What you’ve heard countless times is true: The secret to scoring is a razor-sharp short game. Trust me, I know. After changing the way I approach greenside shots, I’m having my best season in six years, and without a single major full-swing change. Use my four new short-game keys to scramble like crazy and go lower than ever.
Last year was the fifth consecutive season I failed to bag a victory. One of the problems was that I was making bogey or worse nearly half the time I missed the green. Enter my new coach, Top 100 Teacher Gary Gilchrist, who helped me go from 118th in Scrambling in 2012 to 5th, my current rank. And I’ve notched five top 10s along the way.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from Gary is that contact is king on short shots, and that good short-game players create solid contact by matching their setup to the shot at hand. On the following pages, I’ll show you how to adjust your address position to create perfect impact in four common short-game scenarios. Follow my lead and you’ll not only eliminate fat and thin shots, you’ll knock the ball so close that you won’t have to worry about your putt. In fact, if you pay close enough attention, you may not need your putter at all!
Alter your setup
to position the low point of your swing in front of the ball
When the grass is so tightly mown that it almost feels like hardpan, contact is extra-critical. If you don’t strike the ball first, your clubhead will literally bounce off the turf and into the equator of the ball, sending it screaming across the green.
To create crisp contact on this shot, shift everything toward the target. Start by positioning the ball slightly back in your stance and setting your hands even with your zipper. This gets the shaft leaning toward the target. Next, shift your weight to your left side; you should feel a lot of pressure in your left quad. When you swing, maintain this pressure from start to finish. Doing so moves the low point of your swing arc in front of the ball, so when the club reaches the impact zone it strikes the ball first and the ground second.
Experiment with different clubs and backswing lengths to ultimately fine-tune distance, but make setting up with your weight on your left side your first priority.
Preset for impact, then simply swing your arms
I’d rather not be in the greenside sand, but when my ball does find a bunker, I’m confident enough in my technique to look forward to blasting it on—and maybe even in.
The key setup adjustment is to get lower to the ground. Take a slightly wider stance than usual, add more knee flex and set your hands lower. It should feel like the club is sitting flatter (that is, more horizontal) than normal. This exposes more bounce angle on your sand wedge, meaning the clubface is less likely to dig and take too much sand.
The swing itself is simple: Just swing your arms back and through. The secret? Keep your lower body as quiet as a mouse. As Gary Player used to do, I kick my right knee toward my left at address in sort of a mock impact position. If you preset your lower body for contact, you merely have to swing your arms.
NOTE: Opening the clubface at address and keeping it open makes it easy for the clubhead to glide through the sand and under the ball, blasting it out. Just don’t make the mistake of first gripping the club and then rotating your forearms to open the face. This makes the clubhead square up— or even close—at impact and dig into, instead of glide through, the sand. Rotate the face open first, then take your grip.
The right setup helps, as do full commitment and
a constant rate of speed
When you must carry an obstacle and there’s little room between you and the pin, your only route to save par is a high, lofted shot that lands softly with little rollout. The flop shot is an absolute must-have short-game weapon—you’ll be surprised at how often it comes in handy during the normal course of play.
Again, the setup is key to success. Borrow from your bunker technique and set up with your stance and clubface open to the target line, but with your feet closer together (just outside your shoulders).
Next, swing with full commitment; anything less will result in disaster. You’re after the feeling of your arms and the club traveling at the same speed from start to finish. When you lack full commitment, you disrupt this acceleration matchup—it’s tempting to decelerate—and catch the ball fat or thin.
Think “constant speed” as you move from the top, through impact, and into your finish. Don’t try to hit the ball; let it get in the way of the clubhead as it passes through impact at the same pace as your arms. And don’t be afraid of overpowering it—the faster you swing, the higher the ball will go. Even though you’re hitting a short shot, more speed will help you!
Firm wrists, firm arms
and soft knees get you close from close range
Delicate chips are tough even for pros—the margin for error is so small. Hit it too soft and you’ll fail to reach the green; too hard and you’ll be staring at a three-putt.
Your setup for a short chip combines the setups for a tight-lie pitch and a flop. Use a shoulder-width stance, position the ball slightly back, lean the shaft forward a bit and keep your weight evenly distributed between your feet.
Notice how this stance creates a slight kink—that is, a little bit of cupping—in your right wrist. The trick to hitting a soft chip is to keep this gentle bending of the wrist in place from setup to impact. If you add to it by hinging your wrists, you’ll have to unhinge before you strike the ball. This is difficult to do when you’re trying to soften up contact as much as possible.
When I hit these shots I think of Steve Stricker, who doesn’t hinge his wrists on full swings until he’s deep into his backswing. Just as Steve does, I hold that kink and use my arms to power the club, but not in the way you do on other short-game shots. I keep them rigid and simply rock them back and through. Bring your right knee in to your left knee through impact for a bit more finesse, but other than that, let your arm swing do the work.