking, a draw shot shape is going to have less backspin than a similar shot that is fading to the right. This isn't necessarily a problem, and it can actually work to your advantage by allowing your tee ball to travel further, but you need to be aware of it when planning your shots.
- Less wind effect. Because of that lower backspin rate, you should expect your draw to be less influenced by the wind than a fade. When playing into the wind, you will still notice the loss of a few yards, but the penetrating ball flight that a draw offers is good at cutting through that wind. At the same time, downwind shots will be less aided by wind, so don't count on the breeze to carry your shots too much farther than they would normally travel.
- Don't always aim right. The natural reaction when you know you are playing a draw is to aim to the right of the hole in order to allow room for the ball to curve back to the left. While that is the approach that you will want to take most of the time, there are exceptions. For example, if you are playing into a green that is guarded on the right by a pond, you don't want to aim your ball directly at the water. Sure, it should draw away from the hazard, but you will be in trouble if it doesn't. Instead, aim at the middle of the green and make a good swing. If the ball draws, you could still catch the left edge and have a birdie putt. If it flies straight, you will be in the middle of the green. Taking this kind of approach removes risk from the equation and gives you a better chance at avoiding penalty strokes.
- Stand closer to straighten it out. There will be a few occasions that you encounter on the course where you simply can't use your draw to play the shot. Whether there are trees in your way or some other obstacle that is preventing you from playing a draw, you will need to alter your shot from time to time. When that situation arises, stand slightly closer to the ball at address. By standing closer you will naturally create a steeper backswing, which will lend itself more to a fade than a draw.
There are plenty of great shots out there waiting to be hit with your draw ball flight, but you need to think carefully before picking a club and a target, and executing a swing. Hitting the ball solidly is not enough to play good golf, you have to have good strategy to go along with those swings. Put the tips above into use during your next round and you should find your ball in better position throughout the day.
Using Your Fade
On the other side of the coin, you may have found during the exercises above that you naturally create a fade with your swing. Just as with a draw, there are several things that you should know about hitting a fade which will help you score better on the course.
- Less run out. As you might have guessed, hitting a fade is going to have the opposite effect of a draw in terms of the way the ball reacts on the ground. Most fades stop quickly when they land, unless the turf is firm and fast. This might cost you a few yards in the fairway off of your driver, but it is a great advantage when it comes to hitting approach shots. Most fade players are able to take aim right at the target without the fear of the ball rolling off the side of the green.
- Watch the wind. Again, this is another characteristic that is opposite of a draw. Your fade is likely going to float up into the air, making is vulnerable to the effects of the wind. Carefully plan your shots on windy days and try not to force the ball in a direction that it doesn't want to go. For example, when playing into the wind, swinging harder will only cause the ball to fly higher – and come up shorter. Instead of forcing the shot, use less club and swing soft to keep the ball down. Swinging harder is rarely the right choice in windy conditions, and that is certainly true when you are hitting a fade.
- Need a draw? Stand farther away. Not surprisingly, you will want to stand farther away from the ball when you wish to turn your fade into a draw. This isn't something that you should try doing very often, but a simple adjustment to your stance can come in handy when you absolutely need to move the ball from right to left. Practice this tweak on the range to make sure it is effective in your swing.
- Commit to your swings. When playing a fade, the possibility always exists that your fade could turn into a slice and take your ball far off line. To avoid that fate, commit to each shot that you hit and focus in on your target. If you aren't completely convinced that you have picked the right target, your mind won't be committed to the show and you could wind up leaving the club face wide open at impact. Never start your swing until you are 100% confident that you have picked the right shot for the situation.
Playing a fade gives you the opportunity to control your ball around the course, even if it won't quite travel as far as a draw. Think about the points above as you prepare your game plan for your next round, and be sure to use your fade in a way that will give you the maximum advantage on each hole.
It is never a good idea to fight your natural tendencies on the golf course. If your ball wants to draw, let it. If your natural shot shape is a fade, that's okay too. Instead of trying to radically overhaul your game, you should simply be fine tuning your technique to make it more reliable and more repeatable. As long as you can hit the same shot over and over again, you can play good golf – it makes no difference if that shot is turning to the right or the left as it falls to the ground.