The basic pitch shot is used when you're too close to the target to hit a full shot, but not close enough to hit a simple chip shot (~20-60 yards from the pin). The pitching method gets the ball to fly higher, land softly on the green and stop quickly once it has landed.
To hit a pitch shot, choose a lob wedge, sand wedge or pitching wedge. The pitch is ideal for hitting over an obstacle such as a greenside bunker, where you don't have much room to work with between the hazard and the hole.
The setup is similar to a full shot, with these minor adjustments:
1. Choke up slightly by placing both hands lower on the grip. This will enhance your feel for the distance, bring you closer to the ball, and improve your control of the club.
2. Narrow your stance so that your feet are slightly narrower than your shoulders. The pitch doesn't require a full body rotation, so your balance and weight transfer won't be affected.
3. Pull your left (lead) foot back slightly to create an “open” stance. You'll feel like you're aiming left of the target, which in this case is good. Your swing will cut across the ball, increasing the club's loft and getting the ball higher in the air.
4. Stand with the ball in the middle of your stance and press your hands slightly forward (toward the target) at address. Make sure that your hands are just ahead of the clubhead when contacting the ball.
5. Place some extra weight on your left side (for right handed players) for stability and keep it there through the pitch shot.
The length and pace of the swing determine for how far the ball travels. Practice your pitch shot on the range to develop a feel for attacking the pin from 100 yards and in.
If you're having problems hitting your pitch shots solid then a quick fix can sometimes be a simple adjustment in ball position or weight distribution. As with all shots in golf, experiment with different tips and cures until you find the right combination that works best for your game.
Beginner Golf Tip on Pitching
Pitching the golf ball is a skill that is often 'lost in the shuffle'. Even players who are careful to work on all aspects of their game during practice can easily overlook pitching, as it lands in an in-between category that isn't really the long game but isn't the short game, either. If you take time to work on both your full swing and your short game during the average practice session, you still might come away having failed to work at all on your pitching technique.
Of course, this is a problem, as pitching is an important skill to have in your bag of tricks. Most golfers would consider a pitch shot to be one that is played from somewhere between 15 – 30 yards away from the target. Which, for the average amateur golfer, is a distance that happens to come up quite frequently during a typical round. If you are unprepared to play quality shots from this distance range, you will find that you are adding strokes to your score on a regular basis.
The good news is this – pitching is not a difficult skill to learn, as long as you are willing to put in some practice time while paying attention to a few key fundamentals. In this article, we are going to look at some of the key elements that you will need to have in place in order to produce solid pitch shots. Unlike the full swing, you don't need to get into any complicated mechanical discussions in order to fully understand the pitching action. Your technique while pitching is going to be a bit more complicated than the one you use for a chip shot, but it will still be far simpler than a full swing. Read through this article completely and then find a time to get out to your local golf course with the specific goal of practicing your pitching mechanics.
In addition to the importance of your physical technique, you also need to make good decisions as it relates to hitting pitch shots. So, in addition to covering physical mechanics, we are also going to take a look at strategy in the content below. There is strategy in pitching just as there is strategy throughout the rest of the game. Thinking clearly before hitting any pitch shot is key if you are going to take the smart route to the hole. You should never just walk up to the ball and hit a pitch shot without first looking over all of your available options. The best golfers are the ones who understand the importance of course management and strategy, so be sure to put yourself in that category.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Key Elements of a Successful Pitch Shot
So, what do you have to do right in order to hit a good pitch shot? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. There are a few different elements that need to come together just right if you want to see your ball come to rest near the hole. Included in the pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place are the points listed below.
- Solid strike. This is the most important point of all. If you are going to consistently pitch the ball within close proximity of the hole, you need to be striking the ball cleanly time after time. There is no room for a miss-hit when pitching, as poor contact is going to cause you to badly misjudge your distance. Also, miss-hit pitch shots usually will not have much in the way of backspin, and backspin is critical if you are going to stop the ball in a timely manner after it lands. As you work on your pitching in practice, be sure to put clean contact at the top of your priority list.
- Distance control. As is the case with any shot you hit around the golf course, you are going to need to nicely control your distance when pitching the ball. There are a couple elements that come into play when trying to control your pitching distance – how far you carry the ball, and how far the ball travels after it lands. The first part should be relatively easy to handle, as long as you are practicing regularly. The second part is trickier, however, as you will need to read the condition of the course in order to judge the bounce and roll just right. Firm and fast greens will obviously provide a bigger bounce, but they are usually more receptive to spin as well. On the other hand, you should get a shorter bounce on soft greens, but the spin on your ball may not have as much effect. On through experience in a variety of conditions will you be able to improve your ability to judge bounce and roll just right.
- Reading the green. You need to read the green prior to hitting a pitch shot just as you would do prior to hitting a putt. The ball is going to take the break of the green as it slows down on a pitch, so be sure to build that break into your plan when selecting a target for the shot. It should only take a few moments to walk up and get a good read of the putting surface, and that information is going to be extremely valuable as you try to pitch the ball as close as possible. Remember, you should not only be reading the side to side break of the green, but also the uphill or downhill component as well.
- Planning for spin. As mentioned above, spin is going to have a lot to do with your ability to stop your pitch shots. It won't always be possible to let the ball roll out to the hole, so you will need to know how to employ spin to bring the ball to a stop quickly. Of course, you aren't going to be trying to spin all of your pitch shots, especially those that need to travel a long distance across the green. So, with that in mind, having the ability to plan on the amount of spin you are going to put on the ball is important. A pitch shot hit from a clean fairway lie should spin significantly, while a pitch played from the rough is going to have almost no spin at all. During practice, try to find a variety of different lies to work from in order to gain experience with how the ball will react on the putting surface. These practice sessions, along with the experience you gain on the course, will help you to accurately predict the spin rate on most of your pitches going forward.
As you can see from the list above, there is plenty that goes into hitting a good pitch shot. Naturally, you shouldn't be thinking about all of these things when getting ready to pitch the ball on the course. Many of them should become 'automatic' through the course of practice, where they will be lodged somewhere in your mind and you won't have to file through them all one by one. Pitching is just like every other part of the game in one specific way – it gets easier with practice. Simply put spending time on this area of your game in the weeks and months ahead you are sure to take steps in the right direction.
Honing Your Technique
The first point on our list above, making solid contact, is only going to be achieved if you are able to dial in your technique just right. Without great technique, it will be nearly impossible to strike the ball cleanly on a regular basis. Fortunately, building a great pitching action is not nearly as difficult as building a great golf swing. You don't need any flexibility to make a big turn when pitching, as you are only going to send the ball a short distance. Much like putting and chipping, your success with pitching is going to come down to your effort, attention to detail, and focus on the task at hand.
The following list contains the important fundamentals that you need to have in place if you hope to pitch the ball at a high level.
- Perfect balance. This is a point that is important in the full swing, and it remains important as you move in closer to hit pitch shots. Of course, it is going to be easier to keep your balance while pitching as compared to hitting full shots, since you aren't going to be making a big rotation during the shot. It is important to note that you should be evenly balanced at address when pitching, which is different than the setup you would use before a chip shot. For a chip shot, you should be leaning left toward the target to promote a downward angle of attack. That is not going to be necessary with pitch shots. Instead, you are going to balance yourself nicely and use the mechanics of your swing to hit down on the ball.
- Hands in front of the ball. One of the key setup fundamentals that needs to be seen in your pitching stance is hand placement. At address, you should have your hands at least an inch or two in front of the ball. In other words, your hands should be closer to the target than the ball itself. You want your hands to be in front of the ball at impact, because that positioning is going to promote a downward hit, so it only makes sense to start them in front of the ball at address. The easiest way to check on this positioning is to look at the angle of the shaft when standing over the ball. If the shaft is leaning slightly toward the hole, you should be good to go.
- A mini-swing. The best way to think about the action needed to pitch the golf ball is to picture it as a mini-swing. If you just try to make a miniature version of your full swing, you will be on the right path. You are still going to turn your shoulders while pitching, although the turn will be significantly smaller than when hitting a driver, for instance. Also, you still need to use your hands when pitching the ball, something that many amateur golfers fail to realize. As you practice, think about recreating your regular golf swing in miniature form and you will likely be happy with the results. Since the swing is scaled down, everything should be easier to execute – meaning you should be more consistent with your pitching than you will ever be with your full shots.
Keep your head still. During a full swing, your head is bound to move around to some degree as a result of the aggressively rotation taking place in the rest of your body. That is not true when pitching, however. With a pitch shot, your body is only going to be moving a small amount, meaning you should be able to keep your head perfectly still. A stable head position will help you to strike the ball cleanly, even when pitching from a less-than-perfect lie.
Simplicity is the key when it comes to pitching. As you can see from the list above, nothing here is going to be too complicated – but the devil is in the details. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the plan, as it is still going to take plenty of practice to execute this shot properly.
Mastering your physical technique is going to be a great start toward improving your pitching, but you need to also make sure that you are thinking clearly from a strategy perspective. If you simply aim at the hole and hope for the best you are going to be disappointed in the results – even if you are making solid contact each time. Golf is a strategic game from the tee all the way to the green, and the golfers who shoot low scores are able to make smart choices to go along with their solid technique.
The first strategic point that you should think about when pitching is the fact that you need to make sure the ball winds up on the green. This might seem like an obvious goal, but many amateur golfers ignore this concept as they try to hit the perfect pitch shot each time. For example, picture the following scenario – your approach shot has come up 15 yards short of the green, in the light rough. You have rough all the way between your ball and the green, and the cup is cut just three steps onto the green in front of you. To knock the ball close, you are going to have to hit a high pitch shots that barely carries over the rough before landing on the green and coming to a stop.
So, what do you do? If you are like most amateur golfers (and some pros), you will try your best to pull off the perfect shot. You will aim for a spot that is barely onto the green, and you will hope to pull it off. Unfortunately, that is a shot that is likely to fail more often than not. If you come up just a bit short of your intended landing spot, the ball will be stuck in the rough and you will still be short sided. Instead, you should be aiming for a spot that is farther onto the putting surface. Using such a target will allow you some margin for error, and you will be more likely to be able to use your putter on the next shot. Sure, you might not hit it close this way, but you will have a good chance to get off of the hole without a total disaster.
Another strategic key when pitching is to look for the low side of the hole. Since you are playing from close to the green, you should have relatively good control over the direction of the shots you hit. By picking out a target spot that is on the low side of the hole, you can allow yourself to putt uphill toward the cup as you try to save par. Putting uphill is almost always easier than putting downhill, as you can be more aggressive without worrying about the roll out if you miss. Professional golfers are always trying to set up as many uphill putts as possible and you should be doing the same thing as you play.
The final strategy point we are going to address in this section has to do with pitching to a rear hole location. When the hole is cut on the far side of the green, you will have to basic options to pick from – pitch the ball to the middle of the green and let it roll, or pitch it back near the hole and use spin to bring it to a stop. For most players, in most situations, the better option is to pitch the ball short and let it run out to the cup. This option is desirable because it usually takes the big mistake out of play. If you pitch to the middle and let the ball run, you will likely be within reasonable range of the hole when the ball stops, even if it isn't a perfect shot. Flying the ball to the back of the green, however, brings a bigger miss into play. If you hit the ball too hard, or the shot doesn't spin, you could easily find yourself over the green entirely. Take the safer route and get your ball down on the ground as soon as possible.
Using the Right Ball
If you have been using the same type of golf ball for a long time, you probably don't think about its performance characteristics very often. Or, if you are like many amateur players, you might simply play whatever ball you find sitting in the woods or resting at the bottom of a pond. However, in order to improve your pitching, you might want to think a little more closely about the ball that you are using when you tee it up.
As has been mentioned throughout this article, spin plays a crucial role in pitching the golf ball. Unfortunately, many inexpensive golf balls aren't going to offer you the spin needed to bring a pitch shot to a quick stop. If the balls in your bag are from the bargain bin, you can be sure they aren't going to do much of anything for you in terms of spin on a pitch shot. Unless you play a golf course which is usually quite soft – making spin a non-factor – you would be wise to find a ball with at least a moderate spin rate.
So, do you have to spend $50 per dozen to get a ball that will spin on your pitch shots? Not at all. There are plenty of 'mid-range' golf balls that offer solid performance for a modest price. As a good rule of thumb, the average golfer should be using a ball that is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive on the shelf. Take a look at the inventory at your local golf shop and pick out something that comes in right around the middle of the price range.
Pitching is a crucial skill that can quickly shave several strokes off of your score when you learn how to do it properly. Make this part of the game a priority during your upcoming practice sessions and you should see tangible, exciting results in the near future. You are sure to find your ball within the pitching zone at least once or twice during every round, so it is important that you know how to handle this shot with confidence. Good luck!