Bringing Order to Anarchy

By: Bob Duncan

Are you one of those golfers who still wonder why you can't hit the ball solid and straight all the time? If it seems as if the only thing consistent about your game is its inconsistency, then you're in the boat on that long trip to Tibet.

But on your voyage, consider that if the order of golf is anarchy, then what if you embraced it? After all, if the golf course were flat, then solid and straight might be attainable. But since it's not, more often the ball really isn't supposed to go straight anyway, is it? Now, there's a novel concept!

If you hang around a range long enough you're bound to hear: "My handicap is 0 on the driving range, but I'm a 25 on the course." Many of these players' clubs don't fit, but they're able to find some compensation on the range. But, if you're still trying to hit every shot on the course solid and straight like you sometimes can on the range, that's like worrying about how to throw the dice in Monopoly and never buying a property: You're not playing the game!

I once heard a top-10 teacher on TV make the statement that if a ball lies above your feet it should go left, so you should choke up, lean into the hill, and try to hit it straight. Now, of course that makes no sense at all. If the ball should go to the left, shouldn't you try to hit it to the left? By choking up and leaning into the hill you're putting the clubface in position to be toe-down at impact - which doesn't match the slope, and by trying to make it go straight you're making it worse.

Golf is really like baseball off the ground. Each lie is telling you where it wants to go, much like if a pitcher were telling you what the pitch is going to be. So if the ball is below your feet and you try to hit it straight, it's like trying to take a bad pitch and hit it directly to center field - it's not going to happen. If the ball is below your feet it should go right, and above your feet should go left.

Now add changes in the grass on the course. If you're in thick rough the grass will grab your clubhead and close it, sending it low and left. Conversely, if there is little or no grass you'll probably hit it to the right. A drop in the wind, the slopes in your landing zones, and pretty soon you'll wonder why it would ever go straight. So if you perfect your swing on the range and blame your swing for problems on the course, then I can show you exactly when and where you're going to fail during an actual round.

Recently, a player said he too often tries for the miracle shot. His example was to try to hit a fade into a pin on the right side of the green from a lie where the ball was above his feet. Miracle? Absolutely - only the bishop in "Caddyshack" can hit that shot. Since the ball should go left, then the clubface must be so completely open that it becomes too weak to actually make the ball go as far as the pin - much less be predictable.

Instead, he should have accepted that the ball would not go to the right, and that his ball was in a position in which he could not hit a predictable fade. More to the point, at address with the ball above his feet his club was in the wrong position to hit a fade, and to open it far enough to fade the ball would become unpredictably variable. He should have played for the ball to go to the left, and helped it go to the left.

It's too easy to think of golf as being a game of hitting it straight, and if you don't then your swing is at fault. If that were the case, then golf architects would not worry about the slopes involved. Consider hole No. 13 at Augusta National, the famous dogleg-left par-5, and the 14th at Pebble Beach, a dogleg-right that goes uphill. Both holes slope to the left, but No. 13 favors right-handed players and 14 at Pebble favors left-handers. The draw is the longer tee shot and curving it with the slope adds distance on No. 13, but for right-handers they often must fade the ball on 14 - a shorter tee shot - to keep it in the sloping fairway, while lefties can draw the ball into the fairway.

Golf is not a linear game, and to play it well you need to negotiate all the changing conditions. So how does a golfer with an unconventional swing - think Jim Furyk, Corey Pavin, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and John Daly - ever win a golf tournament? They must be playing the game better!

Some say golf is not a game of perfect. Perhaps instead, the definition of perfect needs to be "constant change."

Bob Duncan is a 25-year PGA Golf Professional from Redmond, OR, with a strong player-coach philosophy. Bob is the author and developer of the new GolfeCoach, a personal coaching guide for high school -college players and teams based on 15 life success lessons and on-course coaching. Bob has given over 8,000 hours of golf instruction and coaching and has custom-fit over $1.6 million in golf clubs. Visit or email Bob at