Category Archives: short game

Getting Good Around the Green

Lately I’ve been going to the range about three times a week. I hit my bucket of balls, but what I really want to do is practice around the green.

This is a practice green where you’re allowed to chip, and I do it. One wedge, a putter, and one ball. Chip the ball, putt it out — just like you do on the course. No do-overs with the chip, either. Not wanting to have to leave a ten-foot putt for an up and down gets me to focus.

How am I doing? I get up and down almost every time. I’m not trying to brag here, to tell you how great I am. I’m trying to tell you that if you practice something often enough, you learn and you get good at it.

All that putting I have been doing at home the past few months, and the chipping I do at the range, is paying off.

And there’s this — chipping is the easiest stroke in the game, the easiest one to get good at. There is no reason not to be good at it. Just put in the practice. Getting a lesson won’t hurt, either. Chances are your chipping stroke could stand a little fixing.

If you practice regularly starting now, by springtime you can own the green. All you have to do is put in the work.

Let me say one thing to inspire you about getting good.

An amateur will practice until he (or she) learns to do it right. A professional practices until he can’t do it wrong. No one is stopping you from practicing that much, and if you do, it will pay off like you won’t believe.

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.

Chipping Out of Greenside Rough

When the ball is 6-10 feet off the green and on a good lie, the chip is pretty easy. If the ball is at that distance but in rough, it’s still an easy shot, but you have to know what you’re doing.

The first thing is to find out how much grass is beneath the ball. Stick your forefinger into the grass near the ball, being careful not to disturb it.

By touching the tip of your finger on the ground, you should be able estimate how far the bottom of the ball is off the ground; that is, by how much the ball is suspended in the grass. There are three possibilities.

1. The ball is resting on top of the grass. This happens if the grass is thick or has strong blades. For this shot, use your 8-iron and hit the ball with your putting stroke. This makes sure you lift the ball off the grass and get it running when it hits the green.

2. The ball is suspended in the middle of the grass. Here, use a sand wedge of 55 or 56 degrees. Hit the shot with your standard chipping stroke. Make sure you follow through. The thickness of the grass will grab the club, so your follow-through will be short, but don’t let the grass win a complete victory. The finger test tells you how deeply into the grass you must swing the club.

3. The ball is all the way down on the ground. Take out your 60-degree wedge. Play the ball back a bit in your stance. The object here is use a steep swing and thump the ground underneath the ball with the sole of the club. Forget about hitting the ball. Just thump the ground in that spot and the ball will pop out. There’s a lot of wrist action in this stroke, not much arm action. The grass will limit the follow-through.

Practice these shots before you try them on the course.

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.

Stop Chunking Chip Shots

I don’t think anyone will disagree that the most maddening mistake in golf is to chunk a simple greenside chip shot. Just a little swing with a 9-iron, the hole is about 40 feet away, couldn’t be easier, and you lay up sod three inches behind the ball. #@9!!

Even the pros do this (Hunter Mahan in the 2010 Ryder Cup) though they do it much less often than we do. Here’s how to reduce chunking to a once-in-a-blue-moon mistake — instead of something you worry about every time you chip.

Put your mind on the sole of the club, from the moment of takeaway and through contact. Just think of where the sole is and slide it across the top of the grass when it gets to where the ball is. That’s how you get the club to brush the grass the same way every time, practice stroke or stroke at the ball.

Forget about the ball, forget about where you want the ball to go. Think only of sliding the sole across the grass.

I figured this out at the range a few weeks ago. Whenever I go to the range I am always looking for ways to make 2 and 2 equal four. The hard part is in realizing that 2 and 2 are right there in front of you so you can put them together.

My practice strokes throughout the session had all been identical. I mean identical. I practice this shot a lot, so I know what I’m doing. Each time, the sole of the club brushed top of the grass in the same place and at the same depth. What more needs to be right?

But sometimes whenever I moved on to hit the actual chip, I started thinking, “Hit the ball,” and my stroke would change, and sometimes I would hit a little behind the ball. It took me a while to figure out how to correct that.

I thought that if I stayed with my practice stroke and played “Brush the grass” instead of “Hit the ball,” I would hit these beautiful chips, one after the other, and chunking was never an issue. And that’s exactly how it worked out.

You can use this thought any time you’re hitting a short game shot, from the fairway, greenside, or even from a bunker.

It’s the sole that matters.

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.


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.


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.

Long Chip Shots

Chips from twenty yards or so can be the most troublesome shots in golf. They come in four varieties, based on the ratio of distance to the green and distance from there to the pin. I’m going to tell you how to hit each one.

1. Ten yards to the green, ten yards to the pin. Here, the distances are equal, but they are long distances. You need a moderately-lofted club, like a pitching wedge, to get the ball to the edge of the green but not run out way past the hole.

2. Ten yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a gap wedge to get the ball to the edge of the green and sitting quickly. The stroke is specialized: hit the shot by sliding the club underneath the ball, keeping the clubhead low at all times, especially on the follow-through, to get maximum spin.

3. Five yards to the green, ten (or more) yards to the pin. Use a 7- or 8-iron to get the ball on the green and running up to the hole.

4. Fifteen yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a sand wedge. This another specialized stroke. Power the downswing only with gravity, using your hands to guide the club into the ball. Emphasize hitting the ground directly underneath the ball with the sole of your club. When struck properly, the ball floats up, floats down, and dies right away. This shot takes practice.

If you have a tight lie for any of these shots, odds are you have good ground all the way up to the green. If so, and there are no obstacles to hit over, use a straighter-faced club and run the ball all the way to the pin.

With a tight lie and something you have to hit over, like a bunker or thick grass, play the ball back in your stance. Pinch the ball off the turf with a lofted wedge. Think only of getting the ball on the green so you can start putting.

Calibrate Your Pitching Game

The shots from 50-100 yards are hard to get right. You’re close enough that you’ll get the ball on the green. What’s hard is hitting the ball next to the pin. That means hitting it the right distance.

You can do it if you calibrate your pitching game. You’ll need a laser rangefinder and a notebook. Go to the range when there aren’t a lot of people there, because you will be switching mats all the time.

The idea is to hit your wedges with two basic strokes and find out how far the ball goes with those strokes and each club.

One stroke takes your left arm back to parallel with the ground. That’s your full pitching stroke. The other stroke takes your left arm back halfway that far. That is the short stroke.

Get in front of a marker in the range that is 60 yards away. Take out your sand wedge and pitch to it with the full stroke. Hit four or five balls with that same stroke and the same force.

If they all go too far or not far enough, keep moving to other mats until you find the one from where you pitch exactly to the marker. Then take out your rangefinder and find the distance to the marker. That’s how far you pitch your sand wedge with a full pitching stroke.

Now do the same exercise with the sand wedge and your short pitching swing. When you’re finished, you have two guaranteed pitching distances with your sand wedge. Write them down in your notebook.

Repeat both exercises with each of your other pitching clubs. I have five: 9-iron, PW, 52, 56, and 60.

When you’re finished, get a 3X5 card and write down these distances, in descending order by yards, with the club/swing combination alongside that gives you that distance. This card goes into your bag for when you play.

When I’m 78 yards from the hole, for example, I look on my card and see that the shot calls for a PW with the short stroke. And when I hit that shot, the ball stops within 10-12 feet. If it doesn’t, I mishit the shot.

Pitching close shouldn’t be guesswork. It’s easy when you know what you’re doing.

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!