How to Improve Your Short Game
You could cut a few strokes off every round if you knew how to improve your short game. We've all heard the saying: drive for show, putt for dough, but how about the bit in between? Putting is pretty short, but not generally classed as your short game. That term is reserved for the shot that normally comes just before you start putting. It can be anything from 100 to even a yard or two off the green.
It can refer to a straight simple pitch to the green from about 100 yards out, or a more difficult shot from a gulley beside the green. Perhaps you have landed in a trap, but then there are traps and traps. You have the fairly simple flat sand shots about 20 yards from the flag that anybody and their dog could play, or a lie right up to the wall of a high sand trap, or pot bunker, as you find in many of the Scottish links courses. You will do well to get out of that in one, let alone land on the green that is likely only a yard or two away! These have been the demise of many a top pro in a championship round.
So, how do you improve that kind of game? The trap shots are a bit specialized, so let's concentrate with the normal chip shots, specifically with those only a few yards from the green. They can be of two types: the traditional American high lob and backspin that stops the ball dead on the green, or even spins it back towards the pin, and the more British type of chip and run. There are pros and cons for each shot, and the best players can play both equally well. Tiger practices the chip and run a lot, which might explain his success in the British Open.
With a chip shot, your weight should be on the front foot and your hands in front of the ball. You play the shot almost like a putt, with a fairly short back stroke, but you follow through more. Always try to keep your hands in front of the ball until you have completed the shot. Play naturally, as if you were playing a hard putt, and let the club provide the loft. Don't try to lift the club face up just before the strike in order to give the ball a bit of helping hand because you will mess up the shot. The club will look after the height of the shot, and your hands and arms will look after the direction and distance.
It is important, in fact crucial, to know how far the ball will travel with each club you use. The only way to find that is to try each club with the same strength of shot, and note how far it travels. You are best to chip to the edge of the green and then let the ball do the rest, since this is generally more accurate than trying to chip at the hole and hope you stop the ball. Use all your irons, since you can chip with every iron in your bag. The objective of the practice is to get an idea of how each iron works with the same type of shot.
Let's say that you are 10 feet from the green, and want to run up to the hole about fifteen feet after that, then you won't want to use a pitching wedge, but perhaps a five to seven iron. These will give a bit of loft, and a longer run up to the hole, depending on how you play. A pitching wedge would land on the green and possibly run three or four feet on, while a lower iron would run on farther. If the green is same distance, but the hole only four feet from the apron, then you would want a pitching wedge.
On the other hand, if the green was four feet away, and the hole about twenty yards, you would be looking at almost putting the ball with one iron. The loft would lift it just enough to get it on the green and it would then run on the rest. This is all theoretical, and your practice will tell you what clubs you need for what shots. The best players know exactly what club they need for any particular shot.
Your grip should be soft, and the ladies probably have the correct tightness of grip for a chip shot. Men tend to hold the grip far too tightly, and consequently overcook it. Loosen up, and use soft hands. Keep your body as still as possible, and let your hands and arms play the shot. There is no backswing or body rotation, just a simple hand and arm shot with a follow through to make sure you are using the loft of the club.
After that it is practice, practice and even more practice. That is how to improve your short game with which you get back what you put in. And don't forget: most of your round score will come from your short game and putts. Get this right and who cares if you can drive 400 yards or only 300 or less. A five foot shot counts just the same as a 400 yard drive.