Perhaps the most majestic and captivating thing about golf - both for the player and for spectators - is watching the ball fly through the air with different golf shot shapes. There’s something to this day that still dazzles the human brain about the sound and the visual of a projectile being rocketed across the horizon by an otherwise seemingly normal human.
But flighting the ball - whether it’s up, down, or around - has never been solely about showmanship. There are very functional reasons why each of these shots are demanded on the course. While it has always been a sign of a high-level golfer if they can hit any shot shape, many elite professionals choose to play a single trajectory over and over again unless there is an “emergency” type situation or an extreme dogleg or obstacle.
Let’s take a look at the different types of golf shot shapes, why you might hit them, and what techniques and tips players use to generate draws, fades, highs, lows, and stingers!
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What Is Shot Shaping In Golf?
For the most part shot shaping refers to the curve of the ball - whether it will fade, draw, hook, or slice. Generally if it’s done on purpose it is called shot shaping!
Shot shaping in golf can also refer to the “flight” or “trajectory” of the ball - high, low, worm burner, or moon ball.
These trajectories can be combined with curves and produce basically any shot shape imaginable. Learning how to shape the ball on command is one of the all time great ways to get better at golf without taking lessons!
Why Do Golfers Shape Shots?
The most obvious reason why golfers shape shots is, well, because they have to. Whether a fairway is banked to where it will only hold a certain shaped tee shot, a tree is in the way, or a pin is tucked and guarded to where the only way to get close to it is to use the trajectory of the ball to either help stop the shot or help feed the ball back to a pin.
The sometimes overlooked reason why golfers shape shots is consistency. It might seem counterintuitive at first, but generally speaking the best golfers in the world all play anywhere from a slight (almost indiscernible) to moderate curve on their golf ball. This helps generate the prized “one way miss” and “taking out half of the golf course” that golf strategists talk about so often. It is an easier way to manage the game than having the same dispersion, but not knowing which way the ball will go.
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Four Main Golf Shot Shapes
Ben Hogan famously said “You only hit a straight ball by accident.” Arguably the best ball striker ever to live, Hogan understood that it was much easier to control your shot if you intentionally shape it one way or the other. There are four main shot shapes - you can hit a draw or a fade, and you can hit each of those high or low.
Understanding the numbers on golf clubs and their corresponding lofts will be really helpful to more consistently shape your shots well.
This is maybe the “classic” sought-after shape for a skilled golfer, although in the modern game players can dominate with any shot shape.
A high draw is a towering shot that curves towards the side of the ball you stand on (right to left for a right handed golfer).
This is a shot that is considered very “reliable” and plays very well in windy conditions or on links style courses that allow golfers to play roll-out and run the ball up to various targets.
A low draw has the same curve as a high draw, but it only has about half the apex height.
The high fade may have replaced the high draw as the “go-to” shot for the male touring professional. Traditionally considered a more “controlled” shot that sacrifices a slight amount of distance compared to the high draw, this shot offers an extra degree of control and ability to land softly for golfers for whom power is not an issue.
A fade curves the opposite way of a draw, so away from the side of the ball you stand on, and is typically a higher ball flight than a draw as well. High fades will land very soft, and are useful when the golf course is firm.
Similar to the low draw, the low fade is developed oftentimes by golfers who grow up in windy conditions.
This is one of the most reliable and controlled shots a golfer can hit, but can be tricky to get maximum distance, unless you are as athletically gifted as the best low fader we know today: Dustin Johnson.
Let’s Not Forget The Stinger
The stinger is one of the most mystifying shots for a golf fan, and one of the most fun shots to watch. Similar to a low fade, it’s usefulness is in not being affected by the wind, and producing a very repeatable flight that doesn’t have a lot of room to go very far off-line because it gets back on the ground relatively quickly.
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Ball Flight Laws
One of the most amazing things about golf is that throughout its history, players have gotten extremely good at doing certain things, but not understanding actually how to do them or what is causing them to happen properly. Golfers who think golf is hard often go not understand how to use the ball flight laws, and struggle to shape the ball well.
One of the best examples of this is the modern ball flight laws. For the longest time, it was basically taken as fact that the direction of your swing dictates the direction your ball starts, and what you do with the face dictates what kind of curve it will have. And they got to the same place, but in a kind of round-about understanding of what was actually going on.
In reality, modern technology has shown that it is kind of the opposite. Sparing a lot of the finer points and speaking very generally, the most important thing to learn is that start line is determined by the direction the club face is pointed, and curve is created by the relationship of the swing path to the face angle. This concept is invaluable in understanding ball flight laws and how to change your technique to produce whatever you want.
How To Hit A High Draw
A high draw is often lauded as the result of a “proper” golf swing with a completely neutral setup. The keys here are having a neutral ball position and hitting the ball from the inside.
By the definition we gave above, what needs to happen is for the club head to be moving to the right (for a right-handed golfer) at the moment of impact, with the face pointed where you want the ball to start. You want the face pointed right of the target at the moment of impact, and the club head to be moving even more right than that in order to get it to draw back at your target.
Be sure to use very soft grip pressure, which will allow the clubhead to release naturally.
That’s it. If your ball is not starting right and drawing, and you have a neutral setup, then you are not doing one of these two things. Period.
Needless to say, this would be impossible if the club head is already coming from the right, from the outside, or from an “over the top” move.
How To Hit A Low Draw
The requirements for a low draw are to have the club moving from in-to-out across the ball while the face is pointed straight. In order for it to be low, the club face must also be de-lofted at the same time.
The easiest way to hit a low draw is to put the ball back in your stance and make sure you are hitting from the inside without laying the face too far open.
I find that the low draw happens naturally when I am training with my Impact Ball! This is likely caused by the shorter follow through and proper swing mechanics that are encouraged by the training aid.
How To Hit A High Fade
When hitting a fade, we are by definition going to have to “cut across the ball” a little bit, meaning that the club head is traveling from out-to-in at impact while the face is square. The key here is that its moving from out-to-in VERY slightly, like cutting across a few millimeters or 1 or 2 dimples. There are many different things golfers feel in order to accomplish this, and no matter what a golfer says, this is what he is doing when he hits a fade.
The easiest way to achieve the high fade is to move your ball forward in your stance. From here, if the ball still isn’t fading, feeling like you are hitting down on the ball while it is up in your stance can really get the path going across the ball for some golfers and hit an exaggerated cut.
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How To Hit A Low Fade
Hitting a low fade is a little tricky, as you REALLY have to make sure your path is going left. This is because putting the ball back in your stance (which encourages a low ball flight) also means that your path is naturally going to be biased towards the right (since the club moves in an arc around the body, it is pointing away from the golfer until it reaches the bottom and then it starts going around the body to the left, for a visual).
The best way to achieve this is keeping in mind that the farther back in your stance you put the ball, the lower it will go, so you also have to open your stance proportionally. Lee Trevino is a great example of a golfer who became a dominant ball striker with this setup.
A second way to hit a low fade which works well for some golfers is to keep your ball position forward, choke down on the club, and abbreviate your follow through. These adjustments will make the ball go shorter, but typically a low fade is an escape shot, so consistency is more important than distance!
How To Hit A Stinger
The actual physics of what causes a stinger revolves around something called spin loft (there is a great write up about spin loft from Trackman here). This is basically the same concept we have been exploring, of face-to-path relationships, but in the vertical direction, if that makes sense.
Without getting TOO into the nitty gritty, stinger shots basically have little to “no” spin (“no” spin is a relative term in golf - the ball is still in the thousands of RPMs depending on the club). Technically this is achieved by having the face angle at impact (dynamic loft) be as close as possible to the angle that the club is approaching the ground at (AoA).
Less technically this means you want to de-loft the club and approach it as shallow as possible in order to hit the lowest spinning ball possible.
We have certainly learned a lot from modern technology (radars, biomechanics, etc.) as far as what actually causes certain golf ball flights and how to maximize them. However players have been hitting every single one of these shots for hundreds of years before any of this technology came about.
One of the best ways to actually shape shots is to visualize it. If you are completely stuck, it can help to do something technical to understand that certain face/path relationships will N-E-V-E-R produce the result you want.
But if you were to try to curve or spin a tennis ball or ping pong ball, there would probably be very little technical thought, but just seeing the ball start out over the edge of the table and curve back to its landing zone, your brain would automatically do a lot of things with the loft of the paddle and the “release” and taking off spin or adding natural topspin to produce a low, hard, driven shot without thinking about any of those aspects.
This is perhaps “how it should be done” and a great tried-and-true method for actually taking these skills onto the golf course successfully.
Break It Down
When working on shot shapes it's helpful to break down your diagnoses. First work on one thing - either path or face.
And then work on the relationship between the two. If you want to hit a draw, first work on getting your ball to start right of the target every time independently, regardless of where it curves.
Then work on hitting the biggest most comical hook possible, while still starting the ball right of the target.
Then work on hitting less and less of a hook by ONLY manipulating your path (either by changing swing direction or setup), and hone it in from there. It’s also extremely helpful to start by hitting little shots.
Take a 7-or-8-iron (because it’s hard to curve a wedge as dramatically) and just work on little chip, pitch, and half shots that have a dramatic curve to them, exaggerate as much as possible, and then once your hands are educated work on making the curve smaller and swinging fuller/harder.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best shot shape in golf?
There is no best shot shape in golf. Many consider the high draw, which is the preferred shape of Bryson Dechambeau and was used by Sam Snead, to be the most “classic” shot and maybe even the neutral/standard shot for a competitive golfer. Many people attribute the high draw to a player who uses the proper golf grip and set up position.
With modern equipment and courses the high fade - played by players like Bubba Watson and Jack Nicklaus - has become more common and is an advantage for many high level players.
That said, some of the best ball strikers ever have hit low fades (Dustin Johnson, Lee Trevino) and low draws (Bobby Locke, Zach Johnson) just as well.
How do pros shape their shots?
All golfers shape their shots by manipulating face-to-path ratios according to the modern ball flight laws, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Probably the most common way for a pro to shape their shots is by changing their setup - meaning slightly re-gripping the club more open or closed and combining that with pointing their feet more open or closed in order to “keep everything the same” in their motion and have their grip and setup dictate the desired face-to-path ratio.
The other way good golfers can shape their shots is by “manufacturing” a shot shape, as many call it. This would be by deliberately changing their swing motion to achieve their desired result. You might hear lots of terms like “turning it over” or “covering it”. that are all colloquial ways of describing the feelings of manipulating their hands and/or body to produce a face-to-path ratio at the moment of impact that curves and has the trajectory that they want.
Off the tee, pros often use tee height to help create the proper path and face angles to hit certain shots.
Do more pros hit a fade or draw?
Off the tee, with drivers, more pro golfers hit a fade nowadays. This only became the case in very recent history, with the advent of lower-spinning and more powerful equipment.
It used to be that hitting a draw was a huge advantage for distance and the fade was seen as a controlled shot, but now male pro golfers are so powerful that many prefer the fade as they are already powerful enough and it is easier for them to swing as hard as they can and produce a reliable fade that stays in play more often even on mis-hits at very high speed.
How do I know my natural shot shape in golf?
Your natural shot shape is what comes out most often when you aren’t thinking and just trying to hit a “normal” or straight shot. In order to play effective golf, you should be able to, with practice, hit a shot that curves the way you expect it to at least 7/10 times.
How many shot shapes are there?
In theory, there are infinite shot shapes! Any combination is available, and golfers are often lauded for their “creativity” in finding a combination that navigates all sorts of obstacles on the course.
In essence, however, we can break shot shapes down into four or nine categories. The most basic level of this is high/low and draw/fade, creating four possible combinations. The more advanced is the 9-box concept popularized in modern times by Tiger Woods’ demonstrations of being able to hit, in a row, all 9 “windows” created by a 3-by-3 grid of “high, medium, low” and “draw, straight, cut” and land all 9 shots at the same pin.
Shaping shots has always been one of the most glamorized skills for a golfer. There is something particularly mesmerizing about it, and the ability to pull these shots off on command has long been regarded as a defining factor of somebody who has truly mastered the craft of ball striking.
That said, there are many styles of play - some golfers THRIVE off of visualizing every shot and being artistic whenever possible (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson) while others have made a career out of “stock-shotting a course to death” (Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa).
Even if some of the best players don’t often use them, they all have the ability to hit every shot when needed. Also, practicing being able to hit different ball flights is a GREAT way to develop educated “feels” through impact for each shape, and also to calibrate/neutralize your preferred shot shape and “find your way home” to your preferred shape when things start going awry or get a little bit out of whack without switching into an overly technical mode.
So now that we’ve got a rundown on what is actually happening when golfers shape shots, keep an eye on your favorite pro next time they’re on TV and see if you can’t add a shot or two of theirs to your bag the next time you hit the range!