If you tend to hit pitch shots fat, or catch the ball well before the turf and hit line drives, a simple technique adjustment should fix you right up.
First, note the difference between chipping and pitching. A chip flies low and spends more time on the ground than in the air; a pitch is a higher shot that stops quickly after landing.
Here we're talking about short, greenside pitch shots, where the bounce on your wedge comes in handy. Utilizing bounce requires a shallow angle of approach into the ball, whereas a steep swing causes the club's leading edge to dig into the turf. The shallow swing makes it easier to get the ball into the air and minimizes the effects of a mishit.
Here's the proper setup for a basic pitch shot using any wedge:
- Stand with your feet 6-12” apart, with the left foot slightly open to the target line (right foot for lefties).
- Place the ball in the center of your stance, or slightly forward (left) of center.
- The shaft should be perpendicular to the ground or leaning a touch toward the target. Too much lean and your angle will be too steep, decreasing the effective bounce.
- Check that your sternum is directly in line with the ball or slightly left of it. Place the butt end of your club on your chin and left the shaft hang down; as you look down, the clubhead's position will tell you where your sternum is positioned.
Make several practice swings with the goal of clipping the turf with the bottom of the club. If the leading edge hits the ground and digs or stops the club, your swing is too steep. Try to take either a very small divot or none at all on short pitches
Use Clubs Bounce for Crisp Pitch Shots
The short game is far and away the single most important area of your golf game. Sure, you probably love to blast long drives or hit accurate iron shots – and both of those things can help you play well – but nothing will compare to the short game in terms of helping you lower your scores. If you want to post good scores on a consistent basis, and you want to get better as time goes by, improving the short game should be your main focus.
Why is the short game so important? Simple – it is your best chance to save one stroke on a hole. That is really what it is all about. Saving a single stroke. If you can turn a bogey into a par, or a par into a birdie, the effect that those 'saves' will have over the course of a round is tremendous. For instance, if you are able to save five strokes during the day with excellent short game play, that could be enough to take you from the 100's to the 90's, the 90's to the 80's, or even from the 80's into the 70's. No matter what your personal scoring goals happen to be, the short game is the tool that will get you there.
One of the key elements within the short game is pitch shots. Most golfers would consider a pitch shot to be one that is played from outside of normal chipping range, while still using something less than a full swing. To put a yardage on this category, you could probably say that most pitch shots are played from a range of 20 – 40 yards (although that definition is certainly not set in stone). Pitching the ball is something that gives many amateur golfers trouble, because it requires a delicate combination of technique and touch, something that takes time and practice to develop properly. Unless you are willing to put in time in the practice area to learn how to pitch the ball correctly, you can forget about ever improving this area of your short game.
Of course, when you are pitching the ball, you will likely be using one of your wedges. A pitch hit with anything less than a pitching wedge would probably have too much bounce and roll to be effective, so your focus should be on learning how to pitch the ball with all of the various wedges in your bag. Not only do you need to learn how to use the loft of the club to carry the ball the proper distance for the shot at hand, you also need to learn how to use the bounce of the club to move through impact cleanly. Making crisp contact is always the goal when hitting a pitch, because that crisp contact will produce backspin and it will make it far easier to predict the distance that the ball is going to travel in the air. Learn how to work the club under the ball with the help of bounce and you will quickly improve your short game.
All of the instruction 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.
What is Bounce Factor Anyway?
Before you can use the bounce of your wedges to help you hit better chip shots, you need to understand what it is, and where you can find it on your club. All irons have some degree of bounce, although it is really only discussed when it comes to wedges. If you pick up one of your wedges and hold it around the club head, you will be able to see the bounce angle between the leading edge of the club and the back of the sole. The bottom of the club (the part that sits on the ground at address) is rounded, and the degree to which it is rounded makes up the bounce angle of that particular wedge. Some wedges are designed with very little bounce, meaning the sole is relatively flat, while others have a pronounced roll on the bottom. When you are picking out a new wedge to purchase and put in your bag, bounce angle is one of the important factors to consider.
Deciding between a higher bounce angle and a lower option is a matter of both personal preference and course conditions. First, you should think about the golf courses that you typically play. Are they firm and fast, or do they tend to be soft and a little bit wet? When playing on dry, hard conditions, less bounce is definitely the way to go. You want the club to get under the ball when playing on firm turf, and a big bounce angle just might not be able to get the job done in that situation. On the other hand, if you are playing on soft ground, more bounce can be a big help. A wedge without much bounce is prone to sticking in the turf behind the ball when the ground is soft, meaning you could wind up with plenty of fat shots if you buy a low-bounce club. With a higher bounce angle, the club is more likely to skim the top of the grass prior to hitting the ball, helping you to avoid the dreaded fat shot.
Another piece of the puzzle is your own personal playing style and ability. Are you an accomplished player, or are you just getting started in the game? It takes more skill, generally speaking, to hit good shots using a low-bounce wedge. Therefore, most beginners will benefit from using a higher bounce angle on their wedges, until they develop the consistent technique necessary to make contact cleanly with the ball time after time. You don't want to fight your equipment while you are on the course, so be smart and pick a club with plenty of bounce until you are confident in your technique.
When you start to shop for a new wedge, you should consider anything in the 4* to 6* range to be low bounce, while 8* or 10* wedges are relatively average. Anything up to 12* and beyond is what most golfers would consider to be a high bounce option. If you aren't exactly sure which option you should settle on for your next wedge, the best choice is to demo a few different models and see how they feel going through the ball. The right choice for you will likely become clear pretty quickly once you hit a few balls with each of the various bounce options.
So, in summary, higher bounce wedges are great for players who are just getting started, or for those who play on soft conditions most of the time. On the other hand, lower bounce wedges are meant to handle firm turf, and they will also be a good choice for experienced players who would like to be able to create a wider variety of shots from the fairway and around the greens.
Basic Pitching Technique
With an understanding of bounce now in your back pocket, you can get down to work on creating quality pitch shots. The basic technique behind a good pitch shot is rather simple, so it shouldn't take long at all to get your mechanics in order. However, after you learn the basic mechanics, you are going to need to put in plenty of practice time if you wish to perform consistently from 20 – 40 yards when you are actually out on the course.
The following points make up the basics of the pitch shot. Hit on all of these points and you will be striking clean and crisp chip shots as soon as your next practice session.
- Stay balanced. Just as with your full swing, balance is paramount when you are pitching the golf ball. Hitting pitch shots is a precision task – you have to be able to put the club into the ball precisely at the right point in order to make great contact. That means that you can't be moving all around during your swing, or you will stand no chance of achieving a clean hit. Start your pitch shots by getting into a balanced address position and then be sure to remain there throughout the rest of the shot. You aren't going to be swinging hard or making much of a shoulder turn, so it should be relatively easy to keep your weight nicely balanced between your two feet.
- Relax your hands. The club head needs to swing freely through the ball when hitting a pitch, so keep your hands relaxed on the grip of the club. Tight grip pressure will ruin your pitch shots, even if you do everything else right from start to finish. Allow your fingers to relax around the grip of the club and you will find that the swing becomes far more natural and easy to repeat. At first, it might be difficult to trust your lighter grip pressure on pitch shots, so spend plenty of time practicing in order to build the confidence necessary to execute this technique on the course.
- Eyes on the ball. This might seem like obvious advice that you have heard a million times already, but it is absolutely critical to clean pitch shots. When you are playing a shot from close to the green like this, it is tempting to look up quickly to see if the ball is on line toward the target. Unfortunately, looking up early can lead to a miss-hit at impact. You need to keep your eyes focused on the back of the ball until you have made contact, and you should only look up once you are sure the ball is already on its way. You need to see what you are trying to hit if you are going to execute time after time, so learn to have the discipline necessary to keep your eyes down all the way through every pitch shot.
As the title of this section would indicate, there is nothing complicated about the pitching motion. It is simple and straightforward, but the challenge is repeating it over and over again, even when you are nervous. If you can make the same type of pitching swing time after time, you should be able to control your distance effectively even while the pressure is on. During your next practice session, set aside some time for pitching and work on the three basic fundamentals included in the list above. Even spending just a few minutes per practice session working on these points could do wonders for your short game.
How Bounce Helps You Pitch
So far, we have covered the basics of bounce, and the basics of pitching the golf ball. Now it is time to bring those concepts together. How is it that bounce helps you hit crisp chip shots? You might think that making a good swing is the only thing that can allow you to pitch the ball close to the hole, and that is true for the most part. However, with the bounce in place on the bottom of your club, you can help yourself by using that bounce to make the job a little bit easier. Learn how to either expose or hide the bounce as you move through the ball and you will have more options in your pitching game than you ever thought possible.
When you are hitting a standard pitch shot, you will want to expose the bounce of the club to the turf as you are reaching impact. That means that you will have to release the club in order to clear the leading edge past the grass so that the bounce can slide along the top of the turf as you hit the ball. This is a move that takes a little bit of timing and practice, so it certainly needs to be worked on ahead of time before you use it during a round.
Why do you want to use the bounce of the club? By using the bounce, you reduce the risk of sticking the front edge of the club head into the turf short of the ball. The bounce will basically give you some forgiveness, making it easier to strike clean shots even if your swing isn't quite perfect. This is especially important when you are playing golf on soft fairways – the soft ground is just waiting to eat up your club head, so you can use the bounce as a sort of insurance against that outcome. The shots that you hit when using the bounce will come out high and relatively soft. They probably won't have very much backspin, but they should land gently on the green with only a little roll out (depending on conditions, of course). For the 'average' pitch shot with no major hazards or slopes to consider, this is a great approach to take. With a little practice, you should be able to toss the ball up onto the green time after time by allowing the bounce to run along the top of the grass through impact.
As you might suspect, however, this isn't going to be the right approach to take all of the time. On some occasions, you will actually want to keep the bounce out of the picture so you can go ahead and dig that leading edge into the ground behind the ball. This is the method you will want to use when a low, spinning pitch shot is the goal. To pitch the ball onto the green with very little height, you need to hold off on the release and hit down steeply at the bottom of your swing. You should take a divot and the leading edge should grab the grass right after you strike the ball. This is a great shot to hit when you need to bounce the ball up a slope, or when don't feel comfortable taking the higher route for any reason. Professional golfers routinely switch back and forth between these two pitch shots depending on the situation, and you should work toward being able to do the same thing.
One of the great things about having bounce on your wedge is that you can 'put it away' when you need to by altering your technique. While you can't take the bounce out of play totally when you carry a high bounce wedge, you can still alter how much you use it simply by changing your angle of attack and the timing of your release. Want to use the bounce? Come in shallow and release the club early. Want to keep the bounce out of the picture? Set up for a steeper impact and hold off your release until the ball is gone. Work on learning how to hit both of these shots so you can call upon them whenever they are needed on the course.
Pitch Shot Strategy
Now that you know what bounce is and you understand a little bit about how to use it, the last piece of the pitching puzzle is having some clear strategic goals in mind. Every shot you hit on the course should include an element of strategy, and that certainly applies to your pitches. Remember these three points when you are preparing for any pitch shot and you should be able to achieve more consistent outcomes.
- Safety first. The first goal of pitching the golf ball should always be to get the ball onto the green. That seems obvious, of course, but many golfers fail to think this way. Instead, they think about getting the ball as close to the hole as possible – which is great – but they fail to think also about making sure to avoid disaster. If you try to hit a perfect chip and wind up leaving the ball in the rough, or in a bunker, you could quickly turn a decent hole into a major blemish on your scorecard. Take the big number out of play by picking relatively conservative targets so you can put the ball at least on the green with every pitch you hit.
- Under the hole. Given the choice, you would always rather be putting uphill as compared to downhill. Uphill putts allow you to be more aggressive without the risk of running the ball well past the hole – meaning you will be able to hit your line and hole the ball out more frequently. So, when you are preparing to hit a pitch shot, assess the area around the hole and favor the low side. Even if you wind up a little bit farther away on the low side than you could have been on the high side, the trade will likely be worth it in the end.
- Consider the situation. If you are playing in a competition, you need to think about the situation within the context of the round before you decide how to pitch the ball. For instance, if you are playing in a team event and your partner already has made a par on the hole, you can be aggressive and try to pitch in for birdie. On the other hand, if you partner is out of play, taking the safe route is the only way to go. Take a moment to think about where you are in the round – and in the tournament – before deciding on your strategy for the shot.
Pitching the golf ball is an important skill, and using the bounce of your wedge to your benefit can make this part of the game a little bit easier. You should be sure to consider bounce when you are shopping for a new wedge, and always know the bounce angles of your various wedges so you can pick the right one for the job each time. As long as your clubs match the style of play you are going to use and the types of courses you play on, there should be plenty of great pitch shots in your future.