I must start with an apology…for myself AND my fellow golf professionals. We’ve been lying to you (not on purpose, purely out of habit) about your practice and lessons. We’ve asked you to aim at a target, and almost always we are implying either purposefully or practically to aim straight at the target and hit a straight shot. We have a major problem though…it’s the hardest shot to hit in golf and it comes with the highest degree of variability. In our defense, if I may, most golfers are trying to hit it straight – at least that’s what it appears to be.
Let me take you a step further into the human mind and psyche. On the surface trying to hit it straight seems like a logical thing to try and do, and when students say “I’m just trying to hit it straight” that phrase seems very positive and focused on what you want to do. In 11 years of teaching and coaching and getting to know students over the course of many years, you discover a pattern. That phrase “I’m just trying to hit it straight” is actually a statement of doubt and trying to avoid trouble (I’ve heard this EXACT phrase more times than I care to count and variations of it drastically increase that number). The other pattern is that they believe this is the most effective way to play the game: “If I could just hit it straight every time.”
This is why I issued an apology to start. We as industry professionals have fostered an environment that encourages practicing a straight shot. We set your alignment sticks down straight, we view the videos, 3D, and force plates looking for a straight shot (even if we are asking you to shape it). Much of this is pure habit. I’m proud to say that TrackMan has really helped turn the tide on these “textbook swings” to produce “straight shots” and many of your top teaching professionals in the country are actively working to educate the general public on the importance of hitting a shot shape that’s not straight.
Much like bowling, a curving shot has a much higher percentage chance of getting the ball close to the hole than a straight one…ON THE AVERAGE. Straight shots come with a two-way miss – left or right as minor variances in the clubface cannot be offset by a straight club path. In addition, this means that assuming you are firing straight at the flag, the ball will be moving further from the hole when it hits the green. If you were to fade (or even slice) the ball, then your shots would either fly straight or curve away from you to varying degrees depending on the clubface with nearly every curving shot moving closer to the flag and not further from it. This allows you to aim away from the flag and shape every shot in towards the flag thus narrowing the dispersion patterns of your shots. You’ll get the added bonus of decreasing nerves as the ball creates a predicted pattern, and in a more advanced course strategy, you’ll be able to use the green’s contours to move the ball even closer to the hole.
So where am I going with this? First, stop believing that a straight shot is effective. It certainly must be used in a few rare circumstances, but these are very few over the life of your play. Second, start setting up your practice stations (alignment sticks) in such a way as to anticipate a draw or fade. This will help aid your focus to hitting a specific shot when you practice and will assist your swing fundamentals in maturing faster. Third, and final, the objective is to shoot the lowest score possible…not hit the straightest shot or have the best swing (a trap that is SO EASY to fall into).
So get out there and remember the cardinal rule: Shoot a Lower Score!