Let me bore you with some statistics: The average handicap in this country is 18 for men, 28 for women. But that’s misleading, because the real average golfer doesn’t even have a handicap.

There are 25 million or so golfers in the United States. Of those, perhaps 5 million have registered handicaps, the so-called avid golfers. So the handicap system is utilized by no more than 20 percent of all people who list golf as a hobby in this country. The rest either play too infrequently or, for whatever reasons, do not choose to record their scores. So there’s a good chance that the real average golfer handicap is a lot higher than the figures I quoted above.

We use the phrase Greens in Regulation (GIR) to describe the number of times a golfer is on a par 3 in one shot, a par 4 in two shots and a par 5 in three or less shots. But let’s flip that stat to “Greens Missed in Regulation” (GMR). The scratch (zero handicap) golfer misses seven to eight greens a round, the 85 shooter misses 14 to 15 greens and the 100 shooter misses all the greens on average.

That is why short shots constitute 60 to 65 percent of the game (putting alone is 40 percent). So the 85 shooter will take roughly 50 to 55 short shots a round. Yet 90 percent of the requests I get are for full swing lessons. In other words, 10 percent of golfers want lessons on the shots they play 65 percent of the time and 90 percent of golfers want lessons on shots they play 35 percent of the time. Go to a driving range or any practice facility in the country. If you see 20 golfers practicing at that facility, I’m betting that 17 or 18 will be hitting balls, and maybe two or three will be chipping or putting. This should be in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

I want you to consider this: If students are missing 14 greens a round, and they work hard on their swing and make a huge improvement in their ball striking, those golfers will still miss 12 greens a round in regulation. The point of all this is obvious: Take more lessons and spend more time on the short game. Here’s why I think it will lead to better scoring: Most golfers could practice until the cows come home and never hit the golf ball anything like a professional. There is so much going on in the full swing, it is unrealistic to even consider another 40 yards or the type of compression a pro generates. But I do not think it is unrealistic to believe the amateur could chip and putt perhaps, not like a pro, but more “pro like.” The motion involved in a chip, a putt or even a little pitch can be learned so much easier than a full swing. Practicing these shots is by far the quickest way to lower scores

Every year at the beginning of the season, it is a great idea to set goals and make golf resolutions. All the people who play for a living keep statistics on their games. These stats help them identify weaknesses. Maybe something like: I missed 12 greens; I was left with two bunker shots, three pitches and seven chips. How many chips did I get up and down, how many pitches, how many three-putts etc. Sometimes when players think they are strong in a certain area, they tend to spend less time working on it. By charting the shots, they soon discover how they are actually doing in that area!

Final thought: Often golfers think they lack feel in this area of the game, when in fact what is lacking is technique. I know for myself when I am thinking mechanics, I have zero feel for that shot. Worrying about hitting the ground or how far back the club goes or any other mechanical part of the swing is a prescription for disaster! Take some short game lessons, develop confidence in the stroke, and then all your  focus can be on feeling that shot. Get the little swing down so routine that you don’t have to think about it.

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
at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com


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  1. If you have any decent carpeted area in your home, you can do some chipping there. If you develop the feel for simple short chips, you’ll have the foundation for longer ones. I use a wedge to chip balls instead of putting balls into the “cup” on my small LR rug. It’s only about 10 feet long, but it still works, and it’s way better than waiting till I can get to the course. Hope you’ll give it a try.

  2. I would like to read a article by you who focus on physical ability contra building a sound swing. How can a 40-50+ man (womens are more soft in their moves) find a swing that doesnt demand hard psysical training and flexibility.

  3. Rory McIlroy practised by hitting shots into his mothers washing machine! Thats one way to do it… If you really want to, you will find ways to practice the short game, use your imagination. On the driving range for example, there´s no rule I ever heard of that says you cant hit 30-50 yards shots. I have a putting mat infront of the tv, excellent to try to get the stroke as solid as possible. I practice a lot with only one hand at the time. Very effective both to discover weaknesses in your stroke!

  4. Play 9 holes then spend an hour putts, chip n run and sand saves.
    I did 4 x 1 hour sessions pre xmas…..love my 9i and 8i 20m to 40m chip n run opportunities now!! I did 8 greens in reg yesterday. Just bought another driver, J38, as i need to hit more fairways, only hit 12 yesterday. Keep the stats, practice those 5m,10m and 15m and loong 30m putts, keep them on line at the pin, great things will happen after only a Few Hours Practice.
    Swap putters/Wedges/Balls untill your a demon from 135m out!

    Thanks Dennis !

  5. Great article. I am a 60 year old now 12 handicapper. Over the last 3-4 years I have seen my hcp rise from a 9. Half way through last season I became dismayed with my declining game and went back to keeping stats. Your article is dead on the mark. My GIR was way out of whack and most often I was putting tremendous pressure on my putting to make par or bogey. Your article is timely as it is exactly what my 2013 golf goal is. Practice that short game and putting! Thanks.

  6. Spot on Dennis,

    I’ve been a victim of this in the past and spent 90% of my time on the long game. The short game is just way too important these days to be overlooked.

    I now spend more time on chipping and putting than anything else when I visit the golf driving range.

  7. For most of us with 9 to 5, or a 9 to 7 that is becoming so common for professionals, practice comes on a lit range at night, on mats. Practicing the short game is not feasible under those circumstances. My short game is what is holding me back. I can hit over half my fairways and around 9 greens. Not tour ready, but not unmitigated hacking either. Yet I am a mid 80’s player. Short game is the reason but unless I can wake up at 6 and get 30 minutes around a practice green before my commute, I just cannot find enough time. It sucks.

    • Instead of complaining about the conditions rather use the one day you would play golf and dedicate it to short game. Even if you utilize the course in the afternoon when the fee is small. Or you could use a mirror at home to work on positions then travel to the local park and hit a few shots.

  8. Yes. Go to the driving range and many high handicappers are there hitting shot after shot with their driver – a club they might use 10-12 times over 18 holes. High handicappers need to split their time between the driving range and practice green.