If you think back to your last good round of golf, odds are you’ll envision a number of solid drives and approach shots. We bet you’ll also remember making a few excellent par saves or maybe draining a birdie putt or two you normally would have no business making. And if you recount your last poor round of golf, it’s likely you’ll conjure images of errant drives and sloppy iron shots, combined with recovery attempts that failed to get you on the green and into the hole. For low scores, the short game is key. Deft pitching, chipping, bunker play and putting are necessary ingredients to not only besting par, but also keeping your score level when wayward shots do arise. To help you become more of a short-game artist, we combed past issues of Golf Tips and pulled what we feel are our best greenside tips ever from our top short-game instructors. So read on and watch your scores magically drop.
1. Make Error Room
Bunker shots should be right-hand dominated. Make swings with your left hand in your pocket to ingrain proper feel. Also be aware that sand shots don’t need to be perfectly struck—you only have to hit near the ball. For any bunker blast, let the club do the work. A sand wedge’s sole is designed to guide the club under the golf ball, which will send the ball up and on its way. If you aim two to three inches behind the ball, you’ll give yourself plenty of room for error.
2. Thud The Sand
There’s a certain sound to a good sand shot—a thud, if you will. Compare that with a dig or a skim, which sound nothing like a good, healthy bunker blast. The thud sound is achieved only by allowing the sole portion of the clubhead to bounce aggressively into the sand and accelerate through. You can’t make a thud if you try to sweep or pick the ball.
3. Pop It In
For improved putting, combine the features of the classic pop stroke and the modern shoulder stroke. Grip the putter with your left index finger resting atop the fingers of your right hand. Use your left index finger to begin the stroke, allowing your right wrist to hinge (pop stroke). Move the whole system forward using your right palm as the push force (as in the piston stroke). The pop-piston stroke makes it easy to square the putterface through impact and works well on slower greens.
4. Swing Upright For Height
For all bunker shots, swing away from the ball on an upright plane. This will create the leverage needed to bounce the sole into the sand and help you hit the ball higher and land softer.
5. Fold The Left Elbow On The Followthrough
This may be one of the most overlooked secrets to great sand play. The left elbow must fold immediately following impact. By folding the left elbow, the clubhead will release easily through the ball and send it on a higher-than-normal trajectory, exactly what you want from tricky greenside bunkers.
Also be aware that, unlike most shots in golf, the clubface shouldn’t close on the followthrough in the sand. The feel is that you’re hitting a slice, with the clubface purposely held open for as long as possible. This helps to slide the clubface under the ball, as well as to get the ball airborne quickly.
6. Triple Play
If your current grip places too much of the handle in your fingers, you’ll need to adjust it so more of the grip fits in your palms. Furthermore, you should make a second alteration to ensure that your hands function as a single unit. Try this: After placing your hands on the handle, slide the lower hand up until the pinkie, forefinger and middle finger rest atop your lead hand. This triple overlap grip effectively quiets the movement of the dominant hand (the right hand for right-handers) during the stroke. A less-active dominant side translates into better grip pressure and keeps the hands working together. In addition, placing the grip in your palms helps prevent tension and positions your thumbs on top of the grip, which will heighten your feel and control.
7. Shake Hands
One of the best lessons you can learn is, In golf, you shake hands like a gentleman. Most golfers, however, high-five. In other words, they swing from low to high following impact. In all swings, especially shorter ones, hit down and through the ball so that in the postimpact position, your hands are still below your waist. For better wedge shots, follow impact by shaking hands with your target.
8. Putter Blast
An awkward situation where your putter can come in handy is when the ball is buried in the face of a bunker. This lie can be almost impossible to escape from, especially with a wedge, which often forces the ball farther into the sand. But if you turn your putter counterclockwise so that the toe points toward the ball, your putter can become a valuable bunker tool. To execute this play, simply set up with the ball in the middle of your stance, and assume your normal full-swing grip. Take the club up abruptly, and come down with a limited followthrough, just as you would when hitting a punch shot. If you make contact with the sand just in back of the ball, it should come out like a normal bunker shot. Keep in mind that heel-toe-style putters work best with this technique.
9. Eye Your Putts
Choosing the right line is a challenging task made difficult by optical illusions. These illusions arise when you gauge the line from your putting stance. You’ll always get a better read with the head in an upright position, not turned sideways. Always read your putts from behind the ball. Once you settle into your stance, give the line one more look, being careful not to tilt your head sideways. Keep your head up and rotate it so that your mind can redraw the line on the green.
10. Save Face
You won’t drain many putts if you set up with an open or closed face, regardless of the quality of your stroke. For a perfectly perpendicular setup, look to the leading edge of your putter, or make use of the club’s painted sight lines or natural aiming lines. Consider these lines when shopping for a new putter. Find a putter that feels good, of course, but also one that’s easy to align. We’re all likely to try something that works well for our playing partners or our favorite Tour player. Don’t fall into that trap. Experiment and find a putter that works for you. It may be something you’d never consider owning.
11. Right-To-Left Putts
On a right-to-left-breaking putt, set up with the ball slightly back (about two ball widths) in your stance and with your hands ahead of the ball so that the shaft leans forward. These adjustments will encourage a stroke that comes to the ball on a slightly inside-to-square path (right). More importantly, it minimizes the likelihood of cutting across the ball and pulling it left—the low side—of the hole.
12. Straight Putts
On a straight putt, focus on keeping the puttershaft in a perfectly vertical position at setup and impact (see photo at left). This will help you utilize the putter’s loft and impart a true roll.
13. Left-To-Right Putts
Position the ball forward by two ball widths and keep your hands behind the ball so that the shaft tilts slightly away from the hole. From here, it’s next to impossible to push the putt. Instead, your putter will travel along a square-to-square path.
14. Choke Down
To help prevent fat chips and pitches, try the under-reach technique. Begin by assuming your address position, with your arms hanging to their natural length. Choke down on the club about an inch, and hover the club just off the ground as you get ready to execute the shot. The combination of choking the grip and hovering the club will help you guard against hitting the shot fat. When you finally make a swing, simply concentrate on contacting the bottom half of the ball.
15. Pitch It Close
To keep poor chips (evidenced by the wrist breakdown at left) at bay, you need an abrupt takeaway and relatively steep downswing. To learn this technique, try laying a headcover down a couple of feet behind the ball at setup. Practice taking your backswing without making contact with the headcover. This will force the desired, abrupt takeaway and steep downswing, leading to better contact and increased spin.
16. Stroke Chips
Try chipping with a true linear motion, just as you do when stroking a putt. This is a much easier motion than that required for a standard chip. First, hold your wedge in the same manner as you’d hold your putter, with the grip in your fingers and your thumbs running directly down the top of the shaft. Next, position your body over the ball and assume the same stance as you do when putting, with your eyes directly over the golf ball. To execute a true linear chipping stroke, simply rock your shoulders and sweep the clubhead back and then through. This linear movement will make those delicate pitch shots easier to control.
17. Chop It Out
If you find yourself with a treacherous lie in long, wet grass, consider the chop shot. With your most lofted club, address the ball so that it’s in the center of your stance and with the majority of your weight positioned over your front foot. As for the swing, just think about the motion you’d use to chop wood. Make both on the backswing and the downswing as steep as you can. The key to this shot is the lack of followthrough—swing to impact only. This will augment your steep arc and allow the loft of the club to carry the ball high and help it land softly.
18. Perfect Pitch
If you master the key elements of pitching and chipping, you’ll discover an immediate improvement in your scores. One of these key elements is to move your back knee toward your front knee as you transfer your weight to your front side on the downswing. The rear knee should move forward in time with the downward motion of the clubhead so that, at impact, your weight is evenly distributed over both sides of your body. The mental image of two cymbals placed on the inside of both knees clanging at the point of contact is one that helps many golfers attain a solid pitch impact position.
19. Apply Pressure
Consistent grip pressure during the putting stroke is crucial for good execution. One way to help maintain consistent grip pressure is to learn to create equal inward force in both hands. This should be a result of one hand applying inward force equal to that applied by the opposite hand throughout the stroke. On the takeaway (for right-handed golfers), the left hand should apply pressure toward the right hand while the right hand resists. On the forwardstroke, the right hand should push toward the left hand while the left hand provides equal and opposite resistance. To get a feel for this equal inward pressure, open your hands with your palms facing each other. Place a closed book between your two open palms and assume your putting stance. A dictionary should do the trick. Make a putting stroke back and through without dropping the book. Can you feel the equal inward pressure in both hands? While doing this drill, your shoulders should naturally rock back and forth. Learn the sensation of inward, even pressure with both hands, and your putting stroke—and scores—should improve dramatically.
20. Grip Weak For Strong Lobs
Few shots on the golf course are more satisfying than a well-executed flop shot. Unfortunately, unless you’re Phil Mickelson, the risk is probably not worth the reward. There’s very little margin for error. With the wrong lie, you can swing the club under the ball without advancing it. And, with such a big swing, you’re liable to hit an 80-yard screamer if you catch it thin. Here’s an alternative technique to try the next time you need a wedge shot to fly high and land softly. Weaken your left-hand grip (for right-handers), turning your hand under the club so that your left palm faces more toward the sky. With your left hand in this weakened position, the clubface will remain open through the hitting zone and your shot will be shorter and fly higher than normal and land like a butterfly with sore feet.
21. Ride The Rails
You’ll enjoy the best putting results with a stroke that travels straight back and through along the target line. To build such a stroke, position two yardsticks on the ground so that the head of your putter barely fits between them, with about a 1__ã4-inch margin on each side. You’ll be using a ball in this drill, so you’ll need a target. I recommend using something significantly smaller than an actual hole—a quarter, for instance, or the leg of a chair. Your target should be six to 10 feet away. Concentrate on keeping the putterhead inside the two yardsticks, or rails. If you do, you’ll increase your chances of striking the ball directly on the sweet spot, and hitting the ball on the sweet spot is absolutely essential for gaining not only accuracy, but distance control.
22. Straight Arm
Keep your left arm straight may be an overused swing thought, but it’s very useful for greenside chips. From the light rough around the green, try this technique: Using a 7-iron, take a narrow stance, keeping the majority of your weight on your front foot. With your hands forward, make a simple pendulum swing. Accelerate through the ball into a finish that’s as long or slightly longer than your backswing. Above all, keep that left arm straight well into your finish. If you keep your wrist firm, you’ll experience consistent, squared contact (adjust for distance by the length of your backswing).
23. Pitching Setup
Hitting crisp pitch shots begins with hitting down on the ball, and good players know that to hit down, they need to set up on top of the ball. Good pitchers assume a narrow stance with the ball positioned in the middle or back of the stance and with their weight favoring the front leg. This setup places the head on top of the ball and the hands in front of the golf ball. It also promotes a downward angle of attack, facilitating ball-first contact. The tendency with a high-handicapper is to try to lift the ball in the air. As such, most amateurs lean back on the rear foot at address and scoop the ball at impact. This setup promotes a sweeping motion, which can lead to fat and thin pitches.
24. Four-Line Setup
Unlike the golf swing, there are almost no centrifugal forces at work in the putting stroke. Therefore, whatever you do at address pretty much determines what you’ll do with the putter during the stroke.
In studying the best players on Tour, it’s easy to find common denominators in both their setup positions and strokes. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, common traits run rampant in the setup positions of great performers on the green. Four lines define these commonalities.
1 The first line runs from the eyes to the inside edge of the golf ball. When the eyes are in alignment over the inside edge of the golf ball, the player is better able to line up the putter to his or her target and visually track the line on which the ball will travel.
2 The second line runs from the shoulders straight down through the arms and hands. When the hands and arms are in alignment under the shoulders, the player can swing them back and through naturally, creating the optimal putterhead path.
3 The third line bisects the center of the hips and the heels. The proper alignment of the hips and heels creates balance and stability during the stroke. When a player is centered, stable and in balance, he or she can attain consistent, solid contact.
4 The fourth line is drawn from the puttershaft through the inside edge of the forearms. This line is achieved by placing the grip of the putter more through the palms than in the fingers. By aligning the shaft and the forearms, a single lever is created, resulting in optimal control during the stroke.
25. Flatten It Out
Establishing and maintaining a flat left wrist throughout the putting stroke is the key to rolling the ball consistently. For one, it keeps the left wrist from rotating, and if the wrist doesn’t rotate, the putterface can’t open or close. One thing you can do to encourage a flat left wrist in your putting stroke is to use a shorter putter (33 inches should do the trick). This will allow your left arm (and everything attached) to hang straight from the shoulder. Also, position the ball off the front foot. This will flatten the left wrist and help line it up with the outside of the left shoulder.