Is any part of your golf game creating a blocker for full enjoyment? The short game has been my nemesis for years; so much to the point that it was totally inside my head and rendering me incompetent when I got within 30 yards of a putting green. Up until today, I knew my problem was mental. The main symptom was coming up short with chips and pitches. For some reason, I could not get the ball to the hole and my continual failures were beginning to affect other areas of my game. These were not exclusively in-game failures, as I experienced the symptoms during practice too. I knew it was not technique related because I had the shots, I just could not execute. Has this ever happened to you?
My method of playing and practicing short game has evolved over the years in an effort to combat the failures. I used to practice with a bag shag and drop about 60 balls in a spot and hit different shots with the same club over and over in an attempt to perfect technique. This single club method is advocated by some short game gurus most notably Stan Utley, in The Art of the Short Game. After reading his book, I used to try and feel the distance to the hole with a practice swing but would come up short on the shot. Then I tried chipping to an intermediate landing spot, but would miss my spot short. Recently, I tried to adjust by making a concerted effort to play approach shots to the correct side of the hole and leave myself an uphill chip or pitch, and this strategy worked well from a game management perspective, except I couldn’t even execute the simplest uphill chip and get the ball to the hole. What to do?
I have been rightly accused in the past of over-tinkering with parts of my game, but when a subsystem was as broken as my short game, I felt justified in trashing the whole approach and starting fresh. First I changed where I practiced. I got away from one local muni where I had practiced for years. It was often too crowded and was utilized by beginner clinics and folks with poor practice etiquette. I moved to a course that was harder and was patronized by higher caliber players. This was important because I could disassociate all ties to my previous short game, get some more space to work, and practice uninterrupted.
Next, I got away from the Utley methodology and started altering clubs on every shot. For example, I took three balls and hit for the same flag with a sand wedge, pitching wedge, and 7-iron. I would try to feel the distance to the hole with each club and not hit towards a landing spot. I immediately noticed an improvement in concentration and confidence and view this as a critical breakthrough. Clearly the solve was mental and I’m not sure why it worked but am guessing it had something to do with improved visualization, minimizing air time on the shots and maximizing roll, and ignoring mechanics. Essentially, I transformed myself into a feel player.
Today, before my round, I warmed up on the practice green alternating clubs on every shot and using three balls. I actually chipped / pitched with every club in my bag from the 6-iron on up and my concentration was razor sharp. Out on the course, I was faced with a mix of easy and difficult shots and executed quite well on each. What a pleasant surprise.
Going forward, I have a little trepidation because the sample size has been small and the methodology is so new, but am filled with hope and excitement about the possibilities.
The benefit of playing golf for over 40 years is that you have the opportunity to screw things up and keep trying new fixes until one works. I overhauled my putting routine over a year ago and have been enjoying excellent results. If I’m half as successful with this short game change, golf is going to become a lot more enjoyable real soon!