Tag Archives: Short Game

So, What Should You Be Practicing? Here Are Some Facts.

One of the most common questions I get as a golf coach is, “So, what should I be practicing?” That is a great question and the answer is determined by two factors. First, I always ask, “What do you struggle with?” I’ve noticed that in my 25 years of coaching golf that most golfers avoid practicing the thing they need to practice the most. This is flawed thinking because your weaknesses will always be exposed during a round of golf, and when they are, your score goes up…a lot. So, what I like to do with my students is to attack their weakness and turn that weakness into a strength.

The second factor that should be considered is simple statistics. Numbers don’t lie. So, what is most important in golf? It’s ALL important, and all parts of the game are linked but here are some undeniable facts that will help you make the most of your practice time.

cog what should i be practicing

This graphic should be very useful in helping every individual make the most of their practice time. One note: The yellow wedge (Trouble Shots) shouldn’t be overlooked. I see many golfer make a mess of these shots which absolutely wrecks their score. I’ll write a post on those shots soon.

This article will also be featured in November issue of New Zealand Golf Magazine.

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The Littlest Shots Make the Biggest Difference

If you’re like most golfers, you spend most of your practice time on the range, and finish up with a few quick minutes on the practice green. I believe everyone should reverse that and spend the majority on your practice or warm up time on the practice greens and less time beating balls. If you look around your club you’ll notice that the best players hang out around the practice greens a lot. If you want to be one of the best players at your club I would suggest you do the same.

COG 11 Ball Drill

At least half of your shots during a round come from on or around the green. Most of the time it’s the quality of the Little Shots that determine the quality of your score. You could improve half of your game simply and quickly by improving your skills around the green—without going through swing changes or investing money in lessons or equipment!

Many years ago, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. We drove from town to town seeing the sites and enjoying the Scottish culture. Almost every evening, almost everywhere we went, we noticed townspeople of all ages practicing putting and chipping.

COG 11 Ball Drill

Practicing your short game is a great after-dinner activity. I find it very relaxing. Late afternoon and evening is the most beautiful time of day, and there usually aren’t many people around to distract you so you can get in some quality practice.

It beats sitting on the couch, or trying to squeeze in a quick nine and being frustrated by poor play. Try investing time instead of spending time.

Here are two great drills that will help your short game. You only need a dozen balls and if you spend an hour or two a week doing these drills you’ll see real results.

I know these drills will help you score better and enjoy your rounds more.

Chipping Chopsticks

I see golfers struggle with the short game (chipping and pitching) more than any other part of the game.

I call the short game The Big Eraser. Reliable chipping and pitching will erase mistakes that are made with approach shots. It’s a fact that you’re going to miss greens. Even pros miss five to six greens per round—so that means the average golfer will miss even more! It’s frustrating when you can hit the ball 400 yards in 2 shots, yet it takes 4 more shots to get it in the hole from 30 yards. If you want to lower your handicap you have to have a solid short game. Chipping and pitching are crucial for scoring.

There are two common mistakes I see most golfers make that sabotage their short shots. One is ball position. Many golfers’ ball is way too far forward in their stance. This is setting up for failure. If this is your ball position, you regularly hit shots around the green fat or thin. That is why your confidence is low. So from now on, put the ball in the middle or even a little back of center in your stance because you want to hit the ball while the club is moving downward. Just like in the photo. You’ll get instant results.

photo 2sm photo 1sm

The second mistake I see is a stance that is too wide. Watch the pros. Usually on pitches and chips their stance is very narrow, unless they have a crazy lie. The pros take a narrow stance to eliminate any lateral movement. Shots around the green are finesse shots and shifting weight on this shot is counterproductive. I can tell you all of the technical reasons why this works but instead of boring you, just set up like in the photo and be amazed how instantly your chips and pitches improve. Also, notice the shaft leaning forward in the YES photo. That is essential for hitting quality shots.

And remember one more thing: with chipping and pitching, everything is opposite.  DOWN = UP. If you want the ball to go up, hit down. Don’t scoop or try to lift the ball in the air. If you do try to lift the ball into the air, you will often mishit it.I tell the golfers I teach to try to hit the part of the ball that you can’t see.

Chipping Chopsticks Drill

I came up with the Chipping Chopsticks drill to help my students improve their chipping. And yes, you will need chopsticks. (You can get them at the grocery store. Just go to the area where they sell sushi. They’ll be lying around there and they’re free!)

photo 3sm

photo 4smStick a chopstick in the end of your grip. When addressing the ball for a chip, if you are set up properly you won’t see the chopstick, because it will be in line with and covered up by your forearm (see photo). When you do this drill, at no point should you be able to see the chopstick. This shows that you kept your left wrist firm. If you can see the chopstick you’ll know you let the left wrist break down (scooping) and the chopstick will be visible and now pointing at your back shoulder. That is BAD.

So now you know why you hit poor chip shots. With very little practice you will be hitting beautiful crisp chip shots and saving strokes.

It’s Always Darkest Before the Light.

Recently a player on my team experienced a major breakthrough. It’s a great story that could help many golfers, so I thought I’d share.

I have a player on my team named Brett. When I arrived at Skidmore College last year and assessed the players’ talent, I found Brett to be good from tee to green. He was a solid putter, but in two areas rated very poor:

1. Brett’s golf self-esteem was non-existent. He always believed the worst would happen on the golf course, and it usually did. Rarely did I see him get any amount of joy out of playing golf. Golf was a chore. He reminded me of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

2. Brett’s short game, in a word, stunk. And that’s saying it nicely. He was dreadful when it came to pitching and chipping.

Whats wrong with this pitcher?So, we got to work. We spent a great deal of time over weeks and months working on mechanics and attitude, and we saw some progress. But even though he put in a lot of work, his confidence remained fragile. He had a deep seeded fear of chunking shots and thinning shots over the green, and if it ever actually happened, his confidence crumbled like a house of cards. We’d have to start all over again with fundamentals, drills and repairing confidence. This was the pattern all of last year and into the beginning of this fall season.

We had our first tournament a few weeks ago. Playing on the “B” team, Brett was playing well in the first round. I saw him at the turn and he told me he had hit every fairway and green; however, on the back nine, he began missing greens. His score went up quickly, and he shot a disappointing score. The next day was worse. The previous round eroded any hope of success. Needless to say, his score was really bad.

The next day at practice, Brett showed up with a “solution”: a left-handed wedge. Brett plays golf right-handed. It was clear he was a desperate man. He told me he was sick of going through this, and he was willing to try anything. I told him I respected him thinking outside the box, but I didn’t think that this was a viable solution. I suggested something that we had tried for about fifteen minutes last spring. He hadn’t been in a place mentally at that point to try something new, but now his mind was open. Here was the opportunity.

He tried it willingly. And within an hour his whole life seemingly changed. Within twenty-four hours, he was like an entirely different human being. I think that day was the first time I had ever seen Brett’s teeth at the golf course. Brett is quick with a smile off the course, but on the course you’d think his cat just died. I didn’t recognize this guy! He was having fun! There was hope! He called it, “a miracle!”

I watched him practice with amazement. Pitch shot after pitch shot floated beautifully through the air, landed softly on the green and cozied up close to the hole. Each shot was struck beautifully and effortlessly. Brett’s body language was completely different. He was relaxed and fluid–not the tense ball of doom that I had witnessed for over a year.

Over the course of the next week he challenged teammate after teammate to chipping and pitching contests (in the past he would have never done that), and won!

Before:afterOk, so what was the cure? Look at the photo closely. Did you catch it? I had Brett go left-hand low on his chips and pitches.

Why does this work? Because many times a right-handed player will carry all of his or her stress in the right hand. When that happens, the right hand squeezes the grips and stabs at the ball when under pressure and the left wrist breaks down. Reversing the hands neutralizes the right hand and allows the left hand to pull the club through the shot. Since the left side is the weak side for righties, you’ll be more prone to swing the club with the body, because you won’t be able to squeeze as much with the right hand.

I don’t recommend this for everyone. But hey, we exhausted all other options. In golf, there is no one right way to do things. The ultimate goal is be effective. I approach coaching the same way. Each player is a riddle and every riddle has a solution.

The other moral to the story is this: Desperation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Until Brett was desperate, he wasn’t brave enough to embrace something new. When someone isn’t willing to try another approach, one thing is for sure – improvement is impossible.

I really respect Brett for his bravery. It’s nice to see him happy, confident and excited to play. This could turn his entire college career around.

Putting with Loft

It seems the Bump-and-Run shot has been forgotten for the most part but my golfers find it easy to learn and wildly effective in tournament play. I had Hall-of-Fame college coach Ed Cottrell teach it to me my first year coaching. I always wished I had known about it when I was a college golfer. I considered myself to be very good around the greens but if I had had this shot in my arsenal I would have been amazing! B&R addressHe called it, “putting with loft.” It’s so easy and effective that all of my golfers see their up-and-in percentage go way up almost instantly after learning it. They think it’s magic. Once you learn how to play the bump and run and learn your distances with each club, you’ll be amazed at how many more shots you make from off the green and how much more often you leave yourself a tap-in. The beauty of this shot is that you learn one shot and use it for multiple clubs. I require all of my golfers to learn how to play this shot with everything from their lob wedge down to their 6 iron.

Note: the Bump-and-Run is intended to be played when you are 2-6 paces off the putting surface with nothing between you and the green.

Here’s how you do it:

B&R set up down lineSet-Up:

Feet are very close together if not touching. Ball is placed off of back foot, weight is mostly on the front foot. Sternum is ahead of the ball. This will position the hands ahead of the ball and give forward lean in the shaft. Notice how the lead wrist is perfectly flat and there is a straight line extending all the way from the shoulder to the clubhead. Also notice how close he stands to the ball – his hands just about touching his thigh.

B&R back

Backswing:

With little to no wrist-hinge take the club back. The lower body should remain quiet. The hands should go no farther than the back edge of your leg. The distance of your backswing will determine how far the ball will go. You need to be consistent with this position to get consistent results. It will feel like a very short stroke at first but after a little practice you should have no problem finishing your backswing here.

B&R through copy

Follow-through:

B&R through down lineFinish with the clubhead low. Notice the wrist remains straight. The butt-end of the club is in alignment with the sternum indicating that the there is no “flipping”of the clubhead. Another sign that you have not “flipped” the clubhead through the shot is by checking the position of the clubhead. The face should be “looking” right at the target.

If you have questions about this shot please leave your comments and I will be glad to respond.

Are you a Chump or a Champ ?

Here’s a situation that I have seen a million times over the years that can save or ruin a round.

A player has short–sided himself as shown by the yellow X in the lower left. The pin is tucked on the left side of the green with just a few paces from the left edge of the green. In this situation a golfer needs to decide, am I going to be a Chump or a Champ?

I have found most amateur golfers fall into the trap that they need to fit the ball in the very small area between the edge of the green and the hole. He wants to like the Pros. The player then of course tries to get too cute or doesn’t commit to the shot or swing hard enough or the club gets caught up in the rough. He more or less duffs it and ends up hitting again from the same situation or even worse. He’s what I call a CHUMP and his day is about to take an ugly turn.


The second attempt ends up where the first should have, and instead of making a bogie at worst, he ends up with a double or higher. Which most times leads to another mistake being made on one of the very next holes. The round is beginning to unravel.

When you are short sided, there is almost always a mile of green on the other side of the pin! Hence the term, “short-sided.” The only way you can look or feel stupid is by coming up short of the green. Yet most do. I don’t get it! You’d have about a 400% better chance of success if you go past the pin. And you’ll take the big mistake, and number, out of the equation.

The more experienced players on my team always make the smart play. They make sure that the shot gets past the pin. They understand that this is not a time to play aggressively and to take their medicine and if they do lose a shot they’ll have a chance later in the round to make up for it. Over the long run they know it will save them a ton of strokes.

One of the benefits of getting the ball past the pin is that if you miss-hit the shot or decelerate through it, that the shot will still end up on the green.

I always like to think that Johnny Miller is doing play-by-play on me when I’m in those situations. If I hit it past the pin he’d say on air, “that’s really all he had.” If I left it short, Johnny would lay into me saying something like, “Wow, that was really dumb. What was he thinking? Now he’s left with nothing and probably lost the tournament.”

I never want Johnny Miller laying into me.