I’d like to invite any of my readers to try this experiment: Play a round with your club pro, a scratch, or near-scratch player in your club. On the par-3s, you hit only the tee shot. On the par 4s, you hit the tee shot and the second shot. And on the par 5s, you hit the tee shot, the second shot, and the third shot. After that, you’re going to let the pro or scratch player finish your holes from wherever the ball lies. And at the end of the round, you’re going to add up the combined score.

It would be best if you get the highly skilled player to play maybe 3-5 rounds with you, but even if you can do only do it for ONE round, give it a shot and let me know your score. I’m going wager that, depending on your handicap or skill level, your score(s) will be significantly lower. I have done this with several of my students, and I can attest to the results.

Ninety percent of the people who come to me for a lesson do so for a full-swing lesson, but I believe the real key to better golf lies more in the short shots than the full ones. I am not saying you can learn short shots to a professional level, but I am suggesting that you can make more progress and take a bigger step to lower scores by learning how to pitch, chip, play bunker shots and putt better than you do now.

Again, I don’t mean to say you can learn to play short shots as well as the really skilled players, but you can make more progress in this area than your full swing. And the benefits will more directly affect your game.

I welcome your results, and I hope it leads to more golfers asking for short-game lessons. And to me that’s a great thing, because who doesn’t want to play more golf when they’re shooting their lowest scores ever?

Your Reaction?
  • 241
  • LEGIT41
  • WOW4
  • LOL2
  • IDHT2
  • FLOP6
  • OB0
  • SHANK51

Previous articleA Legacy of Excellence: Primland Resort is a Hidden Jewel in the Virginia Hills
Next articleHow I Mastered My Mental Game
Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. This summer, he's teaching out of Southpointe Golf Club in Pittsburgh

Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions:

-- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA
-- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal
-- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine
-- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest
-- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf
-- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members)
-- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA
-- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA
-- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf
-- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA
-- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors

Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf
Academy
at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

63 COMMENTS

Not seeing your comment? Read our rules and regulations. Click "Report comment" to alert GolfWRX moderators to offensive or inappropriate comments.
  1. Short Game is Not the most important part of the game per se. GIR is King as has been proven by Broadie and others; and GIR is a combo of Driving and Iron Play (full swing!) but a great or above average short game is certainly a great asset. Short game has always been a weakness for me, but I recently played and shot 72 and it was All about the short game… 8 GIR, 1 birdie; Up&down 9 of 10 = 72 Strange Game. Note: My BALLSTRIKING was good enough that I was in position to scramble for Pars from relatively close range on every hole where I missed the GIR….I didn’t need to be a wizard around the greens playing from some weird spots. Again, thats why ball striking is more the key to getting to single digit handicap even if you are above average in the short game. You gotta hit the ball well enough to be in a decent position consistently to give yourself a good chance to get up/down.

    • While that’s partially true, scrambling can also be king. If you’re around the green with your 3rd shot, you can save a lot of pars by chipping and putting well. I’ve seen so many people on the edge of the green hit a bad chip and two-three putt for bogey/double when they could just make a good chip and have a kick in par.

    • I think the point Dennis is trying to make here is that the “average” golfer has a better chance of improving their game by working on the short game more often. I think it’s easier to improve the short game than it is improving ball striking. I don’t believe he’s saying that short game is more important. I have worked with several buddies who were in the 15-30 handicap range, while all of them need to improve their ball striking, it’s been more efficient to work on the short game more often with the limited amount of practice time they have.

  2. Sure, it’s easy to knock strokes off your score by tidying up a sloppy short game, clearly. Once you have a decent short game, however (i.e. never taking more than 3 strokes from inside 100, eliminating 3-putts, and getting up and down 25%+ of the time around the green), you will much more quickly hit the point of diminishing returns. It takes a LOT of effort to get your wedges crisp enough to consistently get up/down from 50, 60, 70 yards…

    If I’m trying to improve for the short term (match or tournament in the coming week), you’ll see me almost exclusively on or around the practice green. If I’m trying to really improve long-term, though, you’d better believe you are going to see me working on my swing.

    • Actually my comment reminded me of a guy at our club who sandbags by spending all season working on his swing without bothering keeping his short game crisp. 3-putts a lot and never gets up and down. Then come the end of the season when we have some of the championships you’ll see him out there every day chipping and putting. Funny how he always seems to finish near the top…

  3. The author is correct. The chances of a recreational golfer improving his short game is MUCH better than for him to improve his long game. Most spend 80% of their practice time hitting driver and it doesn’t seem to make much difference. That much time and effort on chips and pitches, with some good instruction, will be a difference THAT’S ACTUALLY POSSIBLE. Bringing the pro along is just object confirmation, nothing more. Sure, it works in the inverse too, but that’s not the point.

    • So if rec golfers reduce their driver practice their drives will deteriorate even further to the point of redundancy.
      Might as well not even carry a driver and just use a higher lofted fairway like a 3-wood.
      Of course that’s not macho and golf is a game of macho for high handicappers who brag (lie) “I hit a drive that must have gone 280 yards with my new driver.. I love it!”… or some such BeeEss.

  4. No need to bother a pro… move up one or two sets of tees and see how many strokes you shave off your typical score; I guess a 90s golfer would only save 5 strokes playing 700 yards less (about 40 yards less per hole).

    • when i play from the ladies tees i suddenly have makeable putts for birdie and even eagle. whereas from the whites on a “real” (not executive) course i usually have to make a long putt or chip it in for a birdie. for me it has been all about finding/using the right equipment (using a 3 wood instead of driver, ditching the hybrids for a 5 and 7 wood, using a long counterbalanced putter, finding the right bounce on a 54 degree wedge and so on).

      • CONGRATULATIONS, Bruce Hart, you are a sane, intelligent golfer who plays within his reasonable capabilities, just as I do.
        Those who play from the ‘tips’ to get their money’s worth and then can’t break 100 honestly are the one’s who buy the latest and greatest new model drivers promising distance and dialing out your swing flaws.
        You, and I, are gentlemen golfers who play a controlled game from the forward tees and mostly stay out of the rough and OBs. Macho golfers plug up the course searching for lost balls because their swing is forever flawed and they try to repair it on the golf course. That’s why we have 5 hour rounds.
        You don’t learn a swing on the course, unless you are an incompetent clown oblivious to others.

  5. That’s an unnecessary exercise and a waste of time for the club pro or low capper just to demonstrate the obvious. If you do this, all you need do is take the club pro to the landing area and let him show you how accurate he can be from various distances using say 3 balls into the green. If you want to try another hole do the same thing and the point is proven. End of lesson.

    A better solution is to stop with your futile driver practice and use the time and money to walk the course during cheaper twilight play when there are few to no players and carrying a 7 or 8 iron, a wedge and hit a pile of balls into the greens. Play 9 holes with say 4 balls and that’s the equivalent of playing 36 holes of approach shots. Fix your ball marks.
    Of course this should only be done after you have practiced and trained at the range with short irons before you venture on to the course. You don’t learn the golf swing on the golf course; the course is a test of your practiced golf swing.

      • Yes I do, but I also practice ‘bump & run’ shots and intentional bunker shots as part of my short game, and that reduces the number of pitch marks. I also repair the ball marks left over from the afternoon players who do a bad job on their marks.

        • Yes, but if you play a solo golf round in the evening twilight when there is no traffic or marshals there is no problem playing multiple balls. If somebody is coming just let them through by clearing your balls off the greens and let them through. On the fairway they can play through your many balls.
          Sometimes I just play with two clubs, an 8 iron and a sand wedge for bunker practice, and even putt with them. You don’t really need to practice putting if you are practicing your short game.

  6. An 18 handicap hitting tee shots and approach with tour pro hitting the rest would shoot way higher then a Tour Pro hitting all tee shots and approach shots and 18 handicap hitting the short shots.

    Even if guy averaged 2.5 putts per hole and duff a couple chips still be like 80

  7. Not really. The top 20 in world are filled with poor, relative to peers putters.
    Im a +2 handicap and there is defiantly better putters than me that are like 15 handicaps.
    Hitting 15 greens per round is a lot harder than being a good putter.
    Kinda like any average joe can hit 80% free throws better than half of nba players, but could still never score like them.
    You can deftiently have a poor short game and be a +4 or even tour pro.
    Tim Clark… had chipping yips, couldn’t do it
    Vijay sinch chips crosshanded putts all kinds of ways.
    proximity is key even bad putters make will conver 2 0r 3 out of 14 not to mention 2 putt or tap in birdies.

    • Could you hit 15 greens per round only using a 12-13º 2-wood or a 14-15º 3-wood?
      Of course this would put the stress on your mid to long iron play on approach shots.
      It’s a trade-off between using your big dog 9º driver and spraying balls all over the place for recovery shots, or, controlling your drives with a 2 or 3-wood and working for more greens in regulation.
      Choose yer poison.

      • for example in Woods epic years he was about 55% fairways and 73% greens

        his strokes gained approach was 2

        putting plus around green was 1.3

        Its all about hitting greens, hitting fairways helps that but not as much as you’d think.

        most 18 handicaps i play with hit almost every fairway and almost no greens and some have pretty good short games. Usually not bunker play because they never get enough speed.

        • You say: – “most 18 handicaps i play with hit almost every fairway and almost no greens and some have pretty good short games.”
          So if “some have pretty good short games” why are they not getting on the greens?
          Most 18 handicappers I play with may have a few pars but blow up wildly on other holes and cannot recover. Their game is chaotic.

  8. I can agree with this. I think a lot of people are missing the point, but between the title and the article itself it’s difficult to tell if you’re trying to argue statistical facts about the long game or simply emphasize that the short game is still a critical component of low scoring. I believe you are simply doing the latter and based on that I would absolutely agree. Even on my worst days off the tee, I can still get around the course well enough to break 90 without sweating about it – assuming no more than maybe 3 penalty strokes – if my short game is working. Likewise, I can cruise below 80 when all cylinders are firing. BUT when my short game is off, it quickly becomes a struggle to keep it under 90 as I just seem to compound issues around the green. I can also agree with those that have said it’s simply more fun to hit the long ball well, but it’s also REALLY fun to wow your playing partners with a good short game – especially when you hole out from off the green a time or two.

    • but really it’s not

      Jack Nicklaus always said why practice chipping, when i can practice hitting the green.

      I’ve seen rounds played where a player hit 16 greens. Had two 2 putt birdies a couple kick ins missed every other putt and failed to get up and down both times still shoots under par.

  9. Anybody who shoots 95 needs a better swing to get to 85. Anyone who shoots 85 needs a better short game to get to 80. Not the other way around. Hale Irwin said, “The shortest route to improvement is to get on the green in fewer strokes.” Percy Boomer said, “Good scores are only made possible by good play up to the green.” The major responsibility for that lies with the swing.

  10. I get your point and agree, but as far as an enlightening experience, I think the inverse would be more impactful. If you took the pro’s shots from tee to green (par – 2) and had the higher handicap player finish it off, I would think you would highlight just how many strokes are being lost to short game. Hopefully it wouldnt be too discouraging, but the anticipated thought was – IF I had the game of a scratch player from tee to green, Im still not close to par because my short game doesnt hold up.

  11. Dennis, what you forget is that all the golfers here are WRXer’s. They all hit 300+ drives and hit their approach shots to within 3 feet. They have no concept of what you are trying to say.

  12. It all depends on the golfer in question … I lose about 6-8 off the tee (lost balls, awful position), 2-3 from my approach (and often due to bad recovery off the tee) and 3-4 from a mishit or miss read on and around the green – just enough to reduce my chances of making the next putt. Now, if you were to ask me the same question over the last two months it would definitely be true as I was trying to get my overall swing under control so much that my short game and putting had gotten so bad that I was missing 2 footers for par (almost gave myself the yips). A couple of weeks, focusing on my short game, got them back on track and now I am back onto my full swing – which is finally clicking and my pars/birdies are increasing.

  13. I brought my aged game under control with a 300+ yard duo-drive.
    I don’t carry a driver, only 3-5-7 fairways plus a hybrid, a few short irons and several wedges. I aim for a straight 200 yard drive off the tee with my 3-wood and then another fairway wood or iron as needed. I cover the first 300+ yards totally under control and then I play my approach shot with deadly accuracy.
    To perfect my short game I played solo golf in the evenings when the course is empty and I carry a 6, 7 or 8 iron and a wedge plus 10 balls which I sprinkle around for approach shots. From 150 yards in I’m a PGA pro. I love splashing the ball out of the sand too.
    The solution to the game for rec players is to abandon the expensive, useless, difficult driver and start with a 15º 3-wood, and you will have a pleasant and controlled game, but you must practice by yourself on the range and then the course. Only then can you present yourself to other decent players and avoid playing with the clowns and hackers.
    I will never conquer the driver and I refuse to get suckered into buying a driver that promises distance and dialing in the shot trajectories, because the problem is in the big swing and not the driver.
    As for playing a round with a pro player, that’s just a fantasy trip for the rec players who don’t have full control of their clubs; and only time and practice will solve that inadequacy.

  14. I remember reading a story of Tom Kite doing this very thing with a couple of UT golfers (maybe in The Little Red Book?) with the exact results that Mr. Clark describes. As I remember it they played the front 9 and could not understand how he was drubbing them as they hit as well as Kite. They played the back nine with Kite hitting the short game shots only and shot nothing. Sorry if I messed up some of the particulars as it has been ages since I read it.

  15. I feel like some people are missing the author’s point a bit.

    He is NOT saying that a bogey golfer would score better having a scratch player hit his pitches, chips & putts than he would having the scratch player hit his drives and approaches. Of course his score would be lower this way. The scratch would hit way more GIRs and Mr. Bogey would have way more birdies and 2-putt pars.

    All he is saying is that a Mr. Bogey, who thinks he teeters around 90 because he only hits 4-5 GIRs, would be surprised how much lower a scratch can go with Mr. Bogey’s drives and approaches than Mr. Bogey can.

    • I have tremendous trouble off the tee. Using equitable stroke control I had 3 rounds this summer of 101 losing 15 balls, 88 losing 8 balls and 85 losing 5 balls. The 101 would have been more like a 110 if I didn’t use ESC, I made 4 birds on the 88, and I made par on 3 of the lost balls for the 85 (red stakes). No one on God’s green Earth is going to convince me I’d improve more by focusing on my short game than my full swing. I’m a 12.5 btw.

  16. I read a rule of thumb about scores and greens in regulation. The rule is 95-(2*gir) = avg score.

    My scores are typically about 3-4 shots higher than that formula would suggest. I also looked at the at Mark Broadie strokes gained putting and found my putting doesn’t stack up to my handicap level. So I’m pretty sure working on my short game is what’s required.

    But yet, I don’t practice it much. Partly because I don’t have access to proper facilities to do so, but also because I just don’t find the putting and chipping in golf much fun. If I made my own course and made all the rules – the hole would be 5 feet in diameter and there would be no greens.

  17. If you are currently a single digit cap, hitting say 7-8 GIRS (scratch players hit 10.5 I believe) and you make a dramatic swing improvement you MAY go to 8-9 GIRs and be closer on missed greens. You’ll still be be chipping, pitching or hitting bunker shots 9-10 times a round. My teaching center is situated in view of the 1st and 10th greens at our facilty. I can’t tell you how many times i see members turn 2 shots into 3, 3 into four etc….and then come for a full swing lesson. When most people come for a lesson they are asking to hit the ball better, not lower their scores. The relationship between the two is much less direct than one might think. Thx for reading

  18. I don’t know if the statement that “The short shots make the difference” is completely accurate, what with Mark Broadie data and whatnot – but I do think that perhaps the “ROI” or Return-On-Investment is higher for short game practise, i.e. an hour spent properly training chipping/pitching would take more strokes of your score than say hitting a bucket of balls with the the mid irons.
    1. Learn to hit tee shots decently, without resulting penalty
    2. Learn to scramble
    3. Profit

      • nah guy is trying to say short game is important differnce between pro and high handicap, its not it the long game, ball striking..

        No great ball strikers are 18 handicaps are, some great putters are.

  19. Dennis,

    I’ve never done this with a Pro, but I have dedicated 4 weeks before, 3-4 times a week in the eve to nothing but the short game. I took three balls, three different clubs, 6,8, SW and putter. I would hit the three balls to the same pin from different lies and locations, then make the putts if I did not hole out. Also, borrowing a page from Mickey Wright, I would also play to six holes with the three balls, putt them out and see how many times I could get up and down for the 18 holes. After this one month of practice, I dropped my average score from avg 79 to avg 75, par 72. I know this works!

    Jim

  20. This will only work with a fairly decent and reliable shooter who can get off the tee somewhat, on an open muni course with no OB. Take a poor player to any tricked out course with OB and forced tee-shot carries and tight tunnel-like shot off the tees – it won’t really matter because more than likely you are hitting 3 on most of those holes, and then hitting 5 or even 7 from the fairway.

  21. I have to disagree to some extent. I realize the pro can do wonders in the short game area but the score would be lower if the pro hit all of the long shots.

    Pro tees off on a 400 yard par 4 and hits the ball in the fairway 320 yards leaving me an 80 yard shot to the green. The statistics prove that my game is closer to the professionals from 80 yards than from 400 yards.

    The average player from the same tee isn’t gong to hit the ball 320, maybe 220 leaving 180 yards to the green. What are the percentages of the pro hitting the green closer to the pin from his 180 than my 80 yards. I’d take those odds all day long.

    I believe Mark Broadie in his book “Every Shot Counts” verifies this.

    • This argument is completely irrelevant to the point he is making.

      He isn’t saying that a bogey golfer wouldn’t be better if the pro hits his long shots. Of course he would.

      He is saying that a bogey golfer who thinks he scores poorly because he misses the green by 10 yards would be surprised at how low he could still go by having a scratch chip & putt for him.

  22. Yes as some have said if you reversed the pro/am here youd see a big score difference too (probably more), but I think the point of this is just to show you can improve your game more than you might guess via the short game. While there are a lot of stats to suggest the long game is more important, for the avg guy without a lot of practice time (and/or talent) its a lot easier to get better at the short game than the long game so showing golfers that big score changes can he made via short game is a way to get them to focus on a part of the game they are more likely to be able to make big improvements in. A pro could show you how valuable a 300y drive is, doesnt mean you can strive for that, but showing you how much good chipping or lag putting helps gives you sthg most people could strive for.

    • Excellent point Hans. IMO the reason pros preach about the short game so much is because that’s the easiest area for am’s to improve. The full swing takes a great deal more time and technique to realize improvement.

  23. It sounds sensible to me, it’s just going to show you what is possible scoring wise from the long game you have. Just because a scratch golfer might take 10 less shots than you doesn’t mean that’s the goal. If you can improve by 2-3 shots that will make a big difference.

    If you think that most golfers at any level are going to take between 30-45 shots from on and around the green…

  24. I think you need a better test to make a comparison:

    1. You hit all the shots (you probably already know this)
    2. Pro hits all the shots
    3. You hit full shots and pro hits short game shots
    4. Pro hits full shots and you hit short game shots

  25. The reverse for me would be hypothetical because I’ve never done it that way. Those who have would know better than I. In any case my advice remains the same: we can improve short game a LOT more than full swing.

  26. Try the opposite, as a pro, play your student’s shots from 150 and out and see where that gets you. Tough to make par when your student is reloading 4 times from the tee!

  27. I know what you are trying to say, but you need to rethink this “test”, because at the moment all it proves is that your scores will drop significantly if you let a much better player take 25-50% of your shots, which err… is not exactly revolutionary.

    My scores would also drop dramatically if a scratch player took all of my tee shots.

  28. Have to disagree with the fun part. If I’m scrambling almost every hole and shoot even that is a frustrating no fun round, but if i hit the ball great and hit almost every green and shoot 80 then I enjoyed my day a lot more. Hitting the ball bad isn’t fun at all no matter your score.

    • This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. You are saying scrambling for pars and shooting even is less fun than three putting all day?! If the only thing you think is fun about golf is hitting it long stick to the game. At the end of the day the SCORE is what counts, and the lower the better. 72 is < 80.

    • I’m with you – just posted as much below. I understand why people love the challenge of getting a ball in a tiny little hole, but I think the majority of people find hitting full shots a lot more fun.

  29. I had one game last year that opened up my mind with the importance of the short game. I broke 80 last year at a fairly difficult course. My driver was duck
    hooking all day. Resulting in shots
    going as far as 170 yards all to the left. But my irons were decent and my chipping and putting caught fire. I realized that even with a faulty driver, I can break 80
    or shoot in the low 80’s. After that game, I rarely practiced at the
    driving range my full shots.
    I concentrated on my putting and chipping and saw my handicap drop to single digits.

    • Any course that allows 170 yard misses off the tee is made significantly easier because of that fact. If you take that game on the road to a course with tree lined holes and OB you will be posting monster scores. Short game will only do some much for you when your missing to that degree of the tee.

  30. Yes short game makes a huge difference. My best rounds are the rounds I putt and chip well. On the course I play I am going to hit 12-13 greens each round as its a short course. My best rounds are the ones where I get up and down. <– Captain obvious there.

LEAVE A REPLY