Master the Hardest Shots in Golf

Fred Vuich

You would be crazy to choose the bold shot over the smart one every time. No matter what the commercial says, you are [not] Tiger Woods, and trying to hit shots you see the pros play on TV can be worse than unwise. It can be plain stupid.

Still, there are situations that call for the bold play. Maybe you need a final birdie to dormie in the club championship. Maybe you need a final birdie to break 80--or 70--for the first time. Or maybe you've just got a hunch that now's the time to go for broke.

Each of the six shots you'll see here presents an obstacle--physical, mental or both. Each is difficult but within reach. But remember: Never try a shot on the course that you haven't practiced off the course.

Bunker shot with water long
If you want to shoot for the flag, your lie in the must be perfect. Otherwise, don't get suckered--an imperfect lie will double your chances of disaster. Playing to the fattest part of the green, even if it's away from the pin, is better.

But if the lie is good and you must get up and down, go for it. Start with a full turn. Too many amateurs are skittish about making a big swing when there's water lurking in the distance. But remember: You're displacing a couple of pounds od sand, so you'll need plenty of momentum. make sure your hands reach at least chest height in the backswing. From there make no attempt to lift the bal out. Hit down into the sand a few inches behind the ball.

Approach over water
Hitting over water terrifies many amateurs. In a recent survey, GOLF Magazine readers called this shot the scariest of all. To pull it off, try a process I call "Identify and Repeat."

Take practice swings until you identify the swing that fits the shot. In this case, you need a downward strike to get the ball airborne. Keep your posture steady as you swing down, letting your right shoulder pull you through impact. You should take a small divot with your last practice swing. Once you've felt a swing you like, step up to the ball and repeat that swing. Do it smoothly; hesitating only leaves time for negative thoughts.

Be sure you make a full follow-through. Picture your belt buckle facing the target--that's a positive image that will help you accelerate down and through the ball.

Cut the dogleg
Rule of thumb; Don't take a risk unless the reward is a full stroke. If cutting the corner of a dogleg gives you a chance to reach a par 5 in two or to drive the green on a par 4, it may be a good bet. But if it means you'll hit a 7-iron instead of a 5-iron on your approach, forget it--the reward isn't worth the risk.

Before you can try cutting a dogleg you must know exactly how far you carry your tee shot or you won't reach the fairway. First, stand behind the ball and waggle the club, releasing tension as you pick a line. Remember that the crucial factor in hitting a big drive is solid contact. So take a couple of super-fast practice swings--you'll tend to slow down and stay in control on your real swing.

Escape through trees
Resist making up for a bad shot with a miracle. If you follow a bad shot with enough good shots you'll recover your score. Your goal should be to get out of jail with one swing. Even if you have to pitch out sideways, that's better than trudging farther into the woods.

Examine your lie and figure out a shot. The more irregular the surface (like desert gravel or pine straw), the less predictable the shot. Choose your club wisely: If a 140-yard, low-trajectory shot is called for, don't play the ball back with an 8-iron and hope to keep it down. Instead, take a 4-iron and make a long chipping motion. You'll stay relaxed and reduce your chances of launching the ball too high.

Long fairway bunker shot
For most amateurs, long irons are difficult off grass and impossible out of a fairway bunker. But the extra loft and wide sole of a fairway wood helps the clubhead slide through the sand amd makes long bunker shots easier.

Rather than trying to pick the ball clean, make two small setup adjustments that create a descending arc. Open the clubface slightly for a little extra bounce and play the ball back an inch or two, digging your toes, not your heels, into the sand. This helps you avoid a far shot. Swing normally and you'll make ball-first contact.

Greenside lob over a bunker
The lie determines how aggressive you can be with a lob. So take a close look. Get a clear sense of how much grass is behind the ball and how much air is under the ball. If the lie is tight, you won't be able to slide the club beneath the ball; if the lie is tight, you won't be able to slide the club beneath the ball; if the lie is fluffy, you must guard against flubbing the shot into the bunker.

I call the lob shot motion "long to short": Make a nearly full backswing , then drop the club to the ball to pop it up. Keep the clubface pointing to the sky on its way to a short follow-through. Let your legs and body rotate forward, but keep your head stable and centered.

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