control pitching underhand toss

Hitting a short pitch shot the correct distance is one of those refined skills that few golfers possess. This is partly because most of us don't practice these shots enough, if at all, but poor technique is also to blame.

A good exercise to help control your pitching distance is to picture yourself tossing a ball underhanded to the target spot. Or, pretend you're lobbing a horseshoe toward a stake. These motions are similar to a good pitching action, with a small amount of lower body movement leading a soft yet accelerating arm swing.

If you own a set of horseshoes or a softball, pick a target in the backyard and stand a few yards away. Toss the object to the target a few times, then hit a few pitch shots with a wedge. You should notice that similar motion and effort are required. Move a little farther away and repeat.

On the course, picture a stake where you want to land a pitch shot, then play to that spot.

Control Pitching Distance with Underhand Toss Tip

Control Pitching Distance with Underhand Toss Tip

As an amateur golfer, you should be trying to 'collect' as many different skills as you can while moving forward with your game. If you are happy with the shots you can hit at the moment, and you don't try to enhance your game by adding new shots, you will be stuck in neutral for years to come. The only way to get better is to add shots to your game, as giving yourself more options is going to make it easier to handle a wider variety of situations on the course.

One shot that most amateur players could stand to add to their game is the pitch shot. We know what you are thinking – you already play a pitch shot from time to time as required. Well, sure, you might hit one out of necessity, but would you really consider it a strength? Most likely, the answer to that question is 'no'. To move the pitch shot from necessity to strength, you are going to have to practice with a purpose. Make improving your pitching game one of your top golf priorities and you will see the benefits of your effort reflected on the scorecard.

When talking about pitch shots, the first thing that should come to mind is distance control. Why? Simple – it is easy to get a pitch shot on the target line. You are only playing from a short distance away, so even a beginning golfer should have little trouble hitting the intended line with the shot. Most of the time, the challenge with regard to pitching all comes down to distance. If you hit the ball the right distance – both in the air and after it rolls out – you will be successful.

In this article, we are going to discuss ways for you to improve your pitching distance control. Specifically, we are going to identify a drill – the underhand toss drill – which will help you dial in your distance control on these tricky shots. As long as you are willing and able to work on this drill from time to time as part of your practice sessions, it is likely that your touch on pitch shots will improve in short order.

Before we dive into the instruction, we should touch quickly on what exactly is classified as a pitch shot in golf. There is no formal definition of a pitch shot, but most golfers would agree that anything in the 15 – 50-yard range would qualify. Depending on the golfer and their playing style, a 15-yard shot might feel more like a chip than a pitch. Likewise, a 50-yard shot may seem more like a full swing than a pitch. Either way, the exact definition isn't as important as the concept behind the shot. You are going to be blending your full swing technique with your short game technique to make a swing which is controlled, balanced, and repeatable. It takes both excellent mechanics and a deft touch to pitch the ball effectively.

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.

Building a Solid Foundation

Building a Solid Foundation

Later in the article, we are going to get into the specifics of using the underhand toss tip to control your pitching distance successfully. For now, we need to lay the groundwork by making sure that your pitching technique is in good condition. Without reliable technique, you aren't going to be able to pitch the ball properly moving forward. Let's get your technique into a good spot first, and then we can use the underhand toss concept to improve your performance.

What does a solid pitching motion look like? In most cases, it is going to look a lot like your full golf swing. The average player would be well-served to pitch the ball using a miniature version of their full motion. While working on your own pitching technique, be sure to watch for the following points.

  • A square stance. You may already know that it is a good idea to stand open to the target line while chipping the golf ball. That is indeed good advice, but it shouldn't be translated into your pitching game. When pitching the ball, try keeping your feet square to the target line, just as you would when making a full swing. This is going to make the mechanics of the swing easier to execute, and it will help you hit your line with tremendous accuracy. It is okay to open your stance for a pitch shot from time to time, but only when you need to hit the ball high in the air. For a 'standard' pitch shot, keep your feet square for best results.
  • Use the entire club. You will be tempted to choke down on the grip slightly at address before hitting a pitch, but don't give in to that temptation. It is a far better idea to keep your hands up at the top of the grip so you can have a great feel for the full weight of the club. It is hard to control your distances when the club feels light in your hands, and that will be the case when you choke down. Keep your left hand up to the top of the grip as you would for a full swing and you will be all set.
  • Play the ball forward in your stance. Many amateur golfers go wrong on this point. For a standard pitch shot, you actually want to play the ball forward in your stance – at least an inch or two in front of the middle point, if not farther. It is common to see a weekend golfer place the ball way back in his or her stance for a pitch shot, as they think that it is important to hit down on the ball. You don't really want to hit down steeply, however. Instead, you just want to sweep the club along the top of the grass while clipping the ball cleanly. It will take some experimenting to figure out exactly where the ball should be in your stance, but somewhere between the middle of the stance and the left foot will be perfect.
  • Stay balanced throughout. It might have been a good idea to place this point at the top of the list, as balance is always going to be key to your success on the course. When pitching the golf ball, pay close attention to your balance and don't allow yourself to drift in either direction as the club swings. You don't want to be leaning back away from the target, and you don't want to be sliding left toward the target, either. A player who is able to consistently produce solid pitch shots is always going to be balanced throughout the motion. If you notice that there is some trouble in your pitching motion with regard to balance, work on correcting that problem first before moving on.

You are never going to be consistent with your pitch shot distance if you can't hit on the fundamentals listed above. Use these points to guide your practice sessions and slowly but surely an excellent pitching motion should fall into place.

The Underhand Toss Concept

The Underhand Toss Concept

It is hard to teach feel in the game of golf. Most accomplished golf instructors have no trouble at all teaching the basic fundamentals of the game, such as grip, stance, balance, etc. However, when it comes to feel, things get a bit tricky. While feel is incredibly important in golf, it is also an individual phenomenon. The right feel on a particular shot for one player may be all wrong for another. Often, golf teachers will simply tell you to keep practicing until you develop your own feel for the club, as they don't really know what else to say.

Fortunately, there is something you can do to help improve your feel for pitching the golf ball. If you think about the way your hands work during a pitch shot, you will notice that your right hand is actually tracing an underhand toss pattern. If you were to stand in place and toss a ball underhand toward a target on your left, you would likely do so with a motion that is very similar to the way your right hand moves during the swing. Therefore, if you practice tossing a ball with your right hand while using your golf stance, that practice should translate nicely to your feel during pitch shots.

When you are ready to give this drill a try, head to your local golf course and find a spot in the short game area to practice. The steps listed below will allow you to work through this drill in just a few minutes.

  • You are only going to be tossing these golf balls around 10 or 15-yards, so you don't need a huge area of space available. However, the course manager probably won't love the idea of you throwing ball after ball onto the practice green, so stick with an area off to the side where there is some extra grass to use.
  • For your target, walk out to a spot about 15-yards from where you are going to toss and set down a small golf towel. You always want to have a target when practicing golf, even if you are tossing the ball instead of hitting it. With your towel in place, take five golf balls out of your bag and get ready to start.
  • Pick up the first golf ball and take your stance as if you were going to hit the ball with a club. You should bend your knees and your hand should be hanging down in front of you. Also, make sure you are using good posture by keeping your back as straight as possible from your waist all the way up into your neck.
  • With all of the preparations complete, it is time to toss the golf ball for the first time. The ball should be in your right hand, and your body should be in the same position it would be in if you were holding the club. To throw the ball, turn your shoulders just as you would in a swing, and then toss the ball toward the towel on the way through. The goal is to land the ball as close to the towel as possible – don't worry about how it bounces after it lands.
  • Continue on to toss the rest of the five golf balls before retrieving them and repeating the process. You can work through this drill as many times as you would like.

So what is the idea here? Basically, you are trying to develop feel for how the rhythm of your arm swing affects the distance of the ball. Swing your arm with a smooth, uninterrupted rhythm back and through, and you should be able to throw (and hit) the ball the right distance. Allow that rhythm to get interrupted, however, and trouble will be soon to follow.

If you are able to practice in a place where you have room to actually hit some pitch shots as well as do some tossing, you can work back and forth between the two for maximum effect. Toss one ball toward your towel, then pick up a wedge and pitch a ball toward that same towel. Go back and forth and see how much your feel can improve in a single practice session.

Matching Your Release to your Desired Trajectory

Matching Your Release to your Desired Trajectory

A big part of the underhand toss drill comes down to teaching yourself how to hit pitch shots the correct distance. However, that is not the only lesson you can learn from the drill. In addition, you can also learn how the release of your right hand at the bottom of the swing will control the height of the shot. More release will equal a higher pitch, while less release will equal a lower trajectory.

The next time you have an opportunity to perform the tossing drill, try varying the height of your tosses from throw to throw. On one throw, send the ball lofting gently toward your target towel, letting it fly high in the air. On the next, keep the ball low and throw it on nearly a straight line from your hand to the towel you have placed on the ground. Did you feel the difference in those two throws? For the high one, you had to actively use your right wrist to get the ball up into the air. On the low throw, you barely bent your wrist at all, instead keeping it flat while you let the ball go.

The feel you have during these tosses is going to be largely the same as the feel you will have when trying to vary the height of your pitches. It is important to be able to hit the ball higher and lower on command, as you will need to do so in order to deal with various circumstances you may encounter. After you are done with some tosses, put a club back in your hands and try to recreate the results of your tosses with the wedge. Hit a high pitch shot, then hit one low. Going back and forth is a great way to teach yourself how to vary trajectory on command. Once you head back out to the course for a round, you will quickly see just how important this skill can be.

One of the nice things about learning how to release the club properly when pitching is that you can transfer this skill out to your full swing. When you need to hit a full shot high in the air, you can add a bit of extra right hand action through the ball. Or, you can cut off your release at the bottom when you need to hit it low. This is an advanced skill which is not possessed by many amateur players, but adding it to your game can take your performance to a higher level.

Other Pitching Tips

Other Pitching Tips

We would like to wrap up this article with a list of a few tips you can use to improve your overall pitching performance. The toss drill is a great way to speed up your improvement in the area of distance control, but there is still plenty more to learn. Review the following tips and keep them in mind as you continue to work on your ability to hit great pitch shots.

  • Pick a landing spot for every pitch shot. You do not want to aim at the hole when hitting a pitch. Yes, you want the ball to end up by the hole, but it is going to need to land somewhere short of the hole in order to bounce and roll into the perfect position – and it is that landing spot which should be your target. Take all of the various factors like distance, turf conditions, type of golf ball, and more into consideration before you settle on a landing spot that you think will serve you well. It might be difficult to pick the right landing spot at first, but you will get better and better at this skill as you gain experience.
  • Don't fight your lie. When you have a bad lie for a pitch shot, you can't ignore that fact and simply go ahead with your shot as usual. You need to respect the lie of the ball and plan your shot around it. If the ball is sitting cleanly on short grass, you can feel free to be aggressive and try to use spin to stop the ball. The story changes, however, when you get into the deep rough. From the long grass, there will be almost no backspin on the ball, and you will struggle to control the distance. In this circumstance, you should play a safe shot which gives you the best chance of at least hitting the green.
  • Keep your hands moving. If you have struggled from time to time with hitting your pitch shots fat – and leaving the ball well short of the target – it is likely because your hands are stopping around the point of impact. Don't let that happen. Keep your hands moving through the shot and beyond, making sure to clip the ball cleanly with the appropriate amount of speed for the distance you face. It takes confidence to keep your hands moving through impact, which is why it is so important to practice these shots. Your confidence will improve during practice, and you will perform better on the course as a result.
  • Get comfortable with more than one club. It is easy to fall into a rut of just using the same club for every pitch shot, but you will be better served to learn a variety of pitch shots with different clubs. One of the best things about golf is the fact that every course – and every hole – is unique. That is great because it keeps the game interesting, but it also presents a challenge. You will never know exactly what you are going to face on the course, which is why having as many shots as possible 'up your sleeve' is a great idea. Practice pitching with at least three different clubs - the pitching wedge, sand wedge, and lob wedge, perhaps – and keep those options in mind when facing tough spots on the course.

Pitching is an area of the game of golf which never gets much attention. Most golfers work on their long game obsessively, while occasionally stopping by to hit a few putts and chips. However, few golfers dedicate time to pitch shots, which is why so many struggle with this skill. By using the information contained in this article, you should be able to dial in your pitching distance control in the near future. With that part of the game under control, you will be one step closer to reaching your goals. Good luck!