By Lee Trevino
With Guy Yocom
Photos by Walter Iooss Jr.
Written for Golf Digest
01 The easiest shot is the best shot.
Chi Chi Rodriguez had as good a pair of hands as anybody I ever saw, and more shots than you can imagine. But Chi Chi had a habit of turning simple shots into difficult ones. If he had 140 yards from the middle of the fairway, he would deliberately hit a low hook or a high fade, just for his own amusement or to please the fans. He needed the stimulation, I guess, but it worked against him. Remember, the goal is to get the ball from Point A to Point B in as straightforward a manner as you can. Don’t try circus shots unless you absolutely have to.
02 Simplify draws and fades.
Jack Nicklaus liked to curve the ball by opening or closing the clubface at address. I never felt I was good enough to do it his way. I didn’t like changing my swing path, either, which some guys do. There’s only one really reliable way to curve the ball: Change your hand position at address. If you want to hit a draw, move your hands forward, toward the target, so they hide your left shoe when you look down. Make sure the clubface is square to the target, and then make your normal swing. When you get to impact, your hands will naturally be farther back than that exaggerated position they started in. When the hands move backward, the clubface closes. You don’t have to do anything. To hit a fade, do the opposite: Set up with your hands back, behind the ball. At impact they’ll be more forward, and the face slightly open.
03 Let the club do your shotmaking.
Before the 1987 Skins Game at PGA West, I visited the TaylorMade plant and saw an odd-looking little metal wood in a barrel. It had the number 7 stamped on it, which got my attention because 7-woods were unheard of. “It’s a prototype,” their man said. “Not for sale.” He offered to let me take it home, though. That little club turned out to be the best stick I ever had. I could hit it high or low, draw or fade it, hit it 165 yards or 210, all with barely changing my swing. After I hit a 190-yard fairway-bunker shot over water to five feet on the ninth hole at that Skins Game—a shot I couldn’t possibly have played with an iron—my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Everybody wanted to know where to get a club like mine. The equipment choices today are even better, with all kinds of hybrid and fairway-wood designs. My point is, there’s no sense trying to squeeze something out of your swing if you can let your clubs do the shotmaking for you.
04 To hit it low, crowd the ball.
I always loved hitting a low fade to a back-right pin with the wind howling from the right. Not many guys could get it close in that situation, because they kept it low by just putting the ball back in their stance. You see, playing the ball back turns you into a one-trick pony—you can only hit hooks. The best way to hit it low—and I’ve never talked about this before—is to stand closer to the ball. Flex your knees and crowd the ball so your hands are only a couple inches from your body. You’ll get the feeling that you’re going to hit a shank, so you’ll instinctively straighten your legs and raise your upper body through impact. When you stand up like that, your hands tend to get ahead of the clubhead, delofting the face and setting up a low cut. If this sounds complicated, read it again—it’s worth it. As for hitting it high, the thing that worked best for me was to play the ball forward and make sure I kept my head as far behind the ball as possible through impact. But keep in mind, this is coming from a low-ball hitter.
05 Don’t choke down.
I love watching Anthony Kim play, but I’m not a fan of the way he grips down a good two inches on his full-swing shots. Choking down lightens the club’s swingweight and effectively makes the shaft stiffer. It also makes it difficult to hit the ball high enough for all situations. But the worst thing is, it gets you into the habit of hitting every shot with 100-percent effort: Instead of hitting a smooth 7-iron with a normal grip, the player who chokes down tends to shorten the 7-iron and hammer the hell out of it. I like the idea of gripping down on chips and pitches, because it can give you more control, but avoid doing it with anything longer than a 9-iron.
06 Learn to beat the fluffy lie.
Besides the long bunker shot, the hardest shot in golf is the 80-yard wedge from light rough. The ball has a tendency to “dip,” or fall out of the sky, because it has so little backspin coming out of that lie. How much it dips depends on the exact lie, your swing speed, the wedge you’re using and the swing you make. If you don’t judge those things right, the ball will fly anywhere from five to 20 yards short of normal and with no spin—that means a lot of balls bouncing over or falling short. Learn the nuances of the fluffy lie, and tailor your swing to fit it. This is really the essence of shotmaking: having a good idea how the ball will behave coming out of all the various situations. Take another good one: mud on the ball. From my experience, taking two clubs more and hitting it hard often works. You’ll probably knock the mud off, but then again, it depends on how much mud you’re talking about. You learn those things only by trying them yourself.
07 Don’t invent shots from trouble.
Seve Ballesteros was the best trouble-shot player who ever lived. It didn’t matter how far in the woods you put that guy, he’d find a way to get out. But Seve inadvertently put a lot of big numbers on the scorecards of average players, because he inspired them to take dumb chances. When your ball is in trouble, the desire to save par can really warp your judgment. That opening in the trees is smaller than what you see, the lie worse, the odds of pulling off the shot perfectly much smaller than you probably imagine. Trouble shots usually require you to do something crazy with shot trajectory, and that’s a guessing game even for the best pros. Keep in mind, the trouble shot you’re about to try is a make-or-break deal. You have only one shot at it, and the consequences are more disastrous than on a shot from the fairway. Seve might have played poker when he was in trouble, but the average guy should stick to checkers. Take the shortest route back to short grass, and move on.
08 Weaken a strong grip.
Changing from a strong grip to a neutral or slightly weak one takes time and is not easy, but it’s a great way to become a versatile player. I played in a tournament with Ben Hogan toward the end of his career, around 1970, and even then there wasn’t a shot he couldn’t hit with ease. Mostly he hit the ball dead straight, but he could play all kinds of little squeeze fades and low hooks. What made Ben great was his slightly weak grip, both hands rotated counterclockwise so the “Vs” formed by his thumbs and forefingers pointed at his right ear at address. Shotmaking-wise, it gave him tremendous control. To draw the ball, he just released the club a little more. To hit it straight, he released a little less, and to fade it, he didn’t do anything. You can play good golf with a strong grip; Paul Azinger, David Duval and I are proof of that. But none of us is known for drawing the ball. When we tried, we hit too many duck hooks.
09 Get creative with the putter, too.
You want to make the same stroke on most putts, but sometimes it pays to customize it. If you’ve got a quick downhill putt, hover the putterhead off the ground at address. This will smooth out a short stroke and take away any urge to stab at the ball. On long uphill putts, address the ball out on the toe, because with a longer stroke you’ll tend to hit the ball closer to the heel than where you set it at address. Right-to-left putts: Put the ball back in your stance to catch it earlier in the stroke, when the putter is still moving outward and the face is open. Left-to-right putts: Lean your hands down the target line in an exaggerated forward press. As with full swings, this will help you close the face through impact.
10 Don’t overload your pet club.
Remember the 7-wood I told you about? The ending isn’t happy. At the 1991 Senior Players Championship, I had a chance to catch the leader, Jim Albus, with two holes to play. On the par-5 17th my drive left me 215 yards to a green fronted by water. It was on the outside limit of my little 7-wood, and my caddie, Herman Mitchell, wanted me to lay up. “Mr. Albus has never won a tournament, Lee,” Herman said, hinting that maybe Jim might choke if I played safe. But I loved that club so much I knew I could pull the shot off. I hit the 7-wood and just nailed it. I was still posing my finish when my ball bounced off the bulkhead in front of the green and into the water. I had so much confidence in that 7-wood, it made me greedy. Be careful with your pet club. If you expect too much of it, it’ll turn on you.
The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.
As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.
- Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
- Don’t just “do”…observe. There are two elements of learning something new. The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
- Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
- Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
- Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.
My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.
So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things
As someone who has observed rank-and-file recreational golfers for most of my life – over 50 years of it, anyway – I have always been baffled by why so many mid- to high-handicap golfers throw away so many strokes in prime scoring range.
For this purpose, let’s define “prime scoring range” as the distance when you have something less than a full-swing wedge shot ahead of you. Depending on your strength profile, that could be as far as 70 to 80 yards or as close as 30 to 40 yards. But regardless of whether you are trying to break par or 100, your ability to get the ball on the green and close enough to the hole for a one-putt at least some of the time will likely be one of the biggest factors in determining your score for the day.
All too often, I observe golfers hit two or even three wedge shots from prime scoring range before they are on the green — and all too often I see short-range pitch shots leave the golfer with little to no chance of making the putt.
This makes no sense, as attaining a level of reasonable proficiency from short range is not a matter of strength profile at all. But it does take a commitment to learning how to make a repeating and reliable half-swing and doing that repeatedly and consistently absolutely requires you to learn the basic fundamentals of how the body has to move the club back and through the impact zone.
So, let’s get down to the basics to see if I can shed some light on these ultra-important scoring shots.
- Your grip has to be correct. For the club to move back and through correctly, your grip on the club simply must be fundamentally sound. The club is held primarily in the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. Period. The lower hand has to be “passive” to the upper hand, or the mini-swing will become a quick jab at the ball. For any shot, but particularly these short ones, that sound grip is essential for the club to move through impact properly and repeatedly.
- Your posture has to be correct. This means your body is open to the target, feet closer together than even a three-quarter swing, and the ball positioned slightly back of center.
- Your weight should be distributed about 70 percent on your lead foot and stay there through the mini-swing.
- Your hands should be “low” in that your lead arm is hanging naturally from your shoulder, not extended out toward the ball and not too close to the body to allow a smooth turn away and through. Gripping down on the club is helpful, as it gets you “closer to your work.
- This shot is hit with a good rotation of the body, not a “flip” or “jab” with the hands. Controlling these shots with your body core rotation and leading the swing with your body core and lead side will almost ensure proper contact. To hit crisp pitch shots, the hands have to lead the clubhead through impact.
- A great drill for this is to grip your wedge with an alignment rod next to the grip and extending up past your torso. With this in place, you simply have to rotate your body core through the shot, as the rod will hit your lead side and prevent you from flipping the clubhead at the ball. It doesn’t take but a few practice swings with this drill to give you an “ah ha” moment about how wedge shots are played.
- And finally, understand that YOU CANNOT HIT UP ON A GOLF BALL. The ball is sitting on the ground so the clubhead has to be moving down and through impact. I think one of the best ways to think of this is to remember this club is “a wedge.” So, your simple objective is to wedge the club between the ball and the ground. The loft of the wedge WILL make the ball go up, and the bounce of the sole of the wedge will prevent the club from digging.
So, why is mastering the simple pitch shot so important? Because my bet is that if you count up the strokes in your last round of golf, you’ll likely see that you left several shots out there by…
- Either hitting another wedge shot or chip after having one of these mid-range pitch shots, or
- You did not get the mid-range shot close enough to even have a chance at a makeable putt.
If you will spend even an hour on the range or course with that alignment rod and follow these tips, your scoring average will improve a ton, and getting better with these pitch shots will improve your overall ball striking as well.
More from the Wedge Guy
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 1
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2
Clement: Don’t overlook this if you want to find the center of the face
It is just crazy how golfers are literally beside themselves when they are placed in a properly aligned set up! They feel they can’t swing or function! We take a dive into why this is and it has to do with how the eyes are set up in the human skull!
Why Viktor Hovland loves his Ping i210 irons (and other equipment morsels)
Adam Schenk WITB 2023 (August)
Korn Ferry Tour pro disqualified while warming up on the practice range
Report: Zach Johnson makes huge Justin Thomas decision as Ryder Cup wildcard picks revealed
Report: Tony Finau facing multiple lawsuits over claims he owes millions of dollars
Lee Hodges WITB 2023 (August)
Viktor Hovland’s winning WITB: 2023 Tour Championship
Lucas Glover WITB 2023 (August)
Former coach of Tiger Woods says Zach Johnson’s Ryder Cup wildcard picks ‘confirms it’s the Boys Club’
‘I know what people want to see’ – Ex-Golf Channel’s Holly Sonders on her new topless sports league
Ruixin Liu WITB 2023 (October)
Ruixin Liu what’s in the bag accurate as of the Walmart NW Arkansas LPGA Championship. Driver: Callaway Epic Flash Sub...
Will McGirt WITB 2023 (October)
Will McGirt what’s in the bag accurate as of the Sanderson Farms Championship. Driver: Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond (8.5 degrees...
Su Oh WITB 2023 (October)
Su Oh WITB accurate as of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Driver: Callaway Epic Max LS (10.5 degrees @9.5) Shaft:...
Marina Alex WITB 2023 (October)
Marina Alex WITB accurate as of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Driver: Titleist TSR3 (9 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Ventus TR...
19th Hole4 days ago
Report: U.S. Ryder Cup teamroom is ‘fractured’ due to a protest led by hatless Patrick Cantlay
19th Hole1 week ago
Report: Solheim Cup star was dropped by captain on Friday afternoon for refusing to play with two of her teammates
19th Hole2 weeks ago
‘I don’t need to comment on that’ – Lexi Thompson in tense exchange with reporter following costly shank
Whats in the Bag2 weeks ago
Paige Spiranac WITB 2023 (September)
19th Hole3 weeks ago
Major champ claims that without golf Phil Mickelson would be ‘gambling in a ditch somewhere’
19th Hole6 days ago
Celine Boutier responds after report claimed she refused to play with two teammates at Solheim Cup
Equipment3 weeks ago
The PGA Tour’s newest free agent, Wesley Bryan’s unknown irons, and custom Ryder Cup gear spotted in Napa
Opinion & Analysis4 days ago
The Wedge Guy: 3 surefire ways to never get better at golf