Fix Your Up-and-Down Golf Game with Proper Fundamentals

If you often come up short in the short game, you may just need a little work on the basics.

For starters, your hands should be ahead of the ball when addressing a golf chip shot. It's all but impossible to chip with authority if your hands lag the clubhead. (Think of a chip as a miniature iron shot.)

Another common flaw is using the hands and wrists when chipping. Instead, a stiff-wristed motion – similar to the putting stroke – is recommended.

1. Take your address with the feet a few inches apart and the ball midway between them.

2. Move the hands (and thus the club's handle) slightly toward your left pocket. A good checkpoint is to have the back of the right hand even with your zipper.

3. Make a short backswing, with little or no hinging of the wrists, so that the triangle formed by the arms and hands remains intact.

4. Hold this position as you swing through; try to return your hands to the address position at impact.

You may find this action awkward at first, since most golfers instinctively hinge the wrists on the takeaway. Before long, though, it will feel natural – and your chips will fly and roll consistently toward the hole.

There is nothing quite like a great up and down save to keep your round moving in the right direction.

Fix Your Up and Down Game with Proper Fundamentals

After missing a green with an approach shot, you likely feel frustrated and worried that you are going to waste a stroke or two. However, if you manage to get up and down from somewhere around the green, you can quickly reverse those emotions. Rather than frustration and worry, you'll feel relief and excitement, knowing you can move forward to the next hole without having damaged your chances for a good score. You aren't going to get up and down 100% of the time – no one does – but improving your performance in this area will only mean good things for your game as a whole.

Before we go too far, we should take a moment to define what we mean by 'up and down'. Experienced golfers take this saying for granted, as it is just part of the vocabulary of the game. If you are new to golf, however, you might not yet be familiar with the term. Simply put, getting up and down means you only required two strokes to finish out the hole from a given position. Typically, this expression is used in relation to the short game specifically. So, for instance, if you miss the green by a few yards with your approach shot, you could say you got up and down if you needed only one chip and one putt to finish the hole. The chip shot would be the 'up' part of the equation, and the putt would be the 'down'.

For clarity's sake, you should understand that you may also hear this expression in reference to shots which fall outside of the realm of the short game. For instance, you may have a playing partner say that he or she got up and down from 150-yards out on a given hole. No matter the distance involved, getting up and down always means the same thing. It means taking two shots to finish the hole from a given position, one to get up on the green and the next to knock the ball down into the cup.

In this article, we are going to focus on the fundamentals required to improve your up and down game. For our purposes, we are going to be specifically talking about up and downs which take place in the short game, so our tips are going to focus on putting, chipping, pitching, and greenside bunker play. These are the shots that you will need if you are going to consistently finish holes in two shots after you miss the green with your approach. In addition to physical fundamentals, we are also going to take a moment to look at some of the mental fundamentals which can help you perform well in this part of the game.

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.

Chipping and Pitching Keys

Chipping and Pitching Keys

Since the typical up and down attempt begins with a chip or pitch – unless you are in a bunker, which we will address in the next section – we are going to get started by talking about the fundamentals you need to play these shots correctly. There is plenty of room for individual style and personal preference when playing short game shots, but some fundamentals are going to make your job a lot easier. If you don't use the basic fundamentals listed below, it's always going to be an uphill battle to produce consistent results.

Without further delay, let's take a look at the points we consider to be crucial for success when chipping and pitching.

  • Eyes on the ball. You've heard this one before, to be sure. Keeping your eyes on the ball as you swing is a standard fundamental in golf, no matter what kind of shot you are trying to hit. When chipping, you need to stay focused on the ball because making clean contact is the best way to control your distance properly. If you hit the ball a bit fat or a little thin, it is unlikely that the shot will travel the right distance in the end. Of course, there is always going to be the temptation to look up early when chipping or pitching, so you'll need to be disciplined to avoid that mistake. Instead of just staring at the ball as a whole, try looking at a very specific spot on the ball in order to keep your eyes steady. Once the club has moved through the hitting area and the ball is gone, feel free to look up and see how you've done.
  • Keep your hands moving. This is a big one, yet it is overlooked by many players. As the club moves through the hitting area toward the target, you need to keep your hands moving toward the target as well. For many players, this is where a chip or pitch shot will go wrong. As the club gets near the ball, the player will lose confidence and slow down or stop their hands in an effort to 'guide' the ball toward the target. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to make clean contact, and you'll usually hit the ball fat in the end. If you've ever hit a chip shot which only moved a few inches in front of you due to fat contact, it's highly likely that you slowed down your hands while approaching the ball. It takes confidence to keep your hands moving, and that confidence is only going to be developed through consistent practice. Work on your chipping technique regularly so you can have the belief necessary to keep your hands moving forward, even under pressure.
  • Hit down through impact. It should be stated right away that you aren't going to need to hit down through impact on every single one of your chip or pitch shots. Sometimes, picking the ball cleanly off the turf without hitting down is going to be the right approach. Most of the time, however, you'll want to hit down to both promote clean contact and to impart spin on the golf ball. You aren't going to take a big divot when chipping, since there isn't a ton of speed involved in the swing, but you should at least make a little mark in the grass just beyond the location of the ball. Don't worry about helping the ball get up in the air – the loft on the club is going to do that part of the job. Just hit down slightly through impact, do your best to strike the ball on the sweet spot of the club, and watch the ball pop up easily into the air on its way toward the target.

When framed by the three points above, solid chipping and pitching performance seems pretty simple. And, truth be told, it is pretty simple. If you can keep your eyes on the ball, keep your hands moving, and hit down through impact, you should be left with quality results on most occasions. Of course, as is always the case in golf, checking all three of these boxes is going to be easier said than done. You'll need to work hard in practice to build these fundamentals into your technique. Also, even when you have these fundamentals in place, you'll still need to practice consistently in order to stay sharp. Controlling the distance of your pitch and chip shots is the main challenge you face, and you are only going to develop that skill through repetition.

Blast it Close from the Sand

Blast it Close from the Sand

Many of your up and down attempts are going to begin from the grass, whether that is the fairway cut around the green, or the rough. However, on some occasions, you are going to need to play up onto the green from a bunker. When those situations present themselves, you'll need to have a reliable bunker game to take care of the job. Many amateurs struggle with greenside bunker play, so we wanted to touch on some of the key fundamentals here in this section.

Just as with the previous section, we are going to highlight three fundamentals that should improve your odds of getting up and down.

  • Plenty of hand action. On a typical short game shot, you want to keep your hands relatively quiet through the hitting area. When playing a standard chip from the grass, for example, your hands should be mostly quiet as the club swings through the ball. The same thing cannot be said, however, for playing a greenside bunker shot. When trying to blast the ball out of the sand and onto the green, you are going to need to use plenty of hand action through impact. Allow your right hand to propel the club head down into the sand, under the ball. You need a lot of swing speed in order to cut through the sand successfully and using your hands to their full capability is a great way to produce that speed. The key here is to actually put the club head into the sand first, rather than making clean contact with the ball itself. If you were to hit the ball cleanly with such an aggressive swing, the shot would either shoot over the green or blast into the front wall of the bunker. As long as you get the club down into the sand prior to reaching the ball, you should be able to produce a nice explosion shot with sends the ball softly up toward the target.
  • A wide stance. We think it is a good idea to use a wide stance for the majority of your greenside bunker shots. There are a couple of benefits to taking this approach. First, a wide stance is going to provide you with a stable base, which is important when you are trying to make a big, aggressive swing. Also, that wide stance should help to flatten out your angle of approach into the ball, making it easier to slide the club under the ball and through the sand. If you were to stand taller, your downswing may get too steep to play a proper explosion shot. With that said, there are times when you want to use a steeper downswing, such as when you are playing from a bad lie in the sand. If you draw a bad lie, it may be necessary to narrow your swing and go for the steeper approach into the ball.
  • Knee flex. This last point goes along nicely with the previous point. As you are setting your feet in a wide position, also be sure to flex your knees sufficiently. Using a healthy amount of knee flex will stabilize your swing as the clubs moves back and through, and it will also be another way you can work toward a flatter downswing. The right amount of knee flex is going to vary from player to player, so do some experimenting in practice until you settle on a stance that works for your swing. Also, you may need to adjust on the course depending on the slope of the ground under your feet. Generally speaking, you'll want to use less knee flex than normal when the ball is above your feet in a bunker, and even more knee flex when the ball is resting below the level of your feet at address.

Greenside bunker play is a part of the game that intimidates many amateur golfers, but that doesn't need to be the case. There is nothing mysterious about playing good bunker shots – it comes down to solid fundamentals and plenty of practice, just like every other part of the game. The issue that many golfers run into here is that playing a good bunker shot requires basically the opposite of the technique that you will use when playing from grass. You need to use a lot of hand action at impact instead of a little, and you need to intentionally hit behind the ball. Since bunker play is so different from short game shots hit from grass, the need for practice is only magnified. Work on this part of your game frequently so it is always ready to go on the course.