Bringing Order to Anarchy - On-Course Changes

By: Bob Duncan

Now that you're a golfer you know just how strange and unpredictable the game is, yet you love it! Of course you've learned quite a few keys that help you hit the ball, and on about every third hole you do it just right. But unfortunately, your keys don't work all the time.

Why not? You learned how to swing and found the keys, you had your clubs custom-fit (you did, didn't you?), and your pro improved your swing and taught you the 'faults and fixes.' But still, you have those "Awww, Jaack!" shots. You remember: The shots that Jack Nicklaus thought were going to do one thing but did something else, which put him into deep trouble? Fortunately for Jack, we remember that he hit more 1-irons off the flagstick at 17 at Pebble . . .

But with your swing resembling anything but Jack's, you know that there are players with different swings who win golf tournaments. So, since you don't have time to make your swing perfect, how do you play the game better?

You have to play the angles better. For example, you hit your ball straight down the middle on No. 1 (just how did I do that?). Now armed with new confidence in your swing, you step up to the ball that lies on a hill above your feet. In the back of your mind you know it's supposed to go left (yes, but why?). But you can't bring yourself to aim at that right bunker just in case it goes straight, since that TV commentator said never to aim at trouble just in case it goes straight - conventional instruction here. So you confidently aim safely at the right side of the green, make a great swing just like on the tee, and then hook it into the left bunker.

What do you immediately do? Blame your swing! Because that's what you've been taught - it's all about the perfect swing. However, let's go back to your lessons: Were you ever taught how to hit a ball off a side-hill?

Getting back to the "why" the ball goes left, try this: Hold an 8-iron about a foot up the shaft in front of you with the clubface level and aimed at you. In your other hand place the top of a long tee against the clubface. The tee should be pointing directly at you. Now tilt the shaft to the right with the tee still in place and watch what happens to the direction. The tee no longer points straight at you!

So, obviously on the side of that hill your ball was not going straight anyway, since to begin with your clubface was not aimed straight. Therefore, for that ball to go straight you would have had to miss-hit it, which doesn't make sense. Instead, you should be using the angles to your advantage.

Here's where you have to "change perfect": There are three things to change in this ball-above-your-feet situation. Each one helps the ball go left, without closing the clubface. Now, don't get me wrong - this will take a little practice (not much, as you should be able to reproduce this shot within 10-15 tries). This is not conventional; just remember that the "conventional" instruction put you in that left bunker. Stick with me here.

No. 1. Place the ball 1-4 inches farther left in your stance. This will give the clubface a little more room to "square up," though we know it won't be aimed straight.

No. 2. Place your balance 60-65% on your heels. Now, this is unconventional. But it does help since you're in an unconventional lie. Just swing soft and easy the first few shots as you're starting purposely a little off-balance. You might have to move a little closer to the ball, but that's a comfort thing.

No. 3. Make your swing plane flatter, or more around your back. Remember that your level-ground swing plane will not work consistently on the side of a hill, so you need to match your swing plane to the side of the hill. And it's actually more important to swing somewhat flatter in the follow-through. Again, swing easy as you don't want to fall down.

That's it! Your ball will now more predictably go left, which is what it was supposed to do. How far left depends on how severe the slope is. So now you can aim at that right bunker and expect the ball not to go there. Sometimes you may have to aim even farther right. Just remember that you're aiming right and trying to help the ball go left, which is what the slope says it should do.

Since the course is not flat, then your perfect swing keys will not carry you all the way around it, and you must change what perfect is. A perfect swing will fail in an imperfect situation, so you have to change to adapt. So, instead of hitting another "Awww, Jaack!" shot into the left bunker, don't fight the angles. Play with the angles you have and use them to your advantage!

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