Can You "Work" the Ball?
By Erika Larkin on 9/4/13
I often ask my students "What is our desired ball flight?" and I often get a reply preceded with a desperate giggle, "I just want to hit it straight."

Straight is the hardest shot in golf. The stars need to align to have the clubface and path perfectly straight/square the moment of impact with no side spin.

Typically we are all going to have a ball flight that falls on one side of the fence or another -- are you someone who hits the ball right to left? Or left to right? Which way does the ball fall on its arc back down to Earth? If your ball goes both ways that is even a better reason to keep reading this article.

It seems unimaginable for the average golfer to think they would be able to "work" the ball both ways on demand when they can't seem to get ball control in one direction let alone two.

I'm here to encourage you to try on your next driving range outing to hit the ball in the opposite direction of your norm. It will seem foreign and outside your comfort zone but LET YOURSELF EXPERIMENT. If you give yourself the permission to try something different you might actually discover an improved ball flight in the process. Example: The more exaggerated ball flight you have (with lots of sideways movement) your swing is probably far enough away from neutral/square ranges of movement that trying to work the ball the opposite direction might actually help you find a more neutral path in the process.

So how do you do this? Well, start with path. Whatever direction the ball usually starts, try directing your arm swing and body position the opposite much earlier in your downswing without changing your aim. From here, try and steer the clubface to point in the direction you want the ball to turn as it starts to fly. Example, if you hit a left to right ball flight try and swing out to the right and then turn your hands/clubface over through impact more aggressively.

Be brave and try something new with your swing, trust me with a little trial and error its one of the best lessons you can teach yourself!


Erika Larkin is the Director of Instruction at Larkin Golf Learning Community, at Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia. She was named the 2012 Middle Atlantic PGA "Teacher of the Year" and the 2011 "Top Golf Pro" by Washingtonian Magazine — and she's oobgolf's newest columnist! She writes on a variety of topics including instruction, so if you have a question for her or an idea for a column, e-mail her at ErikaLarkin@pga.com. Enjoy!


[ comments ]
GolfSmith7 says:
This is timely because my next goal is to be able to work the ball left and right consistently on demand. That will be my goal after a short break after the World Am.
9/4/13
 
rmartin310 says:
To me it's most important to be able to work the ball off the tee. If you can successfully do that you will widen fairways and make the play into the green a thousand times easier. I feel that most people focus on trying to work their irons, where in fact it is far easier to work a lower lofted club.
9/4/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
"Well, start with path. Whatever direction the ball usually starts, try directing your arm swing and body position the opposite much earlier in your downswing without changing your aim."

Maybe I'm missunderstanding you. It sounds like you are saying that your swing path dictates what line the ball starts on?

I've always heard that swing path dictates ball flight (fade, draw, hook or slice). And face angle at impact dictates where the ball starts compared to the target line.
9/4/13
 
GBogey says:
Tough topic for me because it seems no matter how much I practice, I can't curve the ball in a controlled manner. When I am playing well, I hit a very straight ball, but when I miss it can go equally right or left. I know it sounds like a good problem to have, but it hurts not being able to protect against a miss in one direction and particularly off the tee I have no idea where the ball is going to end up.
9/4/13
 
mjaber says:
@jasonfish... I believe you need both in order to consistently shape a shot. I'm still trying to work the physics behind it out, but I think if you have an inside-out swing path, that will impart a "draw spin" on the ball, however, if you combine that with an open clubface, you won't get the spin needed, and you will end up with a "push" (since the clubface is essential square to your swing path). Vice-versa with an outside-in swing path.
9/4/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
Yes I agree. From my understanding the direction the ball starts is for the most part where the club face is pointing.

The flight of the ball is determined by the difference between where the club face is and the swing path.

So to hit a straight push would require an open club face (to target line) and a swing path that is equally out-to-in in comparison to target line.

At least that is how I've learned it.
9/4/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
"and a swing path that is equally out-to-in in comparison to target line."

Hate that you cant edit comments in articles. I meant in-to-out on this.
9/4/13
 
birdieXris says:
I'm not a professional, but this article kind of counteracts every lesson i've ever gotten. About the closest i've come to information like this is a pro that gave me a tip that if i had the room, say right of the pin and it was a tucked left pin that i should keep my target as the center of the green, and make a little more aggressive roll with my hands through the shot. That way if i made it, i would draw the ball in, but if i didn't i was still safe. Talk of redirecting your body and arms in mid swing just seems like it would destroy any hope of a good shot or pulling off any of the motion. I've always been of the school to set it up and make a normal swing. I'm pretty sure everyone does a variation of that - it's physics. A and B have to happen for C. It's how you get there, but this just seems like bad advice - or at least not written clearly.
9/4/13
 
Ianinho says:
@Birdie, I think this is one of the best pieces of advice anyone can get. If you are struggling with a hook, try hitting slices and then you can straighten it out. Same vice versa. People are way too afraid to experiment, even on the range. What have you got to lose? You will learn a lot about your swing and what works.
9/4/13
 
Gromit5 says:
Thank you, Ms. Larkin, for trying to inspire the readers to EXPERIMENT! There's a reason why pros like Chi-Chi and Seve were shotmakers: as kids, they had no choice but to learn to "play" with one club. It's fun to goof off and try different shots. Ianinho has it right--what have you got to lose? I wonder how many readers can hit a simple chip shot with just the left hand? Be bold, oh fellow golfers!
9/4/13
 
mmontisano says:
i actually think people experiment too much and i'm including myself in that statement. that's why Golf Digest and Golf Magazine are still around in this era of dwindling publications.

instead of wasting time at the range, just go and get some lessons to make sure you're working on the correct things.
9/4/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
Although I agree you should try to find a consistant ball flight for you.

I dissagree with the concept that anyone who posts in this thread (probably even including Ms Larkin) should attempt to "work" the ball either direction.

I have a friend who played on the now web.com tour for 5 years. Played in 2 US Opens and made it to the finals of Q-school 3 times. He told me that there are 10 people in the world good enough to "work" the ball both ways. Everyone else should attempt to play the same flight 100% of the time from a clean lie. He played a cut on 100% of his shots from the fairway and tee boxes for 18 months and they were the most productive 18 months of his career. He told his caddie if he ever describe a shot moving right to left from the tee box or from the fairway to not hand him the club.
9/5/13
 
GolfSmith7 says:
@jasonfish I am re reading Jack Niklaus book "Golf My Way" and he says this, "Good golfers rarely try to hit the ball dead straight." His argument is that unless you can work the ball both ways you wont hit it as close to the pin as often to score well. He points to all the big names who work it both ways. This upcoming year (which for me the new year starts in October after a break after the World Am) I'll be working on this concept primarily with the driver.
9/5/13
 
jrbizzle says:
As a career long fader/slicer of the ball - I've found that slowing down my backswing, and my transition at the top straightens out or changes my ball flight to right to left. And I don't lose much distance since the draw bores into the air a bit more. Likewise if I really need to move one left to right, I usually swing just a little harder. Not sure how well this works for others, but seems to be the best method I've found.

And as a caveat - I'm not saying I do this with ease or excellence, just enough to get by when needed.
9/5/13
 
GBogey says:
I'm guessing that almost anyone above a 10 handicap (which I am sure is more than half of all golfers), and probably above a 5, would be better off learning one consistent shot shape rather than trying to learn/play two. But I don't think you know which one to use until you try both as suggested above. I hear from lots of people how they want to hit a draw because its "better" and goes further, but from what I can tell a fade is easier.
9/5/13
 
jasonfish11 says:
I agree with the fact hitting it dead straight is a terrible thing. Doing so basically cuts your target in half.

I agree with Jack that the big names work it both ways. They are good enough to do that (that is why they are big names). I agree that for the big names to score well that working the ball both ways is a requirement.

I also agree that jasonfish11 isn't a big name and for me to score well (for my game) I need to hit the center of the green 2 putt take my par and move on. I can do that by hitting my normal cut when the pin is tucked left.

If I'm behind a tree so I have to hit a draw/hook. Sure I'll go for it. But in the fairway I'll be happy to hit my cut to the center of the green all day.

Not saying don't practice it. But I think most people (excluding eliete golfers) would score better by having 1 go to shot and trying to hit it 100% of the time (unless something is preventing the ball from flying on that path).
9/5/13
 
DougE says:
After years of trying to learn, I finally can hit a draw on demand, though a straight ball is still my natural shot. Particularly with my irons. I can hit draws like there is no tomorrow, on the range, that is. For some reason, when I NEED to hit a draw on the course, I don't always have the same success. I know how---or at least what works for me---but for some reason I have much more difficulty pulling it off when I only get one crack at it in a pressure situation. Maybe I just need to hit thousands more on the range so it becomes second nature. Off the tee with my driver, I can pull a draw off 3 or 4 times a round, even though I try to on nearly every drive. At least when it doesn't work, it still goes pretty straight and keeps me in the fairway. But, whenever I pull off the draw, it seems I am always 20 yards or more in front of my playing partners. THAT'S what I like most about a draw. The added distance is so satisfying, but the perfect little baby draw flight path also just looks so pretty.
9/5/13
 
birdieXris says:
@Ianinho - i think my problem is in the way it was written, particularly "Whatever direction the ball usually starts, try directing your arm swing and body position the opposite much earlier in your downswing without changing your aim. From here, try and steer the clubface to point in the direction you want the ball to turn as it starts to fly". I don't know anybody who advocates "steering" the golfball. In fact, i'm pretty sure steering your swing is the leading cause of me finding a lot of new lost proV1 in the bushes. Every pro i've ever spoken to advocates a normal swing but a different setup.
9/6/13
 
rehmwa says:
not a big fan of 'rolling' the hands over harder or softer to try and emphasize shaping. I just set up my desired face angle and swing to hit the same at contact (if I want it slightly open at contact, I address the ball slightly open....then swing the same release pace). That gets take off angle. Club head path takes care of which way to bend it - and path is much easier to control than face. IMHO - learning to shape a shot teaches a lot in how to be more consistent with a "stock" shot. Maybe it's too much for some to digest, but I think most can handle learning the physics. I'm not a fan of "just practice your stock shot" comments. But different strokes work for different people.
12/11/13
 
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