golf-ball-disection-titleist-open club face

Everyone loves watching pro golfers hit delicate pitch shots that stop on a dime. Here's a little secret: It's not that difficult.

First, you need a tour-level ball that will spin enough to execute the shot. If you're hitting a ball geared strictly for distance, you've got no chance to pull off the checking pitch shot.

If you're playing the right ball, the key is to prevent the right hand from crossing the left through impact. A full release takes backspin off the shot, causing it to roll. To make your pitch shots check:

  • Take a gap, sand or lob wedge and assume your normal setup, with the feet 6-8 inches apart.
  • Play the ball in the middle of your stance or slightly forward.
  • As you swing through, keep the back of the left hand pointing at the target.
  • Finish with the clubface facing up. Your left elbow should not fold against the body on the follow-through.

The ball will hop forward after landing, then stop quickly on the second bounce. You'll enjoy the results, and get a real rush from executing a shot just like a tour pro.

Hold Clubface Open to Make Pitch Shots Check

Hold Clubface Open to Make Pitch Shots Check

If you have ever watched a professional golf tournament on TV, you have no doubt seen this shot – playing from 20 or 30 yards away, the pro golfer takes an aggressive swing with a wedge, clips the ball cleanly off the turf, and the ball comes zipping to a stop after taking just one or two bounces. When judged correctly, this kind of shot can leave the ball sitting right next to the hole for an easy tap-in putt. But how do you hit this shot? Do you have to be a professional golfer to execute this technique properly?

Fortunately, you do not have to be a pro golfer to hit a checking chip shot. However, you do need to spend some serious practice time mastering the right technique if you are going to add this play to your repertoire. The checking pitch shot is a risky play because you have to make an aggressive swing from short range, and any breakdown in your mechanics could lead to an ugly result. Only when you are able to combine proper technique with a steady nerve will you be able to rely on this shot on a consistent basis.

There are a number of keys to hitting a checking pitch shot, but holding the clubface open through impact just might be the most important of all. By keeping the clubface square to the target for as long as possible, you will give the ball a chance to 'roll' up the grooves on the face of the club. That action will impart backspin on the ball, and the backspin is what will enable the ball to stop quickly after just a couple of bounces. If you were to release the clubhead through impact as you would normally do on a full swing (or even a pitch and run), the spin rate for the shot would be lower and the ball would take longer to come to a stop. Holding the face open is a unique motion that will take some practice, but it can be an effective tool once you are comfortable with this method.

As a golfer, you should always be looking for new ways to improve your game, even if that means learning new shots that are outside of your comfort zone. If you have never before tried to stop a pitch shot with spin, it might seem like a challenge that should be left for a better golfer. That is the wrong way to think about the game. Instead of backing down from new ideas, step up and take them on with confidence and enthusiasm. There are two ways to improve your game – learning new shots, and getting better at your existing shots. Don't limit yourself to simply improving on what you already do when you can make even more progress by adding new tricks to your bag.

All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.

Finding the Right Conditions

Finding the Right Conditions

You can't hit a checking pitch shot from just any old spot on the golf course. Only when you have just the right conditions are you going to be able to employ this tactic to get the ball close to the hole. Before you learn more about how to create a spinning pitch shot, it is first important that you understand what kind of conditions are required. Unless the shot that you are facing meets all three of the criteria below, you will be better off choosing another technique.

  • Distance of 20-50 yards. You don't have to be exactly within this distance range to hit a spinning pitch shot, but you should be close. Anything inside of 20 yards is most likely too short to generate enough speed to spin the ball and stop it quickly. Once you get outside of 50 yards, you have left the realm of 'pitch' shots and are getting into full swing territory. As you approach your ball, one of the first things you should do is get an exact yardage so you can decide which methods you can use to get the ball to stop near the flag. If that yardage comes back as something between 20 and 50, you can carry on to the next point.
  • Clean lie in the short grass. This is a shot that is only going to work from a fairway lie. You may be able to get a decent amount of spin from the rough if it isn't very thick or deep, but generally speaking you should only try to spin the ball when playing from the fairway cut. Not only does your ball need to be in the fairway (or on the fringe), but you also need to have a good lie that isn't affected by an old divot, clump of dirt, footprint, or anything else. Clean contact is absolutely essential to clipping the ball off the grass and imparting plenty of spin – and you will only make clean contact when you have a great lie. As long as the lie looks good, you can continue to the last point on this checklist.
  • Dry conditions. This is one point that many amateur golfers miss, and it can lead to disappointing results. If you are playing your round on damp grass (either from rain or just the morning dew), hitting a checking pitch shot is not a good idea. The problem is friction – when the ball lands on the green, the water on the surface of the green will prevent the backspin from really 'grabbing' the grass, meaning the ball will bounce and roll farther than it would have during dry conditions. Be sure to check the level of moisture on the grass prior to hitting any pitch shot, and only go for the spinner when you are confident that the grass is dry enough to accept your backspin properly.

As you gain experience with this shot, it will only take you a second or two to decide if the spinning pitch shot is the right option for the situation. In fact, you won't even need to go through the three points above one by one – you will just be able to look at the lie of the ball and the green in front of you and instantly know how to proceed. Until then, keep these three points in mind when on the course to guide your decision making.

The Equipment Element

The Equipment Element

The best technique in the world won't allow you to hit a checking pitch shot if you don't have the right equipment to go along with it. In order to get your ball to spin, you need to be using a wedge and a golf ball that are up to the task. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to buy the most expensive brands on the market – but you will have to shop carefully to find gear that offers the characteristics required to create spin. Until you get the right mix of wedges and golf balls in your bag, there is no point in working on the technique to hit checking pitch shots.

First, take a close look at the wedges that you have in your bag. For a checking pitch shot, you want to be using a wedge with at least 56 degrees of loft. 56 degrees should be considered the minimum, but a 58 or 60 degree wedge may work even better. Depending on the makeup of the rest of your set, you may wish to carry multiple high-lofted wedge options at the same time. No matter what set up you settle on in your bag, make sure at least one wedge with a minimum of 56 degrees of loft is present.

In addition to having the right loft, you need to make sure that wedge is in good condition. The grooves on the club face are crucial for creating spin, so you need to be using a club that still has plenty of good grooves left. If the grooves are all worn out from years of use, you are going to have a hard time developing the required amount of spin to stop the ball on a pitch shot. To make sure your grooves are in good shape, either buy a new wedge or use one that is less than a couple years old. If you aren't sure how your wedge is doing, take the pointed end of a tee and run it across the face of the wedge – if you can't feel cut outs where each groove is supposed to be, it might be time for a replacement.

The other half of this equation is the ball that you are going to use. Spin rates vary greatly from ball to ball, so picking the right model is crucial to loading up your pitch shots with plenty of spin. In general, you can predict how much spin a ball will provide around the green simply by looking at the price. Cheap golf balls will offer very little spin, while more expensive models will give you a chance to put plenty of spin on the ball at impact. The top-of-the-line golf balls are the ones that are played by professionals, and they can cost $40 or more per dozen.

The good news is that you don't have to spend top dollar in order to find a ball that will spin for you – but you do need to go beyond the cheapest balls on the market. There are a number of golf ball models that make up the middle of the market which combine spin rates with affordable prices. These balls are the perfect choice for most amateurs because they provide some nice feel around the greens with forgiving performance on long shots. Remember, when you use a high spin ball, that ball will spin more side-to-side in addition to back – meaning that you will need to hit better shots in order to keep the ball on the course.

With at least one good wedge in your set and the right golf balls in your bag, you should be ready to start hitting some beautiful checking pitch shots. As time goes by, you can certainly experiment with different golf ball models until you find one that strikes the right balance of short game and long game performance. Buying sleeves of three golf balls instead of dozens is a great way to test out a few models before settling on your go-to ball for the long term.

Executing the Shot

Executing the Shot

With the right conditions in front of you, and the right equipment in your bag, the next step is to learn the proper mechanics that will be used to execute the checking pitch shot. Fortunately, you won't need to drastically change your existing technique for a pitch shot in order to hit the spinner. Simply make a few tweaks and add plenty of practice, and you should be knocking this shot close to the hole in no time at all.

First, you should review your current pitching technique to make sure you are on the right track. Once you confirm that your basic pitch shots meet the criteria below, you can then move on to learning how to modify that technique to hit the checking pitch shot.

  • Weight leaning slightly left. It is important to hit down on the ball when hitting a pitch, and that is only going to happen when you are leaning slightly toward the target. At address, you should feel your weight leaning into your left side, with approximately 60% of your weight on that left foot. You don't want to be leaning so severely that you are going to fall over, but make sure you are set firmly into your left side. As your swing begins, don't allow your weight to drift right – you should remain on your left side throughout the pitching motion.
  • All shoulders, limited hands. The job of moving the club back and through the ball should fall mostly on your shoulders with only limited influence from your hands. By keeping your hands quiet through the shot, you can increase your chances of making solid contact. When done correctly, the pitch is really a simple motion – just a rock of the shoulders and a slight hinge of the wrists to send the ball on its way.
  • Eyes on the ball. Just as with every other shot you hit on the golf course, your eyes should be focused on the ball at impact. You want to actually see the club contact the ball because that focus will keep your head steady – another element in making good contact. If this point is one that causes trouble for you, consider drawing a few special markings on your golf ball that you can use as 'focus points'. When you get ready to hit a shot, pick out one of your markings and stare at it intently until the ball is gone.
  • Even tempo. Tempo is a point that many golfers ignore, but it is critical to your success. Make it a goal to swing the club back and through with a smooth rhythm, and try to avoid getting in a hurry at any point in the swing. Many amateur golfers panic during the backswing of a pitch shot, afraid they aren't going to be able to hit the ball hard enough to reach the target. When that panic sets in, they accelerate the club suddenly and all hope of hitting a good shot is lost. Relax prior to each pitch shot you hit and trust your tempo to send the ball safely up onto the green.

If you don't think your basic pitch shot technique is in good condition, take the time to work on it before moving forward. The checking pitch shot is an advanced skill, and you aren't going to have success using it if your simple pitches are giving you trouble. Only when you are highly confident in your pitching mechanics should you move on to learning the spinning pitch.

The best way to add check to your pitch shots is to hold the club face open through the shot. Instead of letting the toe of the club pass the heel through impact, you are going to hold the face of the club pointing toward the target for as long as possible. To do this, focus on the position of the back of your left hand. The back of your left hand basically mirrors the club face throughout the swing, so by holding the back of that left hand toward the target during your pitch shots, you will know that the club face is in the right position.

To hit your first spinning pitch, find a good spot in the short game practice area at your local course. Place some golf balls down on a clean fairway lie with an appropriate distance to the target and pull out your highest-lofted wedge. You are going to use your basic chipping motion, with the following adjustments –

  • Move the ball back in your stance slightly. You don't want to line the ball up with your back foot, but it should be just a couple of inches behind the center of your stance.
  • Make a steeper backswing. Use your wrists more actively in the takeaway to elevate the club head off of the turf. In order to create maximum spin, you want to be hitting down through the golf ball, and using your wrists a little more in the backswing will help you accomplish this goal.
  • Hold the clubface open through the shot. This is really where you create all of the spin that is needed to stop the shop. Instead of letting the club release, try to take the back of your left hand directly toward the target.

In all, your checking pitch shot shouldn't look that much different than your regular pitch, with the exception of your hand action through the ball. When executed correctly, the ball will come out on a lower trajectory, bounce a couple of times, and stop cold – hopefully right next to the cup.

Strategy Considerations

Strategy Considerations

Once you are comfortable enough with this shot to employ it on the course, the next step is to learn when to use it. Even if you are confident in hitting a checking pitch, you still shouldn't use it all the time because it is a more difficult shot than a traditional pitch and run.

The best time to pull this shot out of the bag is when you are facing an uphill pitch to a hole located in the back of the green. The uphill slope will help your backspin become even more effective, and the rear hole location will give you plenty of space for a couple of bounces. Playing this style of pitch to a front hole location is almost never an option because you would have to land the ball off the green – which would cause you to lose much of the spin you had created.

One other strategy point that needs to be mentioned is the nerves that you may be feeling at a particular point in the round. The spinning pitch is a delicate shot to hit, and you need to have a steady hand through the swing to pull it off. If you are feeling nervous for any reason, you may be better off using a pitch and run for safety. Never feel like you have to play this shot just because you have it available – only opt for the checking pitch when you are sure the time is right.

If you can teach yourself how to hold the clubface open through impact when hitting a pitch shot, you can add enough backspin to the ball to cause it to stop quickly after only a couple bounces. Before you attempt this challenging shot, however, make sure your basic pitching technique is in good condition. Only after plenty of time spent in the short game practice area working on this shot should you put it into action on the course.