Every yardage counts in golf, but some distances are more important than others. Chances are, you need to work on 30-yard pitches. Few weekend players practice from this distance, but you face more of these shots than you might think. It's the ballpark length you leave to the pin after two solid swings on a par 5, or after catching an approach shot fat on a par 4. Think about how many par 5s you play every round, and then the number of times you catch an iron a little heavy. How well you play from 30 yards can make or break your score.
The basics aren't complicated: Play the ball in the center of your stance, then use a half backswing with a three-quarter through-swing. For me, that combination adds up to 30 yards with a 60-degree wedge (assuming solid contact). Like any shot, though, it takes practice to make it a reliable weapon when it counts. And when you practice, it's important to hit the ball with the center of the sweet spot, not near the heel or toe. Try this: Before attempting a 30-yard pitch, make rehearsal swings that barely brush the grass—no need to carve a big divot. If you catch a lot of shots thin, check that the ball is centered in your stance. Use your ankles, not your toes, as guides. (Using your toes doesn't work, because you might flare one foot and not the other, skewing your perception of "center.") Lastly, even though you've shortened your swing, make sure to accelerate all the way through impact.
At the start of your practice session, don't worry about how far your shots fly; focus on making solid contact with an accelerating swing that brushes the grass. Then fine-tune your distance control. Start with a 60-degree wedge, like I do for a 30-yard pitch, but try your other wedges, too. It's not a bad idea to find a wedge/swing pairing that carries the ball 20, 40 and 50 yards.
It helps if you hit toward specific targets instead of onto an empty range. Check out the greens I designed at Blessings G.C. in Fayetteville, Ark, (photo left)—they sit precisely 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards from the teeing area. If I'm slightly off with my aim or distance, the shot will hit the steep sides of the green and carom into the bunkers. Also, notice that the shorter the shot, the smaller the green. The point is, I'm challenging myself to be ultra-precise. You should, too. If your practice facility doesn't have clearly-defined short-game targets, create your own out of golf towels or plastic rings.
The 30-yard pitch is a chance to shine. Take my advice and you won't just get on—you'll get close.