Tag Archives: pitching

Short Game Shore Up

solveIs 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!

CAUTION!! The Domino Effect of Golf Drills

CautionHave you ever worked a golf drill, fixed a fault, and then watched the drill negatively impact a previously solid part of your game?  Like a time bomb, one of these exploded in my face over the last two days of an otherwise excellent golf trip to the Delaware – Maryland beaches.  On my excursion, I experienced the most god awful episode of skulled, thinned, chunked and totally stone-handed chipping and pitching in the last 20 years.  Oddly enough, I drove the ball superbly, putted well, but if I missed a green, couldn’t hit squat.  It was literally 30-handicap caliber chopping and the bemused looks of my playing partners spoke volumes.  (Apologies to any 30-handicap readers; the problem is not you; it’s me.)  Technically I knew I was flipping my hands at the ball and letting the clubface pass my hands, but I couldn’t stop it.  This was not the chip yips because I didn’t feel any pressure even though the previous failures had gotten in my head; I simply could not execute shots I knew were in my arsenal.

On the drive back today, we were still bemusing over the root cause until I remembered back in August, I read Tour Tempo by John Novosel and took it for a test drive.   Little did I know but this drill to help with ball striking rhythm was sowing the seeds of the catastrophe.  If you’ll recall, Novosel’s theory is to introduce a 3:1 backswing to downswing timing ratio.  Most students, myself included, needed to speed up their downswing to comply with the the ratio.  After a few rounds, I noticed I started to hit my full swing gap wedge shots a little fat but disregarded it as an anomaly or something that occasionally creeps into my game which is handled with a correction.  After further analyzing the wreckage, I correctly identified the cause as an early release created in an attempt to speed up my downswing for Tour Tempo.  To be fair, there’s another Tour Tempo book for short game, that I did not read, and which purportedly has a different timing mechanism for short shots.  Oops!

Everyone who’s instructed or been instructed in golf is familiar with the concept of over-correction.  You over emphasize a fix to clearly turn a negative habit to positive, then tweak as the over-correction becomes a fault of its own.  Now I’ve got a bit of an early release with my full swing and a full blown mess with my short game.  I’m kinda glad winter is almost here, but anyone have a good drill to promote hands ahead of the clubhead with the greenside shots?  Please send along.  Thanks!

Book review: The Art of the Short Game by Stan Utley

I read The Art of the Short Game (Gotham Books – 2007) over the Christmas holiday and actually tried out the techniques at my local muni’s practice green, and wow!  YOU NEED TO GET THIS BOOK!   Those who follow this blog know I’m a big proponent of short game and continuously look for and share valid methods for improvement.  The infusion of life this book had on my chipping and pitching technique was remarkable.

Stan Utley is a journeyman pro turned short game/putting guru, and has put together a system that simplifies the approach to playing chips, pitches and bunker shots that’s easy to implement and is tremendously effective.  In two hours of practice I found my distance control and consistency of contact and direction significantly improved.   For chipping and pitching, Utley’s main premise is to keep everything square to the target line (club face, hands, feet, knees, shoulders) and make a mini-golf swing that includes a pivot.  This is counter to a lot of conventional chipping advice whereby you play from an open stance, keep the ball back and the lower body still and essentially make a arm swing with a short iron.  He also advocates using your sand wedge for all shots around the green rather than switching clubs based on the distance required for carry and roll.  This was a significant paradigm shift for me but after practicing with the altered technique, I was easily able to control the distance on longer chips with my 56 degree wedge.

The pitch is simply a longer extension of the chip, with a bit more pivot supplying the power.  Admittedly, the 30-40 yard sand wedge shot is the weakest part of my game but I was able to dial in amazingly well with the technique.  I was not able to practice the bunker play recommendations and they are significantly different from conventional advice.  I would advise to first spend some time on the chipping technique and convince yourself the method works before moving to pitching and bunker play.  So get the book,  you will not regret it.  Here are my practice notes for the chipping techniques just to get you started.  Good luck!  Now go wear out your carpet.

  1. Setup with a neutral grip with the Vs in both hands pointing towards your right collarbone.
  2. Square the club face at the target
  3. Play from a square stance; it’s okay to flare out your left toe for comfort
  4. Position the ball in the middle of your stance, not in the back
  5. Shade 2/3 of your weight on your forward foot and keep it there throughout the shot
  6. Forward press your hands so they are even with your front thigh
  7. Allow for a small hip turn away from the ball on the back swing
  8. Initiate the downswing with your hips turning slightly toward the target
  9. Your hands will naturally be pulled toward the target and lead the club face towards solid contact.