Backswing RoundUp

Favorite drills to sharpen the short game

Favorite drills to sharpen the short game
We all know that a sharp short game can lead to lower golf scores. So we asked our professionals what their favorite drills are for improving your game around the greens.

14 Professionals Contributed

When I teach, I have four bullet points for chipping and pitching.

When I teach, I have four bullet points for chipping and pitching.

The first point is the ball has to be somewhere between your feet. I know this can sound obvious but I’ve seen tons of players putting it behind their back foot. I find this causes a “Stab” down at the ball and poor contact.

The second point is the grip of the club must be ahead in reference to the ball. The less the grip is ahead, the more loft at impact. You will be amazed at how high you can hit a pitch shot when the true loft of the club is used.

The third point is your weight should be on your front foot AND stay forward through the shot. Amateurs sway their weight onto their back foot during shot game shots. This shift causes the bottom of the arc behind the ball, causing chunks.

A fourth and final point – On the takeaway, the clubhead cannot swing to the inside. If the takeaway gets too flat, the club can do one of two things. The clubhead can shallow out too much, which causes the club bounce to skip into the ball. The other outcome is we swing the club too steep and the leading edge digs and we chunk it. Keep the clubhead even or in front of your body for better contact.

Joshua Brickley, PGA Golf Professional, Director of Instruction and First Assistant, Meadow Brook Golf Club, Reading, MA

"When I teach, I have four bullet points for chipping and pitching." @JBGA_Golf Click to Tweet

I'm a big fan of variability during short game practice as well as playing games that create competition and simulate pressure.

I’m a big fan of variability during short game practice as well as playing games that create competition and simulate pressure. As we all know on the course we are faced with constantly varying lies, distances, and conditions. We are taken out of our comfort zone and face variables with nearly every shot on course. Add in the pressure of tournament golf and it’s tough to prepare properly for those feelings.

If you are solo, I recommend, dropping balls around the green in places you feel challenged or uncomfortable. Hit one ball on the green from each spot, then go up and putt all the balls until you’ve holed each of them. Count your score. Track this progress from day to day and continue trying to improve that score each time. We want the practice to be more difficult than the real thing. Doing so sets us up for success come tournament time.

If you have a partner you can play a similar game. We call it 21. You can play to 11 or 21 depending on time allotted. You can play with one other player or multiple. Each player hits 2 balls to a specified target. If you make it, it’s worth 3 points. For each ball that is closer than your opponent, you get 1 point. The player who scores the most points in each round gets to select the next hole and they will play first. There is always a time to work on technique, and those sessions vary. But day to day, these types of games and/or drills simulate on-course play and is where I’ve seen players drop shots quicker, by taking their improvement from practice sessions to the course.

"I'm a big fan of variability during short game practice as well as playing games that create competition and simulate pressure." @cappsgolfKC Click to Tweet

I find that the biggest struggle in teaching short game is distance control and ball reaction based on different clubs and shot selection.

I find that the biggest struggle in teaching short game is distance control and ball reaction based on different clubs and shot selection.

To work on that, I’ll find a spot on the short game area and then pace off 5 steps (use paces when working short game because that’s how you’ll do it on course) and put down a tee, 5 more than a tee, all the way up to 25-30 paces.

From there I’ll hit 5 back foot bump and runs and 5 front foot softer chips with each wedge. With the tees, you now have a distance grid for how far the ball rolled out with each shot, as well as using the tees to monitor carry distance in comparison to roll out. I’ve even had students write all the data down and keep a card in their yardage book or bag to give them a reference.

You can repeat this process with different lies, uphill vs downhill, and even out of the rough. For low handicap and “high spin“ players, I’ll also recommend practicing with the same golf balls you play on course. Range balls are like hitting stones!

#trainyourgame

"I find that the biggest struggle in teaching short game is distance control and ball reaction based on different clubs and shot selection." Click to Tweet

Pitching & Chipping are two different shots and thus a player needs to set up differently and the swing action is slightly different.

Pitching & Chipping are two different shots and thus a player needs to set up differently and the swing action is slightly different.

Chipping:

A chip shot is a shot that flies a little lower in which the carry distance is less and then rolls out more on the green. Think of that ratio as 40% carry and 60% roll.

Setup:

The ball position is more towards the back of the stance and the swing is more like a putting stroke where the wrists never break or hinge. You’ll notice that your hands will be slightly ahead of the ball and leaning a touch towards the target. When chipping, thinking of basically putting with your wedge where you’re body is relatively still and you’re just rocking your shoulders back and through with a smooth unrushed tempo. The putter only has 2-6 degrees of loft that causes the ball to carry almost 0% and roll almost 100%. With the wedge, where it can be anything from 46 – 64 degrees depending on your preference that causes launches the ball fairly low and rolls out.

Drill(s):

Sharpening the short game requires you to experiment with this shot by using the different wedges and short irons in your bag to determine which club you’re most confident with around the greens.

Get some baby powder, sprinkle a 1-foot line of the powder perpendicular to your target line, then set up with that line more back of the stance and take a swing. Using a putting-like swing, you should be brushing the powder off the grass towards the target. Once you’re comfortable with that, place a ball down and give it a go!

Pitching:

A chip shot is a shot that flies higher in which the carry distance is more and then rolls out less on the green. Think of that ratio as 70% carry and 30% roll.

Setup:

The ball position is generally in the middle of the stance and the swing requires a little body movement and wrists hinge. The combination of the body movement, wrist hinge in the swing, and loft of the club will cause the ball to launch out higher and land a little softer with less roll out.

Drill(s):

Use that baby powder, sprinkle a 1-foot line and set up with it in the middle of your stance and practice the swing where when you swing back your thumbs point away from the target, on the downswing the thumbs point into the ground brushing the grass and splashing the powder, then the follow-through is where your thumbs and body (chest and hips) are pointed towards the target.

Milton Hoosic Club

"Pitching & Chipping are two different shots and thus a player needs to set up differently and the swing action is slightly different." Click to Tweet

The shot needs to be hit with intention and the first order of business is to examine where the ball is and how it lies with the grass.

Over the 25+ years of teaching as a golf professional, when it comes to short game the vast majority of high handicap golfers really don’t have a very good idea of what needs to happen with a club in a ball.

The shot needs to be hit with intention and the first order of business is to examine where the ball is and how it lies with the grass. Second order is to have a visual picture of how the ball will travel to the target and the target is not necessarily the hole. If you think about these two simple observations it means there are so many different ways to play a shot from around the green.

Here is one simple drill to get you started:
One of the first things you want to remember is you want to hit the little ball before you hit the big ball so ball placement becomes super important and so does the pressure underneath your feet of where you will place or shift the weight of your body. One of the most disastrous things I see with high handicap players is poor ball placement followed by and inside Takeaway backswing and then some type of a lunge flip at the ball probably due to disaster shots of hit in the past. For this I first set up my student in a better place. I call it the three lefts. I have them moved to the left, turn to the left and lean their entire body to the left along with the grip end of the club. Then I have them take the club back so the shaft is parallel to the ground and freeze for three seconds after three seconds they are allowed to drop the clubhead down towards the Golf Ball with the intention of moving whatever weight or pressure that is still on their trail foot into their forward side as the clubhead drops to watch the ball

"The shot needs to be hit with intention and the first order of business is to examine where the ball is and how it lies with the grass." Click to Tweet

One of my go-to drills when it relates to pitching - using the bounce of the wedge.

One of my go-to drills when it relates to pitching – using the bounce of the wedge.

Set up the drill – place a row of golf balls roughly the length of your foot in front of your ball. Pitching from behind the balls helps use the bounce whereas pitching in front of a row of balls helps use the leading edge. Both methods work, but if you’re looking for a more forgiving technique I recommend learning how to use the bounce. Practice making clean contact while avoiding the row of balls. You have to let the club pass your hands as the club skims the ground. That may feel like a scoop, but when the body rotates it won’t be. Another important key is forgetting about the ball. Thinking too much about contacting the ball before the ground promotes the use of the leading edge, not the bounce.

"One of my go-to drills when it relates to pitching - using the bounce of the wedge." @pbigelow19 Click to Tweet

The wedges should be used as designed, in other words, the clubs should never be de-lofted.

The wedges should be used as designed, in other words, the clubs should never be de-lofted. Do not forward lean the club to effectively make a sand-wedge a 7-iron. If you need less loft, change clubs to a lower lofted club.

Use the “bounce” or bottom of the wedge, not the leading edge to deliver the clubhead. This will be more easily accomplished by keeping the club in its neutral attitude, arms hanging naturally and comfortably from the shoulders with the club extending straight down from the hands.

Hold the club’s shaft more vertically than your normal address position – your hands will be slightly higher, perhaps more like the way you stand for putting. This will help rest the clubhead on the ground towards the toe of the club and you’ll want to hit your pitch shots in the area of the clubface from the middle of the face out to the toe. When looking at the bounce on a wedge, there is more bounce at the toe than the heel. Most recreational golfers deliver the clubhead for pitch shots heel first, thus, the lack of bounce combined with a shallow swing path and heel-first delivery leads to digging or “fat” shots. Using the extra bounce the toe area provides will promote a cleaner club delivery and crisp club-on-golf -ball connection.

Finally, keep the scoring lines, or grooves on the clubface up [to the sky] through the hit and into the finish.

"The wedges should be used as designed, in other words, the clubs should never be de-lofted." Click to Tweet

My number one thing for chipping around the green is keeping the ball close to the ground.

My number one thing for chipping around the green is keeping the ball close to the ground. This is more of bump and run shots. I believe less things can go wrong when the ball is rolling on the green and that’s what I like to see. So what you do is put your weight forward and hands forward and move your shoulders like you’re putting. Keeping a narrow stance because you aren’t swinging hard, you’re just moving the shoulders. This keeps the ball low and lets the green be more in control.

"My number one thing for chipping around the green is keeping the ball close to the ground." Click to Tweet

If I am personally working on short pitch shots for myself I set up a teaching basket and chip or pitch from different areas using a shag bag.

If I am personally working on short pitch shots for myself I set up a teaching basket and chip or pitch from different areas using a shag bag. If I make it then I leave it and keep going and each time I pick up the balls there are less and less because they are in the basket. I keep going until I have no balls left in the shag bag and they are all in the bucket which can take up to 3 hours sometimes depending on the difficulty of the shot.

"If I am personally working on short pitch shots for myself I set up a teaching basket and chip or pitch from different areas using a shag bag." Click to Tweet

One of the most important aspects of chipping the golf ball is the golf clubs connection to the ground.

One of the most important aspects of chipping the golf ball is the golf clubs connection to the ground. What is the feel we want players to have? “Brushing the Grass” is a great thought and feel. We don’t want players to stab at the ball or blade it. Take a few practice strokes and feel the head of the club connecting to the grass, brushing it. It’s a great way to start and goes a long way towards developing feel.

"One of the most important aspects of chipping the golf ball is the golf clubs connection to the ground." Click to Tweet

I like to pick a hole on the practice green, then visualize where I want the ball to land and roll out to the hole.

I like to pick a hole on the practice green, then visualize where I want the ball to land and roll out to the hole. Then, I will place a towel slightly off the area I’m trying to fly the ball to. Then I’ll hit the shot to find out if I was correct. If yes, I’ll change targets. If I hit my spot and the ball finishes nowhere near the hole, I’ll change clubs or change my landing area. It’s good to practice both hitting a higher lofted chip as well as one which will have more roll. I feel to be a good chipper, you need to have the ability to hit a high soft shot and also have a shot that will roll more.

"I like to pick a hole on the practice green, then visualize where I want the ball to land and roll out to the hole." Click to Tweet

When around the greens, keep the feet narrow, possibly even touching.

When around the greens, keep the feet narrow, possibly even touching. Pick out a small target to land the ball, and feel like your going to toss the ball there. I have my students actually toss the ball to get the feeling of just using their hands and arms in this swing.

"When around the greens, keep the feet narrow, possibly even touching." Click to Tweet

The key here is to learn how far the club needs to travel in the back swing and through the forward swing to achieve the desired distance.

There are two areas in the golf swing which require feel or touch; chipping and putting. I’m going to talk about chipping. Chipping requires practice and I know that is a term so widely used that it is ambiguous in understanding. What do professionals mean when they say practice? It means you need to develop the feeling of touch; this comes from learning the technique of repeating the same motion over and over and getting the same results all the time. This method is taking the club back to a defined position and releasing the forward swing with the correct force to get the ball to land at the desired location. We can get into where and how to swing the club back and forth but that at this point is meaningless for you. By now you should know how to swing a club or you would not be interested in improving your short game. The key here is to learn how far the club needs to travel in the back swing and through the forward swing to achieve the desired distance. This is my tip for excellent chipping.

"The key here is to learn how far the club needs to travel in the back swing and through the forward swing to achieve the desired distance." Click to Tweet

When you can control how far your ball is flying and rolling or stopping then you can attack pins.

To speak on the drills to strengthen your short game, I could go on for days because I consider the short game to be from 115 yards and in. But to narrow it down I will start with pitching and work our way to the green.

Pitching is all about distance control. When you can control how far your ball is flying and rolling or stopping then you can attack pins. An easy drill for distance control for pitching would to simply pitch the ball about 50-75 yds out. On the next 5 balls, pitch the ball so that it lands and stops before the previous ball. On the next 5, your going to start out with the first ball pitched to 25 yds and then pitch the next few balls between 5-7 yards further than the previous. This drill will help you dial in those numbers when you are close to greens.

Chipping is a much simpler drill. All I have students do is set their wrist first before taking the club back. After that is borderline a lag putting stroke depending on the length of the chip. Forward press, set the wrists and then use a lag putting stroke. Simple. Once they hole a chip, they will never forget the move.

"When you can control how far your ball is flying and rolling or stopping then you can attack pins." Click to Tweet

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