Once you've developed your setup and takeaway, it's time to graduate to the half swing, which is a great way to build fundamentals for the full swing.
Think about your golf swing as a clock, with 12:00 above your head, 9:00 directly to your right (for a righty), 6:00 at your feet and 3:00 directly to your left. On a half swing, your hands will stop at the 9:00 mark on the backswing – with the left arm parallel to the ground -- and at 3:00 on the follow-through.
As you practice hitting shots with a half swing, you may notice the ball goes farther than you expect. That's because a half swing is easier to control than the full swing, increasing your chances of making solid contact. A square hit always delivers more distance than a mishit.
Once you've advanced past the beginner stage, you'll still use the half swing frequently on the course. Say you've got a 75-yard shot, and you know that you hit your pitching wedge about 100 yards with a full swing. The half swing – which can generate about 75% of your usual distance – may be your best option.
Practice half-swing shots on the driving range before moving on to the full swing. Ingrain the fundamentals of swinging from 9:00 to 3:00 and you'll have the makings of a solid game.
Plus, a good half swing is great weapon to help you attack less than full shots on the course.
How to Play Less than Full Golf Swings
Golf would be rather easy if you could hit each shot as hard as you can and still have the ball go the right distance. Of course, that isn't the way it works. Many of the shots you will encounter on the golf course require some sort of modified swing in order to hit the ball the appropriate yardage. If you are serious about improving your overall game, you will invest time and effort in learning how to make quality golf swings at less than full power.
Usually, the need to make a swing at less than full power will come when you are hitting a short approach into the green. For example, if you face a shot that is too long for your sand wedge but too short for your normal gap wedge swing, you will probably need to hit a soft shot with the gap wedge. Often, it is this skill that separates a good golfer from an average one. A player who is comfortable with making soft swings will be able to handle a wider-range of scenarios on the course than a player who is only able to go after the ball with 100% effort. Teach yourself how to hit shots with less than a full swing and a whole new world of possibilities will open up to you during each and every round.
Unfortunately, making softer swings isn't quite as easy as it might sound as first. You might think that you can just tighten up your swing a little bit and achieve a ball flight that is similar to your usual shots, only shorter. For most players, it isn't going to work that way. In fact, there are several technical adjustments that you are going to have to make before you can consistently produce quality shots with less than a full swing. Like any other skill you learn in the game of golf, these modified swings should be developed and practiced on the driving range before you take them to the course.
After you learn how to hit shots with less than a full swing, you might be surprised to find how often you will end up using this technique during the average round. You can play softer shots for a variety of reasons – not only to deal with being in-between yardages. Good golfers, including plenty of professionals, often will go through a round hitting the majority of their shots with something less than a full swing. You don't get any bonus points on the scorecard for hitting the ball long distances, and using a softer swing is frequently the best way to position your ball close to the hole.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions accordingly.
The Basic Adjustments
Before you start to practice your less than full golf swing, you will need to understand some basic adjustments that should be made to your set up position. It is crucial that you get set up correctly prior to each swing when you are trying to hit a soft shot. Address position is important for all golf shots, but it might be more important on a soft shot than in any other area of the game. If you skip over these points or only give them minor consideration, you are not going to be happy with the results that you achieve.
Include each of the following three points in your set up for any less than full golf shot that you hit.
- Choke down on the club. The first thing you do when you decide to hit a soft shot is to choke down a couple of inches from the grip of the club. This is the easiest way to make your swing shorter, which will in turn reduce the swing speed that you are able to generate. As you move your hands farther and farther down the grip, you will continue to reduce your swing speed. Therefore, you can use this adjustment as a point of control over the shot you are trying to hit. Only need to take a few yards off of the shot? Choke down on the grip just an inch or so. Need to hit the ball significantly shorter? Choke down almost all the way to the end of the grip.
- Stand closer to the ball. This is an adjustment that works together with the first adjustment. Since you will be effectively making the club shorter when you choke down on the grip, you also need to stand closer to the ball to maintain a good position at address. If you fail to move closer, you will end up hunched over at the waist – which is never a good thing for your posture. You want to have your knees bent and back straight just like you would on any other shot, so be sure to stand close enough to the ball to facilitate this position.
- Move ball position back slightly. Most of the time when you are hitting a soft shot you will want to flight the ball lower than usual. That means moving the ball back in your stance at least an inch or two. Be careful, however, not to move the ball too far back in your stance or you may have trouble hitting solid shots. For most golfers, the ideal ball position for a less than full swing with a wedge is going to be one or two inches behind the middle of the stance. If you are hitting a soft shot with a longer club, try positioning the ball perfectly in the middle of your stance to encourage a low flight and clean contact.
If you are an experienced golfer, these minor adjustments to your stance are probably nothing new, and they shouldn't take much time to implement in your game. The key is to use these tips time after time when practicing soft shots on the driving range so that they become comfortable to you. Ideally, you won't have to think about these three adjustments when playing a round of golf – they will just happen automatically when you decide to hit a shot with less than a full swing.
Building a Practice Routine
Any progress that you are going to make on your golf game will always start on the practice range (or the practice green). There is a limit to how much you can improve when you only spend time out on the course – you need to put in practice time if you have any real aspirations of becoming a better player. With that in mind, you will need to work on developing a practice routine to work on your less than full shots on the driving range.
Most players make the mistake of only hitting long shots when they work on their swing. The average amateur will go through the majority of a bucket of range balls simply by hitting drivers, paying little attention to the rest of the clubs in the bag. In order to learn how to hit soft shots effectively, you will need to break this habit and spend plenty of time with your wedges and other irons.
During your next trip to the driving range, try using the following process to work on hitting softer shots with your short irons. The same pattern that is used in the drill below can be used to work on a less than full swing with any of the clubs in your bag.
- Select a wedge to use for this practice session. To start with, your pitching wedge would make a great choice.
- Set aside twenty practice balls for this drill. You should be hitting from a position on the range that allows you to aim at a variety of short range targets – and you should be able to see each of those targets clearly so you can evaluate the success of your swings.
- Prior to hitting any shots, pick out a total of five targets that are all within range of your pitching wedge. The longest target should be located at the maximum distance that you are comfortable hitting your pitching wedge. The shortest target should be located at about half that distance. So, for example, if you can hit your pitching wedge 120 yards with a full swing, pick out a target that is as close to that number as possible. Then, find a short target that is around 60 yards away from your position. The remaining three targets would fall in between the 60 and 120 yard marks.
- With your five targets selected, hit the first ball at the longest target. You will be making a full swing, with no adjustments to your usual technique. Don't rush through these swings – go through your regular pre-shot routine and prepare to hit a quality shot just as you would on the course. On each shot, hold your finish and watch the ball land.
- After that first shot has been hit, adjust your aim to the next target that you have picked out. This should be the 2nd longest of the five targets. Again, go through your routine and hit a good shot. In this case, however, you will need to use the adjustments outlined above to hit the ball shorter with a less than full swing.
- Continue this process, moving in one target at a time until you hit your fifth shot at the closest target. After hitting five shots, start over by aiming at the long target once again. The process is complete when you have hit twenty total shots – four balls at each of the five targets.
The purpose of this drill is to help you learn how to control the speed of your swing based on the target you have selected. That will be easy for the long target – you just make a full swing and do your best to make solid contact with the ball. However, as the targets get shorter, you will have more difficulty controlling your speed perfectly. This is more art than science, and it is a skill that takes time to develop. Once you have made the three adjustments outlined above, the rest is up to your ability and experience to control the speed of the swing. It is important to go through a practice drill like this on a regular basis so you can develop your touch on less than full shots.
Make this drill (or a variation of this drill) a regular part of your practice routine. One idea that may help you develop this skill is to pick out one club each practice session to put through this process. The drill will work for any club in the bag, but it is most-useful when used for clubs between seven iron and sand wedge. If you can commit yourself to using a distance control drill during all of your practice sessions, you should find that your skill on soft shots quickly improves.
Picking Your Spots
The process of learning how to hit less than full shots mostly comes down to trial and error. While there are a few technical adjustments that you need to make (which were covered above), the majority of the process is going to come down to spending time on the range working on this skill. With practice, you should become more and more comfortable hitting shots at less than full speed.
Once you have built up the confidence to hit these kinds of shots on the course, the next step will be learning how to pick and choose the right time to put your new skill to use. There are some situations that obviously call for a less than full swing. Other opportunities, however, may pass you by if you aren't paying close attention. Following are four situations that you may encounter on the golf course which call for the use of a softer swing.
- In-between yardages. This is the main reason why you will turn to a less than full swing. When you are in-between clubs for a given approach shot, the better option is almost always to take more club and swing softer (as opposed to trying to hit the shorter club as long as you possibly can). In fact, if you become comfortable with hitting soft iron shots into the green, you might find that you start doing it voluntarily even when you have a good yardage for one of your irons. It is possible to become quite accurate when hitting less than full irons shots – and accuracy is always a good thing in golf.
- Downwind shots. Believe it or not, hitting a soft shot is a great idea when playing downwind. One of the biggest mistakes that amateur golfers make in the wind is to swing as hard as possible when playing downwind in order to maximize distance. When you take this approach, you lose all control over the golf ball and you will have to get lucky in order for it to come down at the right yardage. Instead, use your less than full swing to hit a controlled shot which flies lower and limits the affect that the wind has on the ball. Keeping your ball out of the wind as much as possible should always be the goal, even when the wind is blowing toward the target.
- Back hole locations. If you are faced with an approach shot to a back hole location, consider hitting your less than full shot in order to get a bigger bounce from the ball when it lands on the green. When you hit a full shot to a back hole location, it can be difficult to carry the ball all the way to the target without flying your shot over the green. By using a soft swing, you can bring the ball in lower and allow it to bounce back toward the hole. This is a shot that gives you the best of both worlds – you still have a chance to hit the shot close, but you also reduce the risk of hitting the ball over the target.
- Playing from a poor lie. Even the nicest golf courses will leave you with a poor lie from time to time. When you find that your ball is sitting in a bad spot somewhere on the course, use your less than full swing to make solid contact and get out of a tough situation. If you are playing from a poor lie, your main concern should always be striking the ball cleanly. With that in mind, making good contact with the ball is going to be easier when you are swinging at something less than 100% effort.
These are just a few examples of the many possible situations which could call for the use of a softer golf swing. As you gain confidence in these shots you will likely look for even more opportunities to put them to use for you. If you have a chance, you could even try to play an entire round hitting nothing but soft shots as an experiment. This isn't going to be the way you want to play golf all the time, but trying it for a round could reveal to you additional uses for your less than full swing.
The Effect of Pressure of a Soft Golf Swing
Pressure causes a lot of problems on the golf course. Many of the shots that you struggle with on the course would be much easier if you didn't feel any pressure. Most golfers feel that they swing much better on the practice range in large part because there is no pressure to cause problems in their technique. Pressure doesn't have to come in the form of a large wager or a tournament – it can simply be the pressure of trying to beat your friends or shoot a new personal best round.
So, what can pressure do to your less than full golf swing? The first thing it will do is speed you up. Most players respond to pressure by moving faster, which can cause serious problems when you are trying to hit a soft shot. If you feel yourself getting a little nervous, you will need to make a conscious effort to slow down before hitting a shot. Take a deep breath, count to five, and make sure you are thinking clearly before making a swing. You can't afford to rush when hitting a soft shot because your swing will be too quick and the shot will likely be hit too hard. Be aware of this issue and find your rhythm with a couple slow practice swings prior to actually hitting the shot.
The other problem that pressure can bring into the game is poor decision making. Where you will have no problem thinking clearly when you are relaxed, pressure has a way of forcing your mind into making bad choices. This is often manifested in poor club selection. If you are comfortable hitting less than full shots into the greens, don't let the pressure of the moment convince you to hit a hard shot when you would normally hit a soft one. Stick with your own game plan at all times regardless of what kind of nerves you may be feeling. It doesn't do any good to practice your soft shots if you are going to abandon them when the pressure on, so trust in your less than full swing no matter what circumstances are in front of you.
Making less than full golf swings is a skill that every golfer should develop. Not every shot on the course calls for a full swing, and the ability to employ a soft swing when it is needed will offer you a great advantage. By making a few minor swing adjustments and then practicing your technique on the range, you should be able to get comfortable hitting a variety of different clubs using your less than full swing.