For most amateurs, the best way to maximize distance is by hitting a draw, which flies right-to-left (for right-handers) and hits the ground with lots of roll. But if you've got ample clubhead speed and seek better control off the tee, the power fade is the way to go.
Jack Nicklaus, one of the longest hitters in golf history relative to his peers, was perhaps the greatest practitioner of the power fade. In fact, the “Golden Bear” only hit a draw when he really needed to – on a hard-bending right-to-left dogleg, for instance. While it's frightening to imagine how long Nicklaus would have been if he'd favored a draw, the fade – with its higher trajectory and backspin – surely increased his accuracy.
Of course, Nicklaus wasn't the originator of the power fade. It was Ben Hogan's preferred shot, too. But Nicklaus spawned generations of fade-happy mashers, including Greg Norman and Tiger Woods. It served them pretty well, too.
What it looks like
The Bear was famous for the towering height of his drives, which curved softly to the right. Nicklaus also had a very upright swing, with his left arm practically vertical as he reached the top, which added loft and made the fade his natural shot.
How Nicklaus did it: Nicklaus insists that golfers learn to hit a draw before taking on the power fade. This requires swinging on a path that approaches the ball from inside the target line, rather than outside (the curse of most amateurs). Why is this necessary? Because an inside-out swing path creates greater clubhead speed at impact, putting the “power” in the power fade. An outside-in or over-the-top swing won't get it done.
Nicklaus used the classic method for fading the ball: aligning the clubface at the intended target, his feet and shoulders aimed slightly left, and swinging along the line of his body.
How you can do it: If you're capable of drawing the ball, the rest is pretty simple. Just follow these steps:
- Choose the spot where you want the ball to finish; this is your target.
- Aim the clubface at the target.
- Set up with your feet and shoulders on the line on which you want to start the ball. For a power fade, this should be about 5-10 yards left of the target. Too much of an open stance will cause you to cut across the ball and lose distance.
- Your swing path should match your body's alignment, which will deliver the clubface to the ball slightly open and impart left-to-right spin.
- Voila! There's your power fade.
Jack Nicklaus Power Fade
Most golfers think of a draw as being the 'pro' shot, or the shot that the majority of good players would favor if given a choice. While there are plenty of good players who do use a draw as their main weapon, there is along a long list of accomplished golfers who prefer a fade – including Mr. Jack Nicklaus. Generally considered to be the greatest player of all time, Nicklaus predominantly used a fade on his way to a record 18 major championship titles. If a power fade is good enough to take Jack Nicklaus to the very top of the game, it is certainly good enough for the average golfer.
It is important to note that this doesn't mean you have to play a fade in order to be a good player. As stated above, it is possible to play well using a draw or a fade (or both). However, you shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that you have to hit a draw in order to reach your goals on the golf course. If a draw comes naturally to you, that's great – but working with your natural fade is just as good. It doesn't particularly matter which direction the ball curves as it flies through the air, as long as you can count on it to do the same thing over and over again.
Another common misconception regarding ball flight is that you have to hit a draw if you want to be a long hitter. That simply isn't true. While a draw will typically go farther than a fade, you can be a powerful player using either ball flight – as long as you deliver a quality strike into the back of the ball with plenty of club head speed. Jack Nicklaus was known as one of the longest hitters on Tour during his day, and he hit a fade on the majority of his shots. In the modern game, Bubba Watson is well known for his long driving ability, and he also favors a fade off the tee. Don't concern yourself with distance when picking the right ball flight for you – instead, think only about finding the shot that you can properly control from the first tee to the last green.
Hitting a quality power fade requires just as much talent and precision as hitting a draw. A power fade is not the same thing as a slice, either. A slice is hit from a poor impact position, with the club coming across the ball from outside to inside. In a power fade, you are attacking the ball from the inside as you would with a draw, but you are doing so with an open club face. While both shots will curve to the right (for a right handed golfer), the slice and the power fade actually have nothing in common.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Characteristics of a Power Fade
As mentioned above, hitting a power fade is not the same as hitting a slice. A power fade is a useful ball flight that can be employed to work your way around any course. A slice, on the other hand, is a poorly struck shot that will lack both accuracy and distance. If you fight a slice, you will need to first work on removing the slice tendency from your game before you move on to developing a proper power fade. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can simply transition from one to the other, because they are nothing alike.
So what constitutes a power fade? The following three elements should be present in your swing when you are hitting a power fade off the tee or from the fairway.
- Attack from the inside. This is the main point that separates a power fade from a slice. Slicers bring the club across the ball from the outside-in, creating weak contact and a high spin rate. That is not the goal at all when making a golf swing. Instead, you should be working hard to attack the ball from the inside so you can deliver all of your potential power into the back of the ball. At the same time, if you can keep the club face slightly open to the swing path while attacking from the inside, a power fade should be the result. It won't be easy to find that position at first, but once you do, you will quickly fall in love with the ball flight that it can produce.
- Great lower body rotation. Almost every player who uses a power fade also uses an aggressive lower body turn through impact. That was certainly the case with Jack Nicklaus. If you watch a video of Nicklaus swinging the golf club when he was in his prime, the drive that he got from his lower body was excellent. Many amateur golfers allow their upper body to do most of the work while their legs simply remain in place. That is not the right way to create a power fade. If you are going to attack the ball from the inside while maintaining a slightly open club face, you will need to put your legs to use throughout the entire downswing.
- Weak grip. Playing with a slightly weak grip will help you to control the clubface through impact. If you have a strong grip while trying to hit a power fade, you may find that you tend to 'flip' the club face over at impact – leading to a hook. By playing with a weaker grip, much like Jack Nicklaus, you can go ahead and release the club aggressively through the hitting area without worrying about a hook sending your ball sharply to the left. If you are used to playing with a strong grip, it will take some time to adjust to a weak grip, but the effort will be worth it in the end.
Hopefully you now have a clear picture of what has to take place in order to produce a power fade from your golf swing. The real key is having the ability to attack the ball from the inside. If you come from the outside-in during your downswing, you will never get the power part of the power fade. You may be able to move the ball from left to right that way, but there will be a lot of energy lost at impact due to the poor path of the club. Attack from the inside using plenty of lower body rotation and a weak grip, and you should be in a great position to hit a powerful fade.
Practicing Hitting a Push
Generally speaking, a push is not a shot that you want to hit. After all, pushing the ball means that it is flying to the right of your target, and that is never a good thing. However, when on the driving range, hitting a push can be a good way to learn how to get to a power fade. There isn't much difference between a push and a power fade, so once you learn to do one, you can certainly learn the other.
To get started, head to the driving range with a bucket of balls and a few clubs. It doesn't really matter which clubs you use for this drill, so take whichever ones you enjoy hitting. If you like, you can work your way through the whole set while trying to hit pushes. Follow the step by step process below to work through this drill.
- Pick out a specific target on the driving range. This will not be a target where you want the ball to land – instead, this target will be used to aim your shots. The goal for each shot will be to aim at the target that you have selected, and then hit the shot out to the right so that the ball lands somewhere right of the initial target. You don't want these shots to have much of a curve. A push is a shot that starts to the right and then flies straight until it lands.
- Take your stance and line up with the target that you have selected. Don't get into 'driving range mode' where you just hit shots in rapid fire succession. Take your time before each shot and always go through your entire pre-shot routine.
- Make a swing and hit your first shot with the goal of pushing the ball out to the right of the target. On the first few shots, you don't need to have a specific plan for how you are going to push the ball. You should simply be trying to hit a push without much of a plan.
- After five shots, evaluate your progress. Are you hitting any pushes? If not, what ball flight are you getting from your swing?
- If you are successfully hitting a push at this point, your work is done. You can now move on to the next section and start to turn your push into a power fade. If you are not hitting a push, read the content directly below to address the problem. Use what you learn below and go back to step one of this process. Repeat until you are able to consistently hit a push down the driving range.
In order to get a push to result from your golf swing, you need to have two things going for you – a swing path that is moving from inside-out, and a club face that is square to that path. When the club face is square to the swing path, you will hit a shot that doesn't curve left or right, which is exactly what you want. By swinging in to out, you will be sending the ball to the right of the target. If either of these elements are missing, it is impossible to hit a push.
If you are starting the ball to the left of your target, you are dealing with a swing path problem. Work on making a better turn in your backswing in order to get a little bit further behind the ball. This will put the club on a better inside path, and you should be able to then carry that path down into the ball. Even just holding your backswing turn another half second should be all it takes to alter your path for the better. Continue to work on your rotation until you are satisfied with the path the club is taking through the ball.
Should you be having trouble hitting the ball straight, your club face is not cooperating at impact. If the ball is curving right, the club face is open, and a left curve is a sign of a closed club face. Work on controlling the motion of your hands through the shot until you are able to hold the club face square. This is one of the more difficult skills in golf to master, so don't expect to fix this problem with just a few swings. It may take some time to learn how to get the club face square to your swing path at impact, but put in the work and you will be rewarded.
Changing a Push into a Power Fade
Now that you are comfortable hitting a push, it is time to turn that push into the power fade that you are hoping to hit. Over the course of teaching yourself how to hit a push, you have probably done a good job of 'quieting' down your hands through impact. With an inside-out swing path and quiet hands that aren't releasing the club head, a push is inevitable. Now that you have the inside-out path down pat, you can go ahead and turn your hands loose a little bit in the hitting area. With the right amount of release, the club face will be just slightly open to the swing path, and a power fade should result.
The release that you will be adding back into the swing not only affect the position of the club face, but also the overall path of the swing. By releasing the club with your hands as you approach impact, you will move the club head slightly farther away from your body on the downswing. When that happens, the inside-out path is less dramatic, enabling you to hit a power fade instead of a straight push.
It is important to note that you need to make sure you are playing with a weak grip at this point in the process. As mentioned earlier, a weak grip will prevent you from getting too much hand rotation in the swing, which could turn your fade into a hook. Having a weak left hand grip position will enable you to aggressively use your hands in the downswing without living in fear of a quick curve to the left. You want to be able to turn the club loose for full power through impact, and you will never be able to do that when playing from a strong grip position.
To make this transition, start by hitting a few more of your push shots that you established in the previous drill. Once you get into a rhythm hitting the push, start to turn your hands loose a little more at the bottom of the swing. Gradually, you should see that the ball flight you are producing is turning from a push into a power fade. It won't happen all at once – rather, the trajectory will gradually change as you get more and more comfortable with using your hands at the bottom of the swing. Spend as much time as you like on the driving range until you feel natural when letting your hands control the club through the hitting area.
If you can't quite seem to get the push to translate into a power fade, make sure you are using your lower body enough in the downswing. It is easy to get caught up in trying to release the club with your hands and forget about the lower body rotation that is so crucially important. Both elements – the lower body turn and the hand rotation – need to be in place in order to find success with the power fade. One without the other won't work, so keep practicing your technique until those two elements blend together nicely.
Putting the Power Fade to Use
Learning how to hit a power fade is a process that may take some time, but it is one that can leave you with a highly useful and repeatable shot shape. Of course, now that you know how to hit a power fade, you need to understand exactly how to use this shot in order to position your ball properly around the course. The best looking shot in the world is useless without the right game plan, so taking the time to learn how to use your power fade is just as important as learning how to hit it in the first place.
Following are three keys to keep in mind when using your power fade during your next round of golf –
- Less roll. If you are used to playing a draw, the power fade that you have created is going to roll out less when it hits the ground. This is actually a good thing for most players, as it will make the ball easier to control and position on the course. However, if you are not planning on less roll, you might find that you are using the wrong club for many of your shots. Quickly adjust to the lowered amount of roll if you want to maximize your results with the power fade.
- Pick a smart target line. This should go without saying, but many amateurs get this point wrong – if you are going to hit a power fade, you need to pick a target line that is left of your eventual target. When you plan to fade the ball, you can't aim your swing right at the hole and expect a good result. Prior to starting your swing, identify a target which is left of the hole (or the middle of the fairway). It will be your objective to make a quality swing toward that target, which will then allow your ball to fade to the right and reach its eventual target (usually the hole itself). You aren't trying to hit a straight shot when playing a power fade, so don't pick targets that require a straight ball. Plan ahead for your fade so you can get the ball as close to the hole as possible.
- More wind affect. Generally speaking, you are going to have your shots more affected by the wind when you play a power fade as compared to a draw. The reasoning is simple – fades tend to fly higher than draws, and they have more backspin at the same time. Both of those characteristics lend the power fade to be more affected by wind than a draw. Therefore, you will need to pay closer attention to the wind conditions on each shot and pick the right combination of target and club accordingly. Remember, when playing into the wind, never try to overpower the shot – instead, take extra club and swing easy to control your trajectory and take the wind mostly out of play.
Anytime you can take something from the golf game of the great Jack Nicklaus and incorporate it into your own game, you should strongly consider taking that step. In this case, mimicking the power fade that Nicklaus used to such success is an opportunity to hit more accurate drives without sacrificing distance at the same time. Nicklaus was one of the longest hitters of his day using a power fade, so there is no reason why you can't hit long and straight drives with this ball flight. Use the information above to fine tune your technique and a beautiful left to right ball flight could soon be featured in your game.