Most golfers realize that shots played within 100 yards of the hole comprise a far greater percentage of the score than balls hit off the tee. Yet they spend the bulk of their practice time smacking driver after driver – then wonder why their handicap never comes down.
Of course, you should work on your driving, since it sets up everything else. But simple math dictates that you're much better served practicing with the wedges, honing the short game and putting.
Next time you play, keep track of the following stats. Afterward, you'll understand the importance of practicing from 100 yards and in:
- On par 4s and par 5s, chart how many drives leave you with a clear and playable second shot, whether it's from the fairway, light rough or other decent spot. Separately, note tee shots into hazards, trees or other places which cost you at least one recovery stroke (including penalties incurred, sideways chip-outs, etc.). At round's end add up the number of recovery and penalty strokes. This is what poor drives cost you.
- On every hole, record the number of shots taken inside 100 yards, including tap-in putts. Note any strokes you consider wasted – missed putts of three feet or less, flubbed chips, a skulled wedge that leads to a bogey when you should have made par or better, etc… This is how much poor short-game play cost you.
Chances are you'll find more “waste” near the greens – possibly a lot more. If so, alter your practice sessions to devote ample time to the short game. Hit an entire bucket of balls using just the wedges, and vary your distances – 30 yards, 40 yards, 50 yards, 60 yards, 70 yards, 80 yards and so on. Then mix in a few mid-irons, hybrids and drives to keep the full swing sharp.
Next, work on the simplest chips shots and pitches to minimize wasted shots on routine up-and-down opportunities. And of course, wear out the practice green, especially from 5 feet and in.
Practicing the short game may not be as fun as gripping and ripping the driver, but it can be a lot more productive.
How to Stop Wasting Shots from Inside 100 Yards
To a large extent, your score at the end of the day will be determined by your success or failure from inside 100 yards. While most golfers spend the majority of their time practicing long shots on the range, the key to scoring well is actually improving your performance as you get closer to the hole. If you can hone your skills with your wedges and your putter, better scores are sure to be right around the corner.
No golfer likes the feeling of a 'wasted' shot, but that feeling is even worse when it comes within 100 yards of the hole. A wasted shot is defined as one that is needlessly added to your score. For example, if you are 30 yards from the green and you don't even get the ball on the green with your pitch, you will have wasted a shot. Shooting good scores on the golf course is often more about the mistakes you don't make, rather than the great shots you hit. Avoid silly mistakes from close range and you will automatically be on track to lower your scores.
Putting an end to wasted shots comes down to improving the mental side of your game. Most golfers already possess the physical skills to hit good shots from inside 100 yards, but you need to have the right mental approach to go along with your physical ability. One of the problems that many golfers face is a lack of focus on these 'easier' shots. Since you are already close to the green, it is easy to lose focus prior to hitting the shot – and a swing made without focus is unlikely to be a good one. Hitting a drive on a long par four with water along the side of the fairway will demand you to focus each and every time, but the same can't be said about a short wedge shot to a big green. Don't let the golf course lull you into a false sense of security. Take the same focused approach to each swing you make throughout a round in order to remove wasted shots from your game.
It is important to understand that every golfer hits bad shots from time to time, even from inside 100 yards. You don't have to totally eliminate poor shots from your game in order to improve. In fact, expecting perfection from yourself is a great way to become frustrated on the course. What you should expect, however, is to make quality decisions on each and every shot. The execution isn't always going to happen as you would like, but picking the right shot for the situation is something that every golfer can do regardless of skill level.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Three Dreaded Mistakes
The first step toward eliminating wasted shots is to get rid of the big mistakes from your game inside of 100 yards. Obviously you would love to hit great shots on each swing, but you can do your game a world of good simply by not making damaging mistakes on these shots. For the most part, avoiding the three mistakes below comes down to thinking clearly and being patient on the course. If you can train yourself to make good choices, the three issues below will quickly become problems of the past.
- Taking a penalty. Your number one goal when playing shots from inside of 100 yards should be to avoid a penalty stroke at all costs. Penalties can come in the form of a ball hit into a water hazard, an unplayable lie, or even out of bounds. Taking a penalty stroke from time to time as a golfer is inevitable, but you should be able to avoid that fate when playing short shots. If there is water guarding the green, for example, you would be wise to play safely away from the danger. There will always be a temptation to aim right at the flag – and close to the water – but that risk usually isn't worth the potential reward. When you are faced with a shot of less than 100 yards that is guarded by a potential penalty stroke, choose a safe target to avoid adding a needless stroke to your score.
- Missing the green with a chip shot. When your ball is located just off the edge of the green, you will need to play a chip shot in order to hopefully set up an easy putt. Often, these chip shots will be some of the easiest shots you have to play all day. However, you will occasionally find a chip shot that is made more difficult by a poor lie or a sever slope between your ball and the hole. In this case, your first objective should be to simply get the ball onto the green. Too often, amateur golfers will try to pull off a perfect chip shot – and the ball won't even reach the green. Remember, you don't have to chip the ball right next the hole to save your par. You can always try to make a long par saving putt, assuming you get your chip shot onto the green in the first place. Pick a conservative target for your difficult chip shots to ensure that you are hitting your next shot with a putter.
- Three putting. There are plenty of ways to waste a shot from inside of 100 yards, but none feels worse than a three putt. If you have hit the green in regulation, you are probably excited at the opportunity to putt for birdie, and you are expecting to make a par at the worst. Three putting your way from a birdie to a bogey is a tough pill to swallow for any golfer. When facing a first putt of any significant length, your primary objective should always be rolling the ball with the correct speed. Even if your line is off by a foot or more, you can still set up a short second putt as long as you have the speed just right. It is impossible to totally eliminate three putting from your game, but you should work hard on your speed control to make three putting a rare mistake.
Avoid the three mistakes above comes down to patience. If you have the patience to pick smart targets and hit safe shots, you can usually steer clear of these three problems. A loss of patience could lead you to aim too close to a hazard, or to attempt to hit a perfect chip shot instead of a safe one. Also, running your first putt well past the hole, setting up a three putt, can be the result of not having enough patience in your game. Don't force the action from inside of 100 yards and your outcomes should improve.
Get Comfortable from 60-100 Yards
Wedge shots from the range of 60-100 yards should be relatively easy – but that is not the case for many golfers. Instead, the average amateur golfer dreads this distance, as they aren't comfortable using something less than a full swing to hit a wedge shot into the green. If you find that you are out of your comfort zone from many of the yardages in this range, improving on this part of your game should be a top priority.
Below are three simple tips that will help improve your performance from this important range of distances.
- Find your full swing number. If you have assembled your set of clubs correctly, you should have one club (at least) that is able to hit a full shot to a distance within this range. For powerful players, that club might be a 60* wedge that flies around 90-95 yards in the air. For shorter hitters, it might be a 52* or 56* club that does the job. No matter which club it is for you, it is important that you know which number in this range can be handled with a full swing. Once you have that number in mind, you can make adjustments from that point. So, for example, if you hit your 56* around 90 yards on a full swing, you can use that number as your baseline. Shots shorter than 90 yards will be something less than a full swing with the 56* wedge, while shots longer than 90 will have to be hit with a longer club.
- Stay aggressive. One of the biggest problems experienced by amateur golfers playing short wedge shots is a lack of aggression through the hitting area. Even though you are only hitting the ball a short distance, you still need to accelerate the club through impact. If you need to take some distance off of your shot in order to hit the target, that adjustment should be made in the backswing rather than the downswing. Shorten your backswing to take yards off of a specific wedge, but then move down through the ball just as you would on any other shot. It will take some practice to get used to swinging your wedges this way, so spend plenty of your range time working on less-than-full swing wedge shots. With a short backswing and aggressive downswing, it is possible to create controlled wedges that fly a shorter distance and land with plenty of spin.
- Low is better than high. There is a temptation among many players to hit short wedge shots as high in the air as possible. This is almost always a mistake. Your wedge shots should have plenty of spin to stop quickly even without a high trajectory, and it is easier to manage your distance control when you keep the ball close to the ground. Move the ball slightly back in your stance and use a soft swing to hit low wedge shots into the green. Throwing the ball high up into the air might look cool, but it will make it difficult to control your distance just right. Good golfers hit their long irons high and their short irons low, and you should be hoping to achieve the same pattern in your game.
The 60-100 yard range is a part of the game that takes a lot of practice. Unfortunately, most amateur golfers would rather stand on the practice range and smash drivers rather than working on their distance control with wedges. If you would like to rise above the competition and give yourself a great advantage on the course, put down your driver on the practice tee and spend more quality time with your wedges. This kind of practice might not be terribly exciting, but the results on the course will be highly rewarding.
The Importance of the Low Side
Not all shots from inside of 100 yards are created equal. Some shots are played to large, flat greens with very little in the way of trouble to consider. On the other side of the coin, some shots are played from sloped lies into greens that are pitched severely from one side to the other. A big part of avoiding wasted shots from inside of 100 yards is understanding the situation in front of you and then making a smart decision. Where it might be a great idea to fire right at the pin from a flat lie, making the same choice from uneven ground could be asking for trouble.
One concept that you need to understand in order to score your best is the importance of keeping your ball below the hole. The low side of the course is almost always where you want to be, because you will have more control over your ball when playing uphill. Downhill shots are notoriously difficult to control, especially when you are within short range of the green. Place your ball under the hole and you will find that the game suddenly becomes quite a bit easier.
In general, you should be aiming your shots to error on the low side of the hole when playing from within 100 yards of the target. Imagine you have 80 yards to the hole, which is cut in the middle of a green that is sloped significantly from back to front. A shot that is left short of the hole will provide you with an uphill putt, while a shot that travels past the hole will require a downhill putt for birdie. This scenario should automatically encourage you to aim for a spot short of the hole. In this situation, hitting an approach that comes up 15 feet short of the hole is probably better than a shot that stops 8 feet long. While the long shot would technically be closer to the hole, it would leave you in a far more difficult position. You are always going to make more uphill putts than you will downhill putts, so keep that fact in mind when selecting a club and picking a target.
In much the same way, you would always prefer to be chipping uphill rather than downhill. Sometimes, an uphill chip is even a better option than a downhill putt. Every time you find yourself hitting a short approach shot into a green, take a moment to determine which way the ground is sloped. With that information in mind, pick a target line that gives you a chance to hit it close while still positioning the ball below the hole. You aren't going to execute this strategy perfectly every time, but getting the ball on the low side the majority of the time will certainly help your scores.
Placing your ball on the high side of the hole on a regular basis is a sure way to waste shots from inside of 100 yards. It is very difficult to control your speed when playing downhill, so you will have significantly more trouble chipping or putting the ball close to the hole. It might seem overly cautious to aim to the low side of the hole when you are only hitting a short wedge, but the advantage of playing uphill is worth it.
Responding to a Wasted Shot
Perfection is an impossible goal on the golf course. Every player from the total beginner on up to the best player in the world is going to make mistakes from time to time. The key to your success is to limit those mistakes, and to respond correctly when you do falter. A periodic wasted shot from inside of 100 yards in inevitable, so you need to have a plan for how you are going to respond when a silly mistake pops up in your game.
To learn how to move on from a wasted shot as quickly as possible, use the ideas contained in the three tips below.
- Follow with a conservative shot. The natural temptation after wasting a shot is to get aggressive with the next shot in an effort to atone for your mistake. In reality, this approach is only going to make the situation worse. For example, imagine that you are facing a difficult downhill chip shot over some deep rough. On your first chip, you tried to land the ball too close to the edge of the green, and it got caught up in the rough. Now facing basically the same chip, you will be tempted to attempt the same risky play. Don't fall into that trap. Instead, play the ball safely onto the green to limit your damage. There is nothing you can do to recover the lost stroke on that first chip, so don't make things even worse by doing it again. Cut your losses and move on to the next hole as quickly as possible.
- Take a moment. Slow play is a problem in golf, and you shouldn't be wasting time standing around while others are waiting to play their shots. With that said, it is smart to take just a brief moment after hitting a poor shot from inside of 100 yards to collect your thoughts. Even if it is just a few seconds, use this time to take a deep breath, calm down, and prepare your mind to deal with the next shot. It is easy to start rushing once you play a poor shot from short range, and your mistakes can quickly snowball when that happens. Think quickly about what went wrong, let go of your frustration, and move on to the next shot.
- Learn from your mistakes. Once the round is over, review all of the shots you hit from inside of 100 yards and give yourself a grade on each one. Were you executing your game plan properly? Were you using a smart game plan in the first place? You will never improve if you don't take the time to review your past mistakes. Learning from experience is the best way to lower your scores, but you will only learn if you are willing to honestly review your mistakes. It is fun to think about your great shots, but it is the bad shots that truly turn you into a better player. Make it a habit to think back over all of your shots from inside 100 yards after each round and the knowledge you gain from those experiences will propel you forward to better golf.
Most golfers can tolerating hitting a few poor shots from long range, but making mistakes from inside of 100 yards is a frustrating experience. While it isn't possible to completely eliminate all of your mistakes from short range, you can use the content above to sharpen your performance. Solid swing fundamentals will help when playing wedge shots into the green, but most of your success or failure from short distance is going to be determined by your mental game skills. Making smart decisions and managing your nerves are two key elements to limiting wasted shots. Bring together the perfect mix of physical and mental skills and your outcomes from less than 100 yards will improve immediately.