How to Develop a Good Short Game in Golf

By Brian Hill
Precision with short shots means better golf scores.
Precision with short shots means better golf scores.

Many amateur golfers believe they need to increase the length of their tee shots in order to achieve a lower score because longer drives translate into shorter, easier approach shots. But accomplished players, including tour professionals, know that the real key to consistently good scoring is mastery of the short game – the pitch and chip shots from 60 yards and in. All golfers miss a certain number of greens, making it vital to know how to consistently get down in two shots from off the green or in the bunker.

Use practice time to develop creativity and feel. Learn how to design the right shot for different types of situations. Practice from varied lies – uphill, downhill, sidehill, in thick rough, on bare ground, and over hazards such as ponds that require a high shot that spins and stops quickly when it hits the green.

Develop precise distance control. How far the ball goes is a function of the loft on the club – higher loft means a higher trajectory and shorter length – and the length of the swing you take. Determine in practice sessions how far you hit each club from 8-iron through your wedges with one-quarter, one-half and three-quarter swings. That way, when you are on the course and have a shot of 55 yards, for example, you will know how long a swing to take to produce a shot of that distance.

Overcome the natural fear of bunker shots. In "My Golden Lessons," golf legend Jack Nicklaus advises that golfers use their normal swings in bunkers, keeping it as simple as possible. Set up with the ball opposite your left heel and open your stance so your feet point left of the pin. Dig in with your feet until you feel stable. Move your hands down the grip a bit to compensate for your feet being lower. Pick a spot 2 inches behind the ball and focus on making contact with that spot. Nicklaus visualizes a rectangle of sand 6 inches long beneath the ball. His goal is to remove this rectangle when he contacts the sand, propelling the ball up and out.

Practice putting using drills for distance and accuracy. The ladder drill combines both. Place a ball at 1 foot, 2 feet, 3 feet and so on in a straight line from the hole. Start with the 1-foot putt and work your way back. If you miss a putt, start over from 1 foot.

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