Improve Your Pitch Shot

As begin­ner and high hand­i­cap golfers improve their game, they become increas­ing pro­fi­cient in get­ting near the green in reg­u­la­tion. They are putting in a lot of work on their full swing and that is show­ing results in get­ting near the green in one stroke on a par 3, two strokes on a par 4, and three strokes on a par 5. Many times this leaves an awk­ward 20 to 50 yard pitch shot left to the green.

Ama­teurs often strug­gle with the pitch shot. The biggest rea­son for this is that the pitch shot is not a full swing dis­tance for their sand wedge. Ama­teurs are some­times not sure the best way to con­trol dis­tance. Many try to vary the dis­tance of their shot by chang­ing the pace of their swing. This is extremely chal­leng­ing and requires a great deal of feel. A bet­ter way to con­trol the dis­tance of your pitch shot is to keep your nor­mal pace but vary the length of your swing.

Prac­tice your pitch shots with vary­ing swing lengths. Know how far you hit your pitch shot when you take your hands back to waist high and back through to waist high. Do the same for other ref­er­ence points, like tak­ing your hands back and through to shoul­der high, for example. By prac­tic­ing your pitch shots with dif­fer­ent length swings on the range, you will have much more con­fi­dence pitch­ing on the course. The rea­son is sim­ple. You will know how long your swing has to be to hit your pitch shot far enough to reach the hole.

Check out the video below as Thor Lokey explains vary­ing your swing length to dial in your pitch­ing distances.

The Wedges You Need in Your Golf Bag

The rules of golf state you can have no more than four­teen clubs in your bag. You can have any com­bi­na­tion of woods, irons, wedges and put­ters as long as the total num­ber does not exceed four­teen. Many golfers have three woods, a hybrid or two, six to eight irons, two or three wedges, and a put­ter. What clubs are in your bag depends on your cur­rent abil­ity and per­sonal preferences.

The wedges you carry in your bag play a vital role in your suc­cess. The short game is arguably the most impor­tant piece in becom­ing a bet­ter golfer. The wedges in your bag can either be the same model as your irons and an exten­sion of the set, or they can be a sep­a­rate set all their own.

Begin­ner golfers many times use wedges that are part of their iron set which is per­fectly fine. Almost all sets of irons include a pitch­ing wedge, with most hav­ing a loft angle between 46 and 48 degrees. Most iron sets have options for addi­tional wedges, includ­ing a sand wedge. Some begin­ner and high hand­i­cap golfers have the pitch­ing wedge as the only wedge in their bag, but it is highly ben­e­fi­cial to have a sand wedge in your bag. Sand wedges typ­i­cally have loft angles between 54 and 56 degrees. A sand wedge also has a wider sole and a higher bounce angle. The bounce angle lifts the lead­ing edge of the club off the ground. The design of the sand wedge along with proper tech­nique, allows you to hit sand shots from green side bunkers close to the hole. A sand wedge also lets you use a full swing to hit shots closer to the green instead of using a pitch­ing wedge with a shorter swing.

There is usu­ally eight degrees of loft angle between a pitch­ing wedge and a sand wedge. This leaves a sig­nif­i­cant gap between the full swing yardages of each club. Hav­ing to hit a yardage in between those would require using a pitch­ing wedge with less back­swing. Dial­ing in the dif­fer­ent yardages you can hit each of your wedges with vary­ing swing lengths takes con­sid­er­able prac­tice time. Using a gap wedge is an eas­ier short term way to hit the yardages in between your pitch­ing and sand wedges. A gap, or approach wedge, has a loft angle between 50 and 52 degrees and allows you to uti­lize a full swing to fill the yardage gap between your pitch­ing and sand wedges.

One final wedge that is avail­able for golfers is the lob wedge. A lob wedge has a loft angle of 58 to 60 degrees or more and is designed to get the ball in the air quickly allow­ing you to stop it on the green with min­i­mal roll out. A lob wedge is com­monly used by advanced play­ers as it can to dif­fi­cult to hit con­sis­tently. Advanced golfers some­times replace their gap wedge with a lob wedge while oth­ers carry four wedges.

The ideal num­ber of wedges for a high hand­i­cap or begin­ner golfer aspir­ing to play bogey golf is three — a pitch­ing wedge, a gap wedge, and a sand wedge. Mas­ter these three wedges and your short game will drive your suc­cess in becom­ing a bet­ter golfer.

Should You Be Fitted For Golf Clubs?

Many begin­ner and high hand­i­cap golfers strug­gle with when and if to get cus­tom fit­ted for golf clubs. Should a golfer who is buy­ing their first set of clubs and just start­ing out in the game get cus­tom fit­ted for clubs? Many say golfers should wait until they can con­sis­tently repeat a swing. But what exactly does that mean? What level of repeata­bil­ity does one have to reach? We’re all going to have the occa­sional mishit.

There are many mea­sure­ments and obser­va­tions that are part of a cus­tom club fit­ting. Some mea­sure­ments are sta­tic such as your height and arm height. Other mea­sure­ments per­tain to your swing and are more dynamic, or fluid.

It is not the best idea to buy a set of clubs off the rack with no fit­ting what­so­ever. You will cre­ate bad swing habits that may be dif­fi­cult to cor­rect later on if you adapt your swing to clubs that do not fit you.

At the very least, get fit­ted for shaft length, shaft flex, and lie. Start­ing with clubs that phys­i­cally fit you will allow you to build a cor­rect, con­sis­tent swing over time.

As time goes by, your swing will improve and at some point you will ben­e­fit from being refit­ted. You will have the con­sis­tent swing that can then be ana­lyzed for spin rate, launch angle, and ball speed. This infor­ma­tion can be used to deter­mine the exact right clubs for your game.

If you are look­ing for a new set of clubs, be sure to make a fit­ting part of the process. It will be highly ben­e­fi­cial to your game. Any club fit­ter, whether they are a big retailer like Golf­smith or Golf Galaxy, or a smaller pro shop at your local course, will do a free or very inex­pen­sive fit­ting when you are buy­ing a new set of clubs.

Takeaways from the Match Play Championship

For an event that many argue its very exis­tence, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Cham­pi­onship pro­vided a very excit­ing Sun­day after­noon of golf. Jason Day out­lasted Vic­tor Dubuis­son to win the final match in 23 holes. Day squan­dered a three hole lead on the back nine, includ­ing being two up with two holes to play, only to with­stand prob­a­bly the great­est back-to-back up and downs in the his­tory of golf from Dubuis­son on the 19th and 20th holes.

On the 19th hole, being played on hole #1, Dubuisson’s sec­ond shot bounced over the green and into the desert, prompt­ing Nick Faldo to exclaim “He’s ruined!”. He then pro­ceeded to hit an unbe­liev­able chip shot from next to a jump­ing cac­tus to within 5 feet. He made the putt, send­ing the match to the 20th hole.

The 20th hole was played on hole #9. Ear­lier in the match on the 9th hole, Dubuis­son hit his approach shot left into the desert and ended up con­ced­ing the hole. He again hit his sec­ond shot left on this hole into the desert and under a branch. He hit his next shot through the branch to within 7 feet. He once again made the putt to send the match to the 21st hole.

After halv­ing the next two holes, Day won the 23rd hole with a birdie.

There are a few things a high hand­i­cap golfer can take away from this match.

First off, both Dubuis­son and Day had very good short games the whole day. So good, it prompted Greg Nor­man to tweet the following.

It is so impor­tant to have a solid short game, yet this is an area that many high hand­i­cap and begin­ner golfers do not prac­tice near enough. Ded­i­cate weekly prac­tice time for pitch­ing and chipping.

Both golfers showed tremen­dous men­tal strength. Dubuis­son stated he only slept one hour the night before because he was ner­vous about play­ing Ernie Els in the morn­ing. He must have been phys­i­cally drained after 41 holes of golf on Sun­day but it only showed on a few shots. His men­tal deter­mi­na­tion was strong the whole day. Day won the 9th hole and then did not win another hole until he won the match by win­ning the 23rd hole. He blew leads of 3 up on the back nine and 2 up with 2 holes to go. He had Dubuis­son all but dead on each of the first two extra holes only to see Dubuis­son make mirac­u­lous shots to extend the match. He could have col­lapsed but didn’t. He instead played the best golf of the two on the extra holes.

One last take­away from Sun­day is some­thing not to do. Don’t try to be a hero and hit a mirac­u­lous shot you can’t pull off. Dubuis­son only attempted those two shots because he had no choice. It was attempt the shot or lose the match. I’m a big believer in mak­ing your own luck but even with that the golf­ing gods were smil­ing on Vic­tor. He actu­ally con­ceded the 9th hole ear­lier in the match when he was in the desert. Unless play­ing the last hole in their flight of the club cham­pi­onship, a high hand­i­cap golfer has no rea­son to attempt a shot that they have lit­tle chance of pulling off. Take the unplayable lie and move on.

Lay Up on a Par 5

You’ve just crushed a drive down the mid­dle of the fair­way on a par 5. The aggres­sive side of you wants to knock it on the green in two and make a 15 footer for eagle. Of course, mak­ing it on the green in two on a par 5 rarely hap­pens for a begin­ner or high hand­i­cap golfer and more often puts you in a bad posi­tion, either in a haz­ard, bunker, or green side rough. You should be very selec­tive in the times you go for the green in two on a par 5. If the green is sur­rounded by haz­ards, your best play is to lay up, which sim­ply means to hit a shot shorter than you are capa­ble of.

When lay­ing up, instead of going for the green in two, you hit your sec­ond shot to a safe part of the fair­way with a remain­ing dis­tance that leaves you a full wedge shot. The advan­tage to lay­ing up is that most of the time you will be closer to the hole in three shots by lay­ing up instead of going for the green in two. Develop a layup dis­tance that you can repeat­edly shoot for. The dis­tance I usu­ally lay up to is 100 yards, but choose the dis­tance that is best for you based on your wedge play.

By lay­ing up, you are also tak­ing dan­ger­ous shots out of play. You may not need dri­ver off the tee if you are play­ing three shots to get on the green. You may be able to reach the green with a 3 wood, mid iron and wedge. Along with leav­ing the dri­ver in the bag, you are also tak­ing a higher risk sec­ond shot with a fair­way wood out of play. Lay­ing up and tak­ing three lower risk shots gives you an excel­lent chance at hit­ting a green in reg­u­la­tion and hav­ing a putt for birdie.

There will be times when being aggres­sive, going for the green in two on a par 5, will be the best play. You may have hit a boom­ing drive right down the mid­dle of the fair­way and have a clear sec­ond shot to a green with min­i­mal haz­ards sur­round­ing it. These are the times to be selec­tively aggres­sive, go for the green in two if you have the dis­tance to make it, and try to score low. The rest of the times play it safe and lay up on par 5’s.

Learn to Chip Around the Green

The short game prob­a­bly has a big­ger gap in abil­ity between low and high hand­i­cap golfers than any area in golf. The abil­ity to get up and down is crit­i­cal in improv­ing your game. How many times does a high hand­i­cap golfer take three or four shots from beside the green to get the ball in the hole?

The need to be able to shoot a vari­ety of shots is one of the chal­lenges high hand­i­cap golfers face in hav­ing a good short game. The chip, pitch, flop, and sand shots are all part of a well-rounded short game. In this post, we will be talk­ing about the chip shot.

Around the green, many begin­ner and high hand­i­cap golfers exclu­sively use their pitch­ing or sand wedge, attempt­ing to fly the ball most of the way to the hole with a lofted shot. Some­times it is best to play a chip shot. A chip shot con­sists of bump­ing the ball up in the air just enough to get it on the green and rolling. The big ben­e­fit of a chip shot is that it is much eas­ier to con­trol both the direc­tion and dis­tance when your ball is rolling opposed to fly­ing through the air.

Chip shots can be made with a vari­ety of clubs includ­ing your 7 iron, 8 iron, 9 iron, and wedges. Use your wedges for chip­ping when your ball is closer to the hole as they will pro­vide more spin and your ball with roll less. Your less lofted clubs are for longer chip shots where you need your ball to roll a greater distance.

The stance and swing for a chip shot dif­fers from a reg­u­lar shot. The ball is played off the inside of your back foot with the han­dle of the club for­ward of the ball. Prob­a­bly the most impor­tant thing to remem­ber about a chip shot is that you strike down on the ball allow­ing the loft of the club to get it in the air. Many ama­teurs make the mis­take of try­ing to scoop the ball into the air.

In the video below, Dun­can Smith, an instruc­tor at the IMG Acad­emy in Braden­ton, Florida, shows us how to prop­erly setup and exe­cute a chip shot.

While the setup and exe­cu­tion is the same for all of your chip shots regard­less of what club you choose, it is impor­tant to prac­tice chip­ping with all of your wedges all the way down to your 6 or 7 iron. The club you choose will depend on how far away from the hole you are.

In the video below, Peter Finch of the Traf­ford Golf Cen­tre in Man­ches­ter, Eng­land, shows us the spot drill. This is an excel­lent drill to prac­tice chip­ping with each of your clubs.

Spend a seri­ous amount of time chip­ping dur­ing your prac­tice ses­sions. Becom­ing a suc­cess­ful chip­per will most def­i­nitely lower your scores. The short game offers high hand­i­cap golfers the biggest impact on their game with more practice.

Managing First Tee Nerves

High hand­i­cap golfers often strug­gle on the golf course. Unfor­tu­nately many times the strug­gle starts on the first tee. Nerves result in a bad drive, start­ing the round off on the worst pos­si­ble note.

Most golfers will have at least a few nerves on the first tee even in a four­some com­prised of all peo­ple they know. Add peo­ple to the group that you’ve never met and the nerves get much worse. The audi­ence watch­ing your first drive dou­bles if you have the group behind you show up early to the first tee.

There’s a few things you can do to hit a good shot off the first tee despite your nerves.

Get to the course thirty min­utes prior to your tee time to hit a small bucket of balls on the range and take some prac­tice putts. Hit­ting a small bucket on the range gets your mus­cles ready for golf.

It also pro­vides impor­tant infor­ma­tion for your upcom­ing round. Pre-round shots on the range will tell you what shot you have brought to the course. You’re not always going to have your pre­ferred ball flight every time out. High hand­i­cap golfers sim­ply do not have that level of con­sis­tency. Your ball flight may be dif­fer­ent this time out. The first tee is not the place to dis­cover what ball flight you have brought to the course. Find this out on the range. Just keep in mind the pre-round small bucket of balls is not for fix­ing a swing issue. Save fix­ing swing issues for your weekly prac­tice sessions.

Tak­ing a few putts on the prac­tice green will give you a gen­eral idea for the speed of the greens. Don’t putt 10 foot putts one right after another. Hit sev­eral 20 to 30 foot putts to work on your lag putting. Get­ting the speed of the greens nailed down is the key to keep­ing your num­ber of three putts to a minimum.

It’s OK to leave your dri­ver in the bag on the first tee. Shoot­ing 90 is a big advo­cate of learn­ing to hit your dri­ver. You may be learn­ing how to fix a slice, mak­ing good progress with your dri­ver, and find­ing suc­cess with it on the course. That said, it’s still the most dan­ger­ous club in a high handicapper’s bag. With nerves on the first tee, you may have prob­lems find­ing the fair­way or putting the ball in play with your dri­ver. That’s OK. Use your “go to” club off the first tee, whether that’s a fair­way metal, hybrid, or even a long iron. Save your dri­ver for the rest of the round. The worst thing you can do for your round is to put your first drive in a bad place.

Don’t hit first or last in your group off the first tee if you can help it. There’s a lot of pres­sure on you when you hit first. Every­one is pumped up for the round and all eyes are on you. There’s sim­i­lar pres­sure in hit­ting last. Every­one has hit and they’re now wait­ing for you. It’s twice as bad if every­one striped one down the mid­dle of the fair­way before you. Tee off sec­ond or third in your four­some off the first tee.

Tee up your ball on the same side as trou­ble. If you have woods down the left side, tee up on the left side of the tee box. This gives you the best angle to hit your drive away from the trees.

I’m not sure golfers ever get over first tee jit­ters. The best we can do is learn to cope with them. Hope­fully apply­ing these tips will help you do that.

Invest in the Right Putter

Last week was the PGA Mer­chan­dise Show in Orlando, Florida, a yearly show­case of new advance­ments in golf equip­ment. New advanced equip­ment comes out every year aimed at improv­ing your golf game. Through equip­ment upgrades, golfers have the oppor­tu­nity to imme­di­ately improve their game.

The most advanced equip­ment, how­ever, is not always right for the high hand­i­cap golfer. Many high hand­i­cap and begin­ner gofers play with a Titleist Pro V1 golf ball. Although Titleist may tell you dif­fer­ently, a Pro V1 tour ball is almost always the wrong choice for a high hand­i­cap­per. A less expen­sive two piece ball is most likely a bet­ter fit.

Many golfers also have no prob­lem drop­ping sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars on the newest dri­ver, a club they use 14 times a round at the most.

The club you do not see many golfers beg­ging to show you the bright, shiny, new model they just bought is the put­ter. In fact, more than a few golfers prob­a­bly use a $10 put­ter. Golfers take a major­ity of their strokes with their put­ter. We need to put some effort into mak­ing sure the put­ter we are using is best for our game.

Length is an impor­tant fac­tor when choos­ing a put­ter. You need a put­ter that con­forms to your stance instead of chang­ing your stance for a put­ter. A proper putting stance has you bent at the hips with your eyes over the ball. Cut­ting a put­ter shaft that is too long down to size is not a good thing to do as the weight of the put­ter head is matched to its length. Your short­ened put­ter will feel too light.

Your put­ter also has to match your putting stroke. Your putting stroke will fall into one of three cat­e­gories — straight back straight through, slight arc, or strong arc. A straight back straight through stroke is just what it implies. The put­ter head goes straight back and then straight through impact with the ball, with the put­ter face remain­ing square to the tar­get line all the way through. An arc stroke means the stroke trav­els on a path that starts inside of the tar­get, moves out to the tar­get line for impact, and then back inside. The put­ter face will be slightly open at the start, square to tar­get at impact with the ball, and then closed at finish.

Put­ter heads are weighted dif­fer­ently. A face bal­anced put­ter, where the weight is equally dis­trib­uted from the heel to the toe of the head, is ideal for golfers that have a straight back straight through stroke. A toe weighted put­ter, that has more weight in the toe of the head, assists the face in mov­ing from open to closed through the shot, mak­ing it ideal for golfers with an arc putting stroke.

So how do you tell if your put­ter is face bal­anced or toe weighted? Bal­ance the shaft of the put­ter in the palm of your hand. If the face points up and is hor­i­zon­tal, it is a face bal­anced put­ter. If the toe hangs lower than the rest of the put­ter head, it is a toe weighted putter.

Finally, should you use a blade or mal­let put­ter? While per­sonal pref­er­ence plays a small role as you can get both face bal­anced and toe weighted ver­sions of both blade and mal­let put­ters, face bal­anced  mal­let put­ters are best suited for straight back straight through strokes and toe weighted blade put­ters are best for arc strokes.

Go to your local golf store or pro shop if you’re not sure what type of putting stroke you have. They can ana­lyze your stroke and make sure you have the right put­ter for your game.

Super Low Compression Golf Balls

The abil­ity to com­press the golf ball is what allows golfers to hit for long dis­tance. The ball com­presses after impact with the club and then springs back to orig­i­nal shape. This gives the ball a “sling­shot” effect off the club face. Many golfers do not have the abil­ity in their cur­rent game to com­press the ball to a high degree. This inabil­ity is caused mostly by slow swing speeds. Swing tech­nique does impact the abil­ity to com­press the ball, as some golfers with higher swing speeds still do not effec­tively com­press the ball, but swing speed is the main dri­ver in com­press­ing the ball.

His­tor­i­cally, most of the golf balls avail­able had com­pres­sion rat­ings from 70 to 100. The higher the com­pres­sion rat­ing the more den­sity the ball has. Tour balls used by pro­fes­sion­als and low hand­i­cap golfers have a high com­pres­sion rat­ing. Bet­ter golfers typ­i­cal have higher swing speeds which allow them to com­press a high den­sity ball. The ben­e­fit of a high den­sity ball is that it offers more con­trol to advanced players.

The aver­age male golfer has a swing speed in the mid 80’s mph while the aver­age swing speed for women is in the low 60’s mph. For a long time, golf ball man­u­fac­tur­ers have pro­vided balls with lower com­pres­sion rat­ings (around 70) to help golfers with slower swing speeds to bet­ter com­press the golf ball. These balls have less den­sity which allows them to com­press more and offer more dis­tance. The major­ity of these balls are tar­geted to women golfers. I’m not sure if that is the best mar­ket­ing ploy, as there are a large num­ber of men who could ben­e­fit from a low com­pres­sion rat­ing ball but refuse to play a women’s golf ball.

The Wil­son Duo golf ball was intro­duced in 2012 and cre­ated a lot of buzz in the golf com­mu­nity. Wil­son was able to pro­duce a ball with a super low com­pres­sion rat­ing of 40, pro­vid­ing long dis­tance and min­i­mal spin off the dri­ver while still hav­ing a soft feel around the green. Many ama­teurs, includ­ing some with rel­a­tively faster swing speeds over 100 mph, find suc­cess with the Wil­son Duo. It is a great ball for high to mid hand­i­cap golfers. Low hand­i­cap golfers will most likely find that the 2 piece Duo does not give them the nec­es­sary high spin, espe­cially with their wedges.

Call­away recently intro­duced another ball into the super low com­pres­sion mar­ket, the Super Soft golf ball. The Super Soft golf ball has a com­pres­sion rat­ing of 38 and incor­po­rates Callaway’s HEX Aero­dy­nam­ics as the dim­ple pat­tern. Like the Wil­son Duo, it’s main sell­ing point is long, straight dri­ves off the tee with more soft­ness around the greens than other two piece balls. The Call­away Super Soft pro­vides another option to those look­ing for a super low com­pres­sion ball.

If you’re a high to mid hand­i­cap golfer look­ing for more dis­tance, give a super low com­pres­sion ball a try. The Wil­son Duo and Call­away Super Soft both offer super low com­pres­sion to give golfers with slower swing speeds added distance.

Become a Better Lag Putter

There are a few areas that high hand­i­cap or begin­ner golfers should focus on to most quickly improve their game. Hit­ting the ball in the fair­way off the tee might be the first and most impor­tant. Improv­ing your pitch­ing and chip­ping around the green is another one.

Today, we will be dis­cussing an equally impor­tant area of focus for high-handicap golfers which is elim­i­nat­ing three putts. Of course while the goal is to elim­i­nate three putts, no one ever does, but the point is to dras­ti­cally reduce the num­ber that you have. While hit­ting a ball out of play off the tee can derail your hole before it starts, noth­ing is more deflat­ing than hit­ting a green in reg­u­la­tion only to three putt for a bogey. Worse yet is to three putt after strug­gling from tee to green and end­ing up with a blow-up hole. The abil­ity to putt well can make up for ear­lier mis­takes on a hole but there is noth­ing to cover up for bad putting.

The most impor­tant skill to develop when work­ing towards elim­i­nat­ing three putts is effec­tive lag putting. Lag putting is not try­ing to make the putt but instead get­ting it close enough to insure that you can make the sec­ond putt. So we’re talk­ing about get­ting within a few feet of the hole. The chances of a high hand­i­cap golfer mak­ing a putt out­side of 10 feet are low, while their chances of mak­ing one out­side of 15 feet drop down to almost noth­ing. You obvi­ously will make a long putt now and then but out­side of 10–15 feet you are much bet­ter off to con­cen­trate on get­ting the ball within a cou­ple feet of the hole instead of try­ing to make it.

Quite pos­si­bly the biggest dif­fer­ence between the putting of a pro­fes­sional golfer and that of an ama­teur is the amount of feel that a pro­fes­sional golfer uses in putting. Many high hand­i­cap golfers have a very mechan­i­cal putting swing. While it’s very impor­tant to have proper mechan­ics while putting, there is a great deal of feel required in putting espe­cially for dis­tance control.

Check out the video below from Char­lie King. He pro­vides three great drills to develop your feel for lag putting.

There is another, just an impor­tant, skill required to be a suc­cess­ful lag put­ter. You need to be able to make short putts! A suc­cess­ful lag putt to within two to three feet of the hole is wasted if you don’t make the putt. The best way to make more short putts is too prac­tice mak­ing more short putts! Check out this next video from short game guru Dave Pelz with tips for if you con­tinue to miss short putts.

Change your prac­tice rou­tine if yours cur­rently con­sists of putting a few 10 to 15 foot­ers before your round. Ded­i­cate reg­u­lar prac­tice time for work­ing on your lag putting and you can dras­ti­cally reduce the num­ber of times you three putt.