FOR BETTER PLAYERS
The short-game work I do with tour players has two components: I help them improve their overall technique, and I help them add to their repertoire of shots. Here I’m going to show you three situations that give even tour players trouble, and how to handle them successfully. My methods are different, but I think you’ll like the results. Once you can play the super-high bunker shot, the downhill pitch and the short-side chip, nothing around the green should scare you.
THE SUPER-HIGH BUNKER SHOT
Escaping over a high bunker lip is simpler than most players make it. I take an extra-wide stance and set my weight forward, making sure not to tilt my right shoulder lower than my left. Then I make a narrow swing, keeping my hands low and close to my body and letting the clubhead release high and fast. Lifting your hands through impact slows the clubhead and makes it dig.
STAY STABLE ON DOWNHILL PITCHES
A pitch from a downslope is relatively easy when you don’t have any trouble in front of you. But when you need to hit it high to get over a bunker, you have to be more precise. Keeping stable over the shot is the primary goal, so you can make consistent contact. Swing your hands low and around your body, which increases loft. Even though I’m trying to get the ball up, I haven’t lifted the club high in the air to do it. The feel you want is of the club swinging down the angle of the slope.
My only swing thought is to feel as if my hands are resting on my left hip at the finish. Lifting your hands away from you lifts the leading edge into the ball.
THE UNIVERSAL GRIP TIP
You hear the words “touch” and “feel” a lot when talking about the short game. On delicate shots, the level of sensitivity In your hands Is the difference between a ball coming up 20 feet short or rolling up tight. If you were threading a needle or picking up something fragile, you wouldn’t clench your hand. Use that same built-in sensitivity on your short shots. Tightness is a feel killer. I consciously relax my hands during my pre-shot waggle to release any tension.
MAINTAIN YOUR FRAME
To make contact In a predictable spot, keep all your weight on your front foot through the entire shot. Your back leg works as a stabilizing kickstand.
FOR SHORT CHIP SHOTS, PIVOT ON THE LEFT LEG
Believe it or not, the shot that gives tour players more trouble than any other isn’t one that requires amazing skill. It’s a basic chip to a hole cut just onto the green. I think it’s because there are so many options, it’s hard to pick the best one. A good player’s tendency is to baby this shot with an arms-only swing and get too steep, catching it thin or fat. For feel, you need to swing on an arc, and pivot gently around your left leg.
BALL POSITION Playing the ball back, like many players do, encourages you to stub the club into the ground. I play all my standard chip shots In the center of my stance, with my hands slightly ahead, to hit the ball at the bottom of my arc.
ARMS ONLY Because it’s such a short shot, It’s tempting to just make a short arm swing. But when the arms work alone, they lift off plane, which leads to bad contact. Let them swing around you, like they would for any other shot. A soft right wrist and a folding right elbow are the backswing feels you’re looking for.
For Stan Utley’s most recent short-game articles, including “3 Steps to Great Putting” and “My Short-Game Basics;” click golfdigest.com/go/utley.
LET THE LEGS WORK
Feel comes from natural body movement. Make a gentle pivot around your left leg, even on the shortest shots. Don’t let your hips slide toward the target. That creates shoulder tilt–and mis-hits.
On short chip shots, many golfers play the ball back and hit down on it. I advocate a different technique: Position the ball in the center of your stance, and swing your arms more around your body. For feel, you should swing the club on an arc and let your legs pivot gently. A soft right wrist and a folding right elbow are the backswing feels you’re looking for.