Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Simplest Approach to the Short Game

As a coach, I always thought of a good short game as a good defense.  You can't win championships unless you play good defense.  Whenever you make a mistake on the golf course, have an off day with your ball striking, ignore course management or simply get a bad break, your short game will be your savior.  If you have a great short game, you can be a bit more liberal with your course management and go for some tough pins.  You may short side yourself, but with a good short game, you will still have an opportunity for a par. I can still remember watching Lorena Ochoa play for the first time in Miami at Doral.  She was about 15 or 16 years old and she short sided herself in deep rough with no green to work with and well below the level of the hole.  She took a big swing and threw a shot up right next to the hole.  I thought it was a fluke until I saw the same shot 9 holes later.  Her short game betrayed her imagination, hard work and determination.  It was easy to see she would one day be a champion.

My definition of the short game is any shot within 50 yards of the hole.  That includes putting, which might be the most important shot to master.  However, today we are going to talk about shots from off the green.  The simplest way to think about short game is to ask yourself, what do I want the ball to do?  The planning and visualization process is probably a key to having a great short game.  Here is what is involved:
  1. What sort of lie is your ball in?  Good lies allow for many possibilities.  Poor lies usually dictate fewer choices.
  2. Where do you want to land the ball?  If possible, you are looking for a flat spot that offers a  predictable reaction when the ball hits.  
  3. How will the ball react?  For example, if the ground is firm, the first bounce will be a big one.  If it is soft or wet, the ball will check.  
  4. Visualize the flight, landing, bouncing and roll out of the golf ball.  If you can't see it prior to hitting it, you will have a tough time producing the shot.  
  5. Finally, create a pre-shot routine that allows you to see it, feel it and execute it.  In other words, visualize the shot, take a practice swing to rehearse the shot and then aim the club and hit the ball.
Now that you know exactly what you want to do with the ball, how do you get the club to produce the shot?  Your technique is important in the short game, because the movements are very small and there is no recovery time if you get the club off balance.  Many golfers take full swing lessons, but rarely take short game lessons.  A short game lesson should teach you not just the proper techniques needed to hit shots around the green, but also how to see the shot you need to hit in different situations. 

As we go, we will talk about the techniques needed to produce any shot you want to hit around the green.  For now, think about the process of planning and executing listed above whenever you are faced with an up and down possibility.

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