To sharpen your short game, you need to have good skills in chipping, pitching and bunker shots. Most Professionals prefer bunker shots because they practice a variety of shots from them which is the exact reason most amateur golfers fear bunkers, since there are different sand conditions as well as different places the ball can be in a bunker (plugged lie, up against a lip, downhill lie, etc.) Also remember, while it may feel like a trap, it’s actually called a bunker, not a trap.
To escape from the bunker in one shot, use a sand wedge or lofted club with some bounce. (Bounce is an angle measurement in degrees, of how much the sole of the club head lifts the leading edge.) Bounce is what helps the club glide through the sand to help get the ball up and out of the bunker. Start by opening your stance so you are lined up just left of your intended target and have your weight on your forward foot. (Just like when hitting a pitch shot, this helps you avoid the tendency to want to “lift” the ball out of the bunker.
Open the clubface and swing out to in through the sand, hitting about an inch or two behind the ball. Be sure to accelerate through the swing and follow-through to the target. Many times golfers stop swinging at the ball as soon as they hit the sand. The key to getting the ball out on the first attempt is to swing to the target. By hitting behind the ball, the sand forces the ball out of the bunker – the clubhead never really hits the ball.
A good practice drill from LPGA Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez is to practice in the bunker with marshmallows. Since the marshmallows are lighter than a golf ball, the only way to get the marshmallow out of the bunker on to the green is to accelerate through the shot. It’s a great way to practice acceleration…plus at the Nancy Lopez golf schools, if you don’t hit the marshmallow out, you have to eat it – and no one wants to eat a marshmallow with sand on it!
Here are some bunker play secrets:
Remember, practicing your short game 50 percent of the time will help you gain confidence and lower scores at the same time.
Last week we focused on the importance of practicing the short game to see immediate improvement in your golf scores and I shared some chipping secrets (remember, this is a swing where the club head stays low, below your hands on the backswing and follow-through.)
To hit a pitch shot, use a wedge or lofted club, open your stance and play the ball in the middle of your stance. You want your weight evenly distributed with your club shaft and hands pressed slightly forward. The key to a successful pitch shot is creating a “hinge.” You want to hit down on the ball to make it go up in the air. Avoid the tendency to want to “lift” the ball – make a good swing and let the ball get in the way so the club does all the work. The clubhead goes above your hands on the backswing since you hinge your wrists to make a longer swing, but it stays below your hands on the follow-through. The clubhead will be low and to the left of the target on the follow-through.
Here are some pitching secrets:
Check back next week for bunker shot secrets.
The quickest way to see immediate improvement in your golf scores is to practice the short game. Golfers know this and yet most people don’t practice chipping, pitching, bunker shots or putting like they should. The general rule of thumb is to practice 50 percent of the time on these areas.
Part of practicing the short game is to know the difference between a chip shot and a pitch shot and when to use them. For a chip shot, the ball stays low to the ground so it’s a great shot when you want to land the ball on the green and have it roll to the hole.
To hit a chip shot, use a wedge or short iron and play the ball closer to your back foot (right foot for right-handed golfers, left foot for left-handed golfers). You want your weight more on your front foot with your club shaft and hands pressed slightly forward. Make a short back and through motion and you will feel the ball “pop” off the clubface. The back of your lead hand (left hand for right-handed players) finishes toward your target. The clubhead stays below your hands and finishes low to the ground.
Here are some Chipping secrets:
Learn and own a 50-yard shot – it’s imperative for women to get great at it - and own it. You will be amazed how the increased confidence will carry over to other areas of your swing and game. Even if you play with golfers who hit the ball farther than you do, once you get comfortable with the 50-yard shot, you will score better with your new and improved short game.
Check back next week to learn how to execute great pitch shots.
The quickest way to lower your score is to practice your short game. Most people don’t spend enough time practicing their putting, chipping, pitching and bunker shots. By practicing your putting you will not only gain confidence but should be able to avoid three-putt greens.
To get your putting on track, play the ball slightly forward in your stance, under your left eye (for a right-handed player – right eye for left-handed player) and swing like a pendulum from your shoulder, not with the forearms and wrist.
A good drill to use is the “two tee” drill. Place a golf tee at the toe and the heel of your putter to create a “gate.” Make your putting stroke with a ball and try not to hit the tees while making your stroke. Once you’ve successfully hit five or six putts and have a feel of making a stroke, move back behind the two tees and try to put through the two tees to the hole. You will find out quickly if you have a smooth back-and-through stroke or if you swing from inside-to-outside or from outside-to-inside. Many amateur golfers think they putt with a smooth back-and-through stroke, when they actually either cut across the putt or stab at it. Your goal is to make a smooth stroke to roll the ball and not have the ball skid with a jab or punch-type stroke.
Another good drill to try will help you keep your wrists still so you can avoid being a “wrist putter.” Hit a few putts wearing a golf glove with a pop-sicle stick (wooden coffee stir stick, golf pencil, or golf tee) just inside the cuff of the glove. When you make your putting stroke, if you break your wrists, the stick will hit you in the wrist. Practice a smooth putting stroke without breaking your wrist and getting jabbed by the stick, pencil or tee.
Always begin with short putts – like a putter-length from the hole (34”-36”) as this will help build your confidence in making three-foot putts. Try to make 5, 7 or 10 putts in a row. Once you make your specified number of putts in a row, move back to two putter-lengths and try to make the same number of consecutive putts. You will be amazed at how easy this becomes. If you miss a putt, go back to the three-foot length and make your consecutive putts. By practicing this way, you can easily transition this drill to the course with new found putting confidence.
Here are some reminders when putting:
Remember to spend 50 percent of your practice time on your short game and you’ll see immediate results in your confidence and scores! Check back next week for short game hints when chipping.
If you’ve attended a PGA TOUR or LPGA Tour event, you’ve noticed the Tour Professionals each have a certain pre-round warm-up routine. They arrive at the course anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half prior to their tee time and go through a specified number of putts, chips and full swings to get ready for competition. Here are three unique examples from the PGA TOUR of the number of warm-up shots from Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson:
All three of these warm-up routines take between 50 and 75-minutes. Rory’s 110 shots are broken down into 52 full swing, 41 chip shots and 17 putts. Jordan and Bubba hit more shots than Rory, with Jordan hitting 65 full swing, 17 chip shots and 57 putts. Bubba hits the most warm-up shots with 155, yet only takes 30 full swings and 36 chip shots but hits 89 putts.
When you practice or prepare to play, do you have a warm-up routine? While you may not hit as many shots or warm-up for as long as these Tour Professionals, be sure every time you go to practice or before you play, that you have a specific purpose in mind. Begin loosening up with some wedge shots to get your swing flowing smoothly. Then hit some short-iron shots followed by some mid-iron shots.
Progress into the hybrids, fairway woods and finish with the driver (or club you prefer to use when playing from the teeing ground.) You’ll notice that Rory, Jordan and Bubba hit only six, four and seven golf balls with their driver. Many amateur golfers make the mistake of spending their time on the practice tee hitting endless number of balls only with the driver.
Plan the number of golf balls you want to hit with each club (three, four, five or six) and move on to the next club. Be sure to always end with a good swing (and a good shot) as this helps build confidence and will be the shot you remember in your mind as you make your way to the course. Hit a few lag putts then make four or five three foot putts before you head to the first tee. This confidence will help you on the course, since you prepared with a purpose in mind.
Last week we talked about ways golfers can help control the Pace of Play within their group. Now technology is helping with monitoring Pace of Play on the golf course.
The USGA is currently testing a new Flagstick Monitoring Tool equipped with technology that is designed to help with Pace of Play. Once the flagstick is pulled from the hole and returned, the timing information or “cycle time” (the interval between groups) is captured. As groups play each hole, the cycle time between groups is easily monitored by the golf club staff to manage Pace of Play for the day. Any change in cycle time shows which groups are not playing within the allowed time and can be addressed by staff before creating a substantial backup on the course.
Other ways you as a golfer in your group can help ensure a smooth Pace of Play includes being prepared. Think ahead and get the yardage within 5-10 yards while others are playing their shots. Bring other clubs with you – including your putter – so you are ready for your next shot. If you are walking, leave your bag on the side of the green closest to the next teeing area.
Having a good understanding of how to play your short game will help save shots as well as time on the course. Focus on your short game when practicing as we know the goal of finishing the hole with fewer shots will improve one’s score as well as time on the course. Some short game tips include:
1. Putt whenever possible since it’s best to keep the ball on the ground.
2. Get comfortable executing a chip shot – one that has some loft and will run up to the hole or intended target.
3. Finally, hit the pitch shot – a higher lofted shot as your third option around the green when putting or hitting a chip shot aren’t possible.
A final way to help your group with Pace of Play includes practicing and timing your pre-shot routine. It should take less than 20 seconds from start to finish. Begin by selecting your club, take one practice swing, picture the shot in your mind then commit and hit the shot. There is no need for multiple practice swings or to stand over the ball too long before starting your shot. Remember your action between your shots help improve the overall Pace of Play as well – so do your part to keep your group moving along and enjoying your day.
I recently attended the USGA Pace and Innovation Symposium - the annual conference where golf industry leaders discuss new and innovative ways to help address Pace of Play issues. We have all heard the proper place to be on the golf course is directly behind the group in front of you and not to worry about the group behind you. There are some things we as golfers can control to help with pace of play and some things that are out of our control.
The things on the golf course that affect Pace of Play that we can't control include course design, course set-up, maintenance practices and tee time intervals. If a course has a par 3 hole early in the round, this is where bottlenecks and slow play tend to occur. Add in a few hazards - water or bunkers - and this leads to extra shots on the hole and more time. It would be great for the course set-up to include forward tees and hole locations in the center of flat greens - but we all know this is more of a dream than reality. Many courses also have small landing areas in fairways for tee shots and longer grass in the rough, which makes looking for golf balls a bit harder. Maintenance practices such as mowing the rough three times a week lead to longer roughs. Also hard and fast greens add more approach shots and more putts to a round and therefore also add time to a round for the average golfer.
With golf courses wanting as much revenue as possible, they have reduced their tee time intervals to six or seven minutes. Think of a funnel with water - if you pour too much water in at one time, the water backs-up and doesn't flow out the bottom of the funnel properly. This is a prime example of tee time intervals that are too close. Many courses have gone to nine, ten or 11-minute intervals to better control the flow of golfers on the course. When you do incur a backup on the course, golfers many times blame it on what they see - the group directly in front of them - when it can actually be a number of outside factors we can't control.
Here are some things you can control...your group pace, being ready to hit when it's your turn, by having your glove on (if you wear one), taking one practice swing then hitting your shot. If you are walking and it is safe, walk directly to your ball. If you are riding, walk to your ball rather than riding to your cart-mates ball, then waiting for a ride to your golf ball.
You can also keep the head cover off your driver or 3-wood until the last hole. It helps save 15-20 seconds per person per hole, which ends up saving a minute per hole or 15 to 20 minutes per round.
On the putting green, be ready when it’s your turn by lining up your putt when others are putting. Also putt-out whenever possible to avoid having to mark and re-position your golf ball.
Try the "one in - one out" idea suggested by PGA Professional and host of Golf Channel "Golf Fix" Michael Breed. When riding, every time you put a club in your golf bag, take out the club you plan to use for your next shot. This saves time as you aren't going to your bag for every shot.
Next week we’ll explore additional ways to help with Pace of Play, including the new flag stick technology being introduced by the USGA.