Furyk: How to Hit the 20 Most Difficult Shots

March 20, 2009

It takes a tough guy to play a tough shot. So when you told us which ones give you the most trouble, we asked the Tour’s resident tough guy, 2003 U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk, how to make short work of them. If John Wayne were still around, we think the rawboned, no-nonsense Pennsylvanian would be the Duke’s favorite player.

“Most amateurs get intimidated by tough shots,” Furyk says. “When this happens you tense up and forget about the keys to escaping the situation you’re in. Relax. Run through your checklist of how to adjust your stance and swing. You don’t always have to hit it a foot from the cup — be realistic with your expectations and knock in a 10-footer once in a while.”

Got that, pilgrim?

TROUBLE SHOT 20: 75-foot Putt

The situation: You missed your target on the green by a mile and now need two good putts to save par.

Why it’s difficult: The length will magnify any errors in your initial read and speed.

The solution: The first thing you should do is walk the length of your putt, noting with your feet any change in slope. Pay special attention to the second half of the putt because as the ball loses speed it will be more affected by slope. Once you have a feel for the pace, walk back to the ball, take your stance and make the same motion you’d use for a short putt. Obviously, your stroke should be longer, but it shouldn’t be faster. Since it’s easier to hit the ball thin with a longer stroke (causing it to bounce instead of roll), position the ball one inch farther back in your stance than normal so you can catch it on your downstroke.

TROUBLE SHOT 19: Double-Breaking Putt

The situation: Your read tells you the putt is going to bend in one direction and then in the opposite direction as it gets closer to the hole.

Why it’s difficult: You don’t know which break is bigger. Plus, it’s hard to determine the correct starting point on a putt that breaks twice.

The solution: After a first read, walk to where you think the ball will change directions. Make a practice stroke like you’re trying to make the putt from there, and sense how the slope will affect the ball as it nears the hole. Return to the ball and focus on getting it to the turning point at the right speed. Pick out a mark three feet in front of you to make aim easier. Get the ball rolling to the turning point and let gravity do the rest. — Top 100 Teacher Peter Kostis

TROUBLE SHOT 18: Ball Below Your Feet

The situation: When you take your address in the fairway the ball is well below your feet.

Why it’s difficult: Your club can’t reach the ball from your normal address position.

The solution: All you really need to do is stand closer to the ball. This makes your club a little longer so you don’t hit the shot thin. The only other change is to aim a little bit left because this lie almost always produces a left-to-right ball flight. The farther you are from your target, the more the ball will fade. Once you’ve made these adjustments, the most important thing is to make your normal swing — the more you try to manipulate the club, the more likely you’ll hit a bad shot. — PGA Tour Player Heath Slocum

TROUBLE SHOT 17: Ball Above Your Feet

The situation: When you take your address the ball is noticeably above your feet.

Why it’s difficult: Gravity pulls your body away from the ball, making it difficult to stay in your posture.

The solution: The first thing you need to do here is choke up on the club. You want to shorten the club so it bottoms out in line with the slope. The steeper the slope, the more you want to choke up. Also, make sure you aim a little right, because we all tend to pull this shot. How much you aim right depends on the severity of the slope. As it gets steeper, you’ll want to aim farther right.

TROUBLE SHOT 16: Flop Shot

The situation: You’re within 20 yards of the pin, but there’s an obstacle you have to play over and then make the ball bite.

Why it’s difficult: You have to open the face of your most-lofted wedge. For most golfers, this brings the prospect of catching the ball thin very much into play.

The solution: Here’s one situation where club selection is easy — go with your most-lofted wedge. But how you actually hit this shot depends on your lie.

If the ball is down deep in the rough, then open the face of your wedge about 10 degrees to make sure you get all of the club’s loft, even after the grass wraps around the hosel and closes the clubface. Aim left of your target so that the clubface points at your landing area and swing along your toe line. It’s basically a cut swing — like you’re trying to hit a slice on purpose. Play this shot with the ball back in your stance to promote a steeper path.

If the ball is sitting up nicely on a nice patch of fairway, don’t open the clubface as much and set up more square to your target. A square setup allows you to use more of the clubface to contact the ball, which makes for an easier shot. For this shot, position the ball forward in your stance so you can make a sweeping swing.

TROUBLE SHOT 15: Blast From a Bunker Upslope

The situation: Your ball is hanging on an upslope just under the lip of a bunker.

Why it’s difficult: Since the sand in front of the ball is higher than the sand behind it, it’s easy for the club to dig into the sand after impact.

The solution: Play the ball in the center and dig your right foot in deep to anchor your swing. Address the ball with the face square (the slope will give the ball ample lift) and tilt your body so that your shoulders are angled the same as the slope you’re standing on. Next, pick a spot two inches behind the ball and try to hit the sand at that exact spot, swinging your arms and club up the slope and on the same angle of your shoulders. It’s easy to do if you keep your weight back — you should feel most of your weight on the ball of your right foot as you blast through the sand. — Top 100 Teacher Brian Mogg

TROUBLE SHOT 14: Ball in Rough on Upslope

The situation: Your tee shot went wild and landed on an upslope in the rough.

Why it’s difficult: There’s a high risk of jamming your clubhead into the slope before impact.

The solution: Play the ball off your right foot so you can catch it first and limit the amount of contact between the club and grass. The slope will force the ball higher, so hit at least one extra club. The typical mistake is hanging back on your right side on your downswing and letting the club pass your hands. Set your shoulders parallel with the slope at address, but feel like you’re “on top” of the ball through impact, not leaning down the hill. Best way to do this: Feel your hands ahead of the clubhead at impact. — PGA Tour Player Zach Johnson

SHOT #13: Stinger Off the Tee

The situation: You’re on the tee of a short par 4, and a controlled long-iron puts you in position A.

Why it’s difficult: The longer shaft invites you to overswing.

The solution: Set up for control, not power. You’ll get plenty of distance if you:

• Choke down two inches on your grip. This makes the club easier to control and stiffens the shaft to produce a penetrating shot.

• Open your stance two inches by flaring out your left foot. This shortens your backswing and keeps your weight left.

• Move the ball two inches back in your stance so you eliminate fat contact.

Top 100 Teacher Mike Adams

SHOT #12: Blast From a Divot

The situation: Your ball has come to rest in a divot.

Why it’s difficult: The ball sits below the bottom of your natural swing arc, inviting a hand-numbing skull.

The solution: The following adjustments allow you to make a steep angle of attack and get the clubface fully on the ball.

• Play the ball off your right heel and set your hands even with your zipper. Notice how this angles the shaft toward the target.

• Hinge your wrists quickly on your backswing to set the clubhead higher than your hands (keep your weight on your left leg).

• Pull your arms down and let the clubhead lag behind your hands (like it did at address). Your goal is to collide with the ball rather than pick it clean.

Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs

SHOT #11: 40-yard Bunker Shot

The situation: Your ball is in the sand 40 yards from the green.

Why it’s difficult: You’re used to blasting the ball short distances.

The solution: The secret is to keep your sand wedge in your bag and use a stronger iron, then treat the shot like you would any other bunker escape. For a 40-yard blast, use your 9-iron. Drop to an 8-iron for a 50-yarder and use your pitching wedge from 30 yards. — Top 100 Teacher Dr. Gary Wiren

TROUBLE SHOT 10: Controlled Fade with Your Driver

The situation: You want to bend the ball to the right around a dogleg.

Why it’s difficult: Murphy’s Law of Golf: When you don’t want to fade it, you fade it. When you do you want to curve it slightly right, you hit it dead left.

The solution: I like to think of this as a cut shot rather than a fade. At address, aim your toe line parallel left of your target and open the clubface a few degrees. Make a compact swing with a small amount of hip turn. That way when you clear your hips, your swing automatically moves from outside-to-in, giving you the left-to-right sidespin you need.

SHOT #9: Feet Inside/Ball Outside Fairway Bunker

The situation: Your tee shot stops just inches short of rolling into the side of a fairway bunker, but now you have to stand in the bunker to play the ball, which is about even with your belt buckle.

Why it’s difficult: From this position you need a baseball swing, not a golf swing, and how often do you have to play this shot, let alone practice it?

The solution: Be practical. Advance the ball the best you can and rely on your next swing to help you save par. Regardless of your distance to the green, grab your 7-iron and choke down so that you can set the club behind the ball at address. Dig your feet into the sand for support, and make a few practice swings above the ball to get a feel for the motion. Move the club back and through with your shoulders and chest in a simple baseball-swing motion. It helps if you increase your grip pressure a little so you don’t rotate the face open or closed through impact, and bend your left elbow a little in your backswing so your motion isn’t so stiff.

PGA Tour Player Chris DiMarco

TROUBLE SHOT 8: Restricted Backswing

The situation: Your ball is under or near a tree or other obstruction that prevents you from making a full backswing.

Why it’s difficult: Without space to make a full swing, you’re tempted to lunge at the ball.

The solution: Keep it smooth from start to finish — all you’re looking to do is get the clubhead cleanly on the ball. Plus, you’ll be surprised how far you can hit it with an abbreviated swing. Since you’ll be steep going back, play the ball back so that your clubhead bottoms out underneath it.

SHOT #7: Feet Outside/Ball Inside Bunker

The situation: Your ball is hung up on the left side of a fairway bunker, forcing you to stand on the grass and play a shot with the ball several inches below your feet.

Why it’s difficult: Almost anything can happen — a shank, a heavy miss, etc.

The solution: Spread your feet wider than shoulder width and position the ball just inside your left foot. The steeper the slope, the more the ball will go right, so aim well left of your target. Then bend your knees and drop your rear end to get your club down to the ball — don’t just bend your torso forward. When you swing, hinge your wrists quickly and keep your lower body quiet to maintain balance. — Top 100 Teacher Paul Trittler

SHOT #6: Controlled Draw

The situation: On a long hole you want the extra run you get from right-to-left spin on the ball. Or you want to curve the ball around a dogleg.

Why it’s difficult: The swing path needed to produce a draw is the exact opposite of the one most golfers use.

The solution: First, think small draw (about 5 to 10 yards). Aim your toe line about 5 to 10 yards to the right of where you want the ball to land and swing along it. It’ll feel like your pushing the ball out to the right, but it’s that inside-out swing path that gets the ball to curve in the direction you want. Make a slower-than-normal downswing to give your hands time to turn the club over through impact and draw the ball back to your target. — PGA Tour Player Sergio Garcia

SHOT #5: Driver off the Deck

The situation: You’re in the fairway but the distance to the pin is just beyond what you normally hit your 3-wood, and you really want to go for the green.

Why it’s difficult: Your driver has the least amount of loft, so it’s hard to get the ball in the air with it when it’s not teed up. Plus, if you try to hit the ball on an upswing like you do on the tee box, you’ll top it.

The solution: The only way to get the ball into the air is to hit a cut. Play the ball off your left heel and aim 15 yards left of your target, and think about “picking” the ball clean off the carpet. Swing across the ball instead of down on it — feel like you’re pulling your right hand toward your left hip on the way down. That’ll give you your cut and guard against taking too much turf. — PGA Tour Player John Senden

SHOT #4: Fried-Egg Bunker Lie

The situation: Your ball has come to rest in the depression it made in the sand.

Why it’s difficult: With sand behind as well as under the ball, it takes extra muscle to get the ball up and out.

The solution: Open your stance, set the clubface square and favor your left side with your weight. Take the club up and back down to impact on a steeper, more vertical angle than usual, and enter the sand only an inch behind the ball. The key is to imagine that you’re trying to bury the club in the sand and then leave it there. — Top 100 Teacher Mitchell Spearman

SHOT #3: Severe Downslope From the Rough

The situation: Your ball is hung up on the downside of a hill in the rough.

Why it’s difficult: The slope moves the bottom of your swing arc back, making it easy to catch the ball fat or thin, and the rough exacerbates any errors.

The solution: Set your body level with the lie by tilting your torso to the left until your left shoulder sits lower than your right. Get that correct and all you need to do is swing down the hill. Don’t hang back to fight the pull of gravity as this moves the bottom of your swing arc even farther back and makes whiffing the ball a real possibility. — PGA Tour Player John Mallinger

SHOT #2: Plugged Bunker Lie

The situation: Your ball is buried in the sand.

Why it’s difficult: You can’t float the ball out on the standard “cushion” of sand because there’s too much of it.

The solution: Come down hard — and I mean hard — into impact, and feel like you’re jamming the heel of the club into the bunker with the toe pointing at the sky. If you keep your hands low to the ground through impact you’ll create an explosion big enough to unplug the ball and get it out and onto the green. — PGA Tour Player Luke Donald

TROUBLE SHOT 1: Bunker Blast From a Downhill Lie

The situation: Your ball has come to rest on the downslope of a greenside bunker.

Why it’s difficult: Hitting the ball high enough is harder here because the slope will take loft off your club.

The solution: Take a wider stance than usual to keep your balance. The key is to align your shoulders with the slope. Once you do that, open the clubface and make your normal bunker swing. The big error here is trying to swing too hard or cut under the ball too much. That’s when you hit a screaming skull that ends up in a bunker on the other side of the green. The ball will come out lower and with less spin than if you were on a level lie, so plan for the extra roll.

Additional reporting by Jessica Marksbury