The golf short game is a lot more like an art than a science. Sometimes a single putt can make or break your score on a hole and derail your entire game. In this guide, we’ll share the secrets behind a great short game and tell you how you can improve your putts, pitches, and chips so you can drop strokes and finish 18 holes with a smile on your face.
What is Short Game in Golf?
Short game refers to shots played from relatively short distances around the green. This includes shots played on the putting green and your approach shots. Control, consistency, and accuracy are the key features of the short game.
The short game is made up of the following golf shots:
Putting is one of the most critical and specialized aspects of the game. It’s usually the final step in completing a hole (unless you’re particularly lucky). Putting is often referred to as the "game within the game" because it can make or break your round. It requires precision, focus, and a cool head. Many golfers spend a significant amount of time practicing their putt because of how crucial it is to their game.
Chipping involves making short, low-trajectory shots from just off the edge of the green that are just slightly longer than a putter can achieve. Chip shots are ideal when you have a short distance to cover, and the ball has a clear path to the hole. A sand wedge, pitching wedge, or chipping wedge are usually the go-to clubs for these shots.
Pitching involves making higher-trajectory shots than a chip shot. A pitch involves hitting the ball into the air so that it lands softly on the green. Pitching comes in handy when you need to clear an obstacle or stop the ball quickly without sacrificing strokes.
Bunkers are sometimes an inevitable part of golf, but knowing how to get out of bunkers will absolutely save you strokes throughout your game. Bunker shots are played from sand bunkers or other obstacles. You should use a sand wedge or lob wedge to hit the ball out of the bunker and onto the green.
Importance of the Short Game
The short game is a crucial part of your skill set because it greatly influences your score. Having a strong short game is essential for lowering your golf scores because a good short game allows you to recover from difficult situations, save strokes, and take advantage of scoring opportunities on the green. Many professional golfers spend a significant amount of time practicing their short game to become more proficient and consistent in these critical areas.
14 Ways to Improve Your Short Game
When it comes to your short game, there’s no such thing as too much practice. While it’s fun to go to the driving range and see how far you can hit the ball, you’ll get way more out of practicing your putt or chip shot for the same amount of time. Incorporate intentional drills into your practice and gradually increase the challenge level as you improve. Here are some fantastic drills and techniques that will improve your short game.
1. Circle Drill
The circle drill is a highly effective putting drill. Place several golf balls in a circle around a hole on the practice green, similar to a clock face. Start at about three feet and gradually increase the distance as you improve. The goal is to make as many consecutive putts as possible.
2. Gate Drill
Place two tees (or other small objects) in the ground on either side of your putter's path, creating a narrow "gate." The distance between the tees should be slightly wider than the width of your putter head. The tees should be set up in a straight line leading to your target. This drill helps improve both putting accuracy and consistency.
3. Putting with Obstacles
Place alignment sticks or other objects on the green to create obstacles between your ball and the hole. Practice putting around and over these obstacles to work on your aim and judgment of break.
4. Two-Ball Drill
Position two golf balls side by side on the green and make a putting stroke to strike both balls simultaneously. This drill encourages a smooth, controlled stroke and helps identify any inconsistencies in your contact.
5. Ladder Drill
Set up a series of clubs or alignment sticks on the ground at intervals, increasing in distance from the starting point (e.g., 10 yards, 20 yards, 30 yards). Start with the shortest distance and pitch the ball over each club or stick, trying to land it close to each one. This drill helps with distance control.
6. Pitching to Targets
Place a series of targets (tees or cones) on the practice green at various distances from you. Practice pitching the ball to each of the targets. Use different wedges to see if there’s one you favor over another. Focus on controlling the distance and trajectory of your pitch shots.
7. One-Handed Chipping
Practice chipping with only your lead hand (left hand for right-handed golfers, and vice versa). This drill can help you improve your control and feel for the clubhead.
8. Landing Spot Drill
Place a towel or a small target (like a golf ball box) on the green and practice chipping to that spot. Focus on landing the ball on the spot, controlling the distance and roll of the ball.
9. Hula Hoop Drill
Place a hula hoop or a circle (you can use a rope or a towel) on the green. Try to pitch the ball so that it lands within the hoop. You can move the hoop to different locations to practice different types of pitch shots.
10. Up and Down Drill
Imagine you're on the course facing a situation where you need to get up and down to save par. Start by chipping the ball close to the hole, then practice making the subsequent putt. Repeat this process from various locations around the green to simulate real on-course scenarios.
11. Uneven Lie Drill
Find a sloping area on the practice green and practice pitching from uphill, downhill, and sidehill lies. Learning to adjust your stance and club selection for different lies is crucial for real course situations.
12. Practice Getting Out of the Bunker
Bunkers are an inevitability, so you want to practice getting out of bunkers as often as possible. Start by understanding the fundamental technique for bunker shots, which includes an open stance, an open clubface, and hitting the sand just behind the ball. When practicing, aim to take a divot of sand roughly 1-2 inches behind the ball which propels the sand and the ball out of the bunker. Continue your swing through the sand, accelerating the clubhead. Avoid decelerating or "scooping" at the ball.
13. Work on Your Backswing
Your short game is all about precision and control. Your backswing influences a lot of your short game shots, your chip and pitch shots in particular.
Chipping typically involves a shorter backswing compared to a full swing. Focus on a controlled, crisp strike when working on your chip shots. Inversely, pitch shots generally have a longer backswing than chips. This allows you to generate more height and spin.
When practicing your backswing, focus on moving your hands, arms, and shoulders together as a single unit during the initial phase. Avoid excessive wrist movement and keep your grip relaxed.
14. Choose the Right Clubs
The wrong clubs can really work against you while you’re working on your short game. In general, wedges are the go-to clubs for your short game, aside from your putter.
For chip shots, you should opt for a pitching wedge, sand wedge, or a specialized chipping wedge. Some golfers use a 9 or 8-iron if the shot is fairly long. Select a higher-lofted wedge for pitch shots, such as a sand wedge, lob wedge, or gap wedge. A club with a higher loft helps you generate the height needed for a good pitch. If you’re stuck in a bunker, a sand wedge or lob wedge is best to use.
Final Thoughts on Short Game
Don’t let the short game intimidate you. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to crush those short-distance shots, get out of bunkers, and sink putts with ease. You should also make sure you’re using forgiving golf clubs while you’re working on your short game. Forgiving clubs help correct less-than-perfect shots and help you fine-tune your short game. They’re a beginner’s best friend!
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