In the days of three-piece golf balls with super-soft balata covers, it was fairly common to see a professional play a shot that curved 30 yards or more in the air. Because today’s balls don’t spin as much, however, purposely hitting huge hooks and slices is something of a lost art.

Unless you’re Bubba Watson.

The big left-hander from northwest Florida played a shot for the ages at the 2012 Masters, hooking a wedge some 40 yards around trees and onto the green of hole No. 10 at Augusta National Golf Club. Watson two-putted for par and a playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen.

Spectacular as the shot was, it was nothing unusual for the seventh-year PGA Tour pro. Unlike the vast majority of his peers, Watson’s approach is based on feel rather than swing mechanics. In the course of any round he’ll conjure a variety of draws, fades, hooks, slices, punch shots and high spinners, depending on what his instincts tell him.

While few modern golfers can “bend it like Bubba,” it’s still possible to curve the ball enough to reach difficult pins or escape trouble. A Watson-style hook can come in quite handy when you’re stuck in the trees and need to advance the ball toward the green.

Watson’s signature shot: A massive hook (left-to-right shot for a left-hander, right-to-left for a righty) that starts well wide of the target and turns sharply toward it.

What it looks like: At the Masters, Watson was in the trees to the right of the 10th fairway, appearing to have just one option: Pitch the ball sideways into the fairway. He lined up as if to do just that, but ripped through the shot with a full swing. The ball started left of the trees before making a sharp turn – perhaps close to 90° -- and landing on the green.

How Watson does it: You might call Watson a golf savant, guided as he is by intuition and a natural knack for hitting different shots. His key to hitting a hard-curving hook is pretty textbook, though. Watson concentrates on rolling his left arm hard over the right as the club passes through impact, imparting left-to-right sidespin. 

How you can do it: Few of us have Watson’s strength or manual facility, so it’s important to understand proper technique. The following guide is written for right-handers; lefties, simply reverse the instructions for the same effect.

  • With the ball in the center of your stance, align the clubface where you want to ball to finish (the target).
  • Aim your feet, hips and shoulders on the line where you want to start the ball, such as an opening in the trees. This should be right of your target.
  • As you swing, focus on keeping the lower body relatively still. This will promote an arm swing where the right forearm rolls naturally over the left through impact.
  • For a big hook, give the arms a little extra rotation.

A couple of things to keep in mind. 1) A hook will fly lower and roll farther than a normal shot, so take less club than the distance usually requires (i.e. a 7-iron instead of a 6). 2) You must swing aggressively through the ball, so when in doubt about club selection, take less club and swing hard.