Golf is a complicated sport; we all know that it's very, very difficult just to break 100, let alone breaking 90 or 80, or more challenging still, 70. How can you make breaking those numbers easier? Scoring obviously, hit it closer and make your putt. That is, of course, much easier said than done. In this Art of Golf post, we will discuss how to hit it closer with your pitching. Pitching leads to scoring. If you are inside 100 yards, hitting a pitch shot, you can knock it inside 10 to 15 feet and give yourself a chance at birdie. Being able to hit tight, clean pitch shots will lead to better scores.
Pitching itself is an art form. You can hit the same distance with almost every club in your bag. You can hit a high spinny shot, a high soft shot, a low spinning shot, a low rolling shot, mid shots, whatever you draw up in your head is possible to pitch and get close as long as you know how to control it. We will cover some of that today.
Pitching, like any part of golf, has a process that, if you go through, can eliminate many mistakes and help you hit it much faster. Everyone's approach will be a little different as different things work for different people. I am going to walk you through my process:
- Analyze the lie - This is where you take in all the information around your ball. Is the ground soft? Hard? Is it sitting up or down? Is the fairway cut tight or pretty high? Are your feet above or below the ball? Are you sitting on an upslope or downslope? These are the steps that I walk through. They will all affect how your ball flies and the shots you can hit.
- Get a distance - In tournament play, I tend to walk off the distance to my landing spot on the green. This is important because it allows me to see the layout of the green and where the pin actually is on the green. Just looking at the pin on the green can give you a false idea of how much room you have in front and behind the pin. You may think the pin is just barely on the green, which eliminates shots you are able to hit, but in reality, the pin is 10 yards onto the green, which opens up the shots you can hit.
- Decide the shot shape and action you want to hit. - Go through every shot you can comfortably hit. Decide which shot will be right for this particular instance.
- Visualize the shot - Visualize the shot you want to hit. From the swing you would take, to how the ball comes off the face. How the ball travels through the air, hitting your landing spot and rolling out down to the last rotation.
- Feel it - take practice swings visualizing the shot until you find the perfect feel to hit that shot. This is where you can try different clubs, making that motion and trying to get the perfect feel for the shot you want to hit. If you cannot get comfortable with that shot, choose another one, and go back through the visualization stage until you can find something you are comfortable with. Do not just keep taking practice swings over and over again until you find the one you like. You need to walk through this routine quickly to focus on the shot and then hit the shot. It should never take more than one minute.
- Hit the shot. Focus on that feeling that you found. Remember, this is not a hit. It's not an as hard as you can kind of shot. Imagine throwing the ball up to the pin; you wouldn't throw it as hard as you can, so don't hit a pitch shot as hard as you can. Just nice and soft.
Hitting Different Shots
Shaping the ball while hitting pitch shots is very similar to chipping. Move the ball up in your stance and take a longer, slower swing to hit the ball higher and softer. Move the ball forward in your stance with faster acceleration at impact to hit a higher shot that still spins a bunch. To hit lower shots, move the ball to the back of your stance. Finishing low with the club head will create a low running shot that will release when it hits the green. If you finish high, you can get a lot more spin on it by letting the clubface come through with some action from your wrists at impact. This will create low spinning shots that hit the green and check. You can also hit a lower shot by clubbing up and hitting a pitch shot. It will stick check a reasonable amount. You would be really surprised by how much you can spin a low 9 iron pitch shot from 100 yards. It comes out low and spins a ton with good contact. This really helps keep it under the wind. If you haven't tried these shots, give them a try. The ball spins a ton, and it is ideal for windy days.
Technical or Feel
A player's technique while pitching is going to come down to whether you are a feel player or a technical player. A feel player will look at a shot and know the feeling that will get them 80 yards. A technical player gets a distance and knows exactly how far a ¾ backswing pitch with their 54-degree goes. Both are great for a player as long as that player fits that mold. Feel players won't get very far playing as technical players. Feel players, in my experience, tend to be more creative in the shots they hit, while technical players tend to be more consistent from different distances and can hit that shot even though they haven't played in a while. Feel players have a difficult time hitting these shots when they haven't played in a bit. Figure out if you are a feel player or a technical player and learn how to use that to your advantage. As a feel player, it is hard to see the allure of being a technical player; I love being a feel player. I don't want to step off every shot or shoot every shot inside 100 yards to get an exact distance before swinging.
The best way to practice is to use a CTRL Swing Master to set distances for your wedges and make consistent contact-generating a consistent ball flight and distance. Use CTRL to give yourself the exact same tempo ratio every time you hit a shot. CTRL will bridge the gap between feel and real so you can play your shots your way.
Take some PVC pipe and put together a ladder with three openings, one for low, one for mid, and one for high ball flights. Hit shots through each opening to the same pin. This will help you to learn how to hit each ball flight confidently. Work on spinning shots and soft shots. Work on every shot you may need to hit. This is a great drill to help you visualize the shots you need to hit.
Since visualization is essential to pitching and hitting the shots you need, mental practice is imperative. Sit in bed at night and visualize yourself hitting pitch shots. Visualize every rotation, all the way to the ball stopping. Think about the feel you should be trying for once you have that visualization. Mental practice is the thing that holds most golfers back. You are missing out on easy strokes if you aren't adding to your physical practice with mental practice.
Pitching from inside 100 yards is vital if you want to shoot lower scores. You have to be able to get up and down from inside 100. Next time you are at the range, spend ample time pitching at the greens you can reach with a pitch shot with multiple different clubs.