The three basic types of shots you need around the green -- pitches, chips and bunker shots -- all have endless variations that require imagination and lots of short game practice. You can hit shots around the green with everything from a wedge to a fairway wood to a hybrid. You can also change the ball position and/or your hand position to change the loft and fit the situation you find yourself in. Mastering shots around the green is the fastest way to lower your scores.
The goal of a pitch shot is to lift the ball into the air to carry a bunker or heavy rough between you and the green. According to 2001 PGA Championship winner David Toms, to hit a proper pitch shot play the ball in the middle of your stance with a little more weight on your front foot. Let your wrists hinge naturally and use the same tempo for the backswing and the downswing. Don't flip your wrists to help the ball get airborne.
When you are just off the putting surface with no obstacles in front of you, hit a chip shot instead of a pitch shot, since there is less risk of error. Treat a chip shot largely as you would a putt. Use a club with enough loft to get the ball over the fringe and onto the green. Then let it run to the cup like a putt. Toms suggests using an open stance -- your foot line left of the target -- with more weight on the front foot. Take a short backswing and accelerate through the ball; deceleration can cause you to chunk a chip shot.
Although most golfers are intimidated by sand shots, you can escape from a bunker and even put the ball close to the pin if you use the right technique. Set up with an open stance -- with your feet left of the target. Position the ball off the inside of your left heel. Open the face of your sand wedge so it points right of your target. Swing the club downward and strike the sand 1 or 2 inches behind the ball -- remembering, above all else, to follow through. If you hit it properly, the ball should pop up in the air and land softly on the green, taking some sand with it.
Don't forget to use your imagination around the greens. Tiger Woods often chips with a 4-iron when he has a lot of green to work with. On the other hand, he also may use a sand wedge when he has a downhill chip to a fast green. Phil Mickelson sometimes plays flop shots with a full swing and a high-lofted wedge. And former U.S. Open winner Michael Campbell says there are four different ways to play a ball that is snuggled up against the collar: You can use the toe of your putter, blade a wedge, stroke a 3-wood or hit a wedge with a chopping motion. Experiment with different shots around a practice green to discover which types you can reproduce with consistency.