Putting the time in to improve your full swing is important, but for pure return on investment, the short game is where you’ll get the quickest deduction from your scores. You hit more of these kinds of shots than any other, and the fixes and adjustments required are things any player can handle physically. Make these changes to your pitching/chipping, spend an hour at the short-game practice area at your course and you’ll be hitting it closer to the hole more consistently. And you can do it with the clubs you already have in your bag.
1. Flight Control
Focus on the Thumb
Controlling the height and spin of your pitch shots is a crucial skill if you want to consistently leave yourself easy putts. Keying on your right thumb will give you an easy focal point to switch from hitting high shots to low shots.
For a high shot with backspin, swing through impact and hold off the rotation of your hands so that your right thumb stays on the right side of the handle [above].
To produce a lower shot that has some run, make the same swing but let your hands rotate through naturally. Your right thumb will end up on the left side of the grip [above].
2. Pitching Setup
Stand Like a One-legged Pirate
Hanging back is a death move in pitching. You’ve probably heard that you need to keep your weight on your lead leg, but that can be hard to feel. To make it happen, set up in your normal pitching stance, then pull your trailing foot back from the target line and lift its heel off the ground. Now hit regular shots from this one-legged-pirate stance. It’s impossible to hang back when you don’t have any way to support that weight. Now you can say goodbye to hitting it fat.
3. Fault Fixer
Follow it With Your Chest
Many players make the same mistakes in pitching. They freeze their bodies and swing with only their arms, or they make too much of a body turn for the size of the shot. The ideal motion is in the middle. Keep your chest facing the ball and make a backswing with your arms only, then let the chest turn slightly through impact, as if it were following the trajectory of the shot. If you don’t add this chest rotation, your body will tilt away from the target at impact, and that’s a recipe for fat or bladed shots.
4. Distance Control
Eliminate the Wrist Lever in Chipping
The fundamentals of chipping and pitching are very similar, with one major exception: On a chip shot, you don’t need the wrists to work as an additional lever because you’re not hitting the shot as high or as far as a pitch. To do it, move your hands down to the end of the grip, and swing back and through with firm (but not locked) wrists.
5. Solid Contact
Find the Bounce in Your Setup
The conventional way to teach chipping has been to play the ball back in the stance and lean the handle towards the target [above, left]. When you inevitably stub the club into the ground, it isn’t because you decelerated or somehow made the wrong move. It’s because that setup aims the leading edge of the club at the ground. Unless you correct for that in the swing, you’re pretty much guaranteed to dig the club at impact. Keep the handle centred on your body [above, right] and your weight forward, and you’ve just created six more inches of space on the ground to make contact.
– Alex Fisher, one of Golf Digest’s Best Young Teachers, is the director of instruction at the Glacier Club in Durango, Colorado.