DIVERSE SHORT GAME-
We know you will likely face turmoil in every round you play. You need an “insurance policy” to hold your round together on those days when you are not striking the ball as you normally do. To be a successful tournament golfer, the ability to score well on your bad day is vital. Also, quality golf courses provide a test that says you will only be given a limited number of chances at birdie, and you MUST capitalize on those chances. It will be your versatility with your wedges that allow you to compete at any level.
There are different techniques and philosophies within the short game. Which club, loft, trajectory or how should we swing the club after selecting which one to use?
A beginning piece of advice is to use your short game to ALLEVIATE PRESSURE, NOT CREATE IT. Young people are famous for taking too much loft. This is true on distance wedges and short shots around the green. They try to hit a lob wedge, with a driver swing, from over 100 yards and try to chip from beside the green with the same club.
They have decided to make too much swing, and hit the ball too high, to consistently land balls near a target. Then, they have chosen to use a pitching club, designed to make the ball go high and spin, to play a shot that is best played with a low running shot.
These types of decisions create the possibility, if not likelihood, of the big mishit.
On the Champions tour, where the players have scar tissue and experience to lead them, the thought process is opposite. They might chip with a hybrid because the shot seems easy. It doesn’t push their nerve to the breaking point. You don’t play a shot that makes you nervous, if you can avoid it.
Learning to use your entire bag of clubs as potential options, from a young age, can go a long way toward developing a savvy that carries you throughout your career.
Using only one club makes you one-dimensional and the short game is multi-faceted.
LEFT SHOULDER- On full shots, the head-to-toe participation of our body in the swing, and the many full swings we practice, make it easier to fall into a smooth motion.
On shorter swings, where we have pre-shifted our weight onto our left foot, it is helpful to have a swing key that can keep us aggressive. If your LEFT SHOULDER begins the motion and never stops moving smoothly, the clubhead will reflect the same tempo. It can be a great way to proceed with confidence over those shots where the yardage is exacting.
LEFT FOOT- Many of us have tried pitching short wedges standing only on our left foot, with our right foot on its toe. The heavy left foot makes it easy to feel the natural pull feeling of our turning left side. Think of trying to keep the weight on that foot, EXACTLY the same, throughout the swing. Only then can you expect to deliver the same force to the golf ball. Imagine a scale under the left foot. Whatever weight the scale says at address, try to keep that number the same during the whole swing. This is just a feeling that will greatly improve your ability to control distance.
BACKSWING IS IMPACT- On any golf swing, our end of backswing position is our impact position. By saying this, I mean we hope to achieve a right arm position that will achieve our goals at impact. Then we can trust the gravity fall of the downswing, with no manipulation. This is for the 97% of wedge play, or full shots, that call for straightforward ball striking.
Any backswing that requires a “clean up move” is going to be a bad wedge or partial swing action. If it is hard for you to make a smooth transition from backswing to downswing (especially on ½ or ¾ swings) then you are putting the club out of position early on the backswing.
GRASS MATTERS- Understanding the requirements of the turf you are playing can make it easier to find success from course to course. A PGA tour player will play shots from greenside rough differently. Bluegrass rough, long and clumpy, will cut as the wedge passes through it. If a tour player finds his ball with a huge clump of grass behind it, he will calmly open the face and play an explosion shot (much like a bunker shot) where the club enters the grass behind the clump. It will go through the clump, past the ball and the result will be a high, soft shot that lands like it has a parachute on it. It just takes practice to know and trust the lie.
From Bermuda the shot is different. The grass will not cut. It will not allow the club to pass the ball. Many times, we will see a swing that rises abruptly in the backswing and then stops just as abruptly at the ball. Again, the ball will jump up quickly, but may not have any spin and run out when it lands. It is much harder to predict a result. Practice and a commitment to missing long will get the best results. If we don’t commit to being aggressive, we run the risk of leaving the ball well short and having the same shot again.
DRAW YOUR SWORD- This is a line from our book. Don’t go to the ball unless you love your last practice swing. The best wedge players SEE the pin, THINK the yardage and FEEL the swing. Once you weigh it, you play it. Much of success depends on affirmative actions and the visualization of the coming success.
HANDLE BACK OR HANDLE FORWARD- Much is made of shaft lean, bounce and the action we use coming through the ball. Much of our book is centered around the negotiable nature of method building. What we FEEL carries more weight than what actually happens. What you feel is the truth to you and that is all that matters.
Some players like to talk of keeping the handle behind the ball and “throwing the bounce under the ball.” This feeling is a reflection of their swing tendencies. Others cannot fathom this feeling and depend on the lead of the handle to help them find the bottom of their swing. And knowing the bottom of the swing is the name of the game.
I have found that players who like to feel the handle back, in a position that feels as if it is behind the ball, also depend on a heavy rotational move in their body that creates enough shaft lean to strike the ball cleanly.
Others, like Jon Rahm or Daniel Berger, like to feel the handle a little more forward at address and might open the face some to create bounce.
Interesting to me is that both of these examples, of shaft forward or backward at address, show up in a very similar place at impact. That is because the club MUST BE in a position of very slight shaft lean to get optimum results, or the strike will be compromised. Slow motion video has shown this over and over.
CHIPPING WITH LOFT- Earlier I mentioned younger people who chip with too much loft. Many PGA Tour pros also use a lot of loft to chip. Why is that true, when they know an easier shot is probably available? Like I mentioned above, it is because, I believe, of the way many of them have been taught to swing.
They are from an era that taught lag or down cock of the handle and to move the handle low and left around the ball. This is the most de-lofted group of players ever. Power permeates every aspect of their method and that is true of their short game.
Throughout the month, I will be posting video of the many techniques, that are used in high-level golf, to build wonderful short games.
US OPEN- I am lucky enough to be going to the US OPEN next week. It is interesting to go through the amount of scrutiny involved with passing COVID 19 guidelines. As a teaching professional, or player support, as they call it, I am in the bubble of players and caddies who closely interact.
It makes me think of Jon Rahm. Of course, social media had a heyday with his unfortunate disqualification. If you think of the many people who have to cooperate to make the PGA tour function during this pandemic, there is really only one way to make decisions: rules are rules. Like the USGA, the PGA tour cannot wander around in the “gray area” of risk losing their footing on the “slippery slope.”
I feel like the players know and accept this clear view. I also believe we would all benefit from a clearer set of rules, rather than the ever-expanding interpretation of daily life that keeps many of us on edge.
Accepting this fact as a necessary part of our journey through golf, and even becoming amused by this nuance, can go a long way to developing the even keel attitude helpful in tournament golf.
HITTERS VS. SWINGERS- My friend from Hilton Head and DGA member, John Davidson, regularly discuss different aspects of golf instruction and method building.
One of those topics is the difference between hitters and swingers. Many, if not most, golfers employ elements of both in their swing.
We all can remember times when the swing felt like effortless power and other times it was a lot of work and no distance.
Our topic last month centered around AIM.
Consider this: SWINGERS AIM WELL—HITTERS DON’T
We can only swing with freedom if we believe in the path the swing will collect the ball and propel it toward the target.
Hitters may be forced into that mode because of their need to correct and physically manipulate the movements within the golf swing and club.
I will be checking in during the tournament with video and insights from Torrey Pines.
Michael Wolf, Certified Master Teaching Professional, has been playing golf for 46 years and teaching professionally for over 34 years. He has given over 30,000 golf lessons. Author of The Driven Golfer: Building Your Method For Scratch Golf. Harvey Penick Award Winner- 2016 (Top Instructor U.S./World Golf Teachers Federation)