Category Archives: short game

A New Look at Bunker Shots

I have a real problem with bunkers. I work hard to make ball-first, ground-second contact from the fairway. But in the bunker, that’s just what you’re not supposed to do. They all tell us to hit one, two inches behind the ball. In other words, hit it fat.

And I just can’t bring myself to do that. Consequently, I’m lousy out of bunkers. Terry Koehler to the rescue.

Terry is a club designer who also writes a periodic column for GolfWRX. In one of his recent posts, he advises us to hit the ball and the sand at the same time.

This is exactly what I do when I hit out of a fairway bunker, a shot I am as good at as I am bad in a greenside bunker. Which in both cases is “really.”

My problem is there isn’t a practice bunker within miles of my house, so I can’t try it out. The only practice I get in a bunker is when my first attempt doesn’t work and the ball is still in it, so I get to try again. But maybe there is one near where you live and you can see if it improves matters.

You know, the touring pros say the bunker shot is the easiest one there is. If that’s so, why do we have so much of a problem with it?

If you’re a hopeless case in a bunker like I am, maybe Terry’s new approach will turn things around for you.

Two Vital Short Game Tips

Short game swings are not abbreviated versions of the full swing. The pitching and chipping strokes are each their own animal.

Two things are common to both of them, though.

Light grip pressure. Slower tempo.

These are finesse shots. You are not banging the ball. You are caressing it.

This is where the short game begins:

Light grip pressure. Slower tempo.

How I Stopped Shanking Pitch Shots

For the longest time I would shank pitch shots. Not constantly, but occasionally, and I never knew when one would pop out.

I tried everything I could think of to fix it. Nothing worked. So I gave up and signed up for a lesson.

The pro said, “Let me see you hit a couple.” So I hit four or five 65-yard pitches as pretty as you please.

Then he said, “Hit them half that distance.”

I did, and sure enough, on the third try, the ball went shooting off low and to the right.

I turned to him said, “There it is!”

He said, “That wasn’t a shank.”

I said, “Then what was it?”

He said, “Your clubface was wide open.”

“You’re opening the clubface when you take the club back, and sometimes you don’t get it closed, so the clubface is still wide open when you make contact. The ball goes where the clubface points.”

So he taught me a radically a different pitching stroke that I’m not going to try to describe to you because this YouTube video with Lee Trevino shows you exactly the stroke the pro taught me.

If you shank pitches there’s a chance you are really doing the same thing I was doing and this is the cure.

Watch how Trevino doesn’t break his wrists when he takes the club back at 0:38. There is NO WRIST SET. The shaft and the left arm are in a straight line (3:27). That is the key.

This is a Steve Stricker video. Watch the whole video, it’s short, but pay attention at 1:10. No wrist set, as he says.

It is said that the long pitching stroke is a miniature swing. Not true. Not true at all. They are entirely different strokes and need to learned separately.

These are the key feelings I have identified after working on this shot for several months. The left arm (right arm, for you lefties) stays straight when you take it back. That arm feels like it is reaching out to the side, not swinging up in a circle.

The club feels like the shaft is sticking straight out to the side and the wrists have not broken at all. If you look, you will find neither of those things are true, but it will feel like they are.

Then you turn and swing the arms/hands/club assembly through the ball without changing any of these feelings I have described. Without changing the feelings. But do not force them.

Not only do I not hit those shooters anymore, but I am deadly accurate. If I get lined up at the pin that’s exactly where the ball goes.

You can do that to.


Note: Some of you are having trouble seeing the videos. They show up just fine on my iMac. Here are the links to the videos. If you can’t see them in the blog, let me know, tell me how you are viewing the blog, and I will try to fix it. Thank you very much.



The Fundamental Short Game Strategy

Bobby Jones said, “The secret of golf is turning three strokes into two.” That’s the goal.

The fundamental strategy for putting you on the road to achieving that goal is this:

From close in, get the ball on the green with one shot. Getting the ball near to the pin is a secondary goal.

That does not contradict Jones’s dictum. It is the only way it can be achieved.

Short Irons For Your Short Game

Every time I go out to play golf I learn something. I hope you do, too. Today I learned some thing about pitching and long chipping.

Yesterday I was at the range with a driver and a 9-iron. I use the 9-iron to help me maintain a controlled swing with the driver. If my driver swing is getting out of hand, a few swings the 9-iron brings it back down to earth.

But I put the 9 to use, too. I hit pitches to distances where I would normally use different wedges. They worked out OK. I used a longer or shorter swing, and it was easy to get the distance right.

Today when I played I thought I would use the 9 to pitch on two shots from 89 yards and 59 yards. They worked out pretty well. I got close enough to the hole where the putt was makeable if I could putt worth a lick and the greens hadn’t been sanded a few days earlier.

Then there are those long chips from 20-30 yards off the green. I had a few of those. I thought, what the heck, let me try the short irons here, too. They worked really well. By short irons, I mean 8, 9, and pitching wedge.

The upshot is that I hit short irons to good effect in situations where I would have normally gone straight to my wedges. In addition, I found the short irons easier to hit than the wedges would have been.

Try it for yourself. See if you like the results. There’s no need to be wedded to wedges (but no need to drop them, either). Give yourself options.

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.

(Actually, the recovery is not amazing. Any one of us could have hit that shot. What’s amazing is that the ball didn’t roll into the water.)

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.


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.