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What Tiger taught us about hitting pitch shots

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Watching Tiger struggle around the greens at the Hero World Challenge was both astonishing and enlightening. It was astonishing because it was Tiger Woods, and enlightening because it was more proof that feel and technique are equally important in golf.

Touring professionals make the game look ridiculously simple at times. They make it look so easy that we often take their technique for granted. We assume that their form is so grooved that all they concern themselves with is feel. But when we see a player of Tiger’s caliber completely flub no less than seven greenside pitches in four rounds — a few of them flying 5 feet or less — it reminds us that technique is a big part of short shots, and that even the world’s best struggle when they lose form. Granted, Tiger was not the only player to struggle with the grainy lies on the greenside slopes around Isleworth Country Club during the event, but he did seem to have a serious case of the chipping yips, a rare occurrence for a player of his caliber.

Greenside pitches and chips are played from a variety of lies and slopes from a wide assortment of different grasses. That’s why the very first thing a player needs to do before they hit a pitch or chip is assess the lie of the golf ball. Golf club selection, setup and stroke are all based on the lie. My students often ask “what shot should I play from 35 yards,” or some other distance. The answer is based completely on what the course will allow — the lie, needed carry, room for the ball to roll out, etc.

Pitching over a hazard or to an elevated green from a tight lie is a completely different shot than one from deep grass. To complicate matters, a shot from the rough into the grain is a drastically different than a shot that is downgrain.

Let’s take a look at some things that might help make us more comfortable around the greens in sticky situations.

A pitch, which is a short, lofted shot played near the green, is all about attack angle and loft. When you’re in the rough and the golf ball is sitting DOWN, the attack angle needs to be sufficiently steep. To play the shot, you want to flex at the knees a bit more than usual, play the ball slightly forward-of-center in your stance and emphasize the weight on the lead foot with a slightly open face. I would be careful of placing the hands too much in front of the ball from deep rough, as it tends to take too much loft off the shot. Hands in front is a steepening technique, but in the rough the ball may not pop out sufficiently, so be careful.

The swing for a pitch should be wristy, elevating the club abruptly and being fairly aggressive through the hitting area. Deceleration is a killer on this shot, because it is played very similar to the blast shot from a greenside bunker. Once you’ve decided to go with this shot, HIT IT! Expect the ball to roll out a bit when it lands.

Conversely, if the ball is sitting UP in the rough consider not grounding the club at address. This will help guard from going under the ball and hitting it high on the face — it will also help avoid incurring a penalty stroke for moving the ball. Depending upon how high the ball is sitting and how far you have to carry the shot, a firm-wristed chipping motion is not a bad method here, but the ball needs to be hit with a very LEVEL attack angle for a clean, center-struck shot. Shots off the top of the face have reverse vertical gear effect, which makes them fly shorter. You can generate a little spin on this shot if it’s hit perfectly.

Pitching from tight lies is a bit different than shots from the rough, but again, attack angle is critical. Depending on the bounce of your wedge, which is the angle of the sole from the leading edge to the trail edge, you might need to employ a different entry into impact. If you have a wedge with a good amount of bounce, say 12 degrees or more, you will need a steep attack angle. A shallow, wide-bottom swing can cause the leading edge of the club to hit the belly of the ball instead of the bottom and the dreaded skull shot is predictable.

To ensure a steep angle of attack, narrow the stance, keep your weight on your lead leg with the ball slightly back in the stance and set your hands ahead of the ball. The setup here is similar to chipping, but you’re using a club with a lot of loft. Where the shot differs from a standard chip is the swing — it’s more UP, so set the wrists a little in the backswing. I also recommend a little turn though the ball with the body into impact. I see too many pitch shots hit fat from tight lies because players try to remain stationary with the body.

With a low-bounce wedge, say 10 degrees or less, it’s best to keep the attack angle more shallow. The leading edge can dig into the turf behind the ball if the attack angle gets too steep. I’d recommend a little wider stance (never too wide with a pitch), your weight fairly evenly distributed and the hands above, not in front, of the golf ball. The swing secret with a low bounce wedge is to use little-to-NO wrists. Push the arms away on the backswing to ensure a wider swing bottom and a more shallow attack angle. Use little-to-no wrists on your takeaway to avoid having the leading edge stubbing the ground behind the golf ball.

This may sound overwhelming, but all I’m really suggesting here is a setup and swing technique to complement the shot at hand. Avoiding skulls or chili-dips can be simply a matter mental preparation. And remember to never fight the slope! The same spine angle you’d set for uphill and downhill shots from the fairway apply around the greens (shoulders parallel to slope, spine perpendicular).

Finally, if you play in Bermuda grass, be careful of the grain. An into-the-grain pitch is a really tough shot. Any slight miscue is magnified greatly. Again, do NOT set the hands too far ahead for fear that the leading edge will dig into the grain, which will cause you to hit the shot fat.  The ball can be back, but leaning too forward or de-lofting too much also runs the risk of hitting it fat. Set up over the ball with the hands above it, not in front, and weight fairly evenly distributed. I’d recommend more of an arm swing than a wristy one.

Remember my tips the next time you set up to a pitch shot that makes you uncomfortable, and remember to always read the slope and lie before you choose on your shot.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page and send me a message, or contact me ([email protected]) about my online swing analysis program.

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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Josh

    Dec 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm

  2. sixty7

    Dec 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I laughed when I saw this title. You’re reading way too much into fatting a couple chips. What did Tiger teach us about hitting pitch shots? He taught us the hitting pitch shots off grainy thin lies are hard when you’re rusty.

  3. Alan

    Dec 11, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I practice short shots with the Floppy ball in my living room. Its really, really great for getting over the yips and learning to strike down on the ball.

    Try them if you can find them. They are really good.

    • Pure

      Dec 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      My sons learned how to hit that shot using plastic balls in the basement and hitting them off carpet onto the pool table. You either have to clip it really well or open the face a bit and let the bounce take care of the shot.

  4. Billabong

    Dec 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Jeff, please!! We will not worry about you threatening to win a spelling bee. Looser? Really? Loser.

  5. Harvey Lonn

    Dec 11, 2014 at 6:33 am

    I wish that I could have read this article when I first started playing out of Bermuda rough! It would have saved me many years of frustration and lost opportunities.
    Better late than never.
    Thank you Mr. Clark!

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      you’re welcome harvey, hope it helps

  6. Happyday_J

    Dec 11, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Love your articls Dennis, very well written as well as insightful. I just finished college golf and will be hitting the mini tour circuit next season. CANT WAIT!!!

    I found, for myself the most difficult shot was into the grain and trying to hit it on a lower trajectory. Mid to high wasn’t a problem b.c I was able to open the face to expose more of the bounce to have more room for error, along with the ball more forward to further aid in solid contact.

    I finally had a UREKA moment. Maybe this might help others. What I started to do to bring the trajectory down was use less loft. Pitching wedge, 9 iron, but still open the club a fraction with the ball center to forward in my stance. The less loft helps bring down the flight and with the ball position and slightly open keeps the leading edge exposed.

    Hopes that helps….

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Very true. Less loft when possible from Bermuda rough is never a bad idea. Risky over hazards at times.

      • Happyday_J

        Dec 12, 2014 at 12:45 am

        Yes absolutely, risky over hazards. Thats why I resort to that when I am attempting to hit a lower trajectory shot. Over a hazard, you almost always need some sort of elevation.

        I just found using less loft, while still opening the face to expose the bounce is easier to hit it more solid when hitting a lower trajectory shot, rather than taking a wedge and delofting it, which exposes more of the leading edge.

  7. Pure

    Dec 10, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Tiger does not have enough bounce on his wedges.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:19 am

      I believe it’s the same bounce that won 100+ events around the world, no?

  8. RG

    Dec 10, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    If it happens once, it’s a fluke. Twice and its an issue, seven times and there’s a bona fide problem. Tiger is dealing with mental issues and its not pretty. Four coaches? back to my old swing? So you admit it was a mistake to change in the first place, and you’ve wasted the last 12 yrs. doing the wrong thing. So you can make mistakes, you are fallable. I nwas at Isleworh this weekend and I believe Tiger has lost his nerve. Old Tiger was infalable and fearless. This Tiger knows what can go wrong and plays with that fear. SEVEN (7)! greensiode chunks!he’s scared.

    • Kyle

      Dec 10, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      He is not scared. He could fix it in a week’s work, maybe less. It’s not yips. It’s bad form.

      • RG

        Dec 11, 2014 at 7:27 pm

        You mean he doesn’t know how to hit a chip and needs to take a lesson?
        You’re saying that the 37 years he’s been playing is not enough, he just needs 1 more week to learn how to properly hit a chip of of Bermuda?
        Isleworth used to be Tiger’s home course, he’s literally, and I mean literally, played thousands of rounds there. He shot 59 on that course in a practice round. He hit 7 chunks in competition because he accelerated and was totally calm. Or not.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:17 am

      Interesting. He was fearless once; not so now. But he’s still Tiger…don’t count him out quite yet. It was strange though! Thx

      • RG

        Dec 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm

        When Tiger hit bad shots he knew they were a fluke. He knew his talent and that he could pull off anything. Think about it, it wasn’t the shots he would hit, it was that he was brave enough to even try it. Now he has spent 12 years of what he now admits was a futile effort to change his swing. Now he knows failure, now he’s tasted fear, now if he hits a bad shot it’s not a fluke, it’s and issue.
        I was there and he decelerated on all those chips. He was scared, he hesitated and he chunked them. I’ve played Isleworth and those shots and that turf isn’t as difficult as it has been made out to be. Seven times he did this in competition Dennis, Seven times. He’s eyes and his body language told me everything, he’s bound up inside. His make-up is centered around being the best, and he’s not. He’s experiencing emotions he’s never felt before and he has no frame of reference to cope.
        The game is better when he’s in it.No one moves the meter like he does, but if he keeps fighting himself all the swing coaching in the world isn’t going to help.

        • Dennis Clark

          Dec 11, 2014 at 9:56 pm

          Again, this was not meant to be a Tiger debate, simply using him as an example. But since that’s what it us…I agree. His inner self belief was the very pillar of his monumental athletic accomplishments. He never allowed doubt to enter his consciousness before, during, or after a round. But it seems to more present at this point in his career. And doubt in golf is every players worst nightmare. I also believe it’s why great champions in our game have such a shirt time at the top. They sit on a powder keg day in and day out, and the smallest explosion can shake them to the point of no return. I DO NOT think TW is there but he’s certainly closer to there than ever he has been. Thx RG

  9. Dennis Clark

    Dec 10, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Let’s remember I only used Tiger as an example of someone who had a tough weekend. This is not by any means an anti-Tiger piece. He’s the best. Period. And I do think he’ll have a great 2015 including a major.

  10. Putt

    Dec 10, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    There’s a reason why all great players say that you should putt whenever you can around the greens.

    Of course, coming out of the thicker stuff you would chip – but it’s also slightly easier to chip from the rough. When it’s tight, it’s easy to blade it or chunk it, so why not just putt it and get it rolling, eh Eldrick??? Would have save half of the shots then.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Putt whenever you can, chip if you can’t putt and pitch only when you must. Thx

  11. Al385

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Very useful article. I appreciate it came at the right time after chipping like Tiger Woods on the last weekend.

  12. DG Jei

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Thank Mr. Clark for this timely, thoughtful article.

  13. Ian

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    TW shows no sign of the yips. Unless you have a different definition of yips than I’ve ever heard. I do appreciate the article I think it’s excellent. I think it’ll be a short term correction for TW to shore up the short game. As you know he’s considered the best “small ball” player ever. From the looks of the now Haney like swing…I expect him to win many more times.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      He’s the best. Period. That was a temporary bump in the road. That’s it.

  14. tom stickney

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Wonder if the “chunks” will get in his mind as it would if he shanked nine shots over two days? Be interesting to watch…

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      It will. He has the strongest mind of any player I’ve ever seen but that many HAS to bother him a bit.

      • M.

        Dec 11, 2014 at 1:29 am

        …all it takes is one good one under pressure to get that confidence flowing again;)

  15. BamBam

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    The game is much more simple if you just KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL until after you hit it, which Tiger was not doing. Most bad shots are simply that.

    • Steve

      Dec 10, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Rubbish… You can hit it with your eyes closed if your set up and technique are good… Eyes on the ball stops the body motion at impact for most Amateurs…

  16. Greg

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Most golfers coming back after an injury tend to “ease ”
    their way back with chipping and putting while paying attention to what their body is telling them. I would have thought Tiger would have put in many “reps” this very same way and would have been sharp. Time will certainly dictate the future. As for Spieth, the freight train has left the station. Wonder if the kid was in HIS head.

  17. lef

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    commit to the shot! tiger looks like he bailed on the flubs. i won’t get down on myself for an overly aggressive chip. at least it means I went for it, fully committed, and I accelerated thru the ball

  18. tom

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Good article as usual, Dennis. Thanks!

  19. Pat

    Dec 10, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Tiger is obviously rusty and his putting still sucks. He’s not winning another major until his putting improves dramatically. Don’t care what you slurpers think.

  20. Daniel Bailey

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

    *I think you meant loser?…. What a looser doesn’t make much sense

  21. Bill

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:37 am

    What an insightful and well thought out point Jeff! If Tiger is a “loser”, what would that make someone with a small fraction of his skill and accomplishments such as yourself?

  22. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I will email this to Tiger, directly. That was painful to watch.

  23. JEFF

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Who cares about the scum bag! What a looser!!!!

    • Jason

      Dec 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

      Why did you read it then?

    • louis

      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      yeah…why did you read it? I mean you obviously care enough to read it, AND THEN COMMENT!!! Must have had too many double mochas. And Tiger is not a “looser” he’s a winner, 2nd most of all time. Your turn buddy.

      • Double Mocha Man

        Dec 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

        Louis… I was commiserating with him. We have all done this before…

        • Forsbrand

          Dec 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm

          Absolutely let’s not get branded TIGER haters for goodness sakes…….but there is no way he’s winning another major until he sorts his short game out.meanwhile planet mcilroy is still turning. Rory May just win all four next year!

    • OzoneRaiders

      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks Jeff for your self evaluation. Tiger should have been a littler looser when he played but he had not played competitively in a couple months.

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Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!

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