The ability to “work” the golf ball is one key difference between average golfers and low-handicappers. To “work” the ball means to intentionally hit shots that curve in a one direction or the other, to play shots with extra height or keep the ball low when needed, and generally control the spin, trajectory and shape of your shots.

It’s advanced stuff, but within every golfer’s grasp. And no matter your current skill level, being able to work the ball in at least one direction can pay big dividends.

How to: Work the Golf Ball

Before learning the technique needed to play these specialty shots, you must understand what causes the ball to curve in mid-air. This tutorial provides the easy-to-understand basics of sidespin:

What Makes the Golf Ball Curve?

Now let’s apply this knowledge to the setup and swing techniques used to play the four standard shots in every shotmaker’s repertoire: The fade, the draw, the high shot and the low shot. (Descriptions are for right-handed golfers).

Fade (soft left-to-right curve): The fade is your go-to shot off the tee of most par 4 and par 5 holes that dogleg to the right. A fade will follow the bend of the fairway, giving you a better chance of hitting and holding the short grass. The fade is also handy for playing approach shots when the flag is located on the green’s right side.

  • Set up for a fade by aiming the clubface at the target – the spot where you want the ball to finish.
  • Place your feet slightly open (aligned left) in relation to the clubface. The shoulders and hips should line up with your feet.
  • Your swing should follow the alignment of your body, on a path left of the target.

You may find it helpful to stand a little closer to the ball, creating a more upright swing plane, and to keep the back of your left hand pointed at the target through impact. This prevents the right hand from rolling over the left, closing the clubface too soon and eliminating the left-to-right sidespin which generates a fade.

Draw (soft right-to-left curve): The opposite of a fade, use the draw on dogleg-left holes and to reach pins on the green’s left side.

To hit a draw, simply flip the instructions for a fade:

  • Set up by aiming the clubface at the target.
  • Place your feet slightly closed (aligned right) in relation to the clubface. The shoulders and hips are in line with your feet.
  • Swing along your body line, right of the target.

Standing a few inches farther from the ball will create the flatter swing plane more conducive to hitting a draw. Also, focus on rolling the right hand over the left through the impact zone to impart the proper sidespin.

High shot: There are numerous instances where it’s helpful to launch the ball very high in the air – hitting over trees, trying to stop an iron shot on a small portion of green, or when you’re looking to take advantage of a tailwind for extra distance.

There’s nothing complicated about the physics here. Hitting the ball high means utilizing as much of the club’s loft as possible.

  • Set up with the ball slightly forward of its normal position for the club you’re using. For example, if it’s a 6-iron, play it about an inch to the left of your usual ball position.
  • Make sure the hands aren’t too far ahead of the ball as this will effectively reduce the club’s loft.
  • If the situation allows, open your stance and play a fade. Fades fly higher and land more softly than draws or straight shots.

In addition, stand closer to the ball and concentrate on finishing the swing with your hands high overhead. (Think “high shot, high finish.”)

    Low shot: Need to hit the ball beneath tree branches, keep it down playing into a headwind, or run the ball onto the green? Follow these rules for hitting it low.

  • At address, the ball should be farther back (to the right) in your stance than normal.
  • Set your hands well ahead of the ball to deloft the club.
  • A mild draw often works well on low shots. Close the clubface or your stance to add sidespin.

By standing a bit farther from the ball, you’ll create a more rounded swing plane that promotes a low, drawing shot. Finish with your hands at or below shoulder height. (Think “low shot, low finish.”)

There you have it – Working the Ball 101. Your setup is the most important element in controlling shots and bending the ball to your will. Master the fundamentals and enjoy the perks that come with being a genuine shotmaker.