Short Game Tips for Golf

By Brian Hill
Saving strokes around the greens is critical to recording a good score.
Saving strokes around the greens is critical to recording a good score.

The short game in golf refers to shots around the green such as pitches, chips and shots from greenside bunkers. Mastering the short game through practice is the most effective way to lower your scores. The difficulty of the short game is that it requires creativity as well as an understanding of proper technique. But that's also the fun--using your imagination and your skill to consistently get the ball close to the hole and save strokes.

The Secrets of Spin

A ball with spin on it stops quickly when it hits the green, and sometimes even backs up. Being able to put spin on the ball with wedge shots allows you to cope with situations where you have a small target to hit and can’t play shots with a lot of roll, such as a shot over a bunker where there is only a small area of green between the sand and the pin. To put more spin on a wedge shot, open your stance so your left foot is pointing left of your target line. Shift your weight more to your left side than you normally would. Make your swing more upright and hit the ball with a sharp, descending blow that sends the ball up quickly into the air. Don’t use a “scooping” action. Keep your hands and wrists firm at impact, and let the loft of the wedge create the right trajectory. Contact the ball before the turf. This will result in a shallow divot. Before each round, make sure the grooves on your wedges are clean. Dirt in the grooves impairs your ability to create spin.

Learn Three Perfect Pitches

Most golfers know they can hit their 5 iron a certain distance, and they rely on this understanding as a guide for club selection. With pitch shots, getting a feel for the yardage is more difficult because you don’t always make a full swing. Tournament-caliber golfers may know how to hit a wedge shot exactly 87 yards, but most amateurs do not practice enough to develop this level of precision. One way to improve wedge shot confidence is to learn the distances you hit with three different swing lengths--a swing that ends with the hands just below the waist, one where the hands go above the waist and one where the hands are at shoulder height at the top of the swing. With these distances memorized, when you are faced with a pitch shot of a given length, you can match the shot to one of those swings.

Aim for a Small Target Area

As you play a hole, you aim for progressively smaller targets. First, you aim for a wide expanse of fairway. Next you aim for the green, a smaller target. And your final target is the hole, which, depending on how you are playing that day, can seem very small. Each of these is a visual cue, but with the short game, you sometimes have to imagine your own target. When practicing in your backyard, try using a hula hoop. Learn to pitch the ball so it bounces up and stops within the perimeter of the hoop. Hula hoops are generally 30 to 40 inches in diameter, large enough so you have a realistic target but small enough to train yourself to never leave more than a 2- to 3-foot putt coming back. You can also practice imaginary pitch-and-roll shots where you hit the ball into the hoop and let it roll beyond it to the hole. Just be aware that your playing partners may object if you bring the hula hoop to the golf course.

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