Pitch shots are one part of this game that seems to be frequently overlooked by the average golfer.

What is it That Makes Pitching the Golf Ball so Difficult?

If you ask the typical amateur golfer which parts of the game he or she needs to work on, you’ll likely hear the usual list of driving, chipping, and putting. Pitching tends to be overlooked for the most part, as does iron play (which is a topic for another article). If you are serious about your game and finding ways to shoot lower scores, you will break this trend. By taking time to improve your pitch shots, you will patch up a hole in your game and take a big step toward better play.

So, what is a pitch shot? While there isn’t necessarily a formal definition, you can think of pitch shots as falling between chip shots and full-swing wedge shots. When you are only a few yards off the side of the green and you are making a small little swing, you are chipping. When you are 60-yards back in the fairway and making most of a full swing with a lob wedge, you are just hitting a ‘regular’ shot. It is those which fall in between these two areas that count as pitch shots in the minds of most golfers. While you might not face pitch shots as often as some of the other kinds of shots in this game, they do come up often enough to warrant your attention.

One of the reasons that you would be wise to work on your pitching game is the fact that the difference between a good pitch and a bad pitch can be significant on the scorecard. For example, imagine you are facing a 30-yard pitch shot from short of the green. The hole is cut in a relatively flat section of the putting surface, but you do have to pitch over a bunker in order to get there. If you hit a good pitch, the ball will hopefully come to rest near the hole and you may be able to knock the putt in for a nifty up and down. On the other hand, if you hit your pitch shot fat and your ball falls into the bunker, it could take you three or even four more shots to finish the hole. Suddenly, you will have to write a big number on the scorecard, and your entire round may be thrown off track. Even if you only face two or three pitch shots within a given round, the result of those shots can go a long way toward determining your score at the end of the day.

In this article, we are going to talk specifically about pitch shots which are played from tight lies. In other words, these are pitch shots that are played from fairway-length grass, often in the fairway itself short of the putting surface. You may find yourself in this situation if you miss-hit your approach shot on a par four and come up short, or if you go for the green in two on a par five and don’t quite make it. No matter the circumstances, you will want to know how to deal with this tricky shot effectively time after time.

All of the content 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 Challenge

The Challenge

What is it that makes pitching the golf ball so difficult? We are going to look at that topic in this section. On the surface, these kinds of shots seem relatively easy – but any experienced golfer knows that is not the case. In fact, pitch shots from tight lies are some of the most difficult shots you will face on the course. These shots are tricky at any time, but they are particularly difficult when you are under a bit of pressure. Later in the article, we will talk about some keys you can use to improve your play on these tough shots. For now, let’s take a closer look at what makes them so challenging.

  • The need for clean contact. When playing a chip from a tight lie, you have virtually no margin for error. You cannot hit the ball fat or thin and expect to come away with a satisfactory result. Instead, you need to swing through the ball perfectly, clipping it off the top of the grass and sending it on the way. A well-struck pitch shot from a fairway lie will feel great coming off the club, and it will likely have enough spin to stop pretty quickly after it lands. There is some serious skill and technique involved here, and you can be proud of yourself when it all comes together and you strike one beautifully. As you work on improving your play in this area, one of your biggest hurdles will be to simply learn how to make clean contact time after time.
  • Judging the distance of the shot. It is the partial shots that tend to be the most challenging in the game of golf. Sure, a shot from 175-yards away from the hole can be difficult, but at least you’ll probably be making a full swing. You will pick the right club for the job, make a full swing, and hope that you execute well enough to land the ball on the putting surface. It’s not that easy with pitching. You’ll use one of your wedges, but you aren’t going to be making a full swing. Instead, you will need to adjust the length of your swing in order to carry the ball the proper distance up toward the hole. This variable adds tremendous difficulty to the shot. Even if you do make clean contact, which is a challenge in and of itself, you still need to know how to judge your distance before the shot can be successful. The only way to learn how to judge distance when pitching? You guessed it – practice. It will be necessary to invest a significant amount of time in practicing your pitching skill if you are going to learn how to control your distances effectively. Later in the article, we will provide you with a drill which is designed (in part) to help you chip the ball the right distance.
  • Picking a landing spot. There is a mental challenge that you need to deal with when pitching from a tight lie, to go along with the physical challenge of striking the ball properly. Specifically, that mental challenge is selecting the right landing spot for the shot. Your landing spot is, as the name would indicate, the spot on the ground where you would like the ball to land. From there, it will likely take a couple of bounces and maybe even roll out a bit before it stops. The landing spot you select is going to depend on a long list of factors, including the distance of the shot, the club you plan to use, the condition of the greens, and more. Just as is the case with learning how to control your distance, learning how to pick good landing spots comes down to experience. Each shot you hit is a chance to add to your education, and you should gradually get better at this task as time moves on.

Make no mistake – hitting clean pitch shots from a tight lie is not an easy task. If you are a beginning golfer, this is a shot which is likely to give you plenty of trouble early on. However, rather than running away from it and just ignoring this part of the game, do your best to stick with it and gradually improve your performance over time.

Three Essential Keys

Three Essential Keys

It is easy to make this type of shot more complicated than it needs to be. No, it’s not an easy shot, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a complicated one. In fact, if you are willing to focus on keeping things simple, you’ll have a far better chance to wind up successful in the long run.

The list below includes three essential keys we think will help you perform better when pitching from tight lies. Review these tips and keep them in mind when you head out for your next practice session.

  • Steady head position. This really is where it all starts with regard to successful pitching. And, this is where more amateur golfers manage to go wrong. You need to keep your head steady when hitting pitch shots because your success or failure is going to be determined by your ability to put the club on the back of the ball cleanly. When you keep your head still, that task immediately becomes much easier. Since this is a small, short swing, you don’t have time to make up for even a small mistake. That means if you move your head during the backswing, or maybe during the transition into the downswing, you’ll have no chance to recover. And, of course, you certainly can’t afford to move your head right before impact. Many golfers are tempted to look up early in order to see where the ball is going to go, and you may find yourself in that club from time to time. It is essential that you manage to resist that temptation. Instead, keep your head in place and swing through with confidence.
  • Hands in front of the ball at impact. When you make contact with the ball on this type of shot, your hands should be slightly closer to the target than the ball. This might seem like an odd tip, but it has a very important reason behind it. If your hands are in front of the ball, you’ll almost certainly be hitting down through impact – and that is a good thing. Making clean contact from a tight lie requires that you swing through the hitting area on a downward plane. By focusing on the position of your hands at the moment of impact, you can more easily wind up with the downward angle required. To make it easier to check off this point, try setting up at address with your hands just slightly in front of the ball. This should not be a dramatic forward press, just a slight lean of the shaft toward the hole. Then, all you will need to do is return your hands (and the shaft) to this same position at impact.
  • Keep it moving. While the first two points on our list are extremely important in terms of pitching success, this last point should not be overlooked. When we say you need to ‘keep it moving’, the ‘it’ in question is the club head. As you swing through the ball, you need to be careful to keep accelerating through impact in order to send the ball on its way. Golfers frequently decelerate on this kind of shot, usually because they are nervous about the outcome. You need to summon some confidence for this shot, even if you don’t completely believe in your skills just yet. Trust yourself to play the shot properly, accelerate through impact, and look up to see the ball flying perfectly toward your landing spot.

After you have read through the three points above, you might find yourself believing that these pitch shots aren’t so bad after all. We’ve only mentioned three keys, and none of them seem particularly intimidating. It’s true that none of these tips are too hard to tackle on their own, but it’s not as easy as you might think to bring this all together into a cohesive package. To do so, you will need to be committed spending some of your practice time on pitch shots each time you visit the range. As the practice time adds up, and as you improve your ability to hit on these three points, your results are almost certain to come around.

A Practice Drill

A Practice Drill

You should be able to improve your pitching skills simply by hitting plenty of pitch shots during practice. However, without a specific drill or plan in place, you may not make progress as quickly as you would like. In this section, we are going to offer a drill that you can use to ensure you are developing your skills in each and every practice session.

To perform the drill, try following the step-by-step directions below.

  • To get started, you will need to have a place to hit pitch shots, a wedge, and five golf balls. Unfortunately, not all golf facilities offer a place to practice pitch shots, so look around in advance and find a course or driving range near you which has a chipping/pitching green that you will be able to use. Some golf facilities offer access to this amenity for free, while others charge a fee. It would be great to have room to hit pitch shots from 30 – 40 yards away from the hole, but make do with what you have available. Depending on the design of the practice area you are using, it might not be possible to hit pitch shots of that length.
  • Once you’ve found a suitable practice area, and once you’ve located a nice patch of fairway length grass from which to pitch, you’ll be just about ready to go. The only remaining task is to pick out a hole on the green that you can use as a target for the drill. You aren’t actually going to be aiming for the hole, at least not initially, as this is a distance control drill and you are going to work your way up to hitting the ball all the way to the hole itself. We will explain how this works as we walk you through the remaining steps.
  • Now that you have a hole set as your target, and you have five golf balls down on the ground in front of you, it will be time to hit the first shot. With this first shot, you are going to aim at the hole you selected, but you’ll be intentionally coming up well short. In fact, the idea is to hit the ball just hard enough to get onto the edge of the green, but no harder. The shot will only be deemed a success if it does manage to reach the green, so don’t leave it short – but don’t hit it all the way up to the hole, either. Assuming you manage to hit this pitch shot onto the putting surface and short of the hole, you can proceed to the next shot.
  • With each of the next four shots, your goal is simple – you will be trying to hit the ball farther than the previous shot, but yet still leave it short of the hole. So, for the second shot, you’ll simply try to send the ball up past the first ball, and yet still comfortably short of the hole. Of course, with each successive shot, the drill is going to get more difficult, because you will have less distance between the ball and the hole you are using for a target. If you manage to make it through all five shots successfully, you should be proud of your accomplishment – this is not an easy drill to complete.

One of the best things about this drill is the fact that you can use it for just about any kind of short game shot when you want to practice your distance control. You can use it to work on your lag putting, your chipping, and even your bunker play. Distance control is the biggest part of having success in any part of the short game, so make this drill a regular feature during practice sessions.

Pitching from the Rough

Pitching from the Rough

This article has been about playing pitch shots from tight lies. There is certainly something to be said for the challenge that a tight lie presents, but pitching from the rough can be just as difficult. To make sure you are prepared to handle tricky pitches from the rough during your next round, keep the following points in mind.

  • Extra roll out. One of the main differences between pitch shots from the fairway and the rough is the fact that pitches from the rough should be expected to run out quite a bit more than those played from a clean lie in the fairway. There won’t be as much spin on the ball when it comes out of the rough, which is why you should play for more bounce and roll then you would otherwise. Unfortunately, it’s always a bit of a guessing game with regard to picking a landing spot on these shots, since the way the ball will come out of the long grass is rather unpredictable.
  • Firm with your hands and wrists. The club is going to meet more resistance in the rough than it will when playing from shorter grass, so firm up your grip slightly and keep your wrists steady as you head through impact. This should help you to resist the inclination of the club to twist as it gets caught up in some of the long grass.
  • Give yourself room. You don’t want to attempt to be too precise when pitching from the rough, due to the unpredictability of the shots, as mentioned above. If you try to carry the ball just onto the edge of the green, and you miss slightly, you could wind up in a world of trouble. Play with extra margin and do your best to at least hit the green.

It’s unlikely that pitches from tight lies ever become your favorite shots in the game of golf. They are tricky even for experienced golfers, and you need to be precise with your technique in order to succeed. We hope the discussion in this article will help you improve your performance in this part of the game moving forward. Good luck!