Is Working the Ball Worth It?

A Question Without an Answer?

One of the eternal questions in golf is whether you should play one shot shape or two.  While there does seem to be a trend toward the former, good luck convincing the more old school player that you don’t need to go both ways.  In this lesson, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each approach and offer some thoughts on how to decide what’s best for your game.

For the record: I’m not personally invested in either answer.  I’m presenting the theoretical arguments, not claiming to have the data.  Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.  If you have data, even better.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You’re unsure what shots to bring to the course

You want to shoot lower scores

You want to use your practice time more effectively

The Case for Hitting One Shape

This can be summed up in one word: consistency.  It’s believed that players who only hit one shot will know that shot better and will be able to hit it more reliably.  And the folks in this camp can point to some pretty solid ball strikers who shaped it almost exclusively one way: Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan.

There is a common sense appeal to this argument.  If you did only one thing, it seems logical that you would be really good at that thing.  Additionally, it reduces mental fatigue because you don’t have to wonder what shot shape you’re going to play.

The Case for Shaping It Both Ways

The one word argument here is versatility.  If you can only hit fades, what do you do on a dogleg left?  How do you get to pins on the left side of the green?  Can you play in a left-to-right wind?

In additions, working the ball both ways develops more skill.  If you are consistently working on changing your swing path, altering your trajectory, modifying your club face, you will build the skills that allow you to adapt your game to the challenges you face on the course.

The Case for No Shape

Some modern teachers will make the case that both of the above approaches are wrong: the optimal solution is hitting it straight.  Hitting it straight does seem pretty great, and using a club face and path that’s square to the target will maximize ball speed.  Does aiming for a neutral path and face actually reduce dispersion?  To my knowledge, the jury is still out.

What Should You Do?

One thing that I would say unequivocally is that you should try to hit all kinds of different shots in practice.  I – and a chorus of others – have often railed against standing on the range hitting the same shot over and over.  It’s not just boring, it’s not productive.  You need to develop your skills by hitting different kinds of shots and learning what works and what doesn’t.  I discuss this in more detail HERE.

On the course, I would suggest that you start by asking yourself why you play.  If you’re playing to have fun and enjoy yourself, hit every shot you can dream of.  I’ve found that my most enjoyable moments on the course come from trying to pull off shots that are outside my normal range.

On the other hand, if you’re playing to shoot low scores, I would suggest you lean heavily on the 80% Rule and one shot shape.  Even if you like to hit draws and fades, you know that one of those is more reliable than the other.

Finally, if you’re truly committed to one side of this argument, try playing the other way.  It’s a good chance to learn something about your game, and you may find that you like it.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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49 Comments

  1. Great topic!

    My natural swing is fade, but I spent the better part of 3 seasons trying to perfect the draw. It was DRAINING! Sure it’s great to see the ball work right to left, but the big problem is that it increased my chances of missing on both sides. When I had only one ball flight I could judge a shot options by the hazards and pick a line that removed as much risk as possible by knowing my “range of outcomes”.

    I was able to successfully change my ball flight, but my mistakes were amplified and the mental strain became too much to overcome. Now I play my natural fade and have felt more at ease and in control of my game.

    One big positive from my practicing to hit draws is that I gained a practical understanding of the face/path relationship which helps me when I do encounter a unique “trick shot” situation. It also helps me to understand when my ball flight starts falling apart during a round and helps me to analyze and correct on the course.

  2. Your article was succinct and to the point. You’re basically asking the reader what they want from the game and suggesting a way, or ways, to attain it.
    I am pushing 60 and physically a bit of a wreck from numerous injuries suffered over the years. Because of that my days of shooting for a Score are well behind me. I now simply try to play in a way that Brings Me Joy. I was taught By Players (not Professionals) to Be a Player. I can still make most of the shots. I simply can’t do it consistently anymore. Attempts are a bit of a ‘crap shoot’ but seeing as flubs really aren’t going to change my final score or impact my enjoyment, I tend to ‘Go For It.’ Nothing is better for me than playing with some younger guys I don’t know and hitting a shot that makes their jaws drop. That’s Playing Golf. That Brings Me Joy.

  3. Tom Donnelly

    I’m trying to learn to reliably hit straight shots, under the premise that if I can’t hit it straight, I certainly can’t shape it left/right. Once I get the club face under enough control to hit it straight, I may consider trying to learn how to shape shots.

    The other reason I prefer straight shots is that I watch a lot of golf and see the best players in the world struggling to reliably hit fades and draws. If they can’t figure out how to reliably work the ball, what chance do I have of learning it?

    Lastly, if you are a mid to high handicapper playing clubs designed to reduce hooks and slices, and balls designed to reduce side-spin, then your equipment is working against your attempts to shape your shots. Tour pros play clubs that DON’T correct ball flight and hit balls designed to spin (which is an essential component in shot-shaping).

    Thanks for a great article and for generally providing some of the best, unbiased information on the Internet. I always look forward to reading the latest from PluggedInGolf.

    • Straight is the worst. If you’re not consistently one side or the other, you bring everything into play. Not speakibg of where the ball starts (straight is good there!), but how it turns over.

  4. Matt, interesting call, as a 15 handicapper, with a tendency for a natural draw, I practice full shots,half shots, punch’s, and fades and draws. On the course it’s the 80% rule, with the 20% being the half shot or punch to get the ball back onto the center of the fairway

  5. Scott K. Giles

    I have worked hard to have only one shot shape. It eliminates misses I don’t expect/want. Clearly it handicaps me if I get a tucked pin that requires a fade. As I play most of my golf in the desert SW, having to worry about large obstacles is a rarity. I am a bit like Adam, the amount of work required to be able to reliably use both shapes seems onerous given where I play the majority of my golf.

  6. #SecretGiveaway

  7. #SecretGiveaway. I always played my best when hitting it only one way: draw

  8. Great article. Secret giveaway

  9. Gonna go with a fat NO.

    Off the tee is the only real benefit for me in regards to shaping it. Wind, angle to the freen, hi/low, etc. Driver is mich easier to move around for me. Now shaping irons to the green is a whole different nuance. Strones add up quickly whenever I go against my natural draw with anything between the 4-9irons. Pe and wedges are a tidge more forgiving as I draw it naturally, but any opening of the face spins the ball to the right some (more-so the spin on the green). In all Im better of attacking a right flag by goibg at it than ayi g center green and back, but for a left flag I’ll always gove it room to work back!

    #SecretGiveaway

  10. For me I now play a draw and built the swing over the course of a season and perfected it over time so it became my natural swing. There are always shots where I need a fade so I practice fades and other random shots I think of so I can hit them on the course. Last week I had to hit a 200yd hook around a tree to the green, so it came in handy
    #SecretGiveaway

  11. I have always tried to use hole management with my natural shot shape to avoid hazards and stay out of trouble.

    #SecretGiveaway

  12. Mike Hernandez

    There’s nothing wrong with hitting a ball dead straight. That said, the course should dictate the shot needed. I’ve worked years trying to get the ball to draw on command to make it easier to go after ticked pins, etc. #secretgiveaway

  13. This a very good article. I, for one would like to do every shot possible depending on where the ball lies. As a beginner playing this game I am amazed with what the pros can do to shape their shot. The imagination with what you can do to the ball is a must I think to get to a lower scores?! #SecretGiveaway

  14. That was a great read. I normally just play my natural fade. One in a while I try to draw it, but normally just goes straight.
    #SecretGiveaway

  15. Chris Hamilton

    This was a good article and, as is always the case when two good competing schools of thought are shared it may be difficult to come up with a good answer. And that is because they are so many different golfers out there who such different expectations when they hit the course.

    For me, personally, I subscribe to the “hit one shot consistently” theory and for me that is to “try” to hit the ball straight. My best, most enjoyable, and memorable rounds are the ones where I shoot my lowest scores. Why? Because the ball goes where I aim it (I have enough trouble hitting it straight consistently). And those rounds are the most enjoyable because I come away from the round thinking “gee, this game isn’t so difficult afterall.” The game becomes more fun and I relax more. So, since I don’t play on the tour for a living (thank goodness) just hitting it straight somewhat consistently is the key for me. #SecretGiveaway

  16. Andrew Stone

    Currently, I play to between an 8-10 HC. I am able to move the ball in both directions when necessary, but have been concentrating more on playing a straight shot to minimize the damage should my shaped shot go awry.
    Playing a straight ball also enables me to concentrate more on distance control and has been getting me more birdie chances from inside 20 ft. #secretgiveaway

  17. Robert Van Alstyne

    Interesting, I have a straight shot, will try to develop a fade and/or draw. #secretgiveaway.

  18. I believe it’s more control of spin w your wedges along with high and low trajectory of your ball over “shaping”. #secretGiveaway

  19. Nathaniel Skinner

    #SecretGiveaway

  20. Excellent article. #SecretGiveaway

  21. Gijs de Jong

    #SecretGiveaway

  22. Terry W. Beasley

    Interested in you #Secret Giveaway

  23. Randy Siedschlag

    This is worth it if you get it to work #SecretGiveaway

  24. For the tour golfer and those who compete at the higher levels, then it may make a difference. For the other 98% of golfers course management is an easier way forward. #SecretGiveaway

  25. I can already shape it to the right. Even without trying. LOL I’d be happy just to be able to hit it straight. Being 60 years old, and this being only my 2nd year of golfing I don’t suppose I’ll ever get good enough to shape my shots. #SecretGiveaway

  26. Matt –

    Much ado about nothing? I’m a mid-cap player and can work the ball both ways without any problem. I just don’t know for sure when it’s gonna happen! #SecretGiveaway

  27. Bob Federspiel

    #SecretGiveaway. Good article

  28. All depends on the clubs you play and your skill level! Clubs built for straight distance, you stump yourself trying to work it too much. Much better to use a game improvement models if you are not a low handicap to try and work the ball. I suggest mastering moving the ball one way, with the occasional opposite move. That is what makes this game the best ever to play. #SecretGiveaway

  29. #SecretGiveway

  30. I am 67 and started golfing when I was 12. PPlayed a fade most of my early years playing and then decided to teach my self to hit a draw, I was a 7 handicap. I lost my tempo and rythm, my game went south along with my confidence. So if someone asked my advice I would tell not to worry about changing. Draw is great off the tee but you need a cut or fade into the green to get it close. (My option only)

  31. This article is “right on”. I have a friend that has been trying to hit a draw for many years now (because he thinks he will get more distance) but only draws the ball once in ten shots! The rest of the shots go straight or are flubbed and he agonizes over his results. He is older and has “bought into” the idea that the professsionals all hit both fades and draws at will and a “real golfer” should be able to do likewise. To each his own! (#SecretGiveaway)

  32. Hi Matt,
    Great content as always! I always look forward to your new content like the #SecretGiveaway and the other wonderful articles! Thinking critically about exactly this issue, and improving my own versatility through purposeful practice has dropped my handicap from a 14 to a 10 just this season. I have worked hard to develop primarily straight ball flights (from a formerly standard fade) that have dramatically improved my consistency on the majority of my shots. The straight shots also allow me to modify them into fades and draws with relatively little swing changes, which I think has been a real advantage of playing for the straight ball. I have also been very purposeful about making sure I leave some time at the end of every practice to hit some of my “scrambling” shots with low trajectories and medium and strong fades and draws. This has given me a ton more confidence in handling those moments where the drives can get me in a little bit of trouble.

  33. #SecretGiveaway
    I hit the ball pretty straight. A draw helps on drives, but straight is good. I only try to shape the ball when the shot requires it.
    Hdcp 7.

  34. Allan E Chandler

    I think unless you use blades or are named Bubba, working it only works with long irons and woods. I just try to avoid missing on one side, which has made my game more consistent and lessened my doubles. #SecretGiveaway

  35. Awesome article. #secretgiveaway

  36. Great article. It’s not easy to learn to shape your shots #SecretGiveaway

  37. I constantly try to shape the ball with my driver or fairway. It doesn’t always work out, but how can you get good at it unless you persist? My goal is always to minimize the damage I can cause when trying to shape the ball, so even if I don’t hit it great, my next shot isn’t miserable. Plus, shaping the ball is fun! #SecretGiveaway

  38. Allan Barnes

    Difficult enough to be “straight” #SecretGiveaway

  39. Jozef Daniels

    #SecretGiveaway

  40. I love hearing the advice of “If you’re playing to have fun and enjoy yourself, hit every shot you can dream of.”

    Too often we can get consumed with trying to shoot lower scores and forget that in the end, most of us are playing this game to have fun. However, I think the above quote is still applicable with regards to still having a focus on getting better and shooting lower scores. The more you are out there on the range “playing” and exposing yourself to different shots, the more comfortable you will be when the occasion comes that you can use them.

    I really appreciate this kind of content.

    I hadn’t read the linked article, https://pluggedingolf.com/practice-variability/, but also some excellent points there. I try to gamify my practice sessions by essentially playing my home course on the range. I just pretend I’m on the tee box and play each shot as if I’m on the course. Hit a bomber drive? Next shot is a short approach. Put one into the trees? I pick a target and punch out. It also tends to kind of scratch that itch that I’ve “played golf” whereas, range time alone often does not.

    #SecretGiveaway

  41. #secretgiveaway

  42. Daniel Dickson

    Being able to hit a draw when you want, versus hitting a draw every single time the condition call for it, are two different things. I hit a natural fade almost all of the time, because its….. natural. If the next shot is looking like my fade has less than say, 20% chance of working, I will try my art skills at that point. Make sense? Don’t care, I just want to get in this #SecretGiveaway.

  43. Awesome article. #secretGiveaway

  44. I have become a bit obsessed with this – trying to develop a stock power fade with driver to help me regularly break 80. Works about 60% time and double X myself remaining times. #Secret Giveaway

  45. Todd Williams

    Solid info. I typically aim straight but also vary that depending how the game is going for the day. There are times where creative shots are necessary or the risk reward is worth it. I practice different shots so I can use them if needed

  46. I play mostly tree-lined courses so it really helps to be able to hit both shot shapes. Being a right-handed golfer who likes to draw the ball off the tee, my stress level goes up slightly when both the tee markers and trouble is on the right. So I occasionally practice hitting a fade. But what I’ve found most helpful to practice is hitting low slices and hooks to get around those low-hanging branches that come into play too often for me on tree-lined courses. And the nice thing is that learning the swing dynamics of hitting hooks and slices helps a bit when trying to hit a fade or draw. #SecretGiveaway

  47. Daniel Mckinney

    Clubs built for forgiveness, holes that go both ways, technique and skill level, a lot of things are contradictory in golf for amateurs. Which is why I try to have less decisions and stress in my execution of the shot, so I lean toward one shot shape and play that during my round.
    #SecretGiveaway

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