The main difference between a pitch shot and a chip shot is that a pitch shot is normally used from a longer distance and is normally a higher, softer landing type of shot. The most common club used for a pitch shot is one of wedges.
A popular question among golfers regarding the pitch shot is the correct amount of wrist hinge. There is really no one absolute correct answer and it depends a lot on the type of shot you want to hit. For instance, if you're looking for a higher spinning lob type pitch then you will need to use some wrist hinge but if you're playing a basic pitch shot then you can think of taking the club back similar to the popular one piece takeaway with very little to no wrist hinge.
We'll want to set up to the ball with our feet closer together and many like to set their feet open (aimed left for a right handed golfer) a bit to their target. This helps keep the club head along the target line for a longer duration around the impact zone and it also helps to apply cut spin to the ball. This will increase the overall spin rate and help the ball to stop quicker when it lands on the green as opposed to a basic chip shot that rolls out towards the target.
I like to set up to the ball in the position I will return to for impact. For this, I set up to the ball with the club and left arm forming a line when viewed face on. I want to maintain this line through the backswing to impact. For longer pitch shots the wrists will need to naturally hinge some on the backswing. On the follow through, it's okay for this line to break down some and for the club to pass this line.
This minimal wrist hinge pitch shot is well portrayed by PGA Tour professional Steve Stricker. Swinging the club in this more pendulum style motion offers consistent results and is a very reliable go to shot under pressure.
As you work on your pitching, remember that it's normally better to play the ball too far back rather than too far forward. A pitch shot hit slightly thin will still have a chance of working out while a shot hit slightly heavy will definitely reduce the distance. Also, remember that the preceding instructions are for hitting pitch shots from closely mown grass or fairway. When pitching from the rough, keep in mind that you will need to pick the club up more abruptly and descend down on the ball more steeply because of the thicker grass. It helps, too, to hold the club a bit firmer when pitching from the rough to help get the club head through the thicker grass and roots.
I know going to the driving range and practicing hitting your long drives is a lot of fun but don't overlook practicing your short game. If you really want to lower your scores, get good at these shots around the green.
Correct Wrist Bend for Close-In Pitch Shot
The ability to pitch the ball accurately and consistently is not something that is possessed by most golfers. In fact, pitching the ball is one of the areas of the game that gives the average player the most trouble. This is a problem, obviously, because pitching comes up in basically every round – and often, it comes up several times per round. If you could simply learn how to pitch the ball closer to the hole on a regular basis, you could quickly cut at least a couple of strokes from your average score.
It is always tempting to work on a major swing change in order to improve, but it is usually more beneficial to your score to work on short game elements such as pitching. The golfers you see on TV all understand the value of accurate pitching, and most of them can execute this part of the game beautifully. By putting in some practice time and understanding some basic fundamentals, you can turn your pitching from a weakness into a valuable strength.
When you work on your full swing, it is the big muscles groups that get all of the attention, because they are what will permit you to make a consistent and powerful move. However, when you work on your close-in pitching, you will need to focus more on the motion of your hands and wrists. There isn't going to be a big shoulder turn or hip rotation necessary to pitch the ball onto the green from close range, so your success is going to be largely determined by how you use your small muscles. Learn how to use your hands and wrists properly on your pitch shots and you will find that the ball is suddenly finishing closer to the hole with regularity.
One of the great things about spending time working on your pitching game is the fact that you should be able to practice it for a longer period of time than you can when working on the full swing. Making full swings – especially with the driver – is physically taxing and you will only be able to hit so many balls before you start to get tired and your form drops off significantly. That shouldn't be much of a problem while hitting pitch shots. If your local course has a short game practice area for you to use, you can set aside some time and pitch shots for as long as you would like with little concern for fatigue affecting your form. Of course, if you do start to get tired while hitting pitches, you should conclude your session as to avoid getting into bad habits.
All of the instruction included 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.
Understanding the Goal
You probably think you already know what the goal of every pitch shot should be – get the ball as close to the hole as possible! While that is the eventual goal, you should be focused on a different kind of goal which has to do with how the club is going to move through the ball at impact. If you can create the right kind of impact at the bottom of your pitching motion, the rest will pretty much take care of itself. It is impact that determines ultimately where the ball is going to go, so focus your attention on this part of the equation and you will be happy with the results.
To help you understand exactly what you are trying to accomplish during a pitch shot, we have compiled the following three points. If you make it your goal to hit on each of these three points every time you hit a close-in pitch, your performance is sure to take a big step in the right direction.
- Hitting down and through. One of the most important things you can do on your pitch shots is hit down and through the ball at impact. Just as you should be trying to hit down through the ball when making a full swing with your irons, you also want to hit down on short pitch shots. By hitting down, you will give yourself a chance to make solid contact even if the lie isn't perfect. Also, you should be able to put some backspin on the ball when hitting down, meaning you will be able to stop the ball quicker once it lands on the putting surface. Many amateur golfers try to 'scoop' the ball up to the green when pitching, but that is a technique that will very rarely lead to success. With the right technique in place, hitting down on your pitch shots is not only productive, it is actually rather easy to do.
- Holding the face down the line. In a full swing, there is a dramatic rotation of the club face through the hitting area. Since the club is swinging around your body at a high rate of speed, you don't have any other choice but to allow the club face to open in the backswing and close as it is coming down toward impact. However, with pitch shots, there is no need for that kind of rotation. Sure, there will be a moderate amount of club face rotation through the shot, but it should be limited. As you move the club through the ball on a pitch shot, you should feel like you are holding the club face open toward the target for as long as possible. This will help you keep the ball on target, and it will also help you achieve proper loft on the shot. Excessive rotation of the club face through impact would take loft off of the club, leading the ball to come out lower and faster. By holding the face square to the target line for as long as possible, you will maintain loft and a soft, controlled pitch shot will be the result.
- See the club hit the ball. You should always be trying to see the club hit the ball, no matter what club you are using or what kind of shot you are playing, and that certainly applies to pitch shots. By watching impact carefully, you will be keeping your head and shoulders down through the shot, which is crucial for making solid contact time after time. The temptation to look up and see where the ball is going is too strong for many golfers, so they move their eyes up toward the hole before contact has been made. Do your best to avoid this mistake. Watch a specific spot on the ball all the way through impact and only look up once the ball is gone.
Without getting too technical, the three points above are just about all you need to know when it comes to hitting nice pitch shots from short distances. If you can hit down on the ball, keep your eyes down, and hold the face square to the line as long as possible, your pitching game will be greatly improved. Of course, you may need some help in the form of technical tips to make it possible to hit on these points, so the content below will look deeper into the mechanics of the process.
The Right Wrist Action
Much of your success or failure when pitching is going to come down to using your wrists correctly. As mentioned above, the pitching swing isn't long enough to get your shoulders engaged in a significant way, so the shot is going to be hit with an arm swing and wrist action. The task of swinging the arms back and through is relatively simple, but it is the wrist action where many players get tripped up. Until you understand how to position your wrists both in the backswing and at impact, you will struggle to achieve the kind of contact necessary to hit great pitch shots.
There is one big advantage that you already have when trying to learn the correct wrist action for your pitching – as long as you get one wrist to move correctly, the other one should come along for the ride automatically. Since your hands are connected to the handle of the same club, the movement of one wrist is going to directly impact the movement of the other. The best way to proceed for most players will be to think about how one wrist is working while trusting that the other will then do its job by association.
To get started learning how to use your wrists during a pitch shot, head to a short game practice area with a collection of golf balls, and your favorite wedge. It doesn't really matter which wedge you use for this practice session, so simply pick the one that gives you the most confidence. Once you have arrived, follow the steps below to work on your wrist action.
- Pick out a place to pitch from and select a target for your shots. Ideally, you will be able to find a flat lie on fairway length grass, and a target that is approximately 20-30 yards from where you are standing. In other words, you want to make this shot as easy as you can. Since you are trying to focus in on improving your technique, it only makes sense to find easy shots to start with. There will be plenty of time to hit harder pitch shots once you are comfortable with your new mechanics.
- With your shot selected, step up to the ball and take your stance as usual. While you will be making some adjustments to the way you use your hands and wrists, you aren't going to change anything with your stance at this point. Should you find that you don't make the kind of progress you were expecting, you can always make changes to your address position later on – but it will be best to leave it alone for now.
- The moment when you start your swing is when you need to pay attention to how your wrists are moving the club into position. Once the club head has started to move back away from the ball, you are going to hinge your right wrist back so that it is in a cupped position. It is important that the wrist bends back as opposed to up – you will often hinge your wrist up in a full swing, but that is not going to be the case here. You want to keep the club face on track to be square at impact, and the best way to do that is to hinge your wrist back on itself. Of course, at the same time, your left wrist is going to bow out slightly toward the target – which is exactly what you want to have happen.
- Finish your backswing and transition smoothly into the downswing without any sense of rush or panic in your swing. Once your wrists have been set – with the right wrist cupped and the left wrist bowed, you are going to keep them there and use a simple arm swing to complete the rest of the motion. You want to hold that angle all the way until the final moments before impact, where you will release the angle and hit the shot with confidence.
You can hit as many shots as you would like going through this process, and you should notice better and better results as you go. The first few shots you hit might be on the 'ugly' side, but stick with it until you start to find solid contact at the bottom. You will know you are hinging your wrists properly when you feel like the club head is coming down onto the ball from above at impact. Specifically, that right wrist hinge going back into a cupped position is perfect for developing the downward strike you need to hit beautiful pitch shots.
Inevitably, there will be problems along the way when you are trying to learn how to use your wrists to chip the ball. This is golf, after all, and nothing comes easy. While it is true that a change to your pitching motion is easier to make than adjusting your full swing, there are still going to be challenges along the way. If you run into difficulty, use the following troubleshooting tips to get on the right track.
- Hitting the ball fat. If you are hitting your chip shots fat after changing your wrist hinge, you are probably losing speed in your swing coming into the ball. Hitting clean pitches requires commitment and confidence through impact. It is easy to doubt yourself while pitching the ball, especially while trying a new technique, so you may be getting 'shy' right before hitting the shot. The only fix for this problem is to convince yourself to be confident from the start of the swing to the finish. This is why practice is so important. There should be no nerves or pressure while you are practicing, so you can feel free to make confident swings and see what happens. Hopefully, after a period of practice, your mind will naturally fill with confidence from seeing so many great pitch shots head right for the hole.
- Hitting the ball thin. This is the product of an early release, plain and simple. While some golf swing problems can be hard to diagnose, this one is easy. In nearly every case, hitting pitch shots thin is a result of releasing the right hand through the shot too early. By holding on to your angle just a bit longer, you can delay the hit and allow the club to get into position for a solid strike right on the sweet spot. Work on taking the back of your left hand down toward the ball a little further before starting your release and you should get back on track almost immediately.
- Hitting the ball too hard. This is another common problem when you start to engage your wrists properly while pitching. There is a going to be a lot of potential energy stored up in your wrists as you come down into impact, and it will suddenly be easy to hit the ball harder than you did previously with your pitching swing. The only thing you need to do to correct this problem is to spend time practicing. With every practice pitch shot that you hit, you will get better and better at controlling your distance. In fact, it shouldn't take long at all before you are comfortable with how hard you need to swing in order to send the ball the correct distance.
Don't be discouraged by a little bit of early trouble when you are adapting to your new pitching technique. Any change you make in golf – or in life, really – is going to take some time to learn. If you are willing to stick with it through the rough patches, you will come out on the other side as a better overall player.
Going Higher or Lower
The basic pitch shot is going to serve you well in most instances, but it won't necessarily be the right shot every time you find yourself somewhere around the green. Sometimes, you are going to want to throw the ball high up in the air, while other times you will need to hit a low pitch shot with plenty of bounce and roll. Having the ability to vary your pitch shots both higher and lower is an advanced skill that will enable you to save additional shots in the short game.
To raise on lower your pitching ball flight on command, use the tips below –
- Raise your ball flight. In order to get the ball higher in the air, and have it stop quicker as a result, you will need to make a couple adjustments. First, and most obviously, you should move the ball up in your stance slightly. You don't want to move it too far forward, or you may struggle to make good contact, so just moving it up an inch or two will be best. From there, you want to open up the face of the club and place your hands behind the position of the ball at address. With these changes made, go ahead and make a swing. The open club face will give the club more effective loft, and placing your hands behind the ball at address will ensure that you don't drive the ball too low at impact. Of course, it is going to be important to practice with these adjustments before you use them on the course to make sure that you can hit solid shots even after changing your setup.
- Lower your ball flight. Not surprisingly, the idea is going to be just the opposite when you need to pitch the ball low. To start, move the ball back in your stance an inch or two. Just as above, you don't want to change your ball position too dramatically, or you may lose the ability to hit clean shots. With the ball a couple inches back of center, keep your hands in front of the ball and close down the face of the club slightly. Again, make your normal swing and let the setup changes to the rest. If you have done things right, the ball should come out low and it should bounce and roll before finally coming to a rest.
The ability to pitch the ball consistently is something that will serve you well on the course, and using the proper wrist hinge is an important part of the equation. Work on your technique using the information above and you should find that you are saving strokes in the short game as soon as your next round. Improving your pitching will have a great effect on your overall game because you will no longer fear missing the green. Knowing that you can get up and down even if you do miss the target, your full swing on approach shots will be free to take a confident pass at the ball. Everything seems easier when you know you can lean on your short game, so get to work on your pitching technique as soon as possible.