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It’s time to work on your short game

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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 Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Michael

    Feb 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    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. Martin

    Feb 6, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    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. Martin

    Feb 4, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    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. Roger

    Feb 1, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    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. George Ounapuu

    Feb 1, 2013 at 8:35 am

    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. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 31, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    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. Nick

    Jan 31, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    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.

    • nick

      Feb 1, 2013 at 8:30 am

      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.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 1, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      I agree finding a place to practice short game is difficult. Unfortunate but true.

  8. Scott Messner

    Jan 31, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    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.

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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Instruction

What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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