How to Practice Short Game Shots
By Tim Krumnow
Shots from 100 yards into the green have been proven to make up over 50-percent of all golf shots. Your ability to have as few shots as possible in this scoring area is the fastest way to lower scores. Knowing this, why is it you see a range full of golfers practicing their full swings and so few on the putting and chipping areas? The reason: most golfers don’t know how to practice their short game. We’ll cover each area of the short game and how to practice it.
The short game is made up of putting, chip shots, pitch shots, and sand shots. What we will cover here is some of the basic shots that will improve each area. Practicing these general areas will help you take four to seven shots off of your total 18-hole score.
The putting stroke is the simplest of all the golf strokes only because it is the shortest. Putting can be broken down into two general areas: putts where distance or speed are most important (over four feet) and those where direction has to be exact (less than four feet). If you are proficient in both these areas, you can become a good putter and your scores will drop.
Practicing your distance on the putting green will help eliminate the most treacherous of all golf situations the three-putt. All good putters have the ability to roll the ball within 2 or 3 feet of the hole from any distance. This simple exercise will help you become better at long and medium range putts. Find an area on the practice green, mark off 10 feet and stick a tee in the ground. Do the same for 25 and 40 feet. From your starting point roll four putts toward each tee in a random order – never putting the same distance twice in a row. When you can stop each ball within three feet of each tee, then you are a good distance or lag putter.
For the short putts bring a dozen balls to the putting green and place them around the hole two feet away just like the numbers on a clock. Pick a ball to start with and try to make them all. If you miss a putt, you must replace all the balls and start over. When you get all the way around the circle without missing, move the balls out to three feet and start again. When you conquer three feet go to four. If you can make it around at each length in just a few tries then you are a great short putter and should never three-putt.
Chipping occurs when the ball is just off the green and there is a lot of putting area between you and the hole. The ball will spend only a short time in the air and roll the rest of the way to the hole like a putt. The stroke is basically a long putting stroke with a lofted club. Some players even use their putting grip. Experiment with your regular grip and your putter grip to find what works best for you. For club selection, start by using a 7-iron for longer chips, a 9-iron for mid-distance chips and a sand wedge for really short chip shots. Try to make the same exact stroke every time, but adjust the club to control distance.
The Two Dozen practice routine will give you the chipping game you need to lower scores. Go to a green and scatter 12 balls in a huge circle just off the putting surface. Pick a hole and chip each ball to it using any club needed. Then putt them all in. Your goal is to use 24 strokes (two dozen) or less. Chipping one in is the way to get fewer than 24 strokes. All good chippers look to chip in at least once in a round. Keep your personal course record for this drill and try to lower it in each practice session.
A pitch shot spends more time in the air than on the ground. It can be of various distances from 100 yards to 20 yards. Anything from a full sand wedge to a flop shot just off the putting surface. This shot is a further extension of the putting and chipping strokes. More length to the backswing and a little wrist cock are the subtle differences that will get the ball more airborne. Be careful not to get too long with the backswing, it may lead to deceleration. The stroke is compact but crisp.
Try the Target Game to become an excellent pitcher. Mark off a practice area in 10-yard increments starting at ten yards and up to 80 yards. Practice pitching balls to each target. Gain a feel for each swing at each yardage. Your goal is to land the ball within 10-percent of the hole depending on the length of the shot. For example, a 50-yard shot should land 5 feet from the hole or seven feet at 70 yards and so on. Feel how the ball reacts with each different swing.
Shots from sand strike more fear into amateurs than almost any shot. We find golfers really do not know how to play from sand and have no approach at all to the shot. Over-thinking and trying to do too much with the shot also leads to disaster. Keep these shots as simple as possible. You basically only need two shots from the sand: a long one and a short one. Keep in mind that any sand shot that ends up on the green is a good one.
The basics: to get the ball out of the sand you need the correct club and the correct technique. Sand wedges are built with a flange on the bottom that is lower than the leading edge. When you open the face of the club it helps to glide through the sand without digging. The correct technique is what I call the money shot. Picture a dollar bill sitting in the sand with the ball on ol ‘Georges face. You want the club to hit the sand behind the ball so it can blast the ball, dollar, and the sand underneath all out onto the green.
The short bunker shot is for when you are in the greenside sand and the hole is cut very close to your side of the green. You want the ball to come out of the trap high, soft and not roll much at all. To do this make a short, V-shaped swing. It also helps to open the clubface and not let your hands release. The long shot has the opposite characteristics. You want a long, slow, U shaped swing with plenty of release that will fly the ball about halfway to the hole and let it roll the rest of the way.
Practice your sand game by taking 10 balls to the sand trap. Alternate between long and short. Your goal is to get 80-percent of the balls within 3 feet. It’s tough until you get confidence in each shot. They take a lot of practice to master but once you get the technique down sand shots will almost become easy.
These are general areas of the short game and are meant to strengthen a weak part of your game. Practice them often and get some help from your Precision Golf Academy instructor. You should see your scores start to drop once you have met the goals in this practice program.