Where would Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson be without their exquisite short games? Hard to say, but they sure wouldn't share 18 major titles based on their notoriously wild driving.

short distance game

For all the obsession with bombing the ball off the tee, there's no substitute for great chipping, pitching and bunker skills. Add a deft putting touch and you've got an unbeatable combination.

The ability to get up-and-down consistently can do wonders for your scores – and drive your opponents crazy. Nothing gets under a competitive golfer's skin like a foe who appears to be out of a hole, only to make a remarkable recovery and salvage par.

Unlike the full swing, which betrays even the best players on a regular basis, good short game technique is usually there when you need it. Master the basics of chipping, pitching and bunker play and they'll remain reliable, round after round (provided you play and practice enough).

A proficient short game can benefit your long game, too. When you're confident that you can get up-and-down from off the green, you swing the irons, woods and hybrids more freely. You might even take on tougher pin positions, secure in knowing that a miss won't cost you more than a shot.

Like the rest of golf, building a sound short game takes work. Spend half your practice time on and around the green and you're all but guaranteed to shave strokes.

When first getting started in golf, learning how to make a proper swing seems like the biggest challenge you have to overcome.

Benefits of a Marvelous Short Game

The swing is complicated, and it is difficult to perform at even a basic level when you are new to golf. As you gain experience, however, the swing should become more and more comfortable, and you should reach a point where getting the ball up off the ground is an easy feat. Sure, you might not be striking the ball like a PGA Tour player, but you are at least able to make your way around the course without too much trouble.

Once you have gotten into the game and cleared the initial hurdle of learning the basics of the swing, you will quickly start to realize that the full swing isn't actually the most important skill you need to possess. Rather, that distinction belongs to the short game. Playing at a high level on and around the greens is actually more important than making great full swings, although you would like to be able to do both. A great short game can solve a lot of other problems, and it can save you an incredible number of strokes during any given round.

In this article, we are going to talk about the short game. We are going to talk about why a marvelous short game is such an important asset to possess. Also, we are going to discuss what it is that makes up a great short game, so you will know what to work on when you are practicing. Later in the article, we will even offer some basic tips to help you get started. Too many golfers ignore the importance of the short game and they pay the price in the end. Don't put yourself in that category. Emphasize the development of your short game during practice sessions and start to reap the benefits as soon as your very next round.

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.

A Long List of Benefits

A Long List of Benefits

The challenge in writing an article about the benefits of the short game is figuring out where to start. Your game can benefit in basically every imaginable way when you take steps forward with your chipping and putting performance. Simply put, every golfer in the world stands to benefit from an improved short game. That is true for a total beginner just as it is true for the top players in the world.

To make sure you get the message loud and clear, let's take a look at some of the many important benefits of possessing a great short game.

  • Avoid wasted strokes. A round of golf takes a relatively long time to play – more than four hours, in most cases – but the holes go by quickly in terms of having opportunities to make or break your score. If you waste strokes by making silly mistakes in the short game, you just don't have enough time to get those strokes back. Once a short game stroke is lost, it is lost forever. An example of this concept would be taking four strokes to get down from the side of the green. If you are facing a relatively easy chip shot, your first goal is to get the ball up and down. That would be great, and you should be able to pull it off relatively frequently. However, you aren't going to get up and down 100% of the time, so it is understandable that you might take three strokes to get down in some cases. That's okay. What's not okay is taking four strokes to finish the hole from just off the side of the green. This can happen as the result of a chip shot followed by a three putt. Or, you could miss the green entirely with your first chip, meaning you have to chip again before two-putting to get down in four. Suddenly, a simple missed green on a par four approach shot can turn into a double bogey. You don't have to be perfect in the short game – no one is – but you do need to avoid wasting strokes for no good reason.
  • Provide yourself with margin for error. This is one of the leading benefits of possessing a strong short game, even though it actually has to do with your full swing. When you know that your short game is reliable, you will be more confident back in the fairway and even on the tee. Why? Simple – you know that your short game can get you out of trouble if you happen to hit a bad shot. For example, let's continue on with that example we put together in the previous point. If you are hitting an approach shot into the green on a par four, you would love to hit the green and set up a birdie putt. However, if you know your short game is strong, you won't worry too much if you happen to miss the green. Instead of taking four more strokes to get down, as was the case in the example above, you will feel good about getting up and down to save your par. In the end, you may actually play better from the fairway because you won't put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect. You can accept the fact that missed greens are going to happen from time to time, and you will know that your short game is ready to step in and save the day when necessary.
  • Build a game that travels. It is common for golfers to play relatively well at their home course – only to struggle badly when they go elsewhere. Why would that be? Well, one challenge that you will face when playing a new course is the fact that you won't be as dialed in to the distances required on your full shots. At your home course, you already know that a certain hole plays a little longer than the yardage, while another hole plays a little shorter. This kind of 'local knowledge' goes a long way toward helping you hit good shots. When you don't have that advance knowledge, your shots may not work out as well as they do on a course you know well. This is where the short game can be a hero. Even if you end up out of position due to a lack of course knowledge, you can ask your short game to rescue your score.
  • A reduction in stress. If you care about your score, it's hard to relax when you know that you can't trust your short game. Even if you are hitting beautiful full shots, you'll still be on high alert until the ball is safely in the bottom of the cup. In general, the game is more enjoyable when you have a short game you believe in from hole to hole. There are always going to be bad shots along the way, but it's likely you'll find this game to be a lot more fun when your short game isn't always standing in the way of success.
  • Create memories. In golf, there is plenty of emphasis placed on the score that you wind up writing on your card at the end of the day. In fact, it would be easy to say that too much emphasis is placed on this number. Along the way, there are sure to be great experiences and memories that should be enjoyed. By having a great short game, you will be more likely to pull off incredible shots that are to be remembered for years to come. Think about it this way – a couple years from now, you are unlikely to remember exactly what score you wound up with at the end of this weekend's round. However, if you pull off an incredible up and down from a nearly impossible position, you just may remember that feat as the years go by. Incredible shots are in many ways more meaningful and memorable than great rounds, and it tends to be short game shots that create the most vivid images in our minds.

The list above is really just a starting point for the importance of the short game. It is interesting how the full swing has seemingly become the focal point of so many golf instruction books, articles, videos, etc., as the short game can easily make a claim to being more important. If you want to become a good golfer, or just a better version of your current self on the course, you need to improve your short game.

What Does a Great Short Game Look Like?

What Does a Great Short Game Look Like?

At this point, you should be pretty well convinced that having a quality short game is important for your overall performance as a golfer. In fact, you may not have even needed our input on that point, as any experienced golfer has seen first-hand just how much the short game impacts scoring. Whether through your own struggles or by watching another player in your regular group struggle with putting and chipping, it isn't hard to see just how damaging a bad short game can be.

Now, we are going to turn our attention to defining what it means to have a solid short game. It would be easy enough to say that you have to make a lot of putts and hit your chip shots close, but those definitions are too general. What do you have to do well in order to achieve positive outcomes? The list below will help to outline the type of short game you should be trying to build.

  • Excellent speed control. This is an easy choice to put at the top of the list. When you are talking about short game skill, what you are really talking about is the ability to hit the ball the right distance over and over again. Whether putting or chipping, controlling your speed nicely is going to lead to positive results most of the time. Sure, you will still need to hit the right line – especially on short putts – but controlling the pace of your short game shots is a skill you can't do without. Think about your last round of golf and try to remember a short game shot that went badly wrong. Most likely, this shot went awry because of a lack of speed control more than anything else. It's hard to come away with a terrible result when your speed is right. Even if you do miss your line, the shot should still finish within close range of the cup, thanks to your ability to hit the ball the right distance.
  • Clean contact. It's not hard to make clean contact with the ball when putting. When you step off the green and need to chip, however, things get trickier. Players with good short games are able to strike the ball cleanly time after time while chipping, a skill which improves their distance control and helps them to avoid bad outcomes. A well-struck chip is going to finish on the green on almost every occasion, even if the shot isn't great. If you miss-hit a chip shot, on the other hand, the ball might not get to the green at all, meaning you will be forced to chip again. Your performance in the category of chip and pitch shots will improve dramatically if you can simply place the club cleanly on the back of the ball with consistency.
  • Versatility. An often-overlooked element of a quality short game is the ability to produce a variety of different shots based on the situation at hand. Frequently, players will master one specific kind of short game shot, usually one that comes in handy around their home course. However, when that player is pressed into hitting a different type of short game shot, the results go downhill in a hurry. Don't build your short game to be so one-dimensional. Instead, emphasize variety in your practice sessions. Put yourself in as many different situations as possible and learn how to get your ball up and down in a number of different ways.
  • Withstand failure. The last point on our list might be a bit surprising, but it makes sense if you think about it for a minute. As you already know, golf is a difficult game, and there are going to be bad shots and poor rounds along the way. One of the things you need from your short game is the ability to bounce back after something goes wrong. In other words, you can't let a poor shot or two damage your confidence or lead you to doubt your abilities moving forward. If you have built a good short game, you should be able to trust it even if you hit a poor chip or miss a three-footer.

It helps to know what a good short game looks like because you need to have something to aim for as you practice. Speed control is a huge issue, as is making clean contact when chipping and pitching. If you can add in the ability to hit a variety of shots and the mental fortitude to withstand a bit of failure along the way, you will be positioned nicely for great short game performances.

Basic Mechanical Tips

Basic Mechanical Tips

We didn't think it would be right to go through this entire article without offering you some simple mechanical tips to set you in the right direction. This section is not going to provide you with everything you need to know about short game mechanics, but it is a starting point. Please take a moment to review the points below and keep these tips in mind during upcoming practice sections.

  • Quiet hands while putting. This is the foundation of a solid short game. When hitting putts, you need to keep your hands and wrists as quiet as possible. Rather than using hand action to move the putter back and through, you should be rocking your shoulders to produce a smooth, rhythmic stroke. If you are used to putting mostly by using your hands, this change is going to feel quiet dramatic at first. However, as long as you stick with it, you should gain comfort and confidence over time.
  • Steady head position. You can utilize this tip whether you are putting or chipping. Once you have set your head in a comfortable position over the ball, do your best to keep it in that position as you hit the shot. It is tempting to look up early to see if your shot is going in the right direction, but doing so is a serious mistake. It takes discipline to keep your head down and stable throughout the shot, so you are going to need to practice this skill if it is going to work out on the course.
  • Flex your knees. It is easy to overlook the importance of knee flex in the short game, since the swings you will be making are much shorter than the full swings you make on the tee or in the fairway. With that said, it is still important to flex your knees when playing short game shots, as doing so will put your entire body in a better position from which to play. The right amount of knee flex will vary from player to player, so feel free to experiment until you get into a position that seems to serve you well.

It is in your best interest to avoid overcomplicating the short game. If you can manage to keep things simple, and you practice your simple mechanics over and over again, you should be able to make steady progress moving forward.

Practice the Right Way

Practice the Right Way

To wrap up our discussion on the short game, we want to touch quickly on the topic of practice. Specifically, we want to talk about some practice habits you may be able to use to speed up your progress. Unfortunately, many amateur golfers fail to learn good short game practice habits when they get started in golf, leading to disappointing results later on.

Below are three quick practice keys for you to consider.

  • Hit plenty of short putts. There is no substitute for repetition when it comes to short putts. Before you face a difficult three-footer on the course, you want to have made plenty of them during practice. The confidence you can build by making lots of these difficult putts in practice will go a long way toward helping you handle them successfully when the pressure is on.
  • Replicate on-course conditions. This is a big one. For some golfers, practicing the short game means piling up a bunch of golf balls and hitting each of them toward the same hole, one after the next. But when do you ever do that on the course? You don't, and you shouldn't do it during practice, either. Most of the time, you should limit your short game practice to the use of just one or two golf balls. That way, you will move around the green and surrounding fairway/rough, finding different types of shots and lies to deal with.
  • Be competitive. Golf is a competitive game, even if you only play recreationally. To prepare yourself to do well under the pressure of competition on the course, try competing while practicing your short game. Ask a friend to engage in a putting and chipping competition to make your practice session more exciting.

If you hope to play good golf in the years ahead, you will need a solid short game to come along for the ride. We aren't trying to argue that the long game doesn't matter – because it does, of course – but the short game is going to finish the job on nearly every hole you play. Learn how to perform nicely when putting, chipping, and pitching the golf ball, and your game will be headed in the right direction. Good luck!