A Short Game Plan

You know, the golf swing is something of a crapshoot. You make your best effort and trust that it will work out. But there are so many things you need to do right that lacking just one of them can compromise the shot.

The short game is something else. These are control strokes that are easy to learn, and easy to hit. They have easily attainable outcomes.

For example, if I hit ten drives in a row, there is no telling where they would all end up. But if I hit ten 60-foot chips in a row, they will all finish within three feet of the hole.

Once you have learned how to hit short shots, if you place them inside a short game plan that you follow to the letter, you can stop throwing away strokes around the green and shoot scores you deserve. Deal?

Let me suggest such a plan.

Rule One—the short game’s universal absolute—get the ball on the green with your first shot so you can start putting. Nothing else takes precedence over this directive. If your short shot does that, it is successful. Close to the pin is just the cherry on top.

Rule Two—getting the distance right is more important than getting the direction right.

Rule Three—down in four is a big no-no.

When facing a specific shot, approach it this way.

First, consider your objectives. From longer distances, say 60-100 yards, the objective is to get the ball on the green and take two putts.

From 30-50 yards you can try to get closer to the pin by aiming in a direction halfway between the center of the green and the pin, and taking two putts, maybe one.

From 10-20 yards you can start thinking about getting an up and down, but don’t force it. Down in three is still O.K.

From greenside, definitely be thinking up and down, maybe even of sinking the shot.

Second, assess your lie. It determines which clubs you can use, which shots you can hit, and how you can expect the ball to perform.

Third, visualize the shot. Where do you want the ball to land? What do you want the ball to do after it has landed? What is the terrain of the green that the ball will roll over?

Fourth, choose the club. This choice falls out naturally from points two and three.

Fifth, rehearse the stroke. From the tee or fairway, you get only one rehearsal stroke. From close in, take two or three to let the subtleties of the stroke emerge.

Sixth, repeat the rehearsal stroke. This takes discipline, but you can’t rehearse one way and perform another.

All this sounds obvious. I’m probably not saying anything you don’t already know. The question is, do you go through such plan before every short shot? Do you go through all the steps, or just a few, or maybe none?

If you talk yourself through this entire plan before every shot, which doesn’t take long, you don’t overlook anything, and greatly increase your chance of hitting the right shot with the right club, which is its purpose.

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