For the novice golfer, nothing is more fun than seeing how far you can hit the ball with your driver. And nothing is more time-consuming than learning the fundamentals and complexities of the full swing. Combined, these facts explain why most beginners spend most if not all of their practice time on the driving range.
Here's the problem: They neglect the short game, where the majority of shots are taken during a round. In a standard 18-hole round, about 40% of your strokes will be putts, with another 20% or so occurring within 100 yards of the green. If you shoot an even 100, that's 60 shots from 100 yards and in!
Now you know why it's crucial to practice the short game. Here's how to go about it – and get the most from it:
- First, you'll need to find a course or facility that allows chipping on the practice green, or has a separate area devoted to greenside shots. Unfortunately, many do not.
- As a beginner, your primary focus should be on fundamentals. Locate areas where you can play basic, straightforward chip shots – about 20 to 30 feet to the hole across a relatively flat portion of green. Drop 5-10 balls on a spot and work on this technique, then move to a different spot and repeat.
- After you've hit 30 to 50 chips, move on to pitch shots for 30 to 50 more. While similar to chipping, pitching the ball requires a few slight adjustments in setup and swing. Use this video as your guide.
- Finish your short game session on the green. Start by finding a flat, straight putt of no more than two feet. Drop five balls and putt them until you make all five. Once accomplished, move to the opposite side of the cup and repeat. For a helpful guide to building a sound stroke, watch this tutorial.
- Once you're consistently draining two-footers, move out a couple of feet and start over. If you have trouble making five in a row and get frustrated, ditch the routine. Toss a few balls randomly around the green and putt each one toward the same hole. This will help you develop feel for distance and line while breaking the monotony.
The great thing about short shots is, you can practice them in your own yard. Practice chipping at trees, or place your own target like a golf ball box or doormat. With a little work, you can develop a solid short game in much less time than it takes to build a dependable full swing.
Beginner Tip – Why and How Practice Your Short Game
Everyone knows that you need to practice your golf game if you are going to improve effectively. After all, golf has a well-earned reputation as one of the most difficult games in the world, and you aren't going to get better just by staring at your clubs in the garage. Improvement on the course requires hard work on the driving range – it's just that simple. However, you aren't going to improve by simply arriving at the range and swinging away. Instead, you need to have a plan in place for how you are going to spend your time, what you are going to work on specifically, and how you are going to work on it.
Unfortunately, many amateur golfers waste a majority of their practice time through bad habits. One such bad habit is standing up on the tee line and swinging away with the driver over and over again. Sure, the driver is an important club, and you need to be comfortable with it when you get out on the course. However, there is far more to golf than just hitting good drives, and you need to become a well-rounded player if you want to lower your scores over time.
In this article, we are going to highlight the importance of practicing the short game, and we are also going to offer up some tips on how to do so effectively. The short game is overlooked by a majority of amateur golfers, and that is truly a shame. While most golfers would love to be able to shave even just a couple of strokes off their average score, those same players fail to understand that it is the short game that will allow them to do so. Instead, they keep making swing after swing on the range, hoping to unlock some sort of 'secret' that will dramatically improve their ball striking and the scoring at the same time. Usually, that doesn't happen. Instead, most of their practice effort is wasted, and their scores stay the same.
The point of this article is not to tell you that you should never hit full shots during your practice session. Obviously, it is important to work on your full swing, and you should be trying to improve it as well. However, in the absence of a quality short game, a good full swing just isn't going to mean very much. Only when you can bring together a consistent and reliable short game with a nice full swing will you really be able to start checking off some of your long-term golf goals. Remember, this is a hard game and you can't afford to have any glaring weaknesses if you hope to be successful.
All of the instruction contained 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.
The Importance of the Short Game
Generally speaking, most golfers prefer the long game to the short game. That isn't too surprising, really, when you think about how much fun it is to launch a long drive right down the middle of the fairway. There might not be any feeling in golf that quite compares with being able to send a tee shot hundreds of yards into the distance. However, those great drives are only the beginning of each hole, and there is a lot of work left to do if you are going to post a good score. Most of that work, of course, comes in the form of the short game.
Imagine for a moment that you are an average golfer who usually shoots a score right around 90 for an 18-hole round. Within those 90 shots, there is a good chance that roughly 50% of them will take place in the short game. You can easily take 30-35 putts per round when you play at that level, and adding another 10-15 chip/pitch/sand shots to that total will get you up to half of your score for the day. Obviously, the short game accounts for a significant portion of your total score, and yet most golfers neglect it when it comes to practice time. Are you spending half of your practice time on the short game? Probably not. Put into this perspective, it is easy to see why it is so important to spend time working on all aspects of your short game during each practice session.
In addition to being a large part of your overall score for each round, the short game is also where you stand to make the biggest improvement in your score. You simply can't cut back on the number of long shots you hit by a significant amount, because of the very nature of the game. You have to hit a tee shot on every hole, so that is 18 strokes right there that aren't going away. You will need to hit approach shots on every par four and par five as well, so there are another 18 swings (at least) that you have to make. In other words, improving on your full swing is only going to allow you to lower your score modestly. However, if you improve your short game, you could dramatically cut into your handicap in a hurry.
For example, plenty of average golfers use right around 35 putts per round. Compare that to professional golfers, who are regularly in the range of 27-30 putts to complete an 18-hole round. Even if you don't quite reach the level of a Tour pro, you could still shave three or four shots off of your average round just by improving your putting. Of course, improving your chipping will help you to bring down that putting average as well, so the overall short game should never be discounted. Simply put, if you want to shoot lower scores, you are going to spend time working on your short game.
Another benefit of having a strong short game is the ability to add consistency to your game from day to day. Even great golfers have ball striking rounds from time to time – it's just part of the game. However, you should be able to consistently bring your solid short game to the course round after round. Sure, you will have days where the putts just don't quite want to fall in, but even then you should still perform okay as long as you have solid technique and a good approach. Nobody likes having those terrible days on the course where nothing goes right and your score skyrockets as a result – to avoid that kind of day, do your best to sharpen up your short game.
One last point that needs to be made on the short game has to do with the weather conditions that you might face on the course. It is obviously fun to play golf under sunny skies with warm temperatures and calm breezes, but that isn't always the case. You are going to play some rounds where the rain is falling or the wind is blowing, or both. To get through those rounds, you will likely need to rely on your short game as hitting quality shots in those conditions can be tough to say the least. If you know you can turn to your short game to save some shots when the weather is your enemy, it will be much easier to post a solid score even on tough days.
Basics of Short Game Practice
Hopefully, by this point, you are convinced of the importance of the short game to your overall performance on the golf course. With that out of the way, the next issue to tackle is exactly how to practice your short game for maximum effect. You don't just want to wander out and hit a few putts and chips – instead, you should have a plan in place that allows you to take advantage of however much time you have available. It would be great to have unlimited time to work on your game, but that just isn't reality for most people. Instead, you almost certainly have to squeeze in golf practice time between other 'real life' duties. So, to improve your game while working within time constraints, you need to assemble a smart plan and then stick to that plan time after time.
To get started putting together your own short game practice plan, consider the following important points.
- Two separate putting sessions. One of the best things you can do for your short game is to include two different putting sessions within your overall routine. Many golfers like to putt at both the beginning and the end of their practice time, but you can approach it in whatever manner works best for you. By putting twice, you will be able to work on some technical points in one session, while dedicating the other session purely to developing your touch and feel.
- Chipping and Pitching. While they are often lumped together, chipping and pitching are not really the same thing. Chipping refers to shots that are hit from within a few yards of the putting surface, while pitching references shots usually played from the range of 10 – 40 yards off of the green. The techniques you are going to use for these two shots are not exactly the same, although there is some obvious overlap. Make sure that each practice session includes both chipping and pitching so you don't wind up with a 'hole' in your game around the greens.
- Get in the bunker. If the practice facility that you use includes a practice bunker, be sure to use it each time you work on your game. Hitting even just a few bunker shots per session will help you learn the proper feel for playing from the sand. This is a common area to overlook in terms of practice, but most golfers find at least a bunker or two during the average round. Learning how to blast the ball close to set up an easy putt is a skill that can save you a stroke or two per round almost immediately.
- A variety of lies. This is the point that might be missed more than any other when it comes to working on the short game. It is easy to fall into the habit of placing the ball on a perfect fairway lie while hitting chip and pitch shots in practice, but that is rarely how it works during an actual round of golf. Instead, you will probably be fighting with a variety of tough lies, including long grass, bare ground, slopes, and more. Do your best to replicate actual on-course conditions by playing your practice shots from as many different lies as possible.
As you can see, there is a lot to do within your short game practice sessions. At first, it might seem like going through a practice routine could take all day, but you can actually work through the process relatively quickly if you are focused and have a plan. Since these are short shots, you won't have to walk very far to retrieve your golf balls and hit them again. After a while, you might even find that you enjoy practicing the short game more than working on your long game – imagine that!
A Sample Routine
The exact routine that you choose to your use for your own practice sessions is going to vary based on a number of factors. Naturally, you will have to work around the constraints of the practice facility that you are using. For instance, if the facility only has a short driving range of a couple hundred yards, you may not be allowed to hit your driver. Or, you might practice somewhere that does not have a practice bunker available. Whatever the case, you are going to need to tailor your plan to meet the restrictions you are facing.
Also, you will want to customize your plan based on the weaknesses in your game. By addressing the weak points in your game, you can speed up your path to improvement. Many golfers make the mistake of practicing their strong points over and over again, rather than addressing their weaknesses, which is why a large percentage of amateur players never actually get any better. Don't run away from the things that you don't do well on the course – attack them head on and turn your weaknesses into strengths.
With those points made, let's take a look at a hypothetical practice routine that you could use during your next trip to the range. This routine is going to assume that you have exactly 60 minutes available to practice, not including any time that will be spent putting on your shoes, paying for range balls, etc. If you have more or less time available, you can obviously adjust as necessary. Even though this article is about the ways you can practice your short game, we are including full swing practice in the routine below because this is likely how you will need to structure your time.
- Putting – 10 Minutes. You are going to spend the first 10 minutes of this routine hitting some putts on the practice green. This is a great time to simply work on your feel and touch without getting too much into the technical aspects of putting. Since you have just arrived at the course, you can also use this time to get comfortable with the club in your hands once again, and allow your legs to stretch out before you go hit some shots. You should be hitting both short and long putts during these 10 minutes, while paying close attention to your ability to control speed.
- Pitching – 5 Minutes. Make your way to the chipping/pitching area and spend five minutes hitting pitch shots onto the green from 20-30 yards. This will accomplish two goals – first, of course, it will give you a chance to work on your pitching ability. Also, it will help you to warm up for your range session because you will be making mini-swings that can eventually build up into the shots you are going to hit on the range.
- Full Swings – 20 Minutes. Now that you have hit some pitch shots and your body is (somewhat) warmed up, go ahead and proceed to the driving range to hit some full shots. Work up and down your bag in these twenty minutes, starting out with wedges and going from there until you reach the driver. Be sure to pick a target for each shot you hit, and take time between shots to replicate the experience that you will have on the course.
- Chipping – 10 Minutes. With your full swings complete, it is time to head back to the chipping/pitching area to hit some chip shots. Also, this is a good time to include bunker shots if there is a bunker available. Remember to give yourself a variety of different lies while practicing your chipping, and hit different lengths of shots as well. If you tend to chip with more than one club on the course depending on the circumstances, be sure to use all of your various chipping clubs in practice to improve each of them individually.
- Putting – 15 Minutes. To wind down your session, return to the practice putting green for 15 minutes of work. For the first 10 minutes of so, work on the technical side of your stroke. Use any drills that you have picked up over the years to get your technique in order, and make sure you are rolling the ball as true as possible off of the putter face. Then, for the last five minutes, get rid of those technical thoughts and just hit some putts as you did during the first putting segment. Finishing this way will give you a good feel for the putter and will hopefully build some confidence that you can take away with you.
If you spend your hour of practice time in this manner at the range, you will come away a better player. Of course, one single practice session isn't going to make a huge difference, so do your best to be consistent with your trips to the range. Even if you can only go once a week, completing that trip week after week is going to greatly help your game.
A Word on Focus
When you start to go to the practice facility more often to work on your game, you will likely notice one thing right away – golfers like to talk. A lot. Even if you are just going about your own business, it is easy to attract other golfers who will walk over to chat about golf, the weather, or just life in general. While these people mean well, time spent talking is time that is not being spent improving your golf game.
To avoid this potential distraction, you might want to consider wearing headphones while you work on your game. Putting music on while you practice is a good way to keep your mind focused on the task at hand, and it should be a signal to others that you don't really want to talk. On the occasion where you do have time to chat, you can leave the headphones at home and strike up a conversation to potentially build a new friendship. However, when you mean business in terms of creating a better golf game, put the headphones on and zone in to the task at hand.
Practicing your short game may sound a bit boring at first, but it is actually quite rewarding once you get into it. Knowing that you are doing work which can quickly translate into lower scores on the course is exciting, and you will likely become engaged in the creative process of figuring out how to get the ball as close to the hole as possible. Make a habit of practicing your short game regularly and you can look forward to a future of lower scores and more fun on the links.