One of the great thrills in golf is shaping a shot just right in order to access a difficult hole location.

Senior Shape Shots Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Shaping shots is a skill that many amateur golfers feel is out of reach, but that doesn’t need to be the case. If you are willing to work on the fundamentals of your game, and spend some time experimenting on the range, you might find that shaping shots is something you can add to your repertoire. It’s not easy, of course, but nothing in golf is easy. Those who are willing to put in the work may be rewarded with a skill that can save countless shots for years to come.

The nice thing about learning the skill of shaping your shots is that you don’t have to commit to any big change that is going to set you back on the course. For example, if you decide to change some basic fundamental element of your swing, you might get worse on the course before you get better. That doesn’t need to be the case here. You can keep playing your same game while working on adding new shots during practice. Only when you are confident that those shots can be trusted should you test them out on the links.

To get started, simply carve out a few minutes during each practice session for working on shaped shots. Usually, that will mean attempting to curve the ball in a direction opposite to what you do with your standard swing. So, if you are a draw player naturally, spend a few minutes trying to hit fades. You might not be very successful at first, but that’s okay – just spend a few minutes trying, and move on. As time goes by, you’ll hopefully notice that you are having more and more success, and you may get to a point where you are willing to try out your new shot on the course.

In this article, we are going to offer some advice on how to shape your shots. Some of this advice will be physical in nature, and some will relate to the mental side of the game. Also, all of the instruction that follows has been written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please review the directions as necessary.

Understanding Why Shots Curve

Understanding Why Shots Curve

As a golfer, you already know that it is virtually impossible to hit a straight shot. Even shots that fly mostly straight tend to have a little bit of a curve in one direction or the other. Rather than trying to hit the ball perfectly straight – and inevitably failing – it is a better idea to plan on curving the ball in toward your target. Which way you curve it, and how much, is something that you will have to work on in practice.

To back up for a moment, we first should explain exactly why the ball is curving in the air. Why is it so hard – nearly impossible – to hit a perfectly straight shot? What is it that decides whether the ball will turn right or left as it flies? This all might seem pretty complicated, but it’s relatively straightforward once you understand the basics. We hope the points listed below will help you grasp the concepts at play here.

  • Start with swing path. The first concept we are going to define here is swing path. Quite simply, this is the path that the club takes through the hitting area. Usually, it is referenced in regard to the ‘target line’, or the line on which you intend to start the ball. If you were to swing perfectly along the target line through the hitting area, you would be swinging ‘down the line’. More commonly, you’ll be swinging across the line to some degree, either from outside-in or inside-out. An outside-in swing is one in which the club head is moving closer to you as it swings through the ball. Just the opposite is true for an inside-out swing. Controlling your swing path is a key part of shaping the ball, as will become clear shortly.
  • Add face angle. The other big piece of the puzzle here is face angle. The direction the clubface is pointing at impact is your face angle for the shot, and it is going to have a lot to do with where the ball ends up when all is said and done. If the face is pointed directly at the target when you strike the ball, you are said to be in a ‘square’ position. If the face is pointed to the right of the target, you are in an open position. Should you happen to point the face left of the target at impact, the club is closed. Ultimately, the determination of how the ball behaves in the air is going to depend on how these two factors – swing path and face angle – combine on any given shot. If you match them up properly, in the way you intended, you should come away with a good shot. If not, there is no telling where the ball might end up.
  • The lie matters. As one other quick point to toss in here, you will need to remember that the lie of the ball matters in terms of how much a shot is going to curve as it flies. Basically, the rule of thumb is this – the cleaner the lie, the bigger the curve. Playing from a perfect lie in the fairway, for example, is going to allow you to curve the ball more dramatically than if you were playing from a lie in the medium rough. When the club can strike the back of the ball cleanly at impact, it will be able to impart a high rate of spin – both backspin and sidespin. However, when grass gets in between the club and the ball, the overall spin rate is reduced, and your shots won’t curve as much. If you’ve ever wondered why you seem to hit the ball so straight when coming out of the rough, this is the reason. Anytime you are playing from a lie in the rough, you should plan on that shot curving less than it would otherwise.
  • Okay – so we now know that face angle and swing path are the major determining factors in shot shape. But how do they come together to decide which way your shots are going to fly. Well, for starters, if you swing straight down the line with a square club face, that shot is going to fly straight through the air. As we’ve mentioned above, that doesn’t happen very often – even for the best golfers – but it’s technically possible.

    More likely, your ball is going to curve to the right or the left, and that will be determined by the angle of the face relative to the path. In other words, if the club face is open as compared to the path that you are using as you swing through the ball, the shot will fade to the right. On the other hand, if the face is closed compared to the swing path, the ball will draw to the left. This is a complicated game, but it really is that simple with regard to ball flight.

    It’s important to understand that the severity of the curve on your shots will be determined by how open or closed the clubface is at the moment of impact. If the face is just slightly open, for instance, a soft fade will be the result. However, if the face is wide open, a wild slice is sure to follow. The same can be said for turning the ball left. With the face just a little closed, you’ll hit a draw. Close it too much, on the other hand, and a nasty hook is going to be your reward.

    Some Suggestions

    Some Suggestions

    We hope that you now have a basic understanding of how golf works in terms of what variables have an effect on the shot shapes you produce. At this point, we are going to move on to offer some advice on how you can get started in an effort to hit new types of shots. For this section, we are going to assume that you currently have a ‘standard’ ball flight which shows itself on most of your swings. Most golfers – assuming they have at least a little bit of experience – know which way most of their shots will turn. You might be a fade player, or you may be a draw player, but you probably aren’t both. Everyone hits a surprising shot from time to time, but the prevailing pattern in your game should be obvious. If it isn’t, keep working on your technique until you have a steady ball flight pattern. Once that happens, then get to work on developing different shot shapes.

    The list below includes some tips to keep in mind if you try to shape some shots during your next visit to the driving range.

  • Your stance is crucial. Perhaps the best way to alter your ball flight is to change the position of your feet at address. The path that you swing down on is going to be influenced by the position of your feet, so altering your stance slightly should change the path the club takes. For example, let’s say you usually hit a slight draw from a square stance. If you want to play a fade, try opening your stance and making the same natural swing. If executed correctly, the club should cut across the ball slightly at impact, and the ball should fade to the right. Of course, things in golf are always easier to read than they are to make happen, so don’t expect immediate success. Give it some time on the range and you will hopefully start to see good results sooner rather than later.
  • Use your grip to your advantage. Altering your stance is a great way to change the path that the club is going to take through the ball. Changing your face angle at impact is more difficult, but it is possible – and making an adjustment to your grip can help. Basically, the rule of thumb is to weaken your grip if you want to encourage a fade, and to strengthen your grip if you would like to promote a draw. For a right-handed golfer, ‘weakening’ the grip means turning the hands to the left on the club as you are looking down from above. And, of course, ‘strengthening’ the grip would mean turning the hands to the right. The relative strength or weakness of your grip will impact how much the club head releases through the hitting area.
  • Ball position also plays a role. One other step you can take to change your ball flight is to try different ball positions. Hopefully, you are pretty consistent about where you usually place the ball in your stance. As long as you know where you usually stand relative to the ball, you can easily manipulate that position to alter the shape of your shots. Moving the ball forward in your stance should encourage a fade, and moving it back should promote a draw. It will be a little bit awkward at first to hit shots from a different ball position, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to practice on the range before trying this on the course.
  • The list above probably looks pretty simple. There are only three points listed, and none of them are exactly groundbreaking to the experienced golfer. Things like stance, grip, and ball position are core fundamentals in the game. However, as you start to experiment in practice and you get into the process of hitting new shots, you’ll see that things can quickly get rather complicated. The way all of these changes interact with one another, and how your swing reacts when you start making changes, is going to take time to figure out. Like everything in golf, progress will likely come slow at first, but it will feel quite rewarding when you start to turn the corner and see some excellent outcomes.

    The Process of Practice

    The Process of Practice

    Many golfers – too many, in fact – don’t seem to understand the idea of practicing this game. For some reason, golfers like to practice the things they already do well. If you are good with your driver, you probably spend a lot of time on the range hitting drivers. But why? You’ve already got that part of the game under control – work on one of your weaknesses! Sure, you need to maintain your strengths, but those areas don’t need as much attention as the parts of your game that consistently give you trouble.

    This same concept can be applied to working on new shot shapes. If you are already comfortable with your draw, for example, you should take some time to work on other shots that could help you on the course. Are those shots going to look great right off the bat and impress everyone on the range? Probably not. You’ll hit some ugly ones, and there will be some frustrating moments along the way. The willingness to going through those struggles is what separates golfers who never improve from those who eventually reach their goals.

    During your next range session, make it a goal to hit 10 shots where you work on carving the ball in the opposite direction to what you do normally. That isn’t very many shots, but it is a great starting point. Usually hit a fade? Try hitting 10 draws with a variety of clubs and see how you do. It might be that you don’t succeed on a single one, and that’s okay. In this case, it really is the effort that counts. As you continue to work on shot shapes that don’t necessarily come naturally to you, your overall game should improve, and you’ll start to see many more possibilities out on the course.

    In order to improve at golf, you need to be willing to fail. You need to be willing to hit bad shots on the driving range until you figure out the mechanics to hit better ones. You need to be willing to hit some ugly shots on the course as you build trust in your new shot shapes. If you are only willing to stick with what is comfortable, there is no way you’ll improve. By giving yourself a chance to develop some new shot shapes, you might surprise yourself and learn that you are capable of more on the course than you ever thought possible.

    The Value of Shaping Shots for Seniors

    The Value of Shaping Shots for Seniors

    Make no mistake – shaping shots is a skill that can help golfers of all ages. Golf courses present a variety of challenges to players, so having as many shots as possible in the bag will help you make it from the first tee to the final green. With that said, it may be true that senior golfers can benefit even more than younger players when they add the ability to produce new shot shapes.

    While there are always exceptions, senior golfers tend to struggle with two specific things – lost distance and an inability to hit the ball high in the air. If that sounds like your game currently, learning how to shape the ball may be exactly the step you need to take. Why? Let’s take a look –

  • Access hole locations. Players who can hit the ball way up in the air don’t have much of a need to shape their approach shots. They can simply carry the ball over any obstacles around the green in an attempt to land the shot near the hole. If you can’t hit such high shots, however, you’ll be forced to play the game a different way. To access holes which are cut in treacherous parts of the greens, you can use your shot shapes to curve the ball back toward the cup. If the hole is in the back left, hit a low draw to run the ball back to that section of the green. Hole in the front right? Hit a fade to stop the shot quicker and hopefully set up a birdie putt. Knowing how to carve your shots successfully can largely mitigate the limitation presented by hitting low approaches.
  • Add distance. If it is a lack of distance that you feel like is holding you back on the course, try working on a draw off the tee to pick up a few yards. A draw shot shape is typically going to fly a little lower than a fade, and will usually have less backspin, as well. Those are both good things for adding distance, especially if the course conditions are allowing for some bounce and roll. You can’t expect switching to a draw to add 30 yards to your tee shots, or anything like that, but turning the ball over certainly can help you move it a little further down the fairway.
  • Around, not over. A younger player who is capable of hitting the ball way up into the sky might just go over an obstacle like a tree. For a senior with a lower ball flight, that may not be an option. If you need to avoid an obstacle but don’t have the ability to go over, going around is really your only choice. Learning how to shape your shots will make it possible to turn the ball left or right on command, depending on the situation at hand.
  • Learning how to shape shots is not only good for your game as a whole, it is also a lot of fun. Golf can get a bit stale if you hit the same shots over and over again, so take on the challenge of learning how to shape shots in order to strive for lower scores and to enjoy yourself along the way. Good luck!