The Shot You Cannot Tolerate

The Shot That Makes You Want to Quit

What’s the one shot you hate more than anything?  Is it the banana ball to the right?  The low, screaming hook?  Maybe it’s a ballooning iron shot.

In this lesson, I’ll discuss how answering that one question can simplify your decisions regarding equipment and swing changes

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re not sure what golf equipment to buy

You’re considering a swing change

You’re frustrated with a particular aspect of your game

A Dose of Reality

Before I go any farther, I want to inject this lesson with my standard dose of realism.  No one has ever eliminated one side of the golf course.  No one has ever eliminated fat or thin shots.  Even at the very highest levels, undesirable shots are part of the game.  All you can do – with equipment and/or swing changes – is to tilt the odds in your favor.

The Worst Shot in the World

I was prompted to write this lesson after a conversation with a reader.  He was asking for advice on selecting or modifying a new set of irons, and the question I asked was, “What’s the one shot you can’t live with?”  That answer would clearly lead to a particular course of action.

There are a variety of factors we can think about for golf shots.  The most common one is curvature – draws and fades.  We can also think about launch angle and spin rate.  These things aren’t binary, they exist on a spectrum.  Curvature, for example, ranges from Bubba-sized hooks and slices to dreamy two-yard fades and draws.

Every player has a shot pattern that covers a certain range of that spectrum.  If you’re a very skilled player, your curvature range might go from straight shots to 10-yard fades (we’ll ignore the occasional outlier).  A higher handicap player might hit anything from a 5-yard draw to a 30-yard slice.

Only practice will shrink your range and improve your consistency, but you can use equipment, set-up changes, and small swing tweaks to move your range away from the shots you dislike.

The Concept In Practice

I’ll make this more concrete by discussing my personal tastes and the decisions they have led me to.  The two things I dislike are hooks and spinny, weak shots.  With that in mind, I play shafts that are very stiff, irons with low offset, and lower spinning golf balls.  I’ve also worked toward getting my swing path neutral or a bit left after years of having a very rightward path (read more about Ball Flight Laws HERE).

These choices come with consequences.  There are times when my drives lose carry distance from being too low spinning.  Sometimes my iron shots don’t stop as fast as I’d like.  And, of course, my tee shots can go hard right.  But I accept these things because I know that the alternative is worse, for me.

Don’t Yo-Yo

Whatever your preferences and choices: stick to the plan.  If you want to get rid of your slice, don’t get mad about hitting hooks.  If you want to see your approach shots stay in their ball mark, don’t be frustrated when your iron shots occasionally balloon and come up short of the target.  Should your equipment or swing fail to eliminate the shot you hate, then you can make a change.  Otherwise, stay the course.

In golf as in life, we don’t get to have it all.  Make your choices about what you want to eliminate (knowing that you’ll never get rid of it 100%), deal with the negative side of those decisions, and enjoy the game.

Matt Saternus
Latest posts by Matt Saternus (see all)


  1. It’s a chunked chip shot. Every time I’m about to break 80.

  2. Mark Stutler

    I feel your pain. Brandon. My chunk occurs when I try to get a little extra on a sand wedge approach shot. Of course, the ultimate unpleasant, disastrous, panic-inducing swear word of all time is the SHANK.

  3. Wow….an ingenious idea….Eliminating your horrible shot by using the right equipment, etc and mentally accepting imperfect shots that your equipment can’t compensate for. Great piece.

  4. Neil Esposito

    It’s a push right when I go after it on a wide open par 4 drive that puts me in a bunker or trouble right.

  5. Nasty smother hook lately. I need some work haha

  6. The SHANK!!!! Cursed with it with my medium – long wedge shots

  7. It’s another perfect drive my buddies comment, this time I’m just 40 yards short of the green. Everyone is quietly impressed and vocally annoyed with my round of solid drives and iron shots, my crisp chips and accurate putting. It doesn’t help that I’m repeating “fairways and greens, fairways and greens, my brothers” just to tick them off a little more. Everything is go, I’m feeling good about my long, disciplined, consistent and diligent practice sessions on my low-flying, high-spin, short approach shots – yeah, I got this one. I stand behind my ball and check the lie – clean, not too tight, not too wet and resting on just the right cut of grass on the manicured fairway.

    I pull the right club for the job, one that I’ve painstakingly chosen out of all the club options for this yardage, turf condition, slope of the green, and distance to the pin from the front of the green. I practice that smooth take away, one of those well-honed 3/4 swings, 60% of my weight on the front foot, loose-firm grip on the club, head steady, shoulders turn under with the body, hands releasing precisely at the target, nice rhythm, finding the bottom of my swing (thump, thump, thump) using the bounce as the club was designed, and with each practice swing a little more clear about this perfectly ripe scoring opportunity. I can see it, feel it, and I’m ready to step into the ball. I anticipate a clean ball strike before the turf – not a thunk, but a nice crisp – click – visualizing that ball taking two bounces with lots of backspin – that lovely, sweet, bop, pop, skid and stop, right next to the pin for an easy kick in three – or even in the cup – hey, it happens, two for me…yeah yeah we know. I set the club behind the ball, relax my hands, then commit, using that slight forward press to act as my trigger. Firing sequence initiated, all systems are go, shoulder turn-check, hands relaxed-check, proper extension-check, head steady-check…top of the back swing reached (textbook posture) -check, feeling the head of the club, yes, and…and Tuh-WACK! Not the anticipated “click”, not a miserable chili dip “CHUmF”, no, not a thwack or a twack, it’s a “Tuh-WACK” The urethane covered, multi-layered, pro-performance, precision constructed, high-vis ball flies off of my milled-grind, laser-cut, micro grooved, forged, progressively-weighted, wedge heading with remarkable speed and spin at a 45* angle to my right just past two of my partners heads, one who twists and ducks out of the way and falls into the soggy rough, and the other drops over the lip of the bunker, as I instinctively blurt out his name whilst I perform another instinctual and rather stupid gesture of ducking for him. A couple silent moments later, from the bottom of the bunker comes “What in the…? “ while, from some place off the side of the green from the rough comes, “you’re trying to kill us, aren’t you?” Red faced and humbled, I peer over the trap and help my buddy out while apologizing profusely to all parties, then shamefully retrieve my ball.

    Damn…I hate that shot, even more than the heartbreaking chunk or the equally common white-hot skulled missile across the green to the adjacent tee box, because we all know those are just a normal and predictable shot, and rarely is anyone unaware of that possibility . No these tyrannical (dare I say it)(no I can’t say that S____ word) hosel rockets, come out of nowhere and disappear right back into the shadows, just as quickly as they emerge and almost always put some party at risk of a skull fracture or loss of vision. Who knows what hellish dimension these ghastly imps occupy, these golf gremlins, who wait patiently for me.

    No good can come from this, I tell ya. No good. I’m picking up my ball. I’m going home and I’m never playing this game again. And from the bunker “We tee off at 9:00 tomorrow!” Um-ok.

    What club or form of practice will ever eliminate this horrible little terrorist? I ask you, implore, entreat, invite, beseech you. Show me a way out. Such a cruel game. (Though I take great pleasure when I see one of the pros blast one right into the woods, the pond or into an unsuspecting patron. They are equally as vexed as I. See it’s evil I tell ya.)

    I blame the Scots! Devious buggers. They brought their royal and ancient curse to the new world with them.

    Fearful and Shameful in New England

  8. Jeff Patterson

    Excellent description of my game , I feel your pain .

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *