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How to Self-Diagnose Bad Golf Shots

Golf, such a simple, easy game, that is when you are watching the pros. They hit these long booming drives that seem to keep running forever then pitch an iron shot right at the pin.

No worries if it’s not right on the pin, the first putt from 20 feet plus drops in the hole more often than not. It is not always the same for amateurs, and we often wonder how to self-diagnose bad golf shots.

How to Self-Diagnose Bad Golf Shots

The Complexities of Golf

If the pros make it look so easy, why then does it not go this way when you go out on the course? Ok, even the pros hit the odd bad shot.

It may be because your expectations are too high. Every coach will tell you that golf is a game of misses. We need to minimize the misses, but first, we need to understand what is causing the misses.

We need to learn how to self-diagnose bad golf shots. Let’s face it you can’t have a swing coach follow you around on each hole, so we have to find a way to DIY.

First, we must understand all the checkpoints and in order. Head down, shoulders square, hips open, right heel down, weight over the left ankle.

Swing through the ball release clubface, rotate finishing with chest and belt buckle facing the target, weight on the left foot. If everything is in place, the ball goes exactly where you wanted it to go, simple.

What can go wrong?

man in red shirt disappointed for bad shotWell, in a game of misses, plenty. If you cannot diagnose the fault, you will end up throwing clubs or worse.

The question also arises “should you self-diagnose bad golf shots mid-round”? The answer is Yes and No.

Sure, if you hit a really bad shot, you will try to determine the cause to see if you can spot your error.

You must avoid trying to get too technical as this could cause confusion, disrupt your concentration, and the flow and rhythm of your game.

You need to take note of tendencies and go over your card at the nineteenth hole.

Now you can assess a trend in hitting fades off the tee which sometimes might slice, or when missing the green, it is usually is to left.

After the game, this type of analysis will be far more useful and can help to point you to the solution.

Emotions – The mental game

man with a hat playing golf concentratedAnother important aspect of the game is self-control, keep a check on your emotions.

If you lose your cool and start ranting and swearing, crashing clubs into the ground, or throwing them, you will lose control of the game and run out of playing partners.

Know that during any round, you are going to hit some great shots, some good shots, some bad shots, and maybe even some really bad shots, that’s just golf.

Take the drama out of it, have a sense of humor and move on. If not, you are setting yourself up for a ton of disappointment.

Watching the top players worldwide, they seem to remain pretty cool and collected, and they are emotionally neutral most of the time.

Learning to control your emotions and not sweat the bad shots will reduce your self-doubt and self-talk and reflect with better numbers on your card.


A big part of controlling your emotions will depend on you mastering self-awareness. By this, we mean knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, what you can and can’t do, and the limits of your abilities.

Expecting to hit a perfect shot every time is not realistic and is only a recipe for disaster. So if you are playing off an 18 handicap, accept the three-putt and the missed fairway, it even happens to the pros.

Assessing the Bad Shot

Now that we have emotions under control and our expectations in check, we can learn how to self-diagnose a bad shot. Remember, do not try to analyze every bad shot as this will disrupt the rhythm of your game, but do look at an uncharacteristically bad shot right away.

Before you start to assess the bad shot, ask yourself what your intention had been, in other words, what was the goal for that shot and what was the result?

How was your routine and focus on the setup and target?

Were you thinking smooth tempo swing thoughts or were you trying to think mechanics?

Were you allowing thoughts of self-doubt or negativity to creep in?

Often you will find there was something that spoilt your mental approach resulting in a bad shot. Maybe you were distracted and skipped part of your routine or just hurried the shot.

Maybe you failed to pick a target, or you were more concerned about a dogleg, sand trap, or water feature ahead. Strange, when you allow these to play on your mind, how they tend to grab your ball.

Now we have the mental approach to the bad shot out the way and can assess where, why, and how the shot went wrong.


man holding a club for alignment positionIf you feel that you hit a good shot, it was smooth, comfortable, not forced and contact sounded solid, but the ball ended up off-course, nine times out of ten, your alignment was wrong.

This is one of the biggest struggles the amateur golfer faces because if the alignment is off, it can impact so many other issues.

Check if your feet, hips and shoulders were aligned parallel to the target.

If the shot was comfortable and went straight right or left, you were probably aiming that way.

Check your body, if it felt a bit uncomfortable or you feel a bit of strain in your back, this could be another indication that alignment is off.

The body and the mind will automatically try to rectify because you are not aligned directly to the target and try to help. The result will be a push or pull to try to self-correct during the swing.


A smooth tempo and a consistent speed will go a long way to iron out many of the bad shots. Practice your golf swing on the range and keep to it on the course, don’t try to hit the cover off the ball.

Inconsistency in your swing tempo can result in a fade or a draw being exaggerated to a slice or a hook and compounding the error making a bad shot a horrible shot.


before play golf in the club shale handsClosely related to your swing tempo watch the follow through.

When you tend to swing too hard and fast the club will wrap around your back and neck and swing you off your feet.

A more common problem would be slowing down your swing and the club ends up pointing towards the target.

The ideal position at the end of the swing should be the classic T position.

This low finish of the club will tell you that you decelerated through impact, resulting in the ball staying in the bunker on sand shots.

On full shots, you will tend to pull the shot as you throw your upper body to try to compensate.

Check your Divot

When you evaluate your divot, it should tell you if you played straight through and on-line, or if your swing was outside-in or inside-out. However, be aware that this information may be misleading if your alignment was not correct at address.

For instance, you might feel that you hit a perfect shot, the divot seems to confirm this, but the ball ended up 20 yards to the right.

Friend Assessment

If appropriate, you can ask a friend to assess your shot during the round. It could be something quite simple that can be spotted and corrected there and then. Your friend or playing partner may not be a trained coach but could easily see an error in your setup or swing.


Q: Why do I keep Pulling Shots Left?

A: Let us first try to define and understand what is a pulled shot;

  • Starts left and stays straight left
  • Starts left and cuts back right towards the target
  • Starts left and keeps going left for a pull hook

The main cause of a pull shot is that the clubface is closed on impact. That is for a right-handed player the clubface is past square and facing to the left. The problem now is to try to determine why the clubface is closed.

successful shot with a driverIf the ball started left and stayed on track, it may have been only an alignment problem, you aimed there and hit it straight.

Check the divot to confirm this.

Next, check your grip, a strong grip will tend to produce an active release of the golf club, turning the clubface too soon to a closed position at impact.

Try to soften or have a neutral grip and see if there is a change in results. Remember a golf club is not a baseball bat.

The next thing to look out for is the position of the ball in your stance.

If the ball is too far forward, the club is wanting to release before it reaches the ball, thus closing the face by the time it makes contact.

As a rule of thumb, the ball position for the driver should be opposite your left ear. Fairway woods in line with the logo on your shirt and progressively back with the wedges at the buttons of your shirt.

The ‘over the top’ swing motion is another producer of the pull shot. This error is usually produced by starting the downswing with the upper body and bring the club from the outside.

Q: Why am I blocking my shots right?

A: Here we are faced with the opposite problem, blocking the shot to the right. If this is not addressed, it could escalate to the dreaded slice.

Again, we have to start by checking alignment, ball position and grip. The problem here is the clubface is open at the point of address.

If the ball is too far back in the stance or the grip is too soft, the clubface will not yet be squared at impact. Again, starting your downswing with your upper body which has the effect of getting you ahead of the ball.

Q: What am I doing wrong in my Golf Swing?

A: To correct this tendency to pull or to block your shots, once you have checked alignment, ball position, and grip, it’s time to look at your downswing.

We know tempo and follow through are important, but power comes from the bottom up. Uncoiling the body starts with the legs, then the hips, shoulders, arms, and hands. Never start with the shoulders and arms.

Speed comes from the release of the wrists through the shot. Avoid trying to flip or scoop at the ball.

Bottom Line

It all sounds a bit complicated, but remember it is a game of misses, don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself. Be aware of the basics. If it goes a bit wrong, just go through the checklist. Most important in avoiding bad shots are alignment, tempo and downswing.

Lastly, take a video of your swing, from behind and side-on, with woods and irons for a good feedback session on your possible errors. Always remember to enjoy the game and visit the Golf Accessories Reviews homepage for more useful hints & tips.


  1. Fergus Bisset. 2020. 5 Golf Psychology Tips.

Charl is an avid golfer and constantly striving to improve his game. He is a big fan of technology and new clubs although still has a passion for the classics. When not writing, Charl can be found at his local course, discovering new golf courses, or practicing at the driving range.

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