As a continuation of the art of golf series, we will discuss the art of the short game. It is mostly a shorter shot around the green that we will discuss here. Make no mistake; this is an art form, and a beautiful one at that. Short game around the green, whether you come in low or high, you check it, or you let it roll out; the short game is how you ensure that you can get up and down. This is going to be a study on that art; one of the things I love more than anything is playing with a wedge around a practice green and just trying all kinds of shots, how to hit all these different shots, and different ways to hit them. I work in the bunker, in the rough, and give myself tough lies and easy fairway lies. It's a great way to practice and just understand the tools you have in your bag.
One of the best parts about chipping around the green is the creativity you can employ. You do not always have to go straight at it, and multiple types of shots can hit to get it close. Take any shot around the greens at the Masters. There are about 1000 ways you can play each shot, and you can picture some of the just plain magical shots that have been hit around those greens. You can picture the shot Tiger holed on 16 or the countless shots that are thrown up onto a hill behind the pin and come back to the hole. All of this begs the question, how do you get to be creative enough to see those shots? And confident enough in those shots to pull them off. The first step is actually watching golf, the best short game shots out there, and understanding what is possible. Then you have to go put yourself in interesting situations on the practice greens. Practicing these tough shots gave me an understanding of what I am doing with my club, so now I have an understanding of the different ways I can hit the shot and how to execute it. You should never try a shot that you have never practiced while in a round that means anything to you at all, though. So you practice around the greens. In my opinion, every round should mean something to you. Take some of your own golf balls, head out to a green, and spin in a circle, throwing the balls. Wherever they fall and lay, you have to hit that shot into the pin. This will help you become more creative, just hitting shots from around the greens.
There are many different shots that you can hit around the greens. We are going to name and discuss a lot of them. You may have different shots that you have; if you do and they work, then go with what works for you. If you find you have a different way to hit these shots, that's okay; we don’t have to hit them the same! Keep in mind that there are endless variations to these shots that you can hit, and we can’t cover everything.
Bump and Run
The best-known and most used shot in all of the short game is the bump and run. It's simple: bump it onto the green and let it roll out. The bump and run is a classic shot. The best way to explain how to hit this shot, take a club, and put the ball in the back of your stance for more roll, in front of your stance for a little higher trajectory and less roll. Do not put it in the middle. All of your weight needs to be on the front foot; go ahead and sweep the grass with the club taking the same motion as a putt. If you have trouble with this shot, go ahead and try using a hybrid or a wood and just putt with it! With every club in your bag, this will help build confidence in your chipping abilities and lay the groundwork for hitting a bump and run. Keeping your hands in front of your club head is the key to making this shot work. The club head should never get out in front; you should never let your wrists break!
This is the riskiest shot you could possibly hit. There is often never a time that you really need this shot, but it is a lot of fun to hit. If you have put yourself in a position where the only way to get inside 15 feet of the pin is a flop shot, reassess your life choices because you have goofed. However, if you do need the flop, here is how you hit it. Go ahead and lay the club dead open, pointing at your landing spot; grip the club after you have laid it open. Put the ball in the front of your stance; all of your weight should be on the front foot. Focus on keeping your head still and swing long and soft. Try to flip your wrist at the bottom like you are just trying to slide right under the ball. As I said, this is a very high-risk meh reward kind of shot, and I haven’t hit an actual flop shot in years while on the course. Are they fun to hit? Absolutely, do they tend to work out? No. No, they don’t usually work out. There are other shots to hit.
High and Soft
This is the much less risky younger brother of the flop. You can hit a higher, softer shot, without it being a flop shot. Put the ball forward in your stance, swing nice and soft, easy. This is hitting a pitch shot from up close with a lofted club. You take a longer swing; you let the wedge do the work. No need to open the club up and regrip; if you need to hit it a little higher, go ahead and fire away. These are some of my favorite shots to hit. Throw it up close to the pin, let it sit, and throw it over rough and bunkers. This shot is imperative to have if you are playing at a course with raised greens like Sky Creek and Timarron, where if you miss the green by 10 feet, you’re at the bottom of a hill. You have to be capable of throwing a ball up into the air and landing it softly on those higher-up greens. Once you can do that consistently, those courses get really easy
I learned this shot by watching the Phil Mickelson Short Game video when I was a lot younger, and I have used it my entire golf career when I am short-sided and need to spin the ball a little more. It's called hinge and hold by Phil; you hinge your wrists back, then go ahead, rotate down through the ball and hold the clubhead low. This creates a short spinning shot that will hit the green, bounce, check and sit. It's great when you are right next to the green and need a shot that will hold.
This is usually a longer shot, but the way it works is that a pitch shot comes out low and hard, hits the green, 2 hops, checks, and dead stops. Put the ball in the back of your stance, rotate back, and throw the head through the ball using the club’s bounce. Great practice for this is just to throw your hands through the ball at the bottom, then bring it back, sweeping the top of the grass, but never taking a divot. That is the trick; you don’t want to take a divot with this one. You are just bouncing the club off the ground right under the ball. This shot has a lot of uses and, most importantly, looks really freaking cool when you pull it off. It is certainly not the easiest shot either, but it really is a lot of fun to hear someone telling your ball to sit as it comes in hot towards the hole; then it just dead stops, doesn’t move, and you can just tell someone, oh it did. Boy, did it.
When Do You Use These Shots
So this is a variety of shots I just talked about, but when do you use each shot? Well, it's hard to tell you exactly when to use each shot. I can tell you that each shot has its spots to use, but it all comes down to what you draw up in your head. You go through each shot you are comfortable hitting, draw up in your head if that shot has a chance to work, give yourself odds on it working out, and stay on the green close to the pin. Choose the shot with the best odds to get it close and the best odds to keep it on the green and safe. You never want to have to chip twice, so make sure you give yourself a chance at par. That is the most important thing, a chance at par. The magic stops rather abruptly if you hit a shot, and it doesn’t even stay on the green or leave you with 25 feet. Keep it inside 15 ft, 10 ft if you can, 5 ft even better, but make dang sure you stay inside 15 feet of the hole and on a side of the hole that gives you a chance. The best way to know how and when to use these shots is to go practice hundreds of random shots around the green. The short game practice has always been my favorite because every shot around the green plays just a little differently, and you can do a lot of experimentation, find a shot that works on that particular spot and be able to execute it on the course when the time comes.
The best drill to do for the short game is the up and down drill. It is really the only one I want to talk about. Take one of your own golf balls that you use to play and choose a pin, hit a chip, then go putt it. You are working on up and downs. You need a successful up and down the percentage of 75% in order to be successful. This is the best way to become artful when practicing short game.
The short game really is an art form. It's a great way to get into someone’s head while playing; it's a great way to save yourself from a big number. Just knowing your short game will come through for you takes the pressure off the rest of your game. Knowing you can get up and down from anywhere on the golf course means you can do whatever you need to on your approach shots. Go for the tucked pins; who cares if you miss, you’re going to get it up and down, so it doesn’t matter.