If you’re familiar with my philosophies, you know how seriously I take the scoring game, and how important it is to your overall score. My research on putting and wedge play is now stretching into its fourth decade, so that’s the area where I can help you the most.
Of course, there isn’t enough room here to cover everything I’ve discovered in more than 30 years—we’ll save that for future issues of GOLF Magazine. (Look for the new “Pelz Files” beginning in September.) What you can learn right now, however, are the must-have elements of creating Tour-like touch from 100 yards and in. It’s the same information I give to students in my Scoring Game Schools, and it can help you, too.
It’s your bad shots and weaknesses—not your strengths—that largely determine your scores. Take what I know, make it your own, and turn 2006 into your best season ever.
Pelz On: Putting
The best putters have three things in common: good green reading, starting lines and speed control
More than 40 percent of all golf shots are putts, and over half of those are short ones. But how short are your short putts? This question is critical since the conversion percentage for all golfers drops off rapidly as putt length increases from 2 feet to 10 feet. That should tell you that your focus should be on getting your chips, pitches and lag putts closer to the hole. Every foot counts, and if you can get your ball just that much nearer to the target, your putts per round will plummet.
Let Face Angle Be Your Guide
Golfers spend a lot of time practicing stroke path because it seems to make sense-move your putter in the direction you want your putt to roll. This is wrong, however. Research data shows that where the face angle of your putter is aimed at impact determines where the ball travels. Study the two factors of a solidly struck putt and you’ll discover that face angle determines 83 percent of the starting line while putter path direction determines 17 percent. In other words, a square face angle is five times more important to starting putts on line than putter path.
Try This: \”Chiputt\” the Long Ones
The longer the putt, the more likely you are to leave it short, because your stroke (and everyone else’s) naturally evolves to favor accuracy over power. You can overcome this tendency by adding a chipping motion to your putting stroke-think of it as “chipping with your putter.” On super-long putts, stand upright for a better perspective on distance, and then putt with the same body motion you use to chip with a 5-iron. On 75- to 110-foot putts, every golfer I’ve tested, including Tour professionals, lags closer to the hole with the “chiputt” method.
Find the Right Speed for Every Putt
Both putts at right were started on the same line. Notice how the first one (the yellow ball), released too low from my TruRoller device, rolled too slow and missed short and below the hole. The second putt (the white ball) rolled too fast and missed on the high side. So what’s the lesson? Simple: Speed affects the line, and good speed is critical for putting success. So what do you do? You must find a way to roll putts 17 inches past the hole (when they miss). Research proves that putts have a greater chance of finding the cup (regardless of putt length) when the ball rolls at this speed.
My advice is to add a “speed evaluation” to your analysis of missed putts. For eve ry missed putt, determine if the ball rolled short or long of the preferred 17-inch-past distance. Over time, using this analysis will help you adjust your putting touch for good speed control.
From the Pelz School: How to Minimize Three-Putts
The odds of holing a putt longer than 35 feet are not high, but the chance of three-putting from this distance is good. Here’s how to avoid those roundkilling three-putts:
On all putts longer than 35 feet, imagine that the hole is a 6-foot circle and try to get your ball within the circumference of it. This makes the putt look much easier, and you’ll actually end up holing one every once in a while. You can also use this circle rule on putts from less than 35 feet, but make sure you get the ball past the cup. I call this region the “Safe Zone.” When you’re rolling the ball into the Safe Zone, you’re rolling it great.
Pelz On: Wedge Shots
Time your wedge swings for expert distance control
When you face a shot shorter than what you can produce with a full wedge swing, you’ve officially entered the short game. Chances are you struggle from these distances because you make a full backswing and then decelerate into your foward-swing to “soften” the blow and shorten the distance. Keeping a consistent follow-through and varying the length of your backswing is the best way to achieve efficient and accutate distance control.
Knock it closer for more one-putts:
The key to good scoring is stopping your wedge shots within the “Golden Eight Feet” (2 feet to 10 feet of the hole). The chance of one-putting from this range is very good.
From the Pelz School: Control Distance With Length
After extensive testing and research, I discovered that the best way to control the distance your wedge shots fly is with the length of your backswing. If you use the same rhythm and a full follow-through, then the shorter you make your backswing, the shorter your shots will fly.
That’s my mantra: shorter backswings for shorter shots and longer backswings for longer shots. Imagine your left arm as the hour hand on a clock (see photo below), with the 12:00 position above your head. If you use the same rhythm and follow-through, your wedge shot distances will increase as you lengthen your backswing from 7:30 to the 9:00 and 10:30 positions.
This distance-control system guards against the biggest short-game killer: deceleration. It also creates three repeatable distances for each wedge you carry.
Pelz On: Pitch & Chip Shots
Knock the ball closer to make putting easy.
Pitching your ball closer to the hole is critical to lowering your scores, because where you putt from is more important than how well you putt. The shorter your putts, the more you will make.
But greens seem to be getting faster—with more slope and tighter pin positions—each passing year, making the task of pitching it close a real challenge. This is where a few good short-game practice sessions can come in handy. Use my pitching and chipping tips, and as you practice, remember this advice: Practice makes permanent (not perfect). Poor practice creates permanently poor golfers. Only good practice, with accurate feedback on what you’re doing right versus what you’re doing wrong, leads to lasting improvement.
Should You Carry Four Wedges?
Absolutely! More than 50 PGA Tour players carry four wedges, and you miss more greens than they do. Different wedges with different lofts and bounce angles create more varied shots around the greens. Make short-to-long swings and accelerate through impact to eliminate the 40-yard weakness from your game.
Try This: Keep it Low
If you play in windy conditions, you need to learn how to keep your shots low and minimize backspin so you can bump-and-run the ball onto the green. The bump-and-run effectively helps the ball stay under the wind and avoid its severe consequences. Even on calm days, bouncing and rolling shots up onto hard and fast greens, rather than flying them all the way to the flagstick, is a skill worth having.
From the Pelz School: Avoid Wrist Breakdown
Using your wrist muscles and hinging your wrists while hitting a chip shot is like asking for trouble. Both fat and skulled shots are the typical results. By swinging your hands, arms and club together as a unit, you can keep the club from outpacing your hands and achieve consistency in your chipping performance.
Try This: The Cut-Lob Shot
When you need a high, soft shot to a tight pin position, only a cut-lob shot will get the job done. Aim about five steps to the left of your target, then open the face of your wedge so the lead edge points just right of the target. Keep your ball position centered in your stance and swing much harder than you would normally from this distance. If you accelerate through to a full finish, you’ll see a nice cut-lob shot land and stop near the flagstick.
Hitting it Fat? Why and How to Stop
Perfect ball position for pitching is precisely centered between your ankles (not your toes). That’s where your swing starts clipping the grass before it bottoms out about 2 inches forward of center.
Pelz On: Bunkers
Use your normal wedge swing for good lies in the sand
In terms of performance, research shows most golfers do not play well from sand. Even from good lies, they flub, skull and shank shots into large dispersion patterns. This problem often is not caused by poor swing techniques, but rather by faulty ball position and incorrect setup.
A ball positioned forward on the instep of the golfer’s front foot is perfect for letting the club bottom out under it. If the clubface is also laid open so it won’t dig too deeply, and the player sets up slightly left of target, then a normal wedge swing works well in hitting consistent blast shots from sand.
Sharpen Your Short Game
Improving your short game and putting will save you serious strokes. But where do you start? Begin by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in your game. Golfers love to practice what they’re good at, but improving your weaknesses will substantially lower your handicap.
To learn how—and test 17 areas of your scoring game—check out my Short Game Handicap tests pelzgolf.com. Complete the tests to find your Short Game Handicap. It will help you identify your weaknesses and, ultimately, help you improve. That’s when your scores will start to fall.
From the Pelz School: Divots in the Sand
To internalize the feel of a good sand swing, draw two lines in the sand about 5 inches apart. Set up with your front foot instep on the front line (proper ball position) and practice making normal wedge swings until you can consistently break into the sand on the back line (at the middle of your stance). This is one of my most effective bunker drills. Don’t bother with hitting actual shots until you can create consistent divots in the sand (not too deep!) without a ball.
For more information on all things Pelz, please visit our web site or search the archives of my GOLF Magazine articles on GOLFONLINE:
Also, you can send me questions about your short game or putting via e-mail. I’ll answer the most frequent scoring game questions on the Ask Pelz page in upcoming issues. If I don’t know the answers, I’ll tell you that, too.
If you’re going to work on your game based on anything I have said, or will ever say, please remember that bad practice is worse than no practice. I’d rather see you lying on the couch than practicing poorly—at least being a couch potato won’t screw up your game. Good luck!