Golf is a thinking man's game. You've probably heard this said a thousand times. But when they talk about golf being a thinking man's game, they're primarily talking about the short game. Shots beyond 125 yards are rather basic. You select a club, pick a target, and hit the ball with a full swing. Shots from 125 yards in are more varied. Two balls lying 5 yards apart and just 30 yards from the hole may require different shot strategies and techniques.
Understanding the short game is the key to golf. It's also key to lowering your golf handicap. A shot from 150 yards out requires one or two decisions. But a shot from 20 yards or 30 yards away requires several decisions. Considerations include lie, pin placement, type of shot, type of swing, and so on. That's why I tell players who take my golf lessons that if they're serious about improving their game, they must delve deep into the short game.
Two Ways to Go
Two types of shots dominate the short game-low running shots and high floating shots. Low running shots are preferable to high floating shots because they're easier to control. They're also easier to hit. High floating shots can lead to mis-hits, so you want to stay away from them, if you can.
To hit a low running shot, take a slightly open stance, play the ball back in your stance, square the clubface, keep your hands ahead of the clubhead, and swing shallow and U-shaped. Also, maintain firm wrists through the swing, don't release the clubhead at impact, and finish low and abbreviated.
To hit a high floating shot, take a slightly open stance, play the ball forward in your stance, open the clubface, keep your hands even with the clubface, and swing steep and V-shaped. Also, keep your wrist actively hinging, use a full release at impact, and finish full and in balance.
Work on hitting both types of shots in practice, as I've said in my golf tips. Learning to control these shots is the foundation of a good short game. Also, don't throttle back or try to hit a three-quarter- swing with these shots. Take a full swing. Some players need to practice hitting these shots with a full swing to convince themselves of that.
In my golf lessons I breakdown short game play into a few basic principals. The most important of these are probably that your forward swing should match your backswing in length and speed, and that the pace of your swing should never slow until after impact. Below are some other key principals I discuss in golf instructions sessions on the short game.
Never swing hard with a short club.
With rare exceptions, you should never swing the 8-iron, 9-iron, or wedges with full force. The short game is about control. If you need more distance use a longer club.
Survey the land before hitting.
Hitting accurate shots from 125 yards or shorter requires you to understand things like slope, types of grass, sand textures, the effect of moisture, and the type of bounce and roll you'll get in various areas of the green.
Don't be cute.
When faced with a high, floating shot over a bunker, creek, or ridge, don't try to hit it close to the pin. Hit it up on the green and settle for a 20-foot putt or even a 40-foot putt. Good short game play is about strategies, skills, and percentages-not hitting miracle shots.
Concentrate on centered impact.
Because the clubs are shorter, centered impact with the scoring clubs is easier than with the long irons and woods. But you still have to concentrate on it. Almost ever shot you hit in the short game requires solid, square contact.
Visualize the shape of your swing.
The shape of your swing gives you a mirror image of the shot's trajectory. A steep, V-shaped swing tends to produce a high-arching shot. A shallow U-shaped swing tends to produce a lower, humpbacked shot.
Loft is the essence of the short game.
The loft angle of a wedge or short iron has complex effects on your shot. When your high lofted club isn't sending the ball high in the air, it's doing something else-it's softening the force of your swing by turning launch force into spin, and installing a set of brakes on your shot, again through spin.
Keep these basic short game principals in mind next time you play. Use them as the foundation of your short game.
Learning to play the short game well is a challenge. It takes time, patience, and practice. It also requires you to think about every shot you take near the greens. But the pay-off is worth it. It's the quickest, most effective way of cutting your golf handicap down to single digits and becoming the player you've always wanted to be.