Most golfers understand the importance of the short game and its impact on the “scoring” aspect of the game. What most players do not realize is the fact that there are three distinctly different short game shots. Putting, Chipping, and Pitching. These 3 shots are all done inside of 50 yards of the hole but all three have there own set of pre-swing and in-swing fundamentals. I would like to go into detail on each of these shots and explain some of their unique features.
I have studied many of the great putters through history and have found that most of them do two things extremely well. They are experts at reading greens, and they understand how important it is to focus more on speed than anything else. These two thoughts are crucial to being a great putter. I’ve found that most amateurs tend to place too much emphasis on the line of their putts and forget about the speed. No matter how good your read is you need the correct speed to avoid three putting or missing good birdie opportunities. The key to reading greens is to focus on the last ten feet of your putt. The ball will be rolling very slowly at this point and will be affected much more by the green contours. It is also important to establish a “high” side and a “low’ side of your putt. By erring to the high side you will give luck a chance to happen. Missing on the “low” side makes the ball finish away from the hole, while missing on the “high” side makes it finish toward the hole.
It amazes me how many golfers still reach for their sand wedge or lob wedge no matter where they are around the green. A simple general rule should apply to every short game situation. If you have green to work with chip, if you have very little green between your ball and the hole pitch. The chip is a low running shot that is not in the air very long. Generally a good club selection would be an eight or nine iron depending on your lie. If the lie is bad then a more lofted club may be required. Chipping is very similar to putting, and many great chippers actually use their putting grip to chip. This helps your hands work together and helps avoid excessive wrist action. Ball position is a very important part of this shot as it impacts trajectory and roll. For a right handed golfer your ball position should be well right of center off of your back foot. This will keep your trajectory low and increase roll. The actual swing should be short but fluid with a slight follow through.
Under certain situations where you have minimal green to work with or an obstacle to hit over the pitch shot is your best option. Generally speaking if you can’t putt then chip, and if you can’t chip then pitch. It is the lowest percentage of all three shots to execute due to the length of the swing and the touch required. The best way to view this shot is to think of it as a miniature full swing. The majority of miss-hits from pitching the golf ball are caused by deceleration, which happens when the down swing is slower than the backswing. By being deliberate with your backswing the chances of acceleration through impact are much greater. This acceleration gives the ball a higher trajectory and increases spin. Club selection is also important, with the lob wedge or sand wedge being used a majority of the time. Ball position is equally important when pitching to create a high shot. Keep the ball left of center to get the true loft off your wedge, anything right of center (for a right-handed golfer) will bring the trajectory lower.
So as you can see, understanding the differences between the three distinct short game shots will help you be decisive and promote confidence around the greens. It has been my experience to learn that the short game is 10% technique and 90% touch. Which means get to know the short game practice area, it’s your fastest route to lower scores.