“The only way to win tournaments is with your short game.
Over half our shots out here are within 30-40 yards”
– Phil Mickelson
I am going to make a bold statement. If you are someone who only chips and pitches with one club, and has refused to change that over the years, then get ready. If you read this article and watch the attached video you WILL start using different clubs to chip and pitch, guaranteed. Get ready!
A great instructor that I have worked with has an excellent way of teaching the short game. He starts with the swing itself and says “well… I just sort of realized I liked to take it back this far (demonstrates a half-ish backswing) and through this far (demonstrates a half-ish follow through)… it’s just the most comfortable short swing for me to take. And so that is what I do for nearly all of my short game shots, that exact swing.” For someone that knows exactly what he is talking about, that statement is brilliant. For the rest, he explains further “You see, you can hit many different shots with this same swing. Different trajectories, distances, spin rates, all by just changing club and ball position.” He then goes on to demonstrate everything from a ten yard high shot to a 60 yard low, running shot. It is an excellent way to begin a great conversation about how the ball should be played around the green.
Let’s use that example as we begin our own discussion here. We can assume center contact as we are only moving the club a short distance, plus a mishit shot will go shorter regardless; I think we can all agree with that. So given we are assuming center contact, what threethings influence distance? If you said angle of the clubface at impact, pace (or speed) of the swing, and length of the swing, bravo! Those are the three we are aiming to influence. We hit a ball longer or shorter by changing one of these three things.
On the surface this may seem a bit technical so I will simplify over the next several paragraphs. Let’s start with the angle of the clubface at impact. There are several ways to change this. I like to talk about opening or closing the face by moving the ball forward or backward in my stance. We start with a principle called “standing to the handle” of the golf club, which simply means no matter where the ball is in our stance we would like the handle of the club to be pointed at (or just forward of) our belly button. If we use that principle then when we move the ball forward in our stance we will cause the face to open, and when we move it back we will cause the face to close. So changing ball position is the first way we will influence the face at impact. The other way is to simply change clubs. We all know that the loft of a 6 iron is lower than the loft of a 56 degree wedge, so it would stand to reason that if you took the same swing with each, with the same ball position, the 6 iron would go farther.
Speed of the swing, or pace as I call it, is a simple one to understand. If you grab a 9 iron and take it back hip high and followed through hip high at a nice, comfortable pace chances are the ball will finish in nearly exactly the same place on all your reasonably well hit shots. So, without changing clubs or adding length to our swing, how can we hit it farther? Simple solution right? Swing harder with that same motion. This is certainly an option but the least desirable of the three in this instructor’s opinion. If you watch the best players in the world you will notice a nice, even pace on all of their standard short game shots. You should endeavor to emulate that, and keep the pace of your swing similar across the board.
The third option you have is to alter the length of your swing to get more or less distance out of your shots. A good picture for you to have here is a 56 degree wedge shot. Imagine you have a ten yard shot you need to hit, that you must carry seven of the ten yards. You will hit it from the middle of your stance, take the club back a certain distance (hopefully not very far at ten yards!) and follow through at an even pace. Now you have a similar shot, but it is twenty five yards. You must carry it twenty yards of that distance. How do you approach this one? You wouldn’t take it back the same distance and trying to power through it, force more speed into the same length swing. In this case, same club, same ball position, but just take the club back and through father. This will naturally add some speed by adding length, but will keep the pace or feel of the swing basically the same. So you get the increase in distance you want but get to keep your nice, natural rhythm.
Of the three, the easiest thing to change is of course the face at impact. Simply change the club you are holding before you hit the shot. Like we said earlier, a 32 degree lofted 6 iron is sure to go farther with the same stroke than a 56 degree wedge. With the same length and pace you can hit many, many shots just by changing ball position and the club you are holding. Second would be to change the length, just take the club back farther to hit it farther. And third, change the pace to influence distance. The times you will see a Tour player swing HARD at a short shot is when they are hitting a flop shot, and more speed is required to get the ball up quickly. Other than that they mostly strive to keep length and pace similar on their short shots.
Now that we all understand each other, here we go my one-club-chippers. My fool proof argument. By now I am sure you are all thinking “yeah yeah, good, got it. Face at impact, pace (speed), and length. Makes sense. I like chipping with my 56 (or 60) and don’t mind changing my length and pace to match up with that.” Gotcha, I understand that. You are good with your hands, have good feel, and don’t want to carry a myriad of clubs to the green. I used to do the same thing when I was a young golfer. Here is the question you must ask yourself however. You have a standard, 150 yard shot from the fairway. What are you going to do? Hopefully you are all thinking “Well I would take a nice full swing with my 150 (ish) yard club.” That is exactly correct! Now, you have a standard, 190 yard shot from the fairway. What is your play now? Of course the answer to this is a simple, matter of fact “I take my 150 yard club, and take it back much farther, and swing much harder so I can hit it the required 190 yards.” Hopefully you did a little double take there and had to go and read that last sentence again. Yes, that was intentional, and yes it is insane. Everyone would say “I take a full swing with my 190 (ish) yard club.” It makes perfect sense to us to keep length and pace the same on full shots, yet we don’t translate that at all to the short game. Chipping with one club is just like hitting your 150 club from 190, or 100, or whatever. We have fourteen clubs for a reason, and it is to make a hard game much easier!
Hopefully some of you have been swayed by this article. For a visual demonstration please watch the attached video. Over the coming weeks I encourage all of you to find a nice length and pace you really feel confident in, practice it, and work on changing clubs and ball position to hit different length shots. You will find your game transformed and that you will be a much, much happier golfer.
This drill will help you decide what shots to hit when. Grab a 56 degree wedge (or whatever loft your sand wedge is), a pitching wedge, an eight iron, and a 6 iron. Go to a chipping and pitching green that has some depth to it, at least 30 yards. With each club, hit two shots from the front of your stance, middle of your stance, and back of your stance. Try to keep length and pace consistent as you switch clubs. As you are hitting the shots take note of how far the ball flies, and how far it rolls. By the end of this you should notice that you have hit the ball many different distances with many different trajectories and spin rates, all using the same “swing”. Try this drill and really improve your short game.