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3 reasons to avoid playing “straight shots”

Posted by Michael Emery Jr on


I started playing golf when I was 12. That same year my dad took me to see a professional tournament, and I will never forget this first exposure to professional golf. I had been hitting 1000 balls a day as my routine. I would hit balls all day long with the goal of hitting them solid and STRAIGHT. I assumed a well-struck shot would fly straight. No one at this point had told me to curve the ball to get it close the target. I didn’t learn to curve the ball toward the target until I read “Golf My Way”. Now back to the tournament, I remember we went out to the first hole at Firestone CC. and watched Lanny Wadkins hit off the first tee. Bam! He smacked the ball and it started down the right side of the fairway, curved right to left and ended up right in the middle of the fairway. It was a good shot, but I remember turning to my dad and saying, “What was that”? “That ball curved”. I now have a much different view of how to play golf shots. I believe shots should be curved. Here are three reasons to avoid playing straight shots.

The first is that one of the hardest things to do in golf is to hit the ball consistently dead straight. I will say it is much easier to hit the ball straight now than it used to be because of the modern golf ball and equipment. Even with the modern ball, however, the straight shot is still difficult to hit. We want to make the game easier to play, not harder. The first problem in hitting a ball straight is that you have to know your exact angle of attack and path, then you must match the clubface to the path. For easy reference, let’s just say that the path is straight. Of course you can hit a straight shot on any swing path, as long as the clubface matches that path. Note that these conclusions are only accurate with a few assumptions; the lie of the club must be soled perfectly on the ground at impact, and the ball must be struck on the center of gravity. To hit a golf ball dead straight, your clubface must match your swing path exactly. Your swing path will be affected by your angle of attack. If you hit down 10 degrees your club path will be more in-to-out than if you are swinging downward 5 degrees. If your club plane is pointing at your target, the only possible way to hit the ball dead straight at your target is to hit the ball at the exact bottom of the arc. If you hit downward and your ball flies straight, it will finish right of the target. Likewise, hit up and the ball will go left. Ok, no problem, you say, get the club plane left so hitting down will go straight at the target. This scenario definitely gives a better chance of success, but different amounts of forward shaft lean and downward strike mean that a different plane is required. It becomes a bit of a coin toss as to whether the shot will be hit dead straight. It is much easier to play for the ball to curve for consistent ball striking.

The second reason to avoid hitting straight shots is that the margin for error is smaller. The game of golf is plenty difficult as is. Lets say that you aim straight down the middle of the fairway with the intention of hitting it straight. You make a really great swing and your path was zeroed out right down the middle, but your clubface was just 2 degrees open. You are probably playing your next shot from the rough or worse, perhaps even much worse. Likewise, if the face is 2 degrees closed, you have the same scenario on the opposite side. The ball will start closer to clubface angle than path, so the results would be push fades and pull hooks with a straight path. Corrections for this are very difficult, because you are making good swings. It is very easy to swing in this way and miss it on both sides all day. Had you aimed down the left side of the fairway and made the exact same good swing, a clubface square to path up to the same 2 degrees open will probably hit the fairway. Of course these numbers can vary greatly depending on fairway size and shot length, but the margin for error is greater and therefore, the shots more consistent. (SEE ILLUSTRATION)

The third reason to avoid hitting straight shots is what I call funneling. The goal of a golf shot is to get it to end up as close to the target as possible, preferably so close that it actually hits the target. When judging how difficult a pin placement is, one must assess the location and plan the shot accordingly. One of the major factors to consider is the contour around the pin. If the ball will funnel toward the pin, it is easier. If the ball is funneling away from the pin, it is more difficult. Funneling the ball toward the target is the easiest way to get the ball close to the target. Let’s take this funneling a step further. When the ball is in the air, we want it funneling toward the target instead of away from the target. Once the ball is funneling away from the target it is only going to get worse the longer the shot goes on. A shot funneling towards the target just keeps getting closer. When playing a straight shot, the ball is almost always funneling away from the target.

Reasons to avoid hitting straight shots.

  1. Difficult to hit it straight
  2. Margin for error is less
  3. Funneling

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