Pick Your Poison
Everyone needs a go-to
By Lee Pace
Pick one: Beach or mountains? Charcoal or gas? Dog or cat? Coke or Pepsi? Thin crust or thick? Sweet tea or unsweet? Forged or cast? Draw or fade? I lean toward the former in each pair but admit to some negotiating room when Linville beckons in the heat of August. But certainly cast in stone are charcoal, dogs and the idea that a golf ball hit with a slight right-to-left flight pattern for a right-handed golfer is by far the Rolls-Royce of golf shots.
“You only hit a straight ball by accident,” the great Ben Hogan once proffered. “The ball is going to move right or left every time you hit it, so you had better make it go one way or the other.”
History and the Hall of Fame can present arguments on both sides of the issue, but without question many of the finest players in the game have preferred the fade, among them Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Perhaps it was not as much liking the left-to-right shape as it was abhorring the extreme version of the opposite curve — the snap hook.
“I hate a hook,” Hogan said. “It nauseates me. I could vomit when I see one. It’s like a rattlesnake in your pocket.”
Davis Love Jr. taught his son Davis III an upright swing, “and you’ll never have to worry about a hook,” he said. Bruce Lietzke won 13 times on the pro tour wielding a power fade that earned him the nickname “Leaky.” Lietzke prided himself on saying, “I play one shot. That’s all I need.”
Lex Alexander played collegiately at Wake Forest University in the mid-1970s and made friends with Lietzke, a University of Houston golfer. Alexander was a young assistant pro to Claude Harmon at Winged Foot Golf Club in the late 1970s when Lietzke would come through when the PGA Tour was in the New York area.
“The 17th at Winged Foot is a long par-4, dogleg right,” Alexander says. “I would give him the line and he would then unleash one of his long towering fades to that exact target, and I will never forget how far his ball went. With a good drive, I’d have 200 yards into the green. Bruce started his tee shot toward the left rough, it curved right-center and left him an 8-iron.”
In Pinehurst, for many years one of the great ambassadors of the fade was Harvie Ward, the two-time U.S. Amateur champion from Tarboro who spent the last 15 years of his life living in the village of Pinehurst and playing a lot of golf at Forest Creek Golf Club.
“One of the nicknames we gave Harvie was ‘Carvie Ward,’” says Chuck Cordell, one of Ward’s best friends and a frequent golf companion. “He had a very weak left-hand grip, and his duck hooks were in the left side of the fairway. Most of the time he hit it straight down the middle with just a whisper of fade. He had a very compact swing, but pound-for-pound he could hit it as far as anyone, only straighter.”
Ward began working with Payne Stewart in 1985, and they had a productive four years, but in 1989 Stewart said he wanted to master both shapes in the manner of Seve Ballesteros, certainly one of the great shotmakers of all time.
Ward didn’t agree.
“I told him I thought it was good to know how to work the ball, but you still needed to have the one shot that you could depend on,” Ward said. “I told him you don’t want to go around the golf course hitting one left-to-right and the next one right-to-left. You go down that road and one day you’ll come to the last hole and not have anything to depend on, that it would jump up and get you.”
To my personal sense of feel and style, there’s nothing like a draw. There’s nothing as mouth-watering as a left-side hole location or a dogleg left hole. There’s nothing like the crisp slice of turf and the tiny speck flying high against the blue sky, turning ever so lovingly and gently from right to left. A 3-wood picked off the ground is perhaps the litmus test of a well-oiled and precise swing, and a 3-wood cleanly struck with a gentle draw is golf’s utopia. Real men hit a draw. Drawers of the ball eat steak, faders get quiche.
A draw is the offspring of a good grip, an athletic address, an on-plane path, the proper closing of the clubface at impact and extension down the line afterward. Gads, man, but you’re standing inside your swing, so how else can you hit the ball?
Hank Haney, who began his golf instruction career at Pinehurst in the late 1970s and later acquired clients as diverse as Woods and Charles Barkley, says a perfectly on-plane swing can do nothing but produce a draw for that every reason.
“You want to contact the inside part of the ball with the clubface closing as it comes through in order to start your little draw to the right of the target,” Haney says. “This is a fact. I’ve never heard a teacher dispute this point.”
John Gerring won the Atlantic Coast Conference golf title in 1957 for Wake Forest and went on to become a longtime club pro in Atlanta, Detroit, Asheville and Spartanburg, and a well-respected golf teacher. He carried the nickname “Dr. Hook,” borne of his proclivity to play and teach a right-to-left ball flight.
“The hook has two advantages,” says Gerring. “It’s longer and it’s more forgiving. It’s more forgiving because the angle of approach is shallower.”
Jack Burke Sr. used to teach that “you only own the inside half of the ball,” that you had to find a swing that let you come from inside to square to the target. Harvey Penick once told Don Wade of Golf Digest that he thought it was a myth that a draw would not stop as quickly as a fade if — and it’s a big if — the ball was struck cleanly and properly and not pulled.
Of course, many will argue these points, mainly because if you over-cook a draw, you’re left with a screaming hook that is bereft of backspin and any sense of direction. Have more careers been sidetracked over too much Old Crow or too many duck hooks? It’s probably a dead heat.
“You can talk to a fade, but a hook won’t listen,” Lee Trevino once famously observed.
Trevino was haunted as a young man on the hardscrabble Texas public courses by an out-of-control hook, and he marveled one day in 1963 when he was invited to Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth while watching Hogan hit practice balls. Hogan had exorcised the demon hook in the mid-1940s by finding what he called “the secret.” The essence of that mystical panacea has been debated for decades, but two elements certainly were a grip adjustment and the cupping motion Hogan developed with his left wrist, an action that put the brake on his lightning quick hand action that earlier produced so many hooks.
Trevino, a driving range attendant at the time and still four years removed from his first foray onto the PGA Tour, didn’t dare approach Hogan that day at Shady Oaks. But what he saw stayed with him for life, and he took the image of Hogan’s soft fades back to the practice tee.
“The only way I could figure out was just to grab the club and hold on for dear life,” Trevino says, inferring that the extra grip pressure from the middle two fingers of his left hand helped keep the clubface open at impact.
So there you have it, proof positive that either way works. It’s all a matter of taste. Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to pulling my 5-wood on a 185-yard par-3 with the pin hugging the left. PS
Lee Pace has written Golftown Journal since 2008. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Instagram at @leepaceunc and on Twitter @leepacetweet.