A Lesson Learned: Controlling trajectory

By Doug Weaver, PGA
Published on
A Lesson Learned: Controlling trajectory

Harbour Town Golf Links, the site of this past week's RBC Heritage Classic, is one of the true classic courses on the PGA Tour. It is one of the most popular stops on Tour - despite being the week after the Masters - simply because of the great setting, the incredible hospitality and the world-class layout.

Harbour Town offers a few distinct challenges that you'll have to overcome if you want to play well here. Specifically, being able to work the ball - both the trajectory and shaping shots - is a premium on this course. If you can do that, you can win here. See exhibit A, Carl Pettersson's five-shot win this past week.

As Pettersson told in an exclusive talk after his victory, "That is why I love this course. You have to keep it under the wind, go over and under tree limbs, hit a wide variety of shots that turn with the design of the hole or the's not just bombing it down and hitting it close, it's a true shotmaker's course."

Petterson's comments are significant because conventional wisdom is that it is harder to be a shotmaker now than ever before. The advancements in ball and club technology are all designed to help the ball go further and straighter, thus making efforts to control trajectory and shot shapes actually tougher.

On the 16th hole on Sunday, though Petterson had a comfortable lead, he did find himself in a tough spot. His tee shot ended up directly behind a strategically placed pine tree. He had the cushion to play it safe but he also had the talent and confidence to shape a shot to the green. So what'd he do? He plays a beautiful low hook of 120 yards that flies under the branches and then sails up onto the green. Yes, it was similar in many ways to Bubba Watson's shot from the Masters last week.

But when you have trees or wind or any other items that demand you hit a higher or lower shot than normal, there are a number of small adjustments you can make that will help you control your trajectory.  Here are some of my favorite tips to remember:

  • When it is breezy swing easy. Take more club. This method allows you to minimize the ball spin rate that would cause the ball to have a steeper trajectory. Lower spin rates keep the ball flight lower.
  • When you need it high, give it all your thigh. Swing fast and increase the spin and therefore the trajectory.
  • When you swing down the ball goes up. Make your swing steeper to make the ball go up faster. Make a divot.
  • Make your swing flatter to make it go lower. Practice baseball swings.
  • Grip down on the grip and the ball tends to go lower.
  • Grip up on the grip and the ball tends to go higher
  • Place the ball position back for lower trajectories
  • Place the ball position forward to increase the trajectory
  • In the set up tilt the shaft angle forward to lower the trajectory and decrease the loft of the clubface and consciously keep the hands ahead of the club head during the swing. Keep the butt of the club pointing forward of your zipper
  • To keep the trajectory low make sure your body leads the swing and finishes forward.
  •  To make the ball go high intentionally leave your body weight on your back foot in the finish
  •  Forward shoulder tilts high to make the ball go high.
  • Forward shoulder tilt lower to make the ball fly low
  • Less wrist hinge for lower trajectory
  • More wrist hinge for higher trajectory

Another tip on these lines: Something I encourage my students to do here on Hilton Head Island (but really, this goes for anywhere) is to take a yardage book or a map that shows the course layout and find out before your round which way the breeze is coming in from. Draw some arrows on that map to indicate the direction of the wind so when you are out on the course, you have a good idea based on what hole you are on, what direction the wind may be blowing. (Be aware, this is always subject to change or swirl - especially lower to the ground, but the general direction a the tree tops typically remains consistent.)

No matter where you play, the more shots you can hit, the better your chances for success.

Doug Weaver is the PGA Director of Golf Instruction at Palmetto Dunes Resort on Hilton Head Island, SC.  Weaver is a highly lauded instructor who has played on the PGA Tour and played in five Heritage Classics at Harbour Town Golf Links.