Once you're able to shape the golf ball however you want at the height you desire, on demand, you just became a player.
It also makes golf a whole lot more fun. One of the great joys of the game is envisioning a high fade and executing it on a tough hole. Or maybe it's hitting a low, straight punch shot through a headwind. One of my favorite shots I've ever hit came on the 9th hole at Pawleys Plantation in the World Am tournament when I hit a low draw with a 4-iron, around and under trees from more than 200 yards that clanked the pin and settled to six feet, (not that I vividly remember it or anything).
But could I do the same with a fade? Probably not. That's where the 9 shots come in. The latest GolfPass series release is the 9 Shots with Rory Presented by WHOOP. Martin Hall and Rory McIlroy detail how to execute each of the nine essential shots in golf.
It doesn't matter what your handicap is, anyone can and should regularly practice the 9 Shots. Even accomplished golfers are going to be relatively uncomfortable with one or two of them. Hall says high handicappers can concentrate on a three-ball drill (fade, straight, draw) and save the flighting of shots for later.
"Shot shaping," says Hall. "Being able to hit it both ways and change the height is a great way to improve your swing."
Here's another baked-in benefit of focusing on shot shaping: Hall points to the idea of "Internal Focus" vs. "External Focus." With internal focus, you're thinking about what you want your body to do, while, with external focus, you're thinking about how you want to manipulate the ball. "All the research says you'll play better using external focus," says Hall.
The full 9 Shots with Rory McIlroy presented by WHOOP series is now available and exclusive to GolfPass members, but we've unlocked a preview of how Rory McIlroy hits a low, straight shot:
WATCH: Rory on how he hits a low, straight shot
How you can practice the 9 shots
After you've watched Rory hit windows low left, high right and everywhere in between, you'll be ready to try it yourself. Hall recommends finding the spot on the driving range closest to the center as possible. It's more difficult to set up and hit both shot shapes from the far ends of the range.
Start by attempting a low straight shot, followed by a medium-straight and then a high-straight. Then do the same sequence, one ball each, for the three draws and finally the three fades. Repeat it a few times and keep notes of which shots seem to be giving you the most trouble, and on your next sequence, hit two balls in a row for those shots.
"The good news is it gets your swing fairly neutral," says Hall. "And that can help your short game."
Which club should you use to practice shot shaping? Hall recommends practicing most with a 6-iron - because it's right in the middle from the driver to the sand wedge - but noted you should work through the bag, too. Be advised that chances are you'll be able to hit fades easier with the lower lofted clubs and draws with the higher-lofted ones. Hitting fades with wedges can be tricky. So will hitting high draws with a 3-wood.
Do you need a training aid to practice the 9 shots? Hall says they aren't essential. But as personal launch monitors have come down in price they can provide insight into your ball's heights and spin rates. Alignment sticks can be useful when first developing the skills but be wary of being too reliant on them.
Once you've practiced the 9 shots and are able to execute them with the majority of your attempts, you'll have a new weapon to take to the first tee.