Short Game Excellence: Putting, Chipping, Pitching, and Bunker Tips, Drills, and Techniques.
When talking about the golf short game and golf putting tips, there are a lot incorrect beliefs or myths we have that really keep us golfers from really improving. Many of my students have a hard time comprehending how to utilize wedges or how to make solid contact in their golf putting, golf chipping and golf pitching. Almost all of my students struggle to get out of a green side bunker. My mentors from the Plane Truth, Chris O’Connell and Jim Hardy, are an amazing wealth of knowledge in the areas surrounding the short game and putting. I am truly blessed to have learned amazing short game tips and some of the best putting tips from a couple of the greatest instructors in the world. I am going to share some of the great info they taught me right here, right now.
Here is what we will cover today in this article:
Table Of Contents
The Differences Between Chipping and Pitching a Golf Ball
I occasionally hear golfers confusing golf chipping and the golf pitch. It’s an honest mistake. They might seem like very similar shots. Especially when people chip with a 58 degree wedge. Let’s start with a definition shall we?
Chipping and pitching are both short game shots used close to the green However, they are quite different and require different swings to perform each of them.
A chip shot spends more time on the green than it does in the air. The ball doesn’t get off the ground much and spends most of it’s time rolling on the green.
The pitch shot is the complete opposite. The spends more time in the air than on the ground in a pitch shot. The ball will carry much higher and stops much faster when it hits the green.
Check out this great video from Learn Golf from Scratch for the differences in greater detail:
Golf Short Game Tips: The Biggest Mistake in the Short Game
Probably the mistake I see again and again involves the golfer bringing the handle way too far forward through impact. Let’s refer to this as a forward leaning shaft.
A lot of people are actually taught that you try to get this forward shaft lean into their short game. Unfortunately, way too much forward leaning shaft is typically their downfall.When you introduce forward shaft lean, two things happen:
The first thing that happens is that you take the loft off the golf club. Not the worst thing for chipping, but this is not helpful for pitching because you are trying to get the ball into the air.
Secondly, you basically turn your wedge into a shovel. The leading edge of the wedge will dig into the turf and stop the club head rather suddenly. If you are here reading this article, I am sure that you are sick of seeing the ball go 2 feet on a 15 yard chip shot after getting your wedge stuck in the ground right before the ball.
Why you get into trouble is because you are trying to swing the handle, not the club head. Jim and Chris refer to this as “leveraging” the club, rather than swinging the club. Leveraging the club moves the handle and the club head roughly the same amount. In the short game, the club head needs to swing more than the handle swings. When you are busy trying to swing the handle, you forget about the end that actually hits the ball.
If you are busy worrying about the handle being forward in the short game you will introduce the three types of bad short game shots into your repertoire. The dreaded chunk, the dreaded blade, or the hot screamer. The screamer is where you de-loft the club so much that it comes out really low and hot. These are all the result of the handle coming through impact too far forward.
So how is the club and club head supposed to work in the short game? Chris O’ Connell will explain in this great video:
In the short game, I want the club head to come back on the back swing as wide as you can. On the down swing, I want you to be as wide or wider than your back swing. Work on getting your club back to the original angle you started at.
What do I mean by wide? The club stays low to the ground before and after the ball. I want short game and full shot swings to be very different. We don’t want to create lag, de-loft the club, create forward shaft lean or compress the ball on chip or pitch shots. I do however want to achieve some of those characteristics in the full swing.
I want to see the club moving along the ground like a “U” versus the club coming down in a “V” in the short game. I want the bottom of the swing to be wide instead of narrow. The full swing shape is more like an “V” and the short game swing is more like a “U”.
When you bring your arms and hands back and use the club’s loft and bounce, you now give your self a buffer, a larger margin for error. No one hits perfect chips and pitches every time. We want to make your misses acceptable shots that get you on the dance floor so to speak.
All of this might feel a little strange to you, I get it. You have to practice bringing your hands back at address and creating a wider swing bottom to make it your own. Give it some time and I promise you that you will take some strokes off of the scorecard.
Keep working on this handle and club head relationship and you can say goodbye to the chunk and blade shots for good. The more margin for error you have will shave strokes off your game around the green.
There are some things you really need to know in the short game to improve your score. Let’s start with the with some key concepts in the short game starting with the bounce of a wedge and how to use it.
Bounce: What is bounce and how is it used?
I think every golfer should understand what bounce is and how to use the bounce of the golf club. The bounce on a golf club is literally the angle between the trailing edge and the leading edge of the golf club.
Using the bounce on a wedge helps you to hit pitch shots into a green without digging the club into the ground. Most of us have not used the bounce and dug in to the ground or used too much bounce and bladed the very next shot over the green.
To use the bounce properly, you must return the club head to the same area (or slightly behind) as the original set up position.
The bounce on a wedge is the angle of the sole of a club in relation to the club face. There are low bounce wedges, standard bounce, and high bounce wedges.
Wedges with a bounce angle of 4 to 8 degrees are considered low bounce wedges. Low bounce wedges are best in firm conditions, where you want the club to dig just a little.
Wedges with a bounce angle of 10 to 14 are considered to be a high bounce wedges. A wedge with high bounce helps keep the club from digging into the ground in soft conditions.
Check out this awesome video by Buzza Golf with the master of wedges Roger Cleveland. Roger breaks down every area of the bounce and even how to use and select bounce on a wedge.
The important thing is to diversify your wedges to handle whatever craziness the course will throw at you. The perfect wedge system features loft gaps of 4 to 5 degrees between each club and offers a low bounce, standard bounce, and high bounce option.
Personally, I recommend that you should have at least a high bounce and low bounce wedge in your bag at a minimum. I have a low lofted 54 degree wedge with high bounce and a 58 degree high lofted wedge with low bounce in my bag.
Short Game Fundamentals
Let’s talk a little about some of the fundamentals you need to become an elite short game player.
Alignment and Aim
How do you align properly for the short game? Check out this great video by iGolftv. I love the idea of using a box as a training tool for chipping alignment. If you want to become an great player spend some time understanding where you are aiming and where your club face is at impact.
Here is an excellent video by Keith Williams on the different ball positions in the short game for chipping and pitching:
When it comes to the short game take a neutral grip. Whatever method you like, but we want it neutral. We want the hands will return to this position at impact without adding spikes of power or lag.
The postures are pretty different for chipping and pitching. Check out Golf Channel Academy’s Jeff Ritter on how to set your posture up properly for the short game.
Now that we know the fundamentals, how do you perform these crucial shots?
Golf Chipping Tips: How to Chip a Golf Ball
When it comes to chipping golf tips, you must first understand how to get set up to strike the ball cleanly and produce the low trajectory and get the ball rolling on the green towards the hole.
The first step in the golf chipping technique is setting up with the ball slightly back in the stance. This ball position helps the golfer keep the loft reduced to create the low rolling ball flight we want.
When chipping I don’t want you cocking the wrists. Cocking the wrists will create a lot distance, loft, and control issues that we do not want when chipping. I want you to feel like you are taking the club back with your arms without breaking the wrists.
This chipping motion will hit the ball first and skim along the ground in the follow through. When you are chipping the ball, do not lean the shaft forward additionally. When you lean the shaft forward you are creating a club that digs in with the leading edge of the club face. We want a club that can bounce or slide into the ball. Try to make the bottom of your swing arc as long as possible, and swing the club head slightly inside both back and through.
Good chipping golf strokes are wide and flat, not steep. Width in the bottom of the swing is the key to chipping in golf.
Practice with different clubs (5 iron to pitching wedge) will help you figure how much the ball will roll when it hits the green. The best chips will roll just like a putt once they hit the green.
If this was legal, I would tell everyone to chip like this. Check out how Kikkor Golf takes a page from Hockey to get a super wide bottom on your chip shots.
Now if you are looking for a simple and legal way to chip, watch and copy the chipping tips in this great video by legends Pete Cowen and Roger Cleveland about the basics in chipping. The method is simple and with practice you will hit awesome chip shots.
And if these legends can’t help you, you can always go the route of Jason Palmer and chip one handed. Chipping one handed is also a tremendous drill to get the bottom of the swing correct. See how wide the bottom of the chip swing is when using the bounce to slide into the ball.
Just keep working to keep the bottom of your swing wide and your shaft angle straight up with minimal forward lean at impact.
Golf Chipping Drills
Here are a few of my absolute favorite chipping drills. Now that you know the proper chipping technique, give these drills a try.
Short game golf guru Stan Utley shares a simple and effective drill to help you improve your golf chip shots.
The Art of Simple Golf shares a great drill called the “Chip Through The Gate” drills. Absolutely great to improve your visualization and accuracy of where to hit chips around the green.
Golf Pitching Tips: How to Chip a Golf Ball
I have always heard Jim Hardy tell me the bounce is your best friend in the short game. This is particularly true when it comes to hitting pitch shots. The bounce helps glide the club through the grass without the leading edge grabbing the ground.
So how do you make the bounce your new short game best friend?
At address, you should place the ball in the middle of your stance. The handle should be pointed straight up at your zipper. Start with the shaft straight up, perpendicular to the ground with the shaft slightly behind the ball. Simply return the club with your shaft perpendicular to the ground through impact and let the club head pass the handle.
You want to make contact with ground with the trailing edge so it slides in behind the ball at impact. You can get away with hitting behind the ball when you use the bounce. When you hit behind the ball with the leading edge, you are have no margin for error.
In your downswing, you want feel like the head of the club is going to beat the handle to the ball. You will use the use the loft of the club, but more importantly you use the club’s bounce to slide into the ball and pop it up in the air.
I would even attempt to bring the handle through further back than where it started to hit it higher. I know it sounds like a scoop, but I doubt that you will actually do what you feel like you are going to do.
Successfully implementing bounce and loft into your short game will require some practice, but you will be so much better off than you currently are.
How do we pitch? Check out this great video of how to pitch. This is basically how Steve Stricker hits a pitch shot. Simple and effective for everyone.
Keep working on adding width to the bottom of your swing wide and try to get your shaft angle vertical at impact. You will become a much better pitcher than you could imagine.
Jim Hardy used to teach a drill where you would hit pitch shots with only the right hand (like Jason Palmer above). Robbie Gilmore from The Greenbrier Sporting Club will teach you the bounce drill that Jim Hardy also taught to me.
Great drill here by Karl Vilips to help improve your pitching. Practice this drill from any distance and you will improve your pitching feel.
How to get out of the Sand Trap Every Time
Does this sound familiar?
Open the club face and take your grip. Take your stance with the ball opposite your left heel Move your weight onto your front side. Keep the shaft behind the ball, take a back swing and hit the sand two to three inches behind the ball.
Have you noticed that you don’t always get out of the sand when you do this? Let’s try something that will work for you every time.
I would like you to hit under the ball rather than hitting behind the ball. Swing fast and watch the ball pop right out of the bunker. Simple as that. Give it a try.
Golf Putting Tips: How to Putt a Golf Ball
The more I learn about golf, the more I realize how many different ways there are for you to play golf successfully. Over the years, there have been countless trends and fads when it comes to the full swing, but maybe even more when it comes to putting. No matter what style you use, how to putt better truly comes down to controlling the face of the putter at impact and controlling the speed or distance of the putt. It doesn’t matter which method you choose but your stroke must create correct and repeatable impact to achieve these goals. I have laid out a few different putting tips and drills to play around with. Hopefully you find one you like and become a better putter. Let’s get started.
“Unconventional” Golf Putting Techniques
Side Saddle Putting
Side Saddle putting is not a new thing. In fact, Sam Snead used it and eventually his croquet style was banned by the USGA. Snead made a simple adjustment and his more upright style was not banned because he stood to the side of the ball with an open stance. In the video below see both methods Slammin’ Sammy used.
You may have heard about side saddle putting in the news recently because of PGA Tour young gun Bryson DeChambeau. He switched to a sidesaddle method of putting because he, like Snead, is not a good putter. At the time of the writing of this article, he is currently ranked 194th in strokes gained putting golf statistic on Tour. Have a look at DeChambeau’s side saddle stroke.
After watching the video, he doesn’t appear to be much better with side saddle putting either.
Currently there is nothing in the rule book stopping DeChambeau from putting side saddle. Here is what the USGA had to say to Alex Myers in the Golf Digest article entitled: “Report: Bryson DeChambeau forced to alter his putter after being told it was non-conforming by the USGA”
The USGA said the issues is not with the stroke, but that DeChambeau’s putter is a non conforming club and has to be altered for it to make it back into his bag. The problem wasn’t even with the putter’s head, but that it was shafted in the center. Center shafted putters are still a no no.
Bryson then went off on the USGA saying this in the Golf Digest article “Report: Bryson DeChambeau forced to alter his putter after being told it was non-conforming by the USGA”.
“The USGA essentially doesn’t like me doing it… I’m pretty much done with it. They’re not a good organization, and you can quote me on that. I’m part of their family and as family it’s very frustrating to see them stunt the growth of the game.”
DeChambeau quickly backed off this statement the following morning apologizing on Twitter:
Now that we have some background and it appears side saddle putting is actually legal with conforming equipment. Let’s ask the question. How does side saddle putting work?
Check out the Putt Face-On™ side saddle putting system from David L Cook, PhD.
Now that you know a bit on how it works, want to see if side saddle putting is for you? Check out the test by Eric Alpenfels from the Pinehurst Resort and decide for yourself.
I have messed around a little with side saddle and I am not great with it yet. However, I can see the potential and benefits (especially distance control and aiming). I find the method to be intriguing if nothing else.
Long Putter or Belly Putter
Bernhard Langer received a ton of heat for appearing to be still using the “anchoring” style while practice putting with his long putter. Here is what Langer had to say in Tim Rosaforte’s Golf Digest Article “Bernhard Langer’s new putting stroke has people talking (but not for all the right reasons)”
“I am aware of my left arm and hand, and my hand is definitely not touching my body. I anchor when I address and then move my hand away from the chest, till it is not touching anymore.”
So how do you putt with the long putter now? Here is Jim Mclean talking about Langer and the long putter controversy. Watch the video to see how Langer uses it properly without cheating.
What if you bought a belly putter? Same rules apply. Here is Rob Krieger talking about a couple of ways how to use Belly Putters legally without anchoring according to USGA guidlines.
If putting has never been a strong suit of yours, maybe you should give some of these “unconventional” putting methods a try and see if they help you putt better? That is exactly what Matt Kuchar did back in 2010 and he had a career year winning the top spot on the money list.
Matt is well known as one of the better putters on Tour and maybe his method could work for you too?
Traditional Golf Putting Techniques
Perhaps you don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable trying the “unconventional” putting methods laid out above. Well, we still have you covered. Here are the fundamentals for the more traditional styles of putting staring with the putting grip.
Golf Putting Grip
You will literally see a ton of different putting styles, grips, and types of strokes when you are watching PGA Tour guys. Why the heck are there so many? I would say that no perfect putting grip exists and until there is one, we will see all sorts of them.
Here are the various traditional putting grips you can employ.
Traditional Golf Putting Grip
The Reverse Overlap Putting Grip
The Left Hand Low Putting Grip
Cross Handed Putting Grip
Split Handed Putting Grip (Long or Traditional Putters)
Claw Putting Grip (Long or Traditional Putters)
Saw Putting Grip
Are you properly aligned in your putting? Check out this Alignment Drill video on Today’s Golfer to see if your perception of your alignment is actually correct.
Get your putting posture right every time with this simple tip from Top 100 Teacher Marius Filmalter.
Check out the pre-shot putting routines of some of the best players on tour like Tiger Woods and Paul Casey as they share some of their secrets.
How is your putting stroke? Are you in to in arc putter with your putting stroke or are you a straight back and through putter? Are you really going straight back or are you moving on an arc and don’t even know it? Check out this great video by TheConnorGolf to see if you really are moving the putter straight back and straight through. Perception is not always reality.
The design of traditional putters to match the USGA standards have made straight back and straight through putting super difficult. Moving the putter straight back and straight through makes sense, but you have to use forearm and club face rotation with a traditional 70 degree shaft putter to actually go straight back and straight through. If you are not able to rotate both of them perfectly back or fail to recover in time, you end up with a in to out swing path. I am sure you miss to the right a ton with this type of stroke. I would suggest going with side saddle or the long putter if you are really trying to use the straight back and straight through method.
With that being said, I recommend using the design of the traditional putter correctly and swing on a slight in to in arc path. Check out this Putting Stroke video on Today’s Golfer to see if your path is correct.
Proper ball position can really make a difference in your performance. Steve Buzza gives you a test to determine your eye dominance and which ball position will best fit your putting stroke.
Golf Putting Drills
Here are some of best putting drills I have found. I believe putting practice drills will help you make more putts. You are not going to hole every putt, but if you can get it close enough so some of those 10 footers start dropping and you know you will not be three putting from 5 feet, you will certainly improve your scores.
Proper Distance Control
Pure Ball Roll
Hitting the Ball Solid Every Time
Golf Putting Games
21 is my absolute favorite putting game to play. As far as I am concerned, golf putting practice is the most fun to play when you are just playing a game. Watch this great video to learn how to play.
Best Short Game Player on Tour?
Students have asked me what are my favorite tips on putting or who I would copy if I had one choice for the perfect short game and its an easy one for me: Steve Stricker. I would copy his chipping, pitching, and putting if it was up to me. I rarely if ever tell a student to copy someone on Tour because we all have different swing types and abilities. However, when it comes to short game and putting, I will tell them copy Steve Stricker every time.
Why Steve Stricker you ask?
First let’s look at Stricker by the numbers.
Last year, Steve Stricker still finished in the top 5 in total putting while only playing 45 total rounds in 2016.
Now, let’s take a look at Steve Stricker in the “Around the Green” Category in 2016.
Second, when one of the best players ever to play the game says you are the best. I would try to emulate them.
In the article titled “Stricker offers timely putting tip to Tiger at Doral” Tiger Woods had this to say about Steve Stricker’s putting stroke. “Whatever he says, I’m going to do, He’s one of the best putters that’s ever lived.”
So then, I think I have explained why you should try to copy Steve Stricker’s short game. What is it that makes Steve Stricker so good in the short game?
His technique is simple and just flat out better than almost everyone else.
What makes Steve one of the best is because he uses almost no hand action or club face rotation whatsoever in his short game, short irons, and even his putting stroke.
Basically he let’s the club slide across the ground and uses the club’s loft to get the ball in the air for chipping and pitching. Wide bottoms in the short game create the best results. Steve has a very wide bottom to his swing because of his lack of wrist cocking or hand action.
See for yourself in this great video by Steve Stricker.
When it comes to putting his uniqueness and simplicity start by the way he grips the putter. His grip may look fairly traditional when you look at it from the front. Stricker has one particular aspect his left hand that really puts the club and the grip in a great position to make a little bit of in to in type of stroke. There is really no club face rotation in his stroke. His stroke is very repeatable and very consistent. Here is Stricker talking about his grip:
Stricker’s putting stroke begins with how he sets up. Stricker is a very upright putter and that starts at address. His forearms are in line with the putter shaft. Most of this is due his left wrist position. One of the keys to Stricker’s set-up is to grip the putter with the left wrist un-cocked.
How does Stricker do it? First, extend your left arm out parallel to the ground. Now, un-cock your left wrist so your index finger is pointing towards the ground. Now put the club handle in your left hand with the un-cocked arch in the back of that left wrist. The handle will now run directly through the palm of the grip rather than through the fingers. Your traditional full swing grip has you holding the club mostly in the fingers. Holding the club much more into the palms and having the left wrist arched and un-cocked position will help you basically take the club straight back and straight through. The club will come inside the target line a little bit, but you will not have much if any club face rotation and a solid and repeatable putting stroke.
If you are holding the putter too much in the fingers, you will end up likely end up with a putter arc similar to your full swing arc. In to out or out to in. The yips can creep in if you are in to out with your putts. Nobody wants the yips. Out to in isn’t the worst stroke as you will hit the ball solid, but you will put a little hook on the ball. Slightly in to in is the perfect putting stroke.
Here is a direct quote from Steve Stricker in his Golf Digest article in reference to his stroke:
If you can copy Steve Stricker’s un-cocked left wrist putting grip, you are probably going to putt much better.
What was the timely tip Stricker gave Woods? Stricker noticed Woods’ hands were behind the ball.”Just tried to get him set up in a better position where he could feel like he could accelerate down through the line a little bit,” Stricker said. Stricker also noted “Who knows, he might have putted just as good without my help.”
Hooray! We have reached the end. In summary, here are a few things to remember about your short game.
- Swing the club head instead of the handle and you will get rid of the chunks and blades you are sick and tired of seeing.
- Try to make the bottom of your swing arc as long as possible, and swing the club head slightly inside both back and through on chips and pitches.
- Use the bounce of the club to slide into the ball. You can greatly increase your margin for error by using the bounce.
- Hit under the ball in a green side bunker, not behind the ball.
- Controling the club face and the speed of your putts are the keys to great putting.
Associated Press. “Bryson DeChambeau hints that USGA is reason he abandoned side-saddle putting”. golf.com
Associated Press. “Stricker offers timely putting tip to Tiger at Doral” golf.com
Coffin Jay. “Lesson learned: Stricker helps Tiger, finishes 2nd”. golfchannel.com
Golf Information. “12 Different Putting Grips”. golf-information.info
Johnson, E. Michael. “What You Need To Know Now That The Anchoring Ban Has Finally Arrived”. golfdigest.com
Kaspriske, Ron and Stricker, Steve. “Steve Stricker Shares His Putting Secrets” golfdigest.com
Myers, Alex. “Report: Bryson DeChambeau forced to alter his putter after being told it was non-conforming by the USGA”. golfdigest.com
O’Connell, Chris. “Swingbyte Spotlight: Short Game with Chris O’Connell – Part 1”. swingbyte.com
O’Connell, Chris. “Swingbyte Spotlight: Short Game With Chris O’Connell – Part 2: Full Swing vs. Short Game Swing”. swingbyte.com
Rosaforte, Tim. “Bernhard Langer’s new putting stroke has people talking (but not for all the right reasons)”. golfdigest.com
Stricker, Steve. Steve Stricker Player Page – Statistics from 2016 PGA Tour Season. pgatour.com
Your Putting Solution: A Tour-Proven Approach to Mastering the Greens – James Sieckmann