Dave Pelz, one of the foremost short game and putting instructors in golf, offers schools and clinics across the U.S. Click here to find out more information.
Short shots are important! My new research using ShotLink to study the games of amateur players like you shows a dramatic gap in scrambling skills between Tour players and you. This is critical since the consequences of missing a shot are not dispersed equally across the four primary shot types: tee shots, approach shots, short-game shots and putts.
When you hit a poor drive you can recover with a good iron or wedge shot, or a good putt. On a scale of zero to 10, the importance of your drive quality is a 3 relative to your ability to score. If your long-iron shot to the green is poor, you can still scramble with a good wedge shot or hole a putt; the importance of approach shots is 5.
The consequence of a poor short-game shot is more critical because there are fewer chances to recover; short-game importance is 7. Putting, meanwhile, is the most unforgiving to scoring. When you miss a putt there is no recovery: You add a stroke and putt again (importance = 9).
WHY UP-AND-DOWNS ARE CRITICAL
Do you see the pattern formed in Figure 1? The closer you get to the hole the more important it is to hit quality shots. And because you don't make good long swings all of the time, your ability to scramble is just that much more critical.
The importance of scrambling stood out dramatically in the 2006 PGA Tour Superstore World Amateur Championship, where we measured the scrambling skills of amateurs and compared them to PGA Tour pros (Figure 2).
From fairway lies, Tour pros scramble to save par 58 percent of the time when they miss a green in regulation, while scratch amateurs are successful only half as often. The results drop again for higher handicappers, who get up-and-down at a rate of only 10 percent.
Looking more closely at amateur scrambling, a few things become apparent: (1) The lower your handicap and the closer you are to the green, the better chance you have of scrambling success (Figure 3); and (2) if your approach shot finds the rough, the situation becomes more dire. In fact, double-digit handicappers make less than one up-and-down save for every 10 short-game shots played from the rough (Figure 4).
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SHORT GAME
Short game shots have two distinct parts: (1) how far they fly in the air and (2) how far they move after they hit the ground. The first part depends on how well you hit the shot (execution), and the second part depends on how firm and fast the greens are (conditions).
To improve your scrambling ability, pick out two targets for every short-game shot.
First, select a "landing target" the spot where you want to land the ball. Then pick the "final target" (usually the hole) where you want the ball to stop.
Do this in practice and on the course. It will help you get closer to the hole.
HOW TO GET BETTER FAST
Practice your ability to execute and sharpen your analysis of conditions. I recommend carrying a 10- foot piece of string (makes a three-foot diameter circle) in your bag to mark "landing targets" when you practice.
By marking your "landing target," it becomes obvious which part of each shot needs work, and your learning curve will advance at its maximum rate.
Once you begin to accomplish both parts of your short-game shots accurately, your scrambling percentages will go up and your scores will go down dramatically!