Managing Shot Trajectories
You all know I’m an old Hogan guy. I grew up with his books, Power Golf and Five Lessons, and still regard Five Lessons as my “owner’s manual” for my own golf swing. When things seem like they’re going south, some time with that book seems to get me back on track.

Of course, then I spent a few years at the Hogan Company, and dove even deeper into Mr. Hogan’s legend and legacy, and his many pearls of wisdom about golf that he left us. And there are many.

One of the most insightful of Mr. Hogan’s perspectives on hitting quality golf shots was his take on trajectory. He contended . . . very forcefully, I might add . . . that if you didn’t control the trajectory of your shots, you were a long way from being a “real golfer”. His rationale was that if you don’t know how high or low the ball is going to go, you really don’t have any idea of how far it’s going to go either.

And he was dead-on right about that.

So, how do you control the trajectory of your golf shots? It’s really not that difficult, if you will follow a few basic things:

To affect lower ball flights with your short clubs in particular, there are three fundamentals that you need to follow:
  1. Slow down your swing tempo and speed. Throttle back on the power to get the ball flight down.

  2. Soften your grip. Particularly with your right hand. Let your left hand control the club and whole left side lead the club through the impact zone.

  3. Engage your lower body. I had a very good player tell me one time that his key to controlling trajectory was to think “low to low”. In other words, to hit lower shots, he thought more about making sure his lower body was leading the swing. His knees were more active and driving forward to ensure that the left side led the entire way.
Conversely, when you have to get the ball up quicker and want a higher ball flight, you just simply reverse these fundamentals:
  1. Think of hitting the ball a slight bit harder on this shot. Not fast and overly aggressive, just kick it up a notch from what you would consider a controlled swing.

  2. Grip the club a little firmer, and let your right hand become a little more engaged.

  3. Get a good shoulder turn. Let the lower body be a little more passive and feel more power from your upper trunk.
Have some fun with these basics the next time you are on the range. Practice them and see if you can’t get a little more control over your ball flight pattern. I promise you better shotmaking will result.
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[ comments ]
birdieXris says:
For the low shots, i think it's good to be mindful of the low takeaway and low follow through. It's one thing to put the ball back in your stance, but another to swing through it without chopping down trying to make a ball first contact. Even with the ball back in your stance to keep the ball low, you must make a low takeaway and a shallow/low swing and follow through.
legitimatebeef says:
Don't forget about shoulder tilt especially when trying to launch it high.
Banker85 says:
very good tips for both low and high shots!
snuffyword says:
OK, I went and tried the techniques today. I can see the difference and the resulting effects. I just need to practice more to get consistent. I like the idea of having more weapons in the golf bag or more options with a golf club. I just need to figure out when the right situation arises to use them. I have just recently gotten more consistent with the flop shot. Keep up the great work, Terry, and thanks to the other oobers for their supplementary advice.
onedollarwed says:
Okay, so say we're firing artillery. Obviously, the trajectory will have a good deal to do with hitting your target. But what kind of trajectory are we talking about here? Does Hogan want us to alter the trajectory, or develop a consistent trajectory? I've seen guys who take hefty swipes and the ball balloons with tons of spin. Are we talking about that? Or is it just that particular shot require a particular trajectory - like draws or fades? Or is there some implication that we ought to achieve, say a 52 degree trajectory with our 7 iron?
snuffyword says:
@onedollarwed - Good questions and I would like to give you a couple of examples that I have experienced. Since the Wedge Guy deals more with the short game, I will assume 100 yards and in. Once, I faced a low hanging branch that I couldn't get over or around. I used a 6- or 7-iron to punch the ball low enough and still able to get to the green 100 yards away. Another time, I had the wind to my back but the flagstick was tucked behind a bunker. I used a full shot 56* to ride the wind and get over the bunker. Both shots made the green with an unlikely birdie opportunity but I was able to escape with par.
snuffyword says:
Let's say you are 40 yards out and the flagstick is on top of an upslope. I would use a 9-iron to keep the ball low and hit into that upslope. If the flagstick is positioned where you will be landing the ball on a downslope, this is where I want a high shot to get the ball to land softly with minimal release. I think if you have a good idea of how relatively high or low of a trajectory you need to hit, you should be able to judge the resulting effect and distance. I can't talk about draws or fades because I'm just trying to hit it straight.
GBogey says:
I understand the short game implications here. Any thoughts on long iron trajectories? I've been having problems lately with mid-irons getting very good distance but a lower trajectory that runs the ball off the back of the green.
onedollarwed says:
Right on snuff. Your trajectory will determine how your ball lands and/or avoids/evades obstacles. I'm just wondering if a lower trajectory in general is useful, is this the implication? Here in NE you get quite good at playing over, under, through, around, and into trees (it's not rare to have trees hanging over greens). That's why sometimes I wish I had a specially designed 3 or 4 iron/wood with a shaft 6-10 inches shorter than usual for hitting from under trees and bushes. I have gone back to "5 Lessons" at times, and I'll have to do it again re: trajectory. I play a low ball already, and keep the ball back in the stance to get quality contact as well as a slight push draw.
Tim Horan says:
Just back from Cape Town where I played a couple of rounds in 25-35mph winds which in the mountain valleys swirl around pretty much minute by the minute. I took only half a set of clubs with me and feel the benefit of having to fashion more shots than if I had a full set. Keeping shots low into the wind was key and playing the ball back in the stance, adding a club and as Terry says softening the grip and lightening the swing I was able to produce some good golf in difficult conditions. Great post Terry!
onedollarwed says:
Thanks TH!
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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