A few years back I got one of the greatest short game tips from Dave Pelz. His book the «Short Game Bible» is the classic for golf short game instruction. Dave and almost every «professional» in the world recommends that we know our distance to the flag. This is important so that we can know which club to select and how long to make our back swing to get to the pin. As you watch the professional golfers you will notice that ideally they want to put themselves in a position where they can come into the green with a full swing of the club. The reality is that as weekend warriors we seldom achieve that ideal.
Often we are faced with situations where that full swing will get us in big trouble even with a super high lofted club. This is where short game practice is critically important if we want to improve our short game. On most driving ranges there is a short game practice area, that is marked with some of the distances to the pin. Those distances are usually from the practice tee to the practice green, but what about when you practice from 40 yards out or 25 or you name it. Typically these distances are not marked. The reason you need to know these distances is so that you can develop repeatable short swings with different clubs to give yourself an arsenal of strokes for your memory banks to repeat.
Learn To Visually Judge
When I first heard this idea, I literally took a 100 foot tape measure out to the course on a very slow day so that I could measure the distance to the pin and see what it looked like. After a few holes I was able to tell when I was 50 yards out or what ever yardage in round terms. You can do the same at a practice facility so that you will begin to know what 100, 75, 50, 25,15 yards look like. Very quickly you will get correct the feel for your short distances.
Now that you have the feel for it, you need to develop a swing to match your judging distance. Most of the «professionals» will teach some variation of this method. basically it is this. For each of the wedges you carry and even your 7,8,9 do you know how far they will travel with a quarter or a half or three quarter swing? This is something you might have to take a while to find out but when you know it, the information is very valuable to you.
Armed with the knowledge of how far a ball will travel you can begin making some good decisions when you are close to the green. More in a moment, but first a couple of caveats.
Learn to Execute the Swing
You will find all kinds of opinion on alignment. Arnold Palmer said to stand open, others will say straight. The open alignment is probably better to keep your body from blocking the shot. Next, most of the «professionals» agree that for short shots the hands should lead the club-face. This means that you set up with the ball closer to the back of your stance and you hands will be in front of your target-side leg. (left leg for the right-handed) With your weight favoring your target side you will then hit through the ball and finish high for the typical pitch shot. This setup will also tend to de-loft the club meaning that the angle of the face (being more upright) will now act like the next lower club number which means more distance.
Now. Imagine you are a clock!
Your head is 12:00, Your feet are 6:00 your target side is 1-5 and your back swing side is 7-11. What you want to know is; how far does a 7:30-8:00 swing travel for each of your wedges. ( I carry 4) Next, the same information for a 9:00 swing. Finally, the same information for an 11:00 swing. You will discover that some of the different wedges will travel the same distance for different swings but once you are finished you have 12 to 16 shots in your bag that you are confident to make and you know the distances each will go. For those shots that go the same distance there will be a big difference in loft.
Fill Your Arsenal
For instance a 60 degree lob wedge may travel 25 yards with an 11:00 swing, while a 48 degree pitching wedge may travel the same distance with an 8:00 swing. However, the difference of course is loft which gets the lob over the bunker to a close pin and stops versus the pitching wedge which will roll 10 feet after it lands on the green.
When you are armed with all these shots in your golf bag your short game gets to a new level in a hurry. The great thing is that you only really have to learn 3 repeatable swings to have 16 in your arsenal. Hit them straight and seldom!
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