I’m a wimp. When it comes to the short game I almost always take the easy option.
– I putt from off the green
– I chip with a 6 iron
– I use my 3 wood to bump and run
– I rarely use the lob shot when another shot will do
My theory? Get the ball onto the green in the simplest fashion and take my chances with the putter. It’s not going to win any prizes for creativity but boy does it work. I can out-chip most and rarely waste shots around the green. If you have a gun to your head and you MUST get the ball onto the green then the above will help you. Might even save your golf game.
But I have a confession. When I practice my short game I’m almost always using my lob wedge. Why? Because it’s fun and I figure if I can use the lobby well then all the other shots come easy. And that has definitely been my experience.
When my green was being built I asked the guys to place one of the holes near the edge of the bunker. I got some pushback:
“We can’t have the hole too close to the edge because you won’t be able to stop the ball. Most people have the hole locations more central”.
I wasn’t having any of this. I wanted the hole cut deep to the bunker so I could practice the high, soft and spinning bunker shots. These are super tough but if you can master this shot, then the standard bunker shots become easy. I insisted on something a little bit more adventurous…
And the same goes for the lob shot to a tight pin. Regular chipping is relatively basic, but if you have to get the ball up into the air, carry an obstacle and then stop it quickly, this separates the men from the boys. But if you can learn to do these shots well then all others become much simpler.
Here’s my theory. You need to learn these tough shots. They help you become better at regular shots and if you ever find yourself in trouble, you’ll be able to escape without too much trouble. It’s a bit like an airline going through all those safety measures. They hope they’ll never have to use them, but if disaster does strike they’ll be well prepared.
The rest of this post is going to show you how to learn these lob and bunker shots. In particular, I’m going to share with you the one thing that is holding you back and making it impossible for you to get any better at these difficult shots. You’re also going to learn how to push your learning boundaries further than you thought possible – you’re going to go to a place where few golfers go…
I want you to take a good look at the photo below. This is how most golfers set up when they need to hit the ball high (from grass). The club is square to the target and you only have the true loft of the club to work with. Let me just come out and say it – from here you have little (most likely zero) chance of hitting a successful shot. The ball will come out hot and go too far. From here you’ll do all sorts of horrible things to manipulate the club to get a result. This usually leads to duffing, blading and shanking. None of them are good.
I know most of you know that you need to open the clubface to be successful. So you open the clubface and make an attempt. Fail. The ball still doesn’t do what you want it to. And this is because you don’t open the club far enough. You’re only just tweaking it open. You need to go further.
This is how open you need to have the club. The pic doesn’t really do it justice. The club is laid flat to the floor and now you have the full amount of loft available to you. If you get the contact right (more on this soon) you’ll get a soft and high (really high) shot. The ball almost goes straight up and can come down like a “butterfly with sore feet”.
The other day, I was hitting some bunker shots with a family friend. He’s a golfer, but only just starting out. He was fascinated with my style and couldn’t believe how far open I had the club. He watched in amazement as the ball come out high, landed on the green, spun and settled near the pin.
“I can’t believe how open you have the clubface. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen you do it”.
Here’s the usual story.
Golfers get into the bunker and they play with a square clubface. I’ve even seen really good players do the same thing. But if you’re ever going to be a master out of the traps, you need to learn to get that clubface open.
The pic below is getting better but it’s still first gear. It’s not anywhere near open enough to really get the ball high and spinning.
Here’s what I’m talking about. This is how open I have my clubface if I want to hit a short, high and spinning shot.
It’s going to take some practice. Just the look of the clubface and the ball will take some adjusting. You’ll probably shank a few and blade some across the green. But you’ve gotta keep going because this is what learning is all about.
Working it all out
There’s no magic here. It really comes down to how far you can push your boundaries. A few years ago, when I held my first workshop on automatic golf, I got the participants to hit the highest possible shot they could with their six iron. Most only got to first base, opening the clubface slightly and swinging away. When I had a go I got my hands really low (like almost to the ground low) and opened the clubface so it was pointing skywards. From here I was able to hit a lob shot with a six iron. It’s nothing that special if you ask me – but most of us have put limitations on what we can achieve.
We’re not thinking outside the box. We’re stuck and believe our clubs can only be used one way. But there’s all sorts of possibilities and it’s up to us to find them. So this lesson is more about encouraging to think differently then it is about your short game. I know that this kind of mentality will help you improve your game and save all sorts of shots from around the green. And it works because as mentioned above, when you can hit the lob shot well, all other shots seem easy in comparison.
So how do you hit these bunker and lob shots? Is there anything else I can tell you?
I thought long and hard about this and don’t think there is. Any more technical instruction will get in the way and inhibit you. My best advice is as follows.
Grab some balls, your lob wedge and go have some fun. How high can you hit the ball? How open can you have the club face (really? Is that as open as it will go?). Keep challenging yourself and breaking boundaries.
In a coaching environment I’d be able to push you further than you think possible. I’d challenge you and just when you thought you’d reached your limit you’d go a bit more. This is the beauty of learning and leads to awesome breakthroughs. It’s also fun, making golf the best game in the world.
So when it comes to your swing, I can’t tell you specifically what to do to get a result. But I can lay down the challenge for you to get outside, try some stuff and report back to me with your findings. From here we’ll keep moving forward and keep learning new stuff. It really is a lot of fun.
One last point: The temptation will be to take these new shots to the course and if the situation presents itself then you should absolutely 100% go for it. But you’re going to make huge strides as a golfer if you learn to stick to the easiest shot each time. There’s no need to hit the lob shot if the basic chip-and-run will do. Don’t hit the fancy pants option if a simpler option will do.
It wouldn’t be much fun if the pilot decided to ditch the plane (a perfectly good plane) in the ocean because he’d learned some new crash landing technique the week before. Keep the tough shots for when they’re necessary and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good you become at the basics.