Category Archives: short game

My Conception of Golf Technique

Over the years I have sprinkled certain themes throughout my posts. I say them over and over because they work—not only for me, but for everybody.

To save you the trouble of searching for what you might not know is even there, here it all is. This post summarizes my thoughts. If you do all these things (and there aren’t many) you will play better golf.

The Swing

When you’re standing over the ball, think of the swing as one unit from takeaway to finish. Impact is an event like another other along the way—do not give it extra importance.

Swing at a tempo which allows you to hit the ball on the center of the clubface consistently.

Your hands must lead the clubhead into the ball. They must arrive back to the ball before the clubhead does.

Short Game

With a chip and a pitch, think of sliding the sole of the club underneath the ball. Do not hit down on the ball.

With a chip, use one swing and several clubs to regulate distance.

With a pitch, use two or three lengths of swing (your choice) and several clubs to regulate distance.

Putting

Hit the ball on the sweet spot of the putterface.

Let the length of the backswing be the sole distance generator.

Technique is less important than mentally bearing down the hole.

Roll the Ball To the Hole

Seven years ago to this day, I was in my living room in a hospital bed we had rented for me to stay in following back surgery I had had two days earlier. Since I wasn’t going anywhere soon, I watched a lot of television.

I watched all the Dollar westerns, and Once Upon a Time In the West.

I also watched a lot of golf, including the Waste Management Open, the very one being played this weekend. All four rounds.

When you have nothing else you can do but watch, you can’t get up and wander into the kitchen to get a snack, for example, you really watch.

This is what I saw.

Whenever a player played a chip or a short pitch, they ROLLED the ball up to the hole. There was no flying the ball up the hole and making it stop on a dime.

Now that’s a spectacular shot, and it has its place, but it rarely ever gets done what a touring pro wants to get done—put the ball in the hole.

You see, the pros aren’t trying to get these shots close. They’re trying to sink them. It’s a rolling ball that will go in.

I had never noticed that until I saw a steady diet of it over four days.

The next weekend I was still housebound and I saw it again at the next tournament, the AT&T at Pebble Beach.

Roll the ball to the hole, don’t fly it there.

So when I was able to get up and around, but not able to swing a golf club, I had a lesson on chipping. From the ground up, learning how to roll the ball.

That, and lots of practice, changed me from an indifferent chipper into a very good chipper. Chipping is one of the strengths of my game.

So when you practice around the green, if you’re not doing so already, practice that way. Roll it.

A Few Random Golf Notes

No essay today. Just a few odds and ends that have come to mind lately.

1. That the forward swing begins with the movement of the left hip is beyond doubt, but what that movement is, exactly, is a matter of confusion. There is a slide and a turn. But which one comes first and how much of a movement is each one? Let’s make the matter simpler.

Think of the first move forward as pushing your left hip straight back behind you. Now it cannot exactly go straight backward. To go back it has to turn somewhat and there will be a bit of a slide, too. Also, your weight will get off the right side early, like it should.

By thinking about it this way, whether the slide or the turn happens first is no longer an issue. They will both happen at the right time and that’s all you need to worry about.

If you try this, make sure the hip goes backward in rhythm. Don’t snap it back quickly.

2. A few years ago, the Play It Forward campaign was big. Play from the right set of tees and you will shoot lower scores and have more fun. There’s another reason why playing it forward pays off. It makes you a better golfer over time.

Because the course is shorter you will be hitting more shots that are within your ability to hit. This means you will learn how to score. Instead of always playing catch-up, you will always be on offense. You will learn how to dictate to the course instead of the course dictating to you.

You might want to play for a while from tees that are too short, then back up with your new mindset.

3. A few years ago I talked to you about the clubs I used to chip with. It was a set that went from lob wedge through 8-iron. The chipping stroke I used was somewhat of a downward blow with a little bit of punch to it.

Recently I have changed my chipping stroke to one that is more of a level brushing stroke. It gradually became clear that the clubs I calibrated earlier did not work well with the new stroke.

Since the blow with a brush is not as sharp, the ball does not leap off the clubface as it does with the downward stroke. All I had to do to recalibrate my chipping set was to move up by two clubs.

For example, where I had been using a lob wedge I now use a gap wedge to chip to a certain distance, or instead of a pitching wedge I use an 8-iron to send the ball an equivalent distance.

4. Remember that we play golf in order to have fun with friends. Of course we want to get better, but improvement occurs gradually. Having fun happens anytime we want to. First things first.

The Vertical Dimension of Impact

Impact is the big thing these days. We have all learned that the bottom of the swing should take place somewhere in front of the ball.

How deep the bottom of the swing should be is another discussion — do you take a divot, or do you sweep the ball off the grass?

There is a third dimension, which describes hitting the ball off the heel or toe, but we’ll skip that one here.

I’ll be talking about depth today because it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and it is of vital importance to consistency in shot-making. First, a story.

Last summer when I had a playing lesson in which one of the shots was hitting an 80-yard pitch into a tight pin.

I took three rehearsal swings, each one of which felt good to me. The pro stopped me before I hit the ball and said each swing had been to different depths, which would send the ball to different distances.

He said if I wanted to master this shot I had to learn how to come through the ball at the same depth every time. Here’s how I’m doing it.

I have a piece thick-pile carpet and practice swinging across it with a half swing, making the same sound each time the sole of the club brushes the carpet. That means the club swung down to the same depth.

Here’s a way you might go about feeling your swing so this happens.

As you stand over the ball, feel like your arms are hanging from your shoulders like a shirt would hang down on a coat hanger — no tension, very relaxed.

Now swing the club from the point where the coat hanger is suspended, on your spine at the spot level with the top of your shoulders. Just swing back and forth with that spot as the pivot, with a good rhythm and an easy tempo, and let your arms and hands follow.

Keep a relaxed feeling in your arms the entire time. All you want in them is enough muscle power to move the club and be in control of the clubhead — no more. Don’t try to control your stroke consistently with your arms. You can’t do it, and it all gets frustrating pretty quickly.

As you repeat your swings, key in on that consistent sound of the sole of the club brushing the carpet.

Admittedly, this is all fine tuning that you don’t need if you just want to get the ball around the course. If you want to get GOOD, though, start attending to this detail.

Not to mention, after a month or so you should have a new and effective pitching stroke that will bleed over into your full swing as well.

The Short Game in One Rule

The Tour golfers you see on TV have marvelous short games. Ridiculous short games, actually. There’s no way anybody can be that good. But they are, and they’re all that good.

You’re not, and you probably never will be. That’s OK. You don‘t have hours daily to devote to the short game.

What you can do is learn some basic shots that do one thing: get the ball on the green in one shot.

This is the one rule, and the only rule, of the short game for recreational golfers. Don’t get cute. Just get the ball on the green so you can start putting.

Once you’re putting, you might sink the first one and get an up and down. If not, you’re almost assuredly going get down in two putts, which closes out the hole.

I would guess that were you make doubles and triples is not in getting the ball up to the green, but from around the green. It’s when it takes you four (or five!) shots to get the ball in the hole from under 50 yards that you rack up the big number.

All you have to do that is to learn a basic pitch, a half-pitch, and a running chip, to get the ball on the green from this difficult range.

Look. The green looks small from a distance away, but once you get on it you see how big of a target it really is. It’s huge! How can you miss?

Here is how you hit the green with these little shots and keep the ball on. Plan to have the ball land about fifteen feet past the front of the green.

That gives you enough room for error so that if you chunk the shot a little bit (but see this post on how not to) your ball will still land on the putting surface.

The ball will run out, and if the pin is in back, that’s what you want. If the pin is in front, you’ll have an approach putt coming back.

In fact, here’s how to think about the pin. Unless the green is really deep, pay no attention to where it is, front to back. Play for the ball to land well on the green and run where it may.

Side to side, hit the ball in its general direction, but don’t zero in on it if that constricts your landing area. You want to be hitting at a fat part of the green.

Once you’re good enough to get your first short shot in the green every time, then you can start zeroing in on the pin.

The Essence of Golf (Advice)

If I were to give recreational golfers advice on what would do the most good to get them hit the ball better, I would say these things:

Golf Swing

Get a good grip that fits your swing. This is two things. A good grip is one that has a chance of success. Many rec golfers I see play with a grip that is too strong or doesn’t leave the hands working together. See a pro, get a lesson, to be sure about yours. Also, you might have a fine grip, but it doesn’t go with your swing. If you have a neutral grip and a slice swing, that’s trouble.

Learn the correct rhythm, and the tempo that is right for you. Rhythm is the same for everyone. This blog post shows you what rhythm is and how to get it. Tempo is different for everyone. Yours is probably too fast. Try this post to find your best tempo.

Your hands must lead the clubhead coming into the ball. Most of you do the opposite, because you’re trying to hit the ball with your right hand. This is an easy idea to understand, but difficult to execute because our “hit” instinct is so strong. See this video.

Pitching and Chipping

This one is really simple. First, get lessons on how to hit these shots. One lesson for each shot. They are their own kind of shot and need to be learned that way.

Then, hit them using the iron method — one swing, different clubs. For pitching, you really need two swings, of different length, but for chipping, only one. Calibrate each swing and you can’t miss.

Practice your standard strokes A LOT so they don’t slowly drift on you and make you wonder why you aren’t getting the ball close anymore.

Putting

I commonly spend an hour on the practice green chipping and putting, mostly putting. I see other rec golfers come on, putt for about ten minutes, and leave. Who is going to become the better putter?

Use a pendulum stroke that moves in one unit from your shoulders to the clubhead. Do not let your wrists get involved.

Find an alignment spot on the green in front of your ball and hit the ball right across it.

Practice short putts, from two and three feet, A LOT. Hit these putts with authority. Do not finesse them into the hole.

Calibrate your stroke so you can hit to fifteen feet, twenty-five feet, thirty-five feet, and forty-five feet at will. Practice these stokes at a hole to maintain them, and to learn how to add or take off a few feet because of differing green speeds.

That takes care of ninety-five percent of golf. Learn the other things, bunkers, uneven lies, wind, a multitude of short game shots, after you have mastered the material above.

How to Learn a Short Game Shot

There is a right way to teach yourself how to hit a new short game shot. Go through this sequence and the shot will work for you.

1. Learn to make consistent contact. The shot will behave the way you want it to only if you hit it the same way every time. It might take hundreds of tries before you become consistent with how you strike the ball. It’s worth the effort.

2. Learn to hit the shot where you’re aiming it. To get the ball close to the hole, you have to hit it straight and the right distance. Straight is easier, so start there. Again, hundreds of balls won’t be to many.

3. Learn to hit the shot the right distance. This one takes time and thought. One way to start is to get a standard-length stroke and play that stroke with different clubs, seeing what distance you get with each one. Another way is to use just a few clubs and learn how to finesse each one to the right distance. A combination of the two isn’t a bad idea, either.

You might want to start with your bread and butter short shots, the greenside chip and the standard pitch (from 50-100 yards). You can always hit them better than you’re doing now.

When you pick up a new specialty shot, go through this sequence to master it. Hitting it sort of well isn’t what I want you to do. Get good!

I once heard that Lorena Ochoa would practice a new shot for about six months before she used it in a tournament. That’s good advice for all of us.

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This tip was extracted from my first book, Better Recreational Golf. There’s lots more stuff just like this in there. Believe me, I won’t be disappointed if you buy your own copy. Neither will you.

Transform Your Short Game

We don’t hit a lot of greens. If we want to try for our par, or preserve our bogey, we need a reliable short game. This is what I mean by “reliable” in terms of recreational golf: you make good contact every time, control the ball every time, and get the ball on the green every time so you can start putting.

Every recreational golfer can attain that standard. If you do, you will prevent yourself from ringing up strokes needlessly.

There are two ways of improving. One of them is to get good. The other is to stop being bad. Those two are different. This article is about the second one.

I want you to try something and see what happens. Spend some time on the practice tee learning it, then go out the the course and try it out.

Remember that article I posted a few weeks ago on hitting the ball in a flat trajectory and letting the club get the ball in the air?

That’s what I want you to do with every short shot you hit. EVERY short shot.

Whether it’s an 80-yard pitch or a 20-foot chip, hit the ball with a flat trajectory. Let the club get the ball in the air.

I’m not saying to skull it so the ball gets six inches off the ground and runs three miles.

I’m saying to keep the club low to the ground and level with it as you hit through the ball, allowing the clubface to do ALL the work of getting the ball in the air.

What you get from this solves two short game problems. First, you get much cleaner contact. No chunking. A clean, on-the-clubface strike.

Second, you get spin. You’ll have to learn how to work with this, but once you get spin, you can make the ball do anything.

Those two things add up to reliable short game shots. From there, you can start refining your shot-making to zero in on the pin, which is the getting good part.

Bonus: if you get this down in your short game, it will feed over into your long game and you’ll hit better long shots and more greens.

So try it!

Zeroing in Around the Green

If you pay attention to the way you play, no matter how good you are, you’re aware that the place where your score gets leaky is around the green.

I often say, and I’m not backing away from it here, that good scores are only made possible by good play up to the green. But once you get to the green, you have to put it away. Too often that takes one stroke too many.

The reason is chipping requires the precision of an approach putt, because, after all, that’s what the shot represents if you missed the green.

Let me give you a few suggestions to guide your chipping practice. With less work than you think you can get really good at this shot.

First, get a lesson on how to chip. While it’s an easy shot, there is a right way to do it that you will likely never figure out by yourself.

Now designate three clubs to chip with. I would suggest a pitching wedge, an 8-iron, and a 6-iron. Go the the practice green and pick a spot. Drop three balls and chip from that one spot to the same pin, with each club.

Repeat this from a variety of places around the green, different spots to different pins, to find out which club you like for which chips.

For a month, do no short game practice except this. It will be scary how good you get.

Next, it’s one thing to be good at the “up,” but you have to be good at the “down,” too, or you might as well have left your chip ten feet from the hole.

How do you practice that? Well, all those practice chips you made? Don’t pick up the balls. Leave them where they ended up and putt each one out. Every time. Three chips, three putts. Learn to deal with the putts your chipping leaves you.

This is how I got real good at chipping. I got fed up with leaving myself with putts too far from the hole. Made me get very serious about getting those chips close. Now, even three-footers I don’t like.

In other words, don’t practice chipping only. Practice getting up and down. Keep score, too. Getting down to an average of 2.1 (up and down nine out of ten times) is realistic for anybody.

I still practice like this. It’s the only way.

Don’t neglect your putter, either. If you have a lie on good grass and there isn’t too much of it between your ball and the green, just putt. But practice that, too.

One Wedge, Two Distances

I see recreational golfers use up strokes unnecessarily in several ways, but the big one is from 50-100 yards. Few I play with can put the ball on the green consistently from that range. What I’m going to talk about today is really simple. Anyone can do it. It’s solving this problem by acquiring pre-defined wedge shots that go to known distances.

Take out your pitching wedge, and practice making two swings of defined length. The first swing is taking the club back to where your hands are level with your hips. The second swing is taking the club back to where your left arm is parallel to the ground.

Check yourself in a mirror as you’re learning what these swings feel like. Often, where it feels your hands and arms are, and where they really are, are different.

Now you have two swings. At the range, hit pitches with the shorter swing to flags that are close in, such as the 75-yard flag and 100-yard flag. You might not land the ball exactly on those spots, but you should be able to estimate the distance the ball is carrying. Repeat with the longer swing. When you’re finished, you will know how to hit the ball to each of two specific distances.

I hope you have more than one wedge. Your pitching wedge comes with the set of irons, and you should have a sand wedge, in the 54-56 degree range. If so, repeat the exercise with this wedge. Now you have four distances. And if you have a third or a fourth wedge, calibrate those, too.

Now you have four to eight distances, using two swings that are easy to repeat. There will be distance gaps, but you can fill those in easily when you play. The best way to do that is to use a club/swing combination that is short of the distance you face, and hit the ball a little bit harder. Easing off instead can turn into quitting on the shot.

It might also be the case that two club/swing combinations give you distances that are very close to each other. That’s all right. The combination with the more-lofted club will stop quicker, and the shot with the less-lofted club will run out a bit after landing. It’s good to have both choices at your disposal.