You hear golf commentators and swing gurus mention it all the time: “He’s got the dreaded two-way miss going.” The two-way miss is a player’s tendency to miss shots both left and right with equal unpredictability.
Eliminating the two-way miss for a tour player means almost everything. Some will say, “I’ve taken the left side out of play so I didn’t have to worry about the water over there.” You might consider that eliminating the two-way miss is something that only a good or even a tour player can do, but in fact, it is also something that an average player is capable of.
A lot of amateurs are under the impression that if they didn’t hit a ball close to where they were aiming, the shot was automatically a poor one. To a certain extent, they may be right. And too many teachers may fall into the same trap of believing that a shot that did not end up close to where the student was aiming was a poor shot. One of the reasons for this is that any less-than-perfect contact is easily felt by anyone who is a bogey shooter or better. But was the shot really that poor?
Instead of striving for no misses – which is impossible, of course – or even fewer misses, it might be better to strive for the “one-way miss.” With a one-way miss, it is easy to plot course strategy and tactics.
Take our hypothetical tour player who doesn’t have to worry about water to the left of the fairway. Maybe he has honed a reliable fade so that the ball never goes left of its starting line. Or maybe he has a draw but knows how far left it will go in the worst-case scenario.
Jack Nicklaus was a wonderful example of the latter. He played a fade, and using the example of a fairway that is 40 yards wide, he said (paraphrasing), “When you play a fade or draw, you can aim down the edge of the fairway and have 40 yards to work with. When you play a straight ball and aim down the middle of the fairway, if it goes left or right you only have 20 yards to work with.”
Nicklaus makes a great point, and one that is often ignored by amateurs. A lot of slicers always seem to aim down the middle of the fairway, and how many times have we seen a right-handed slicer wind up in the right rough? Plenty. And yet, if they were to aim down the left side of the fairway, they can watch their ball curve back into the fairway most of the time. When you ask a slicer why they just don’t aim down the left side, some of them will actually say that the point is to hit a straight shot, and allowing for the slice is mentally allowing for failure!
This brings up the concept of knowing where your ball is going to wind up, not only if you hit a good shot but also a bad one. It’s called a “window,” and is really possible only if a one-way miss is happening. Slicers actually have a great advantage if they only would swallow their ego and allow for their natural curve to work to their advantage. For example, on an approach shot with the pin on the right side of the green, a slicer has a green light to curve the ball into the pin. But as with tee shots, too many of them might aim at the pin, hoping against hope that this time the ball will fly straight. Of course, more often than not it will wind up right of the green, short-sided, and now they face a difficult up-and-down.
What about our better students who can and do hit a straight ball most of the time? For them, it is imperative to know which way their predominant miss tendency is and plan accordingly. Many tour layers have a ball flight that is incredibly straight on a solid shot, but they also know which way the ball will go if they do not hit a perfect shot. Suppose one of our students, a good player who hits it relatively straight, faces a long approach shot with the pin on the left side of the green. His “window” should be from the pin to the right edge of the green. Let’s say he knows his miss tendency is to the left. In this case, it would be foolish to aim at the pin. The better play would be to aim between the pin and the right edge of the green. Conversely, if his tendency is to miss to the right, he can go ahead and aim at the flag stick with the confidence that the ball will not wind up left of the green.
All execution errors cannot be avoided, of course, but developing a reliable shot that rarely misses both ways is critical for players to play their best golf. At some point, players and teachers may need to abandon the quest to hit straight shots and realize that a reliable fade and draw, and sometimes even reliable slices and hooks, can be very playable.