It is common for average golfers to inflate their scores with a bad short game. It can be relatively simple to smash the ball off the tee and then use a long iron or two to get the ball within a few yards of the green. But once the green is in sight, many golfers find it difficult to get the ball up and down for par.
Chipping or Pitching?
A common dilemma for golfers in their short game is deciding when to pitch and when to chip. If you have very little green to work with then pitching may be dangerous. If you overshoot the target and do not put enough backspin on the ball then you could be off the green on the other side. A good rule of thumb is to chip when you want to roll the ball up to the hole, and pitch when you need the ball to land and stop in a tight spot. You can also use distance as a determining factor as well. If you are 10 yards or less to the pin then chip. Beyond 10 yards and you should pitch. In some cases it may come down to personal preference. Phil Mickelson is famous for his ability to stop a pitch on a dime, while Tiger Woods is one of the best chippers in the world. If you have a higher comfort level with one over the other then follow your instincts.
The Right Club for the Job
Never assume that the only clubs you can use for your short game are your sand wedge, your pitching wedge and your putter. Take some time on the driving range to see what you can do with a 7-iron when you choke up on it. If you find yourself in the woods surrounded by trees and your only way out is to burn a low shot under some branches, then you are not going to want to use a club with the loft of a wedge. Choking up on a long or medium range iron will allow you the control to keep the ball low, and the loft on the club will give you the punch you need to get the ball out. Experiment and learn how to use the right club for the job.
Many golfers make the mistake of thinking that professional golfers dig up a divot either before they hit the ball, or while they are hitting the ball. If you take up a divot before you strike the ball then you are going to hit the ball fat and it will not go anywhere you want it to. Taking up a divot while you are hitting the ball means you got way under the ball and it will probably roll 10 feet in front of you. A proper divot is taken up after the ball is struck. In order to get the spin you need on the ball in your short game, you must make contact with the ball before you make contact with the ground. A divot is essential to a good iron shot because it indicates that you had the proper follow through. When you are practicing on the range, work on making solid contact with your short irons to get that spin you need. You will feel a huge difference between creating a divot at the wrong spot in your swing, and when you create a divot in the right spot of your swing.