Two weeks ago, I took my first golf lesson of the season. It was on short game. Over the many years of my golf career, I’ve had countless full swing lessons but only received a couple tips on short game from teaching professionals. As I finished up and stacked my clubs into the trunk, I had two thoughts: I’m filled with hope and optimism, and why did I ever wait this long.
The lesson started with me spilling my guts for five minutes on what was wrong with my short game. I enjoy this approach to teaching and learning because you need to clearly identify what you are solving for and my pro is not presumptuous in any way. He always asks. My laundry list:
- My wedge game was good from 40 to 100 yards based on the full swing work that we did last year. From 40 to green side with my pitching I was clueless. I avoided that yardage like the plague. Inside 40, I would go back and forth on technique and approach and was thoroughly confused.
- On my chipping, I was slightly better but have always struggled with playing too defensively. I want to attack the hole but many of my chips continually come up short and I often struggle with direction and hitting my spot.
- I thought my chipping technique was sound, but last season I had to remove my fitted set of Cleveland wedges (50, 54, 58) for my old SW (56) and old GW (49) because of confidence problems. The previous season, I had hit a couple of s#@nks with the 54 and had that image burned in my mind.
- I was confused and constantly changing my pre-shot routine to try and get better feel for shots but nothing worked consistently. I struggled to visualize my shots.
In short, I thought I knew how to hit all the shots but could never seem to pull them off. I have often wondered how I maintain a low single-digit handicap with a short game as bad as mine. In retrospect, I have probably played overly conservative into the greens to avoid as much trouble as possible. Not necessarily a bad approach, but not conducive to going low. I wondered how good I could get if I ever learned to attack the hole. All this came out before I struck a single shot.
Then we started. First, he had me chip from the fringe for a distant hole and asked me what clubs I normally chip with. I told him my 56, PW, and 8-iron, and selected the 8 for this shot. I chipped a few. Most were off line and my distance was long. He told me we needed to work on three changes: Make a swing that I controlled with my body by rotating my chest, try to hit with a consistent pace regardless of club selection, and get the ball rolling as soon as possible because roll is easier to judge than flight. For this shot, he had me switch to the 50, move the ball position back to my right big toe, forward press the handle a bit, and shade more of my weight forward. Then I made a smaller swing by just turning my chest and presto! I started seeing a small divot, generating backspin, and hitting straight shots that flew considerably lower even though the 50 has more loft than the 8-iron. We then started working in shots with the 54 and 58 based on the various distances to alternate holes, but with every shot, I hit it with the same pace and technique, and attempt to get it rolling quickly. I noticed while hitting all these shots that I had not been using a practice swing, and had just been lining up the shots from behind and executing – interesting! My ability to visualize the shot was returning because it was the same shot, very little change in trajectory, and just a different distance to the various targets. It was easy to implement. My head was clearing. I was feeling good.
Next, we moved back to the dreaded zone. Pitching. His message was clear, we were going to use the same technique but make a slightly bigger swing and move the ball position up a bit (about ¾ back). Again, we were still trying to flight the ball lower than what I was used to, control the shot with spin, and take a divot. As we altered targets we simply adjusted the amount of carry with club selection. Using the 50, 54, and 58, pitching became almost routine. What the hell was so hard about this?
What’s great about a 1×1 professional lesson is that you can ask your pro all the dumb little questions you’ve always wondered about. I inquired, “When you are green side and need to hit a high pitch, do you first grip the club normally and rotate your hands to open the blade, or open the blade first, then grip the club?” He told me it was the latter, which I had never done. We finished up by throwing balls all around the green into different distances and lies and having me practice selecting a club to fit the shot and simply executing on my new technique. It was a fantastic lesson.
Going forward, we are changing my club make up. Out are the old SW, GW, and 5WD and in are the three wedges I learned with. I can also use my PW (46) and 8-iron for longer chips and simply need to move the ball position forward of my right toe for those two clubs.
Of course, what followed the next weekend was a small snowstorm in the DMV and I haven’t had the chance to practice any of this until today. I’m full of hope, chomping at the bit and need to get cracking because our trip to Myrtle Beach is just two months out!