Those little shots…

I’ve been receiving quite a bit of email about golfers struggling with their short game. I think it’s time to cover some of the basics. Before I do that, there is one key issue holding most golfers back…

They don’t practice!

If you are continually let down by poor chipping, bladed pitch shots and duffed bunker shots, then you need to spend some time (maybe ten minutes per week) practicing these shots. There are no miracle cures. If you aren’t prepared to practice then I don’t think you can be helped. I will cover some aspects of practice below.

Now that’s out of the way let’s get into the good stuff 🙂

To master the short game (to your own unique level) doesn’t require any special skills or talent. I have found most golfers who have been playing for any length of time have good skills around the green. They can chip and pitch the ball well – but struggle to be consistent on the golf course.

The short shots can seem easy (at least easier than the long game) and this is a problem. Golfers like to be careful and try hard with the short game – thinking that the easier the shot the more they can think about it. This is not good. You must let the short game flow and be natural. Trying hard fails. Being careful and safe is worse.

How would you throw a ball to someone? Would you think about how hard to throw or do you look and shoot? Most people can throw a ball well by looking and then throwing. There is no complication or over thinking. A complete emptiness of approach allows throwing to be a simple and easy task. If you want to be successful with your short game then you need to follow the same approach. There is no other way!

Thinking less can be uncomfortable, so you may need to put it into practice before taking it to the golf course. Here’s a little practice session that should work well for you.

Take a handful of balls to the local park or pitching green. I don’t like driving ranges with synthetic grass – best you find an area with real grass. It makes the experience more real.

Start with small chip shots. Get comfortable (most important) and feel like you’re moving the club gently through the ball. You don’t need much power at this stage. You’re only after a short shot. Your mind should be free of technical thought. Leave concepts like, wrist cock, weight shift, back swing length and follow through at home. Keep moving the club through the ball and see what happens.

After a few shots you can apply more power. Creep up on it…don’t go for full shots too early. Gradually pick up speed, just like you would if you had to throw a ball to someone who keeps moving further from you. Once the shot feels good you can apply more power. You should be able to feel more wrist cock and a bigger back swing – but don’t analyse. Keep the club moving through the ball and observing the distance each shot travels.

If your mind is clear and free of technical thought this should be easy for you. If you want to hit the chip or pitch further you apply a little more power and vice versa. There’s nothing too complicated. You’re simply chipping or pitching (throwing?) the ball different distances.

You can then step this up a little by experimenting with different ball and club face positions. What happens when you move the ball back in your stance and close the club face? You should get a low running shot. What about doing the opposite by moving the ball forward and opening the club face? You should now get a high and soft landing ball flight.

Keep experimenting and learning what you can and can’t do. It will also help to watch those better than yourself. See how they hit a high soft landing bunker shot. In your own time you can learn the same shot. The key is to keep the task simple. Try and relate your short game to throwing a ball. Keep away from technical thought and analysis. It will only slow you down.

The big trick is to take this natural and instinctive approach to the golf course. Let the short game flow. Look at the shot and pull the trigger. Your subconscious will work out all the minor details like direction and distance – like it does when you throw a ball. If you get stuck play conservatively. If you haven’t tried a super lob in practice then don’t try it on the golf course. Best you aim for the middle of the green with a shot you know you can play.

The short game should be fun – there are also no limits. You have fourteen clubs in the bag and you may use all of them for those little shots around the green. Tiger Woods is a master at using his three wood for chip and runs. Is this something you have tried? Or what about using your 9 iron to get out of a bunker?

A good short game will improve your score. If you keep the process simple and strive for automation you will get better. I guarantee it – but only if you practice!

Let me know how you get on.

Good golfing,

Cameron

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Richard Asher - July 1, 2010

I’m starting to have a lot less faith in practice, actually. In my bid to reach the Masters (see my website), I spend hours and hours practicing chipping, along with everything else. Yet I don’t find my chipping is any better than it was six months ago. Every time it starts to feel right, I lose it after a few days and end up coming up with a whole new technique just so it stops feeling awful. I chip really well at times, but I can never seem to hold on to a basic technique for long before it goes disastrous and I’m back to the drawing board!

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    Cameron - July 1, 2010

    @Richard: You’re struggling because your game is not automatic. Automatic golf makes golf as easy as it’s ever going to be and will give you consistency. It also gives you a method so you don’t ever have to feel like a beginner and you’re wasting hours practicing.

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