Dave Pelz’s Plan for Winning Scores

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My Plan For Winning Scores When the outcome of a match or the final number on your scorecard hangs in the balance, you need to know you're playing the right shot By Dave Pelz Golf Magazine's Technical and Short-Game Consultant; With David DeNunzio In order to be a clutch player, you need an arsenal of go-to shots — simple, familiar swings that you can depend on under pressure to produce the results you want. If you don't have these go-to shots, or you choose not to use them, your scores will suffer (see Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open). When you play them at just the right time — for example, Tiger hitting his stinger 2-iron instead of driver to a tight fairway — you have the best chance of posting the score you need. Go-to shots are winners' shots — take my tests to find four of your own and beat the sticky situations you face every round. GO-TO SHOT KEY • Highest Risk (but best chance for the lowest possible score) • Medium Risk (less chance for low score, good chance for needed score) • Ultra-Safe (least risky, relies on your putting for the score you need)
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HIGH RISK LOB WEDGE PITCH A well-executed lob-wedge pitch might leave you with a tap-in. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... If you can hit this shot nine times out of 10, then go with it high and soft at the flag. Regardless of your skill level, hitting the lob here brings the water (and a potential blow-up score) into play.
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MEDIUM RISK STANDARD PITCH A pitching-wedge pitch played to the right takes the water out of play, but it won't leave you close to the hole. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... The lower the loft of the club in your hands, the less likely you'll skull or lay the sod over your pitch shots. On the flipside, less loft leads to less accuracy and control, and the inability to get this close may produce the occasional three-putt.
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ULTRA-SAFE CHIP WITH PUTTER It's a chip shot that you hit with your trusty flatstick. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... If you're a good putter, this assures the needed bogey from your position — just make your two-putt.
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HOW TO FIND YOUR 'GO-TO' PITCH SHOT This test is easy to perform. Drop 10 balls in some light rough 30 yards from a practice green with a tight pin. Picture an imaginary water hazard fronting the green (lay your towel on the ground near the front edge of the green to remind you that you have water to carry) and... • Hit a high, soft lob wedge shot at the flag and then putt out. Do this 10 times and count how many times you scored higher than three. • Run the same test with a pitching wedge (aim 25 feet right of the flagstick on your approach). • Run it once more starting with a chip-putt aimed 40 feet right of the flagstick. The technique with the fewest scores over 3 is your go-to danger pitch. SMART PLAY: Check your pressure points. If you'd rather face the challenge of two-putting from 40 feet than the one that comes with pulling off a precise lob shot, then always follow the safest route to the hole. FYI The success rate determining go-to shots in your short game is higher because the chances of recovering from mistakes is lower.
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GO-TO SHOT 4 From Behind a Tree The Situation You cut your drive off the tee on a short par 4 and it landed behind a tree roughly 150 yards from the green. The tree is blocking your line to the flagstick. You've pulled off a miracle from this lie before, but today you need only to escape and walk off the green with a 5 to win. The Go-To Shot You Need One that will get you clear of the obstacle and in the hole in three shots or less at least 80 percent of the time. 30% The percentage of golfers who can produce low-trajectory shots that fly at the height they planned. The other 70 percent tend to either hit these shots higher than desired, or they hit grounders that get caught up short in rough or high grass.
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ULTRA-SAFE 9-IRON CHIP-OUT Hitting a simple pitch back to the fairway with your 9-iron leaves you a full 9-iron to the green. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... Make sure you don't chip out too far and into new and different trouble, or leave the shot too short and in the same trouble you started from.
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MEDIUM RISK CUT-SLICE IRON Depending on the amount of curve you need to generate, you might have a chance to land this big-bender on the green. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... Aim left of where you want the ball to start, rotate the clubface slightly open in your grip and swing normally. The more you open the clubface, the farther left you have to aim and the more the ball will slice.
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HIGH RISK LOW PUNCH Take a low-lofted club and punch the ball low. If it stays under the limbs it'll run all the way up to the green. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... Play the ball back in your stance, lean slightly forward and accelerate through to a low finish (hands never follow-through above your waist).
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GO-TO SHOT 3 The Danger Pitch The Situation You're only 30 yards from the green, but there's water between you and the hole. You'll be in good shape on your scorecard (or in your tournament) if you get down in three shots. What you don't want to do is plop one in the water or play so far from the hole that you risk a three-putt. The Go-To Shot You Need One that leaves you in position to get in the hole with two putts. 90% The percentage of times you can successfully execute a shot for it to be considered a go-to short-game shot. In this situation, your go-to shot is the one that can land the ball safely on the green in easy two-putt range nine times out of every 10.
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HOW TO FIND YOUR 'GO-TO' APPROACH SHOT Go to your practice facility early enough to beat the crowd so you can safely walk out onto the range. Walk off 90 yards (or use the distance markers if they're there) and drop a ring of practice balls in the shape of a green. Go back to your pile of practice balls, take aim at the green you just created and... • Hit 10 full-swing wedge shots. • Hit 10 5-iron bump-and-runs. Count how many of the 10 balls landed left, right or long (potentially in trouble) of the green with each club. The option that landed the least number of balls in trouble is your go-to shot from 90 yards. SMART PLAY: If neither of the shots suggested leaves you feeling confident, try the same drill with a third option: a half-swing 8-iron that carries 75 yards. FYI A go-to shot leads to higher numbers at times, but it guarantees you won't "blow up" your scorecard or give away the match.
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GO-TO SHOT 1 Drive to a Tight Fairway The Situation You're on the tee of a narrow par 4. There's water left of the fairway and out-of-bounds down the entire right side. It's the final hole of your round, and if you can make a 5 you'll break 80 for the first time (or capture your club championship). Problem is, if you try to bomb your driver to make 3 or 4, you'll more likely end up writing down 7 or 8. Remember, 5 is all you need to achieve your goal on this hole. The Go-To Shot You Need One that gives you at least 200 yards of distance and lands the ball in the fairway. 80% The percentage of times you can successfully execute a shot for you to consider it a go-to option off the tee.
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HIGH RISK FULL-SWING DRIVER Pull it off and you'll have a short iron to the green, but miss it by a hair and you're looking at a snowman. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... Mid- to high-handicappers miss the fairway with their driver more than 50% of the time. Add the pressure and the penal nature of the hole, and you can bet that attempting this big, long swing in critical situations means failing more often than succeeding.
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MEDIUM RISK 85% 3-WOOD A shorter shaft and more loft (and more backspin) give shots hit with a 3-wood a greater chance of finding the fairway (but with less distance). BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... If you take a little off your full 3-wood swing, you'll find the fairway 15% more often than with your driver (for mid- and high-handicaps). That's still a one-in-three failure rate — can you risk it?
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ULTRA-SAFE 75% HYBRID FADE Play your natural fade with a three-quarter swing using your hybrid. You might not be able to reach the green with your second shot, but a wedge and two putts will get you your 5. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... A low-lofted hybrid should give you about 200 yards of carry and 20 yards of roll. Hopefully you can pull this shot off successfully eight or nine times out of 10.
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HOW TO FIND YOUR 'GO-TO' TEE SHOT Look down the range at your practice facility and find two markers (flags, telephone poles, fence posts, etc.) spaced 30 yards apart and lay an imaginary fairway between them. Make this imaginary fairway your target and... • Hit 10 shots with your driver at full speed. • Hit 10 shots with your 3-wood with a slightly less-than-full swing. • Hit 10 cut shots with your low-lofted hybrid at 75-percent effort. Count how many shots end up in your 30-yard fairway with each club. The one that lands at least eight of 10 balls on your target is your go-to shot. SMART PLAY: If none of the above consistently leaves 8 of 10 in the fairway, try smaller swings with shorter clubs until you find your 80-percent shot. FYI Don't think of go-to shots only as "safe shots." If your highest-percentage play is the riskiest, then by all means use it.
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GO-TO SHOT 2 Short Shot to a Disaster Green The Situation You have 90 yards left to the flagstick, but the green is guarded by "disaster" areas on all sides: water long and left, a deep sand bunker short and out-of-bounds on the right. The good news is that you can win your match (or post a very good score) if you can get down in three shots. The Go-To Shot You Need One that avoids all of the trouble around the green. 75% How less likely high-handicappers are to hit shots into trouble (water, sand or OB) from this situation using a one-third 5-iron swing rather than a full swing with a SW.
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HIGH RISK FULL-SWING WEDGE Yes, you could stick this very close, but you're toast if you cut it or pull the ball left. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... Poorly executed wedge shots can produce wide (and sometimes wild) shot patterns. If the green doesn't offer ample margin for error and you don't need a one-putt, a less-violent swing may be the answer.
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ULTRA-SAFE BUMP-AND-RUN It's a 1/3 swing with a 5-iron using a very simple motion. With good contact, this shot will give you 60 yards of carry and 30 yards of roll. BEFORE YOU GO FOR IT... The bump-and-run almost always leaves your just short of the green. Most amateurs miss to the right or left with this shot less often than they do with full-power sand wedges.
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HOW TO FIND YOUR 'GO-TO' SHOT FROM TREES The low-punch and cut-slice shots aren't easy to practice ectively on the range. While you can routinely hit them there, it's difficult to know whether or not they would have been low enough — or sliced enough — to avoid the tree in front of you on the course. For this test, play a few holes by yourself either very early or very late in the day, when you won't bother other golfers. Walk into the woods, find a formidable tree, and hit 10 shots with each of the three options. It only takes one such session to determine your go-to shot from the trees. You should try to hit all subsequent shots, too — i.e. the 9-iron from the fairway, and the second shot after the attempted punch shot — and slice, and see how you score from there. Mark each ball with a different color dot so you know which shot group a ball belongs to. SMART PLAY: If you're a fader, you might think a curveball is your best bet, but most slicers curve shots directly into the obstacles they're trying to avoid. FYI A go-to shot isn't used only so you can post a low score. They're there to make sure you post the score you need to win! ONLINE BONUS! GO-TO SHOT 5 From Greenside Sand Finding your go-to bunker shot will keep you from carding disaster scores