Pitching the golf ball is a skill which is overlooked by golfers of all ages.

Senior Pitching Setup Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

The ability to pitch the ball up close to the hole time after time can go a long way toward lowering your scores. So, if pitching is so important, why do so many golfers largely ignore this category of shots? We’re not sure, but we hope this article will help turn your attention toward improving your play in this part of the game. Whereas it might take months or even years to see the benefit of making a big change to your full swing, you can see results almost immediately when you work on something like pitching the ball.

First, a quick definition – what is a pitch shot? Most golfers would consider pitch shots to be those that fall between chip shots and full swings. As a rough guideline, you can count shots anywhere from 10 – 50 yards in the category of pitches, although there is certainly room for debate on those distances. Pitch shots are inherently difficult as they require you to judge how much speed to put in the swing – something you don’t usually need to do on a full shot. With most full shots, you are just making your standard swing and trusting club selection (and maybe trajectory) to take the ball the right distance. With a pitch, it’s all up to your touch and feel to send the ball the correct distance, and that is something that gives the average golfer a significant amount of trouble.

While pitch shots are important for all golfers, they take on extra importance for senior players who may not be able to reach the green in two shots on some of the longer par fours. If that sounds like you at this point, you know that pitch shots come up frequently when you hit an approach shot that doesn’t quite have the distance to reach the putting surface. Don’t let these shots get the better of you. Improvement in this area is just like any other area of golf – it comes down to a combination of proper technique and plenty of practice. The information offered in this article should help you take a step in the right direction with the quality of your pitching performance.

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.

What Needs to Happen

What Needs to Happen

Before getting into the technical side of how you can stand and swing the club in order to produce good results, we’d first like to talk about what needs to happen in order to send the ball up close to the hole. What are the keys to a quality pitch shot? By taking a step back and thinking about this type of shot on a basic level, we can gain an understanding of what we should be trying to do with the club. Too many golfers just walk up to the ball and hit it without really thinking. That’s never going to be good enough for the kinds of results you likely dream of on the course. Players who understand each shot they plan, and who have a plan to execute those shots, are well ahead of the game.

So, what needs to happen if you are going to produce a good pitch shot? The list below highlights the main keys –

  • Clean contact. This is the number one rule of hitting good pitch shots. Of course, hitting the ball cleanly is pretty much a requirement no matter where you are on the course. If you are going to get the distance you expect from a given swing, and if you are going to produce the kind of spin you desire, you’ll need to strike the ball cleanly. While you might think that it would be easier to hit a clean shot on a pitch than a full swing, you’d be mistaken. Countless golfers who are able to hit good shots with their full swings struggle to do the same when pitching. Trying to cut down on the length of your swing so dramatically is not easy, and you may be battling some nerves on these tricky shots, as well. There is plenty to think about on any given pitch shot but always make sure that the goal of clean contact is your top priority.
  • Proper carry distance. Every pitch shot consists of two portions – the part that takes place in the air, and the part that takes place on the ground. The portion of the shot when the ball is flying through the air is known as the carry, and you need to judge it just right. Before making a swing, you should already have decided how far you would like the ball to fly and where you would like it to come down. Of course, it’s one thing to decide where you want the ball to land – it’s another thing entirely to actually make it happen. Plenty of practice will be required in order to fine-tune your ability to land the ball on the desired spot over and over again.
  • Judge the spin correctly. So, the first part of the shot is the portion that takes place in the air, meaning the rest of the shot happens along the ground. The key here is to judge how the spin on the golf ball is going to impact the bounce and roll that occurs before the shot comes to rest. Are you going to put a high rate of spin on the shot, causing the ball to stop quickly? Or, are you playing a pitch with minimal spin, expecting bounce and roll to take you across the green to the target? There is plenty of room for personal preference and playing style on this point. Some golfers like to go for the high spin rate shots, while others prefer to let the ball roll out. Ideally, you’ll be able to practice both types of pitch shots, so you can simply use the right one for each unique occasion.
  • Deal with challenging lies. Lastly, we need to mention the role that your lie is going to play on each individual pitch shot. If you are playing a pitch from a perfect fairway-cut lie, you’ll have little to worry about. On the other hand, if the ball is sitting down in some long rough, or if you’ve drawn some other kind of bad lie, it will be necessary to get creative. One thing to keep in mind when you face a poor lie is that you should strive to minimize the damage to the greatest extent possible. In other words, don’t attempt a miracle shot which has very little chance of success, as you could quickly turn this hole into a disaster. Play it safe when you can, get the ball quickly back into a better position, and move on to the next hole without doing too much damage to your card.

When a professional golfer hits a quality pitch shot, it can look pretty easy. In reality, there was a lot of planning and preparation that went into achieving such a successful outcome. Each of the points listed above is going to play a role in your pitching performance, so give all of them their deserved attention during practice.

Building a Great Stance

Building a Great Stance

So much of your success or failure on the course comes down to your address position. If you stand properly over the ball, no matter what club you happen to be holding, your odds of success will immediately go up. Even the longest swing you make is only going to last a couple of seconds, so there really isn’t time to make up for mistakes once the club goes in motion. Get things right in your stance so you can forget about needing to make in-swing corrections at the last moment.

Building a stance to hit pitch shots is an interesting challenge, as you are sort of stuck between the full swing and the short game. As a result, the ideal stance for a pitch shot is somewhat of a blend between what you use when chipping, and what you use when hitting full shots. The tips below should help you settle into a quality pitching stance with relatively little trouble.

  • Just slightly open. If you are like most golfers, you use a square stance to play your full shots and a rather open stance to hit your chip shots. That’s a good plan, but neither of those options is quite right for your pitch shots. Instead, try landing somewhere in the middle, positioning your feet so they are just a bit open to the target line. This will give you the best of what each type of stance has to offer. By being a little open, you’ll have a good view of the target from address, and you will be able to easily swing across the ball slightly from outside-in (which makes it easier to get the ball up into the air). At the same time, by not going too far open with your stance, it shouldn’t be hard to hit the ball with enough force to reach your target. The problem with a significantly open stance on pitch shots is you may find it tough to get the ball all the way back to the hole. Experiment with a slightly open stance during practice and we think you’ll like what you find.
  • Flex your knees. This is an important tip no matter what kind of shot you are hitting. Flexed knees stand to help the golfer in a number of ways. First, by flexing your knees at address, you should have an easier time finding a balanced, comfortable position from which to swing the club. Also, if you are able to maintain your knee flex during the swing, you should find that it helps you make better contact with the ball. It does need to be noted that you don’t need to get down into a deep knee flex in order to reap the benefits of this tip. Even a slight flex can do the job, so try different degrees of flex until you settle on something that works for you.
  • Keep your chin and head up. One of the early tips you receive as a golfer is to ‘keep your head down’. This tip is well-intentioned, but it is also misleading. You really don’t want to keep your head ‘down’, as doing so is going to restrict your ability to swing the club freely back and through. A better plan is to keep your head in a relatively high position at address and keep it there throughout the swing. It’s probably easiest to work on this point by thinking about your chin position. Instead of letting your chin move down into your chest, keep it up so your left shoulder can turn to the right freely in the backswing. This kind of head position will lead to excellent posture and it will make it easier to achieve a free-swinging motion back and through the ball.

In the end, it isn’t all that complicated to create a solid pitching setup which will help you produce consistent results in this area of the game. Spend a little time focused on making sure your stance is hitting on the fundamentals listed above, and you’ll be ready to go. With that said, plenty of practice is still going to be necessary in order to achieve the results you desire. It’s one thing to have a good stance – it’s another thing to turn that stance into great shots time after time. In the next section, we’ll cover some swing keys you can use to start knocking the ball up close to the cup with regularity.

Some Swing Keys

Some Swing Keys

The first thing you should know about building a swing for pitch shots is that you want to keep things simple. There is no need to make your technique particularly complicated, and there really isn’t time for complicated moves in such a small swing, anyway. You’ll want to just move the club back and through in a clean manner, while eliminating as much wasted or excess movement as possible.

    The best way to master your pitching technique is to get out and practice, but the tips below may help you get on the right track a little sooner.
  • Keep your head still. There is no need to move your head while playing a standard pitch shot. If you can keep your head still, you’ll have a better chance to make solid contact – and as mentioned earlier, solid contact is where it all starts with pitch shots. The big temptation that you need to fight here is the urge to look up early, before you’ve made contact with the ball. You may be a little nervous about the outcome of the shot, so you might want to look up early to see what is going to happen. That will only harm your chances of a successful outcome, however, so work in practice on the skill of keeping your head down all the way through the swing and into the finish. Not only is this a skill that will help with your pitch shots, it will also help as you move in for chip shots and putts, as well.
  • Let your hands work a bit. It’s going to be hard to play nice pitch shots if you keep your hands and wrists totally quiet and out of the action. To generate some spin, and to give yourself a little speed to work with through the hitting area, try engaging your hands somewhat in the shot. Set your wrists a little bit on the way back, and then let your right hand contribute to the hit when impact arrives. It might feel a little bit uncomfortable at first to pitch the ball this way, but you should pick up confidence and control over the ball as you continue to practice.
  • Swing through to a solid finish position. The swing should not be over when you contact the ball. Just like when you are hitting a full shot, you need to keep your swing moving all the way through impact and into the finish. Of course, you aren’t going to swing all the way up to have the club over your left shoulder or anything like that, but do feel like you are at least turning toward the target with the club out in front of you. During an upcoming practice session, try working on your pitch shots while thinking about nothing other than swinging through to a good finish position. You might be surprised to find just how successful you can be by focusing only on your finish position and letting the rest take care of itself.

If you currently feel like pitching the golf ball is one of your weak points, making technical improvements is the obvious step toward better results. You aren’t going to get better with practicing, of course, so make time for this part of your game during upcoming practice sessions and start to make progress at long last.

Helpful Practice Tips

Helpful Practice Tips

Speaking of practice, we’d like to wrap up this article by offering up a few tips that you can use to optimize your practice sessions. You probably have a pretty good idea of how to practice things like your driver swing and even your putting stroke, but you might not have much of a plan for pitch shots. Take a quick look at the list below and outline how you will approach your pitching practice next time out.

  • Start by working on hitting landing spots. You’ll naturally evaluate your pitch shots in practice by aiming toward holes on the green and seeing how close you can leave the ball. That’s fine at some point, but try starting out by working on landing the ball accurately on a spot you select. One handy way to do this is to set a golf towel down on the green and then try to land your shots on that towel. Don’t worry about having a target in terms of where the ball will stop moving – just try to land your shots on the towel. Developing the skill of controlling your carry distance will go a long way toward improving your pitching results overall.
  • Play from various lies. One common mistake in this part of the game is to only practice from clean, fairway-cut lies on flat ground. That’s a good place to start while working on your technique, but be sure to head out into the rough and onto some slopes in order to develop your skills in a variety of situations. What you face on the course is not always going to be a great lie, so don’t practice from that scenario exclusively.
  • Experiment with spin. Ideally, you’ll be able to play both high-spin and low-spin pitch shots, so you can vary your choice depending on the occasion. That’s not an easy task, however, so your ability to move back and forth between the two needs to be created in practice. To create a lot of spin, you’ll typically need to use a highly-lofted wedge, and plenty of speed through the hitting area. You will also need a clean lie on short grass. Lower-spin pitch shots are easier, as you can opt for less loft and a steady swing speed through the ball.

Once you start to make progress on your pitching game, you will likely wonder why you didn’t start to work on it sooner. The ability to pitch the ball accurately can help you to save pars, and maybe even make some birdies on the par fives. Make time during your practice sessions to work on this aspect of your game and look forward to seeing results in the near future. Good luck!