We often hear these two terms used to describe a given golfer’s particular skills, and sometimes they are used interchangeably. Today, I would like to discuss the difference and then pose a question to all of you to weigh in on, if you would please.
To get this conversation started, here’s how I would define each and explain the difference:
“Ball striking” refers to a golfer’s ability to make extremely solid contact with the ball shot after shot, club to club, with remarkable consistency. It is the core essence of the game, actually, because until you get reasonably consistent in making solid contact in the center of the face of the club, you really don’t know
what the ball is going to do.
“Shot making” on the other hand, is the golfer’s ability to make the ball do what he or she wants. Shaping shots to move the ball around – fades and draws, high and low, take a little off of it, amp it up a bit, etc. – these are the skills that define the highly accomplished player.
In discussions of “ball striking”, the same names come up time and again for the “legend” tour professionals–Hogan, Nelson, Tommy Bolt, Lee Trevino are maybe the most noted. One of the more common is also the legendary Moe Norman. It was said by those who had the opportunity to see him that he almost never mishit a shot, and every one took off on the same trajectory and flight. It was said that Mr. Norman never achieved financial fame on the golf course, and I have read it was because of his nerves and quirky nature. Nevertheless, he is the subject of countless legends.
In the modern game, I think nearly all the top professionals are great ball strikers, and maybe the LPGA Tour even takes that consistently solid contact to the next level. They simply have to, as they don’t have the physical strength to play their courses with too many unsolid hits.
Moving on to “shot making”, again we see many of the same names from the history books, but I would put Tiger Woods on a completely different level from most of his peers. For over two decades, he has shown us some remarkable imagination and execution of shots most wouldn’t even have the ability to see.
It was said about Ben Hogan that he was one of the very few that combined both skills. Ben Hogan was noted for this insightful piece of advice about how to approach a pin location:
”You work the ball toward the flag. If it is on the right side of the green, you hit a fade, and hit a draw to any left flag location. Pins in the front require a high shot with spin, and those toward the back of the green require a lower shot with less spin. You always work the ball flight from the center of the green toward the edges.”
Now that’s serious insight into how the game can be played…at least if you have complete control over the ball flight. Or at least want to. And that brings me to my question today; I would like for as many of you as possible to chime with your answer to this:
Do you ever try to hit various shots–draws, fades, high, low, “carve it”, etc.– and how often? Only when necessary, frequently, often. Please also indicate your handicap with your answer, OK?
Let’s have some fun with this.
The Wedge Guy: The Red Zone
For those of you who are big football fans, we are lost in the off-season, waiting a few more months before we get to watch our favorite pro or college teams duke it out on the gridiron. Living in Texas, of course, football is a very big deal, from the NFL Cowboys and Texans, through our broad college network representing multiple conferences and into the bedrock of Friday nights – high school football, which drives fans and entire towns into a frenzy.
In almost every football conversation on TV, you hear talk about “the red zone”. How a team performs inside the 20-yard line is a real measure of their offensive prowess, and usually a pretty good indicator of their win/loss record, too. It breaks down to what percentage of the time a team scores a touchdown or field goal, and how often they come away empty.
I like to think we golfers have our own “red zone”. It’s that distance from the green where we should be able to go on the offensive and think about pars and birdies, ensure no worse than bogey . . . and rarely put a double or worse on the card. Your own particular set of red zone goals should be based on your handicap. If you are a low single digit, this is your “go zone”, where you feel like you can take it right at the flag and give yourself a decent birdie putt, with bogeys being an unpleasant surprise. For mid-handicap players, it’s where you should feel confident you’ll guarantee a par and rarely make bogey, and for higher handicap players, it’s where you will ensure a bogey at least, give yourself a good chance at par, and maybe even a birdie.
But regardless of your handicap, your own “red zone” should begin when you can put a high loft club in your hands – one with over 40 degrees of loft. Of course, that has changed a lot with the continual strengthening of irons. In my early days that was an eight iron, then it migrated to a nine. But regardless of your handicap or the make and model of irons you play, my contention is that golf is relatively “defensive” with all the other clubs in your bag. With those lower lofted irons, your goal should be to just keep it out of trouble and moving closer to the goal line . . . er, the flag. Even the PGA Tour pros make a very small percentage of their birdies with their middle irons.
When you can put a high loft club in your bag – whether that’s from 150 yards or 105 – that’s when you should feel like you can put your offense into high gear and raise your expectations. It’s no longer about power, because this isn’t about raw distance, but rather distance control and precision. From the red zone, it’s about trusting your technique and your equipment and taking it to the golf course a little bit.
As most of us are in the early stages of the 2021 golf season, one of the best things you can do for your golf improvement is to begin tracking your “red zone” performance. Put the numbers down as to how you are scoring the golf course from your 9-iron range on into the flag. My guess is that you’ll see this is where you can make the most improvement if you’ll give that part of your game some additional time and focus. Any golfer can learn to hit crisp and accurate short range approach shots. And so you should.
Pay attention to your own red zone stats, and work to improve them. I guarantee you that you’ll see your scores come down quickly.
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