It seems so easy to get the ball close from 50 or 60 yards away. The flag is right in front of you, you're holding a lofted club, and the wind is little or no factor. Then why do so many golfers fail to knock it tight in these situations?
A variety of issues can derail your chances of getting up-and-down. For starters, most golfers don't have a club that hits the ball 50-60 yards with a full swing, meaning you must precisely calibrate the length and speed of a reduced swing. The most common mistakes include making a backswing that's too long then decelerating on the downswing, and trying to scoop the ball into the air rather than hitting down on it.
Phil Mickelson is one of the best in the world at this delicate shot; follow these keys to emulate his technique:
1. Take a slightly open stance with the feet 12-18 inches apart, or just inside the shoulders. Standing too wide will widen the arc of your swing, a no-no on this shot.
2. Address the ball between the middle of your stance and the left heel (for a righty). The farther up (left) you play it, the higher the shot will carry.
3. Instead of a sweeping, one-piece takeaway as you'd use for a full shot, cock the wrists very early on the backswing. With practice, you'll instinctively know how far to take the club back for the desired shot distance.
4. Keep the hands ahead of the clubhead through impact. Put another way, the right hand shouldn't roll over the left.
Mastering the short pitch requires excellent feel, which comes from practice and experience, so devote a few extra minutes of each range session to honing your distance control.
Proficiency from this yardage can separate you from your peers and cut down on wasted strokes.
Break Wrists Early on Short Pitch Shots?
If there is one area of the game that gives amateur golfers more trouble than any other, it just might be the short pitch shot. Playing a pitch from 20 or 30 yards from the target is a tough task for the average player, as this shot requires a blend of touch and technique that is not easy to obtain. Only through plenty of hard work and attention to detail will you be able to obtain the skills needed to execute this shot properly time after time. Of course, if you are willing to do the work necessary, you will be left with a valuable shot that can save you strokes for many years to come.
As you already know, the short pitch shot is one that comes up often during a regular round of golf. You can find yourself facing this shot after you miss the green in regulation on a par three or par four, or you may have it for your third shot on a par five after getting near the green in two. No matter what the situation, getting up and down from this range is a big boost to your score. If you can turn three shots into two by getting up and down, you will be able to lower your handicap over time as a result. Professional golfers are incredibly adept at this type of shot, which is one of the reasons they are regularly able to post scores in the 60's.
The foundation of this shot is your technique, as using proper mechanics is essential if you want to pitch the ball close to the hole with consistency. Yes, there is also feel involved in controlling the speed of this shot, but everything gets started with technique. Putting the right mechanics in place during your practice sessions will give you the best chance of success when you are out on the course during an actual round. Also, you are going to face a number of different variables with this kind of shot on the course – such as wind, slope, green speed, turf firmness, and more – so being able to start from a platform of good technique will make it easier to handle these other adjustments.
In this article, we are going to look at one specific aspect of this type of shot – the use of your wrists during the backswing. While this might seem like a relatively minor point in the scope of the shot as a whole, it is actually crucially important to your success or failure. If you are able to use your wrists correctly, you will make it easy to strike the ball cleanly time after time. However, if your wrists are not working in the right way during the swing, it will be nearly impossible to produce quality shots from the tricky 20 – 30 yard range.
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 Big Question
The question posed in the title of the article is this – should the wrists 'break' during the early portion of the backswing when you are hitting a short pitch? That certainly sounds like a 'yes' or 'no' type of question, but unfortunately, the answer is a bit more complicated than that. The true answer to this question is 'it depends'. Sometimes, you will want to break your wrists early in the backswing, while other occasions will call for quiet hands and wrists throughout. Knowing when you should use each technique will be a big help in your pursuit of a better overall short game.
To understand how you are going to decide what technique to use for a given pitch shot, you need to think about spin first and foremost. Basically, when you hinge your wrists early in the backswing, you are going to spin the ball more than if you keep them quiet. A pitching motion without wrist action is much like a putting stroke – the club will sweep through the ball at impact, and there will be almost no spin passed onto the shot. So, when spin is required, hinging your wrists early on is the only way to go.
Some of the decision in this case comes down to personal preference, and some of it comes down to the kind of shot you are facing. For instance, if you are playing an uphill pitch with plenty of green between you and the hole, spin is not going to be necessary. You can land the ball on the green and let it run out toward the cup. On the other hand, if you are pitching downhill or you are short sided, a high backspin rate might be needed to get the ball to stop promptly. Having the ability to pick and choose which type of pitch you are going to hit based on the situation you are facing is a big advantage is the quest to get up and down as often as possible.
In addition to the situation at hand, you can also pick your shot type based on how you like to play the game. Some golfers love to use spin whenever possible, while others like to let the ball bounce and run in a controlled manner. There is no 'right or wrong' on this point – it just comes down to what you prefer, and what you do best. As you work on improving your skills around the greens, you will likely develop a preference for one kind of shot over the other. However, even as you begin to uncover your own personal tastes, make sure you keep your mind open to each of the two options so that you are always ready to play the shot that is needed as you make your way through a round.
Pitching with Quiet Wrists
Before we get into the technique needed to hit a pitch with hinged wrists, we are first going to take a quick look at the other option in this case – pitching the ball with quiet, steady wrists. Many golfers like to think of this kind of shot as a 'putting stroke' with a wedge, and that is a pretty fair assessment. Sure, there are some subtle differences between your putting stroke and this kind of pitch, but overall, the two techniques are more similar than they are different.
If you would like to work on hitting low-spin, running pitch shots from around the green, be sure to pay close attention to the tips below.
- Set up square to the target line. On many pitch shots, you are going to set up slightly open to the target in order to facilitate an outside-in path which will aid in spin creation and will get the ball up off the ground. However, with this kind of pitch, you are going to stay square (or mostly square) at address, so you can swing the club down the target line effectively. In other words, you are going to set up for this shot just as you would set up for a putt.
- Place the ball in the middle of your stance. Ball position is important on this shot, and you want to make sure the ball is exactly in the middle of your stance before you make the swing. With the ball in the middle of your stance, you will be able to brush it off the top of the turf with ease. Moving the ball behind the middle of the stance will cause you to hit down, and you will add spin as a result. On the other hand, if you move the ball forward, you will risk hitting the shot fat and leaving it short of the target. If necessary, place an extra club on the ground between your feet during practice to aid with setup so you can be sure that your ball position is dialed in properly.
- Use a bit less loft. Assuming you are looking for a shot that will run out after it lands, you might want to consider using something with less loft than your sand wedge or lob wedge. Most spinning wedge shots are played with high-lofted clubs, but that isn't the case with this type of shot. Rather, you will want to think about using something like a nine iron or pitching wedge to bounce and run the ball out nicely. During your practice sessions, work on hitting shots with a variety of clubs until you settle on one that feels good at impact and leaves you with a comfortable amount of roll out.
- Keep your hands soft and your wrists firm. This can be a delicate balance to strike, but it is essential to your success. As you swing the club, you need to keep your wrists firm to avoid having them breakdown, but you also want to keep your hands soft around the grip. A tight grip is going to make it difficult to control your speed, and speed control is the name of the game with short pitch shots. This is the same combination that you should have in place on the putting green, so working on keeping your wrists firm while your hands and fingers are soft is something that can benefit you throughout the short game. If you are having trouble with the wrist half of this equation, try focusing in on just the right wrist, as it is the one most likely to break down in the backswing.
This short pitch shot with a low spin rate can be highly effective in a number of situations. In fact, depending on where you play golf and how you like to play, you may find that this shot is used more frequently than the spinning option (which is going to be described below). Set aside some time to practice this basic low-spin pitch during your next few trips to the range and hopefully it will become a trusted part of your short game in the near future.
Break Your Wrists for Spin
By far, this second option is going to be the more difficult of the two shots. That is not to say this shot is impossible for the average golfer – not at all – but it will require a level of execution that is not necessary with the previous shot. You can get away with a little bit of imperfection in your swing when you play the pitch shot with quiet wrists described above. On the other hand, you need to be nearly perfect to pull off a spinning pitch as we are going to outline in this section.
That 'warning' is necessary in order to make one thing perfectly clean – it is crucial that you practice this shot before trying it out on the course. The spinning pitch is too difficult to just pick up on the fly during your next round, so be sure to set aside some time for this shot in your upcoming practice sessions before you even consider taking it out of the bag during a round. This is a shot that can add a lot of value to your game, but only if you are able to master the technique needed in order to execute it time after time.
Not surprisingly, the technique you need to use in this case is dramatically different from what you will have used above to hit a low-spin pitch shot. Before you set out for your first practice session to work on this shot, take a close look at the tips below -
- Open stance. The first change you are going to make is opening up your stance to the target line at address. Since you do want spin in this case, you are going to want to hit across the ball from outside-in to promote both backspin and elevation on the shot. You don't need to play from a dramatically open stance, but you should be at least a few degrees open to the line to make it easier to swing across from right to left.
- Set hands ahead. At address, your hands should be slightly ahead of the ball to establish some shaft lean toward the target. You want to have the shaft leaning toward the target at impact, so it is important to start out in that same position. Many golfers are afraid to set up this way because they feel like the ball isn't going to get off the ground, but that is an unfounded fear – remember, the loft of the club is going to do the job of getting the ball up in the air. As long as you hit down and strike the ball cleanly, you should have no trouble getting the ball airborne and spinning nicely.
- Initiate the swing with the right wrist. This is the key to the whole shot. When you put the club in motion, do so by starting to gradually hinge your right wrist. That hinging action will elevate the club off of the ground quickly, which will establish the downward angle you need to impart spin on the ball at impact. While starting off with wrist hinge is good, you need to be careful that you don't rush the swing as a result of using your hands and wrists. Most of your other swings get started with a smooth turn of your shoulders, so starting things out by using your wrist might cause you to rush on accident. During your practice sessions, focus on gradual movement and even tempo to promote quality contact through the hitting area. Tempo is one of the biggest keys to your full swing, and it is just as important in the short game. Combine wrist action with a smooth tempo and you will be capable of handling a wide range of short game shots.
- Eyes on the ball. There is a degree of risk involved with this shot – after all, you have to make an aggressive swing to impart spin on the ball properly through impact. With that in mind, it is tempting to look up early in order to see where the ball is going. Don't let that happen. It is crucial that you keep your eyes down from the start of the swing all the way through to the finish, as you need to be able to see the ball while you hit it. Solid contact is essential to achieving the kind of spin rate you need for this shot, and solid contact is only going to happen regularly when you are looking at the ball. Of course, you should be looking at the ball with any shot that you hit, so focusing on this fundamental on this shot can have a positive impact on the rest of your game.
As you can see, this isn't the most complicated shot in the game of golf. The necessary techniques are relatively simple, however they are not always easy to execute. Once you understand the basic fundamentals involved, your success or failure is all going to come down to execution. If you execute nicely, the ball should land near your target with plenty of spin. If there is a breakdown along the way, however, the shot can go wrong in a hurry. Spend plenty of time around the practice green hitting spinning pitch shots to tighten up your performance and you should be able to turn to this option with confidence when the moment arrives during an upcoming round.
Golf is not played indoors, and as a result, the conditions that you find during each round will be widely varied and inconsistent. You may play one day under bright sunshine with warm temperatures and firm turf, only to come back next week to find rain, soft turf, and chilly temps. The ability to adjust on the fly to the conditions that you face is one of the things that will determine your level of success in the years to come.
When it comes to the spinning pitch shot, you definitely need to think about the conditions that you are facing. In general, the ball is not going to spin on a wet golf course like it will when the turf is dry. Yes, the ball will stop quicker on soft ground thanks to a reduced bounce, but the effect of the spin will largely be lost because the water will reduce friction between the ball and the ground. So, on a wet day, you will want to forget about the spinning pitch shot for the most part – or, at least, you should plan on the spin not having as much of an effect on the shot.
Additionally, you need to think about the status of the turf under the ball as you are hitting the shot. To hit a spinning pitch with a hinged wrist, you are going to want a lie that is neither too soft or too firm. When the ground is extremely dry, your club may bounce off the turf and up into the ball – causing a thin shot that shoots quickly across the green. On the other hand, if the ground is quite soft, your wedge may dig in and you could hit the shot fat. In other words, you should try to play basic, simple shots when you are dealing with extreme conditions, and you should save the spinning pitch for days when the turf conditions are somewhere in the middle.
Getting back to the title of this article, you can hit quality short pitch shots either by hinging your wrists or by sweeping the club with a putting stroke-