Category Archives: short game

Three Valuable Greenside Shots

You don’t always get a garden variety chip when you miss the green. Here are three sticky situations and what to do about them. You will probably be using one of them every time you play.

1. Say your ball is on an upslope of some kind. You have to hit over the crest of the slope and have a significant way to the pin. Swinging parallel to the slope will turn your 54-degree wedge into a 64-degree wedge and the ball won’t go anywhere.

Instead, pick the wedge you want to use with to the distance the ball has to travel horizontally to get to the hole. Swing straight into the slope. There will be only a small follow-through. The ball will pop up and forward, and run softly to the hole. This is the shot that Fred Couples hit on the 12th hole on Sunday at Augusta when he won the Masters in 1992.

2. If the ball lies instead on a downslope, the fear is that you won’t get the leading edge of the club underneath the ball, and blade it across the green.

Take a wedge that is more lofted than you would normally use for the distance the ball has to travel. Put the ball back in your stance, so far back that it is well outside your trailing foot. You’ll have to reach back to get the club to the ball. Raise the clubhead up and chop gently down on the back of the ball, driving the wedge into the ground. The ball will pop forward with lots of spin. 

3. When you’re seriously short-sided and you can’t run the ball along the ground for any reason, hit a mini-flop.

Take a sand wedge and set up with the ball in the center of your stance and the club shaft straight up and down, that is, not leaning toward the hole. Take the club back low and bring it through the ball low and slow with no wrist action. Try to slide the club underneath the ball without disturbing it. You can’t do that, of course, but you will get a gentle hit that eases the ball forward with little spin. It will land and go nowhere. A cushion of grass underneath the ball is desirable. 

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.

A Valuable Wedge Shot

This might happen to you once a round: you’re about five to ten yards off the green, the hole is near the edge (not much green to work with), and you have to get the ball over something (a bunker, a mound, heavy grass or weeds, etc.). In other words, you can’t run the ball onto the green. You have to fly it on and make it stop right now.

Without a solution, all you can do is hit on and watch the ball run way past the hole and face the Mother of Two-Putts coming back.

Well, here’s the solution. You have to have this shot in your bag, and not many people do.

1. Take out a wedge with at least 56 degrees of loft. Open the face (by twirling the handle in your hands, not by rotating your hands). The less distance over ground you have to cover, the more you open the face. You’ll have to practice to find out just how much.

2. Open your stance until the clubface is square to your target again. Put the ball in the center of your stance. No shaft lean—keep it vertical.

3. Swing along your stance line, brushing the sole of the club along the ground as you hit the ball. Do not try to hit down on the ball. Do not try to lift the ball in the air by hitting up with your right hand. The open clubface will get the ball in the air for you very nicely. Keep the clubface facing the sky on the follow-through.

In the first photo, I’m set up for a standard, straight-ahead pitch. The ball is in the center of my stance, and the clubface is square to the target line (yellow stake). Notice the piece of straw just above my left toe.

In the second photo, I have opened the clubface and rotated my stance (see the straw) so (a) the ball is still in the center of my stance and (b) the clubface is still square to the target line. I will swing along my stance line (orange stake).

(Click photos to enlarge)

Since the clubface is open, you’ll have to hit the ball harder than you think you should to get the ball to go the distance you want it to. Practice will get you used to how hard that is.

The ball will get in the air with lots of spin, land, and roll out only a very little distance. Depending on the circumstances, the ball might run past the hole, but you should have a makeable putt coming back.

This shot requires practice. Lots of it. Once you have learned it, though, you have a major and common problem around the green solved.

Then when you use this shot to get up and down on the course and one of the other members of your foursome asks, “How did you do that,” you say, “Oh, it’s just something I picked up.”

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

Control your tempo by starting the club forward at the same speed with which you brought it up.

Do not let the suspension point move.

Your hands must lead the clubhead into the ball. Accomplish this by feeling the butt end of the handle moving leftward from the start of the forward swing through impact.

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.