Every golfer's repertoire should include the punch shot.
Also called a “knock-down,” the punch shot is typically played with an iron and has a low trajectory that makes it useful in many situations. For instance, when playing into a stiff breeze or through a crosswind, or hitting a shot under tree branches.
Because it flies low with relatively little backspin, the punch penetrates wind better than a higher shot. It's also a great option when conditions call for running the ball onto a green. A third advantage: Since it involves a shorter, more compact action, the punch is a great go-to golf shot for days when your full swing fails.
Executing the punch/knock-down with an iron requires a few simple adjustments to the setup and swing. Here's how it's done (based on a right-handed setup):
1. At address, place the ball in the middle of your stance, or just behind, with the hands ahead of the ball to de-loft the clubface.
2. Place a little more than 50 percent of your weight on the left side.
3. The backswing should be slightly shorter than usual.
4. Make an easy swing, about 80 percent of full power. Swing too hard and the ball will come out higher with more spin than you want.
Punch Shot Can Be a Golfer's Best Friend
One of the reasons golf is such a challenging and complicated game is the variety of shots that are required in order to make your way around a course successfully. It is hard enough to just hit the ball straight down the fairway, but the game gets even more difficult when you start to work on curving the ball from right to left or left to right, or trying to adjust your trajectory up and down. The skill to control the flight of the ball in the air is something that many golfers never quite achieve, meaning they will never be able to lower their scores as far as they would like. If you have aspirations of significantly improving your game, learning how to hit a variety of shots is going to be a necessary step.
Among the most useful shots in the game is the punch shot. A punch shot is one that is played lower to the ground than a usual shot, often with an abbreviated swinging motion. You aren't going for raw distance when you hit a punch shot – rather, you are trying to control the ball and keep it low to the ground and on target. Punch shots are often played in the wind, but they can be used just as successfully in calm conditions. Once you know how to produce a punch shot with consistency, you might be surprised to learn just how often you will be reaching for this specific ball flight.
In order to hit a reliable punch shot, you need to understand the basic mechanical adjustments required to lower your ball flight and shorten your swing. Nothing about the process of hitting a punch shot is particularly complicated, but it is important that you practice executing this shot on the range before you take it onto the course. Remember, if you can't hit a specific shot on the driving range, you should never try to pull it off during the course of a round. Once you have built up your confidence in the punch shot on the practice tee you can go ahead and pull it out of the bag when the time is right during an upcoming round.
After learning the basic technique, you should be able to produce a punch shot with pretty much any club in your bag. Hitting a punch with a short or mid iron is common practice, and you can even produce a good punch shot with a longer club – although this is a little less common since your longer clubs will fly lower to begin with. Versatility is a great thing to have as a golfer when you are trying to navigate your way from the first tee to the last green, and adding the punch shot to your 'bag of tricks' is one way to get just a little bit more versatile.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Mechanics of the Punch
Before you get started with the punch shot, it is important that you understand how little you want your swing to change from the motion you would use on a 'regular' shot. If you are dramatically changing your swinging action from shot to shot, you are never going to find the consistency required to play good golf. Your punch shot swing should look very similar to your standard swing, with just a few minor adjustments.
Following is a list of the three main adjustments that you need to make in order to produce quality punch shots with a variety of clubs.
- Move the ball back in your stance. The first thing you need to do is move the ball slightly back in your stance from its usual position. It should be noted that you will be moving the ball from its usual position with each specific club, so there isn't one spot that you will use for all punch shots. For example, when trying to punch a driver, you will have the ball two or three inches back from your left foot. On the other hand, a punch pitching wedge will be played slightly back of the middle of your stance. To get set up correctly, take your normal stance and then move your feet a couple inches closer to the target.
- Choke down on the club. To go along with moving your ball position, you should also move your hands down an inch or two on the grip. The farther you go down on the grip, the lower you should expect the ball to fly. To take just a bit of height off of your ball flight, choke down less than an inch and make a swing which closely resembles your usual motion. To hit punch that stays really low, choke well down and hit down through the ball aggressively at impact.
- Shorter both directions. If you are going to successfully produce a punch shot, you need to shorten up both your backswing and through swing (to go along with making the two adjustments listed above). Tighten up your backswing and take some of the hands out of your motion in order to keep the club in front of you and well under control. As you swing through the shot, keep your feet relatively quiet and don't release your lower body all the way up into a full finished position. As a side effect of shortening up your swing, you should notice that your hips and legs are not as active in the downswing as they would be in a full swing.
As you gain experience hitting punch shots, you will start to find that you may need to make a couple of other adjustments that are specific to your swing in order to get great results. This is why it is so important to spend time on the driving range working on punch shots – you can work out the kinks and settle on a setup and technique that work for you. No two golf swings are exactly alike, so no two punch shots will be identical either. Give yourself enough time to develop your own punch shot method – based on the three fundamentals above – and you should soon gain confidence in this important shot type.
When to Hit a Punch Shot
It is up to you to spend time on the range in order to learn how to hit a punch shot. Beyond giving you basic instruction, nobody can hit these shots for you. Take the information you have been given regarding how to punch the golf ball - such as moving the ball back in your stance, choking down, and shortening your swing - and get to work. Once that work is done, you will need to start the process of learning how to successfully employ this shot on the course when it counts.
As mentioned above, there are many different opportunities to hit your new punch shot that you may encounter in the average round of golf. During some rounds, you will only hit one or two punch shots – or maybe none at all. In other rounds, however, you might find that you are hitting the punch time after time, hole after hole. It is important to keep this skill sharp because you never really know when you are going to need it.
The list below contains five different scenarios on the golf course that call for a punch shot. Of course, you don't have to hit a punch shot when you face one of the situations below, but it should at least be one of the options you consider.
- Into the wind. This is the classic opportunity to hit a punch shot, and you will want to pull your punch from the bag most of the time when you are dealing with a shot that is directly into the wind. Hitting your normal ball flight into the wind will lead to a shot that balloons way up into the air, causing the ball to fall down well short of the target. Also, hitting the ball high when going into the wind will only exaggerate any side spin you have on your shots, meaning a slight draw could turn into a big hook. Playing the ball low into the wind is a smart choice, as you will have an easier time holding the right line. When you decide to hit a punch into the wind, take at least one or two extra clubs, depending on the strength of the wind at that time. Also, pick a conservative target that will keep you safely away from any hazards that are waiting near the fairway or green.
- In the rain. Wind isn't the only weather condition that calls for punch shots to be played. If you are playing a round of golf during some significant rain fall, consider using your punch to maintain more control over your swing and the ball. Hitting shots at full power in the rain will make it hard to control the ball, as the moisture on your club and on the ball serves to reduce the amount of friction at impact – and therefore, the amount of control you have over the shot. Hit soft punch shots when playing in the rain to regain some of the control that is lost due to the conditions. Also, it is usually easier to hit punch shots in the rain because the course should be soft, meaning your shots should stop relatively quickly even with a lower trajectory.
- In between clubs. This is a favorite play of many professional golfers, and it is one that you can use effectively as well. When you can decide between a six and seven iron, for example, on an approach shot, use the longer club and hit a slight punch in order to take some distance off of the ball. It is almost never a good idea to try hitting the ball harder with the shorter club, so a punch with the longer club is usually your best bet. This isn't the right choice in every circumstance, however, especially when you need a higher flight in order to stop the ball quickly on a firm green.
- Under pressure. If you are feeling the pressure of trying to close out a match or win a tournament at your local club, consider using the punch as you get late in the round and the nerves become more of a problem. All golfers get nervous, and the best way to combat those nerves is to pick shots that are easy to execute and will keep you out of trouble. Since a punch shot keeps the ball lower to the ground, it won't have as much flight time to stray off line. There is nothing wrong with punching the ball over the last three or four holes when you feel nervous and don't want to make a mistake.
- Having an off day. This is one of the underrated uses for punch shots, and many amateur golfers could benefit from this tip. If you are having a rough day on the course and you just can't seem to get your swing on track, try hitting punch shots for a couple of holes in order to gain some rhythm and timing in your swing. You just might be surprised at how easy it is to hit some quality shots with a punch swing even if your full swing isn't having any success. Even after just a few punch shots you might start to regain confidence in your full swing, and you may be able to play up to your capabilities for the rest of the round.
It is important to note that you don't want to turn your entire golf game into nothing but punch shots hole after hole – you still need to use your full swing most of the time, as it will allow you to maximize both distance and backspin. However, punch shots are incredibly useful, and your game will be better for using them from time to time when you have the opportunity. Keep this shot in the back of your mind as an option when a full swing doesn't seem like the right pick, and your scores should fall as a result.
Dealing with a Questionable Lie
Another opportunity to use your punch shot which wasn't included in the previous section is when you have a questionable lie, either in the fairway or in the rough. When you don't have a great lie, it can be difficult to make solid contact while using your regular swing. Therefore, you might benefit from calling on your punch shot to go down through the dicey lie and dig the ball out effectively. It is risky to throw the ball way up into the sky out of a bad lie, so use your punch shot to keep it down and stay out of trouble. It is unlikely that you are going to hit a great shot when punching from a bad lie, but that isn't the point – the whole goal in this case is to minimize the damage and get your ball back into good position to finish the hole.
Punching from the fairway when your ball is sitting down in an old divot hole is a particularly useful play. This is a shot that you will see professional golfers use frequently, as it is almost impossible to hit the ball cleanly with a regular swing when the ball is sitting down in a divot hole. Take one extra club in this situation, and hit your punch shot while making sure to stay down all the way through impact. When playing this shot, you should expect the ball to come out low without very much backspin.
When you find your ball in the rough, the punch can be a useful play, but only if the rough is light enough to get your club through and down to the ball. If you are playing a course with particularly thick rough, the best option is probably going to be using a wedge to simply chip the ball back into play. However, if the course you are on has thin rough and your ball isn't down too deep, you can use a punch to hit down and make good enough contact to get the ball up near the target. Of course, you would always rather be in the fairway, but pulling your punch shot out of the bag from the light rough could help you to save a shot.
Punching Your Wedges
The average golfer would be surprised to learn how frequently professional golfers use the punch shot when hitting wedges into the green. Since it is easier to control the distance of your shots when they fly low to the ground, many pro golfers favor punched wedges on the majority of their approaches in order to dial up the yardage just right. If you have ever wondered how pro golfers are able to bring the ball down next to the hole so consistently from 100 yards and in, it has a lot to do with the fact that they don't throw their wedge shots a mile up into the air. If you usually swing as hard as you can with your wedge approach shots, work on punching more of them and you will find that the ball begins to come to rest closer to the hole.
This technique, like anything else in golf, takes practice. If you want to punch the ball right next to the hole with your wedges, you are first going to have to work on this technique on the range. Punched wedges will not only fly lower, but they will also take a longer hop when they do land. You need to learn how to play for that long bounce, and you need to know how to pick and choose your spots. A wedge played to a front hole location is one that should likely be hit high up into the air, but hole locations that are middle or back are perfect for punch shots. Also, punching your wedges on downhill approach shots is a great way to gain a measure of control over your distance.
Another reason why it is beneficial to punch many of your wedge shots is that you are often in between clubs when it comes to wedge approaches. Rarely will you have a shot that is perfectly positioned to allow you to hit a full wedge and have it finish right next to the cup – usually, you will need to manipulate the distance of your wedge shot in order to have the right number. Therefore, if you are used to hitting punch shots, you will get better and better at controlling your distance and setting up short putts.
To execute your punched wedge shots nicely, you need to make sure you are executing a soft and controlled golf swing. There is no need for wild acceleration during a punched wedge shot, so keep your grip soft and move the club gently back and through. Remember, this shot is all about control – it isn't a driver that you are trying to launch 300 yards down the fairway. Use controlled, measured movements to strike the ball cleanly and send it directly at the target time after time.
The punch shot truly can become your best friend on the golf course. It can help you deal with adverse weather conditions, it can help you deal with nerves, and it can even help you get through a round when you don't have your best stuff. Of course, if the punch shot is going to help you at all, you will need to learn how to hit it on the range first. Spend some practice time honing this valuable shot and then put it into use for the first time during an upcoming round.