So here we are with the last part of this series on scoring range performance. I hope most of you have enjoyed this adventure into the part of the game that makes or breaks your rounds, most of the time. That is always my goal with this blog–to leave most of you with at least one tidbit of help that you can immediately incorporate into your game right away.
This last piece of the series is probably the hardest one to write about, as we can get presented with a practically endless variety of shots that fall outside the norm of “routine” irons shots, wedge shots, pitches, chips, and putts. That’s what makes this crazy game so baffling, frustrating, and alluring all at the same time.
So, it is an inevitable matter of fact that we are going to face shots every round that don’t fall into those normal situations. The good news is that I believe each one of those will require some variation on the basics of chipping, pitching or putting that we work on during every round. So, let’s dive into some of those situations.
Bunkers. I’m not going to try to explore bunker techniques here, as that is a subject to itself, on which thousands of words have been written and hours of video have been produced. I believe it is a good routine (if you have the opportunity) to hit a few bunker shots before you go to the golf course for each round, as bunker shots can help set the pace and tempo routine of your swing for the entire round. I will also offer that becoming proficient from the bunkers requires a combination of the right bounce in your wedges for the sand you face, and a technique that you trust, so that you can make confident swings. And practice—lots of practice—is just unavoidable if you want to become a proficient bunker player.
Odd lies. We are going to face uphill, downhill and a variety of sidehill lies around the greens—that’s just a fact. To me, the first challenge of these shots is to not let the lie distort your alignment and ball position, which it will most certainly do. So, when you are faced with one of these shots, spend a bit more attention and focus on your set up alignment and posture and the ball position that is being “forced” on you by the lie. In general terms, an uphill lie will cause you to put the ball a bit further forward, and a downhill lie will place it further back. The key is to have the ball in the right relation to your body core, not your feet, as that will determine the bottom of the swing arc. Generally speaking, your downhill foot will be further from the ball than with a level shot, the body’s way of achieving balance. Likewise, sidehill lies will generally distort your aim right if the ball is above your feet and left if it is below. Again, these are generalities, but pretty common distortions.
Low runners. When you find yourself unable to hit a lofted pitch, you have to resort to the low running shot, one that we probably do not practice much, if at all. Because of that, I believe the best solution is to let the club do the work of keeping the ball low and running, and do not try to “invent” some technique that you have not practiced. It is amazing how simple it is to put a 5-iron in your hand instead of a wedge and then just execute a basic pitch or chip swing with the ball a bit further back to keep the ball low and running.
High lob shots. There are times when you simply have to get the ball up quickly and hopefully have it stop equally quickly. Again, I am always in favor of simplicity to hit the out-of-the-ordinary shots, and the simple way to get the ball up quicker and stopping shorter is to take a club with more loft than you would choose otherwise, and execute your familiar confident technique. And you can always add even more loft by opening the face a bit, but be sure to aim further left (for right-handed players) when you do this.
Practice these shots. I know that is a boring idea, but you cannot expect to be able to execute shots you have not practiced. You probably go to the range to hit a few balls to warm up before a round, even if you are not a “range rat” that loves to practice. If so, I promote ending each pre-round session with a dozen or so chips and pitches to work on your tempo and execution. If you can, even give yourself some tougher shots to practice.
A very wise teaching pro once told me that if you end your warm-up session with some chips or pitches, then the first one you face in the round will allow you to draw on very recent “muscle memory.” It also helps to slow down your tempo from the drivers you probably were just smashing in anticipation of the opening tee shot. I’ve followed that advice since I heard that from him.
So, that concludes my high-level dive into scoring range performance. I hope you all got at least a few things out of these past six weeks that will help you improve your enjoyment and scoring on the course. If you have ideas or questions about things related to scoring or the tools we choose to play this crazy game, please drop me an email at [email protected]
On Spec: Rory wins | Let’s talk Kirkland wedges
It was a week of slump busting in professional golf and host Ryan Barath breaks down the wins on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, and the Champions Tour, thanks to wins by Rory McIlroy, Moriya Jutanugarn, and Alex Cejka.
The second part of the show covers the Kirkland Signature Wedges and the fantastic value they offer to golfers — even with their limited options.
The 19th Hole Episode 159: Howard University coach Sam Puryear
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The Wedge Guy: The Red Zone
For those of you who are big football fans, we are lost in the off-season, waiting a few more months before we get to watch our favorite pro or college teams duke it out on the gridiron. Living in Texas, of course, football is a very big deal, from the NFL Cowboys and Texans, through our broad college network representing multiple conferences and into the bedrock of Friday nights – high school football, which drives fans and entire towns into a frenzy.
In almost every football conversation on TV, you hear talk about “the red zone”. How a team performs inside the 20-yard line is a real measure of their offensive prowess, and usually a pretty good indicator of their win/loss record, too. It breaks down to what percentage of the time a team scores a touchdown or field goal, and how often they come away empty.
I like to think we golfers have our own “red zone”. It’s that distance from the green where we should be able to go on the offensive and think about pars and birdies, ensure no worse than bogey . . . and rarely put a double or worse on the card. Your own particular set of red zone goals should be based on your handicap. If you are a low single digit, this is your “go zone”, where you feel like you can take it right at the flag and give yourself a decent birdie putt, with bogeys being an unpleasant surprise. For mid-handicap players, it’s where you should feel confident you’ll guarantee a par and rarely make bogey, and for higher handicap players, it’s where you will ensure a bogey at least, give yourself a good chance at par, and maybe even a birdie.
But regardless of your handicap, your own “red zone” should begin when you can put a high loft club in your hands – one with over 40 degrees of loft. Of course, that has changed a lot with the continual strengthening of irons. In my early days that was an eight iron, then it migrated to a nine. But regardless of your handicap or the make and model of irons you play, my contention is that golf is relatively “defensive” with all the other clubs in your bag. With those lower lofted irons, your goal should be to just keep it out of trouble and moving closer to the goal line . . . er, the flag. Even the PGA Tour pros make a very small percentage of their birdies with their middle irons.
When you can put a high loft club in your bag – whether that’s from 150 yards or 105 – that’s when you should feel like you can put your offense into high gear and raise your expectations. It’s no longer about power, because this isn’t about raw distance, but rather distance control and precision. From the red zone, it’s about trusting your technique and your equipment and taking it to the golf course a little bit.
As most of us are in the early stages of the 2021 golf season, one of the best things you can do for your golf improvement is to begin tracking your “red zone” performance. Put the numbers down as to how you are scoring the golf course from your 9-iron range on into the flag. My guess is that you’ll see this is where you can make the most improvement if you’ll give that part of your game some additional time and focus. Any golfer can learn to hit crisp and accurate short range approach shots. And so you should.
Pay attention to your own red zone stats, and work to improve them. I guarantee you that you’ll see your scores come down quickly.
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