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Short game: By air or by land?



When I’m working with students on their short games, I see too many players who are trying to play high shots around the greens. It’s a thing to behold when Phil or Tiger hoists a greenside shot straight up into the air, but I’ve found that most golfers benefit from the “land route.”

Generally speaking, there are two different kinds of shots golfers can play around the green, the chip and the pitch. Here’s an easy way to remember the difference between the two shots:

  • A chip: a low shot that takes a low swing
  • A pitch: a high shot that takes a high swing

If you elect to run the ball along the ground with a chip shot, you need to think of a short, low takeaway with little-to-no wrist break. If you elect to play a shot that flies higher with a pitch shot, you need to think of a short, higher takeaway with more wrists in the backswing. These are broad descriptions, but a lesson or two on technique will help you if you are struggling around the greens.

But what you probably want to know is when to play each shot. When should golfers put the ball in the air and when should they run it on the ground?

I teach this philosophy, and also used it successfully during my days as a competitive player:

When I miss the green, I PUTT whenever I can. I CHIP if I can’t putt and PITCH only when I must.

In golf, we are always trying to get the odds on our side. Because of the the swing involved, a chip is a much easier and much more predictable shot to than a pitch. It is a smaller swing with less wrist action, less body motion and less follow through.  The good old “bump and run,” and even lower flying chip shot, is the real go-to guy under the heat. You should use it whenever you can.

You hit a bump-and-run shot by moving the ball back in your stance. You then take the club back low and keep the hands in front of the clubhead through impact. The ball comes off the club very low and runs on the green. Practice this shot every chance you get.

But some times you cannot run the ball onto the green. In any of the following situations, a pitch shot might be the only option:

  • A shot over an obstacle (water, sand, or tall grass)
  • A shot to a very eleveated green
  • When the hole is located close to the side from where you’re playing your shot (no green to work with)

In all these situations, the golf ball has to go up in the air. Choose a lofted club, position the golf ball toward the center or slightly forward in your stance and swing the club more up and down. The golf ball will fly high and stop more quickly — because of trajectory not spin by the way. Most times, there is not enough speed in the swing to spin the ball, but trajectory is just as effective.

Another advantage of chipping over pitching is you can learn one basics swing and vary the club selection. You can take anything from a sand wedge to a 7 iron depending on how far you want the ball to run out. When pitching, you are pretty much limited to 55 degrees or more of loft on your club to get the desired trajectory. To hit different pitch shots, you have to vary the length and pace of the swing more than you do when chipping.

Another reason for not pitching the ball unless you have to is the unpredictability of the outcome. Remember, just because you choose a lofted club doesn’t mean you MUST pitch; short chips can and should be played with lofted clubs as well.

So think low to help your short game; chip more often when you miss a green and don’t try to play the heroic shot when a higher-perentage one will do. If you are 20 to 30 yards short of the green to a middle or back hole location, you DO NOT have to lob the ball all the way to the hole.

One more thing:  I’m often asked, “How can I spin the ball and get it to check?”

Well, there are a lot of  factors involved in getting that result: a good attack angle, a soft cover golf ball, perfectly clean grooves and usually a tight lie.  The professionals you see on TV can hit this shot pretty much any time they want. But the average golfer does not always have all the criteria I listed. If you’re playing a distance ball off fairways with spotty lies (especially in the rough) and you have not cleaned your grooves in a few holes, forget about “checking it”  But the good news is you don’t have to!

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. 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 JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at



  1. Sid N

    May 9, 2013 at 1:13 am

    As I was learning golf, I found that i got very comfortable hitting pitch shots to the green anywhere from 110 metres out. I would either hit a P, a Sand wedge or a 58 degree wedge. 50 – 60 metres out or nearer, it is always the 58 degree wedge. Depending on how far I am from the pin I would adjust how far left of the pin I aim and how much I open the club. Once I have decided on this I make sure that the ball is in the middle of my stance hands forward of the clubhead and I attack the pin almost all the time except on really hot dry days when the ball runs a lot and on those day I drop it a metre or two short of the green.

    Using less clubs and not chipping with different lofts I find makes my thought processes simpler.

    I only chip from under the trees with seven and sometimes use the P as almost a putter from the edge of the green.

    I find this has made very consistent from 110 yards out.

  2. Fadi

    Nov 20, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I never chip but I am going to try due to coming up short on all my pitchs lately. This seems like it is gonna help. At least I hope so. Ben Hogan did say he prefers a low runner to high floater.

  3. Steven Mendelson

    Oct 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Best thing I ever did was take lessons from Dennis. I finally learned to not break my wrists on chips and he added 30 yards to my drives. Thanks.

  4. Vincent Dice

    Oct 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Great article!
    It’s so nice to see someone write about this. I argue with my golf partners all the time about this.
    I’ve applied this philosophy for years and it’s saved many a Par for me and turned a sure-fire double into a bogey. For a golfer like me, that’s great! I keep it out of the air as much as possible near the green.

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How to fix the root cause of hitting your golf shots fat



Of all the shots golfers fear, hitting the ball FAT has to be right up at the top of the list. At least it heads the list of commonly hit poor shots (let’s leave the shank and the whiff out for now). After fat, I’d list topping, followed by slicing and then hooking. They are all round-killers, although the order of the list is an individual thing based on ability. Professionals despise a hook, but club golfers by and large fear FAT. Why?

First of all, it’s embarrassing. Secondly, it goes nowhere — at least compared to thin — and it can be physically painful! So to avoid this dreaded miss, golfers do any number of things (consciously or subconsciously) to avoid it. The pattern develops very early in one’s golf life. It does not take very many fat shots for golfers to realize that they need to do something differently. But rather than correct the problem with the correct move(s), golfers often correct a fault with a fault.

Shortening the radius (chicken-winging), raising the swing center, early lower-body extension, holding on through impact (saving it), running the upper body ahead of the golf ball and even coming over the top are all ways of avoiding fat shots. No matter how many drills I may offer for correcting any of those mistakes, none will work if the root cause of fat is not addressed.

So what causes fat? We have to start with posture. Some players simply do not have enough room to deliver the golf club on a good plane from inside to inside. Next on the list of causes is a wide, early cast of the club head. This move is invariably followed by a break down in the lead arm, holding on for dear life into impact, or any of the others…

“Swaying” (getting the swing center too far off the golf ball) is another cause of fat, as well as falling to the rear foot or “reversing the weight.” Both of these moves can cause one to bottom out well behind the ball. Finally, an excessive inside-out swing path (usually the fault of those who hook the ball) also causes an early bottom or fat shot, particularly if the release is even remotely early. 

Here are 4 things to try if you’re hitting fat shots

  1. Better Posture: Bend forward from the hips so that arms hang from the shoulders and directly over the tips of the toes, knees slightly flexed over the shoelaces, seat out for balance and chin off the chest!
  2. Maintaining the Angles: Casting, the natural urge to throw the clubhead at the golf ball, is a very difficult habit to break if one is not trained from the start. The real correction is maintaining the angle of the trail wrist (lag) a little longer so that the downswing is considerably more narrow than the backswing. But as I said, if you have been playing for some time, this is risky business. Talk to your instructor before working on this!
  3. Maintaining the Swing Center Over the Golf Ball: In your backswing, focus on keeping your sternum more directly over the golf ball (turning in a barrel, as Ernest Jones recommended). For many, this may feel like a “reverse pivot,” but if you are actually swaying off the ball it’s not likely you will suddenly get stuck with too much weight on your lead foot.
  4. Setting Up a Little More Open: If your swing direction is too much in-to-out, you may need to align your body more open (or feel that way). You could also work with a teaching aid that helps you feel the golf club is being swung more out in front of you and more left (for right-handers) coming through — something as simple as a head cover inside the golf ball. You’ll hit the headcover if you are stuck too far inside coming down.

The point is that most players do what they have to do to avoid their disastrous result. Slicers swing way left, players who fight a hook swing inside out and anybody who has ever laid sod over the golf ball will find a way to avoid doing it again. This, in my opinion, is the evolution of most swing faults, and trying to correct a fault with a fault almost never ends up well.

Get with an instructor, get some good videos (and perhaps even some radar numbers) to see what you are actually doing. Then work on the real corrections, not ones that will cause more trouble.

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Right Knee Bend: The Difference Between PGA Tour Players and Amateurs



The knees play an especially important role in the golf swing, helping to transfer the forces golfers generate through our connection with the ground. When we look closer at the right knee bend in the golf swing, we’re able to get a better sense of how PGA Tour players generate power compared to most amateur golfers.

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How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location



One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:


  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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19th Hole