Emphasizing the short game
With the U.S. Open this week, outside of Philadelphia,Pa, at the Merion Golf Club, much of the talk has been about how short the course is. A number of broadcasters are predicting uncharacteristically low scores for an Open event. The discussion has been how players will have to use short irons and even pitching wedges for their second swing on a number of holes. While at some point the direction of analysis will likely shift to a “this course is tougher than expected” story line, the importance of the short game will no doubt be a point of emphasis.
So this week, we’re going to do the same. Last week, I mentioned how often people focus on distance shots at the driving range and neglect the putting game. The same can be said of the short-iron approach game, pitch and chip shots. Typically there aren’t nearly as many golfers working on their chipping and pitching shots at the range, as there are practicing driving.
“Most people go to the range and hit full swing,” said Mark Nickel, course pro at The Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Silverthorne. He believes that they ignore the short game in part because it will emphasize the flaws in their swing. Conversely, practicing and perfecting partial swings and pitch shots will improve form on full swing, he said.
Caleb Kehrwald, course general manager at The Raven said that, “if people focus on 150 yards in, I think they’ll see their scores improve dramatically,”
Tim Spring, course pro at Copper Creek affirms the notion. “For an amateur, the short game is a major stroke saver.”
He said the best way to improve is practice.
“It’s more of a feel shot. The more you practice the better you’ll have a feel for it,” said Spring.
All three experts encourage taking advantage of the practice green and also working with shorter irons at the range. They suggest that golfers should pick closer targets at the range to practice short game accuracy, as does Errol Miller of the Breckenridge Golf Club.
“What they (golfers) should work on is landing their golf ball in a particular spot,” said Miller. Working on shot accuracy will drastically reduce swings in a round, he said.
Nickel believes,“The biggest mistakes are distance control.” If golfers have a better feel for where they are hitting it will also cut down on strokes.
The pros all say, golfers don’t focus enough on accuracy and the short game.
Beyond repetition, it’s about good form and balancing practice between chipping and pitching shots.
For form, it’s important to remember that a chip shot has more in common with a putting swing than a full golf swing. It is a shorter-range shot that causes the ball to roll more after landing than a pitch. The swing is a much shorter motion that emphasizes keeping the wrists stiff. The lower the club angle, the more the ball will roll when it hits the green. So a chip shot with a 7 iron will create more roll than a chip shot with a 9 iron.
Pitch shots create more loft and cause the ball to roll less when it lands. The pitch swing has the same motion as a drive, but incorporates varied swing length. Pitch shots are essential from beyond 20 yards out. A good pitch shot will create much less roll when the ball lands.
The pros say that form is key. And a golfer needs to be aware of their personal shot range. That’s where the emphasis on practice comes in.
But according to Nickel, nothing beats a lesson. Having someone else observe your swing is the only real way to correct it.
“It’s hard to do it correctly if you’re doing it incorrectly,” said Nickel.
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