At this weekend we were treated to exactly the kind of thing golf broadcasting needs more of: All too often that gets glossed over without much debate or explanation, which is a shame, because that’s where the gold is.
Saturday was a great example. We had six-time major champion Nick Faldo packing different ways to attack Muirfield’s 186 yard, par-3 16th hole with his idol and 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. The pin was tucked middle-ish left on Monday, which kicked-off a discussion between the two legends: What’s the best way to attack this hole?
Let’s break down the key points – and what the rest of us can learn from it.
Work the ball towards trouble…
My colleague Nick Piastowski did a great job discussing this, but Nicklaus was categorical that he thought the best of the green was in the middle of the green, and hit a draw towards the pin.
“Don’t ever aim the ball at trouble,” Nicklaus said. “Don’t ever aim the ball at out of bounds. Don’t ever aim the ball at a lake. You always aim away from it. And if you have to play it back, make sure you can’t hook it or make sure you can’t get it enough. ”
This is the conventional advice that pros and teachers say when shaping the ball: Work the ball towards the danger. Indeed, even though he wrote in his book, “A Swing for Life.”
“If the pin is cut towards the back left-hand corner of the green, my instinct is to fire for the middle of the green with the draw. On the other hand, in the front right quarter of the green, I play a fade. In both cases I aim for the fat part of the green, and let the ball work towards the pin. That’s the key. ”
The reason why this advice has become so textbook is because even though the ball is technically moving towards danger, it’s doing so as it slows down. Plus, it gives you a meaty margin for error along the way: You can hit anything from a block to a perfect draw and each of those shots will be fine. It’s why you use this strategy for tee shots on doglegs. Best case they’re around the corner and have a shorter club in; worst case, they’re safe but have a longer club in.
It’s only when you drastically over-curve your shot that you will find the real bad stuff, which is because golfers generally undercook the amount of curve when they are trying to work the ball.
Except, like everything in golf, that’s a general piece of advice. Like all rules, they’re made to be broken.
… But there are exceptions
Ben Hogan who, famously, would work the ball away from trouble. So, if there were out-of-bounds left and safety, Hogan would aim straight at it and hit a fade back towards safety. In his mind, this would help him commit to the shot – after all, when you need to need to hit the ball to the right, you’re probably going to hit the ball to the right. And even if you aim for a fade and hit a giant slice, you’re still safe.
But while pros are generally default to the conventional advice, most end up adopting a hybrid model. They work the ball towards trouble, but they often choose to do the opposite for two different reasons.
The first is perhaps the most common: It depends on what the wind is doing. If, using the example of Muirfield’s 16th hole above, the wind is blowing sharply from right-to-left towards the water, hitting which would have the effect of riding the wind and sailing uncontrollably into the lake. Pros, in this case, you will often have to cut back into it, so their ball battles the wind and ends up flying relatively straight.
The other reason pros may disregard the textbook on this is what Faldo was alluding to: When the shot that convention would suggest, quite simply, doesn’t suit their eye. The Rory McIlroy, among others, aimed out of bounds and hit a cut into the fairway of the dogleg left par 5.
“I’m a little more comfortable hitting the driver left-to-right at the minute,” Rory said of the 6th hole. “I feel like my body works a little better; I can be more aggressive with my body. The body doesn’t stop and arms go. Some of those right-hand winds today
This approach is becoming commonplace on Tour nowadays, and you will often see it when players have one shot shape that they try to hit whenever possible. Hogan, for instance, was a legendary fader of the golf ball, so does he feel comfortable and annoying.
As for what should you use? Only you can answer that. But think about what your favorite shot shape is, do your little fades tend to turn into slices or pulls? – and factor in the wind. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to stop thinking, and start swinging. Whatever path you choose, the key is to swing with confidence. After all, even the ‘right’ shot is the wrong one if you don’t believe in it.