The 8th Golf Lesson – Transitioning to the Short Game

A relaxed, solitary Sunday evening round had yielded my best score of 2014 a day or two before my golf lesson.

A relaxed, solitary Sunday evening round had yielded my best score of 2014 a day or two before my golf lesson.

Fresh off alternating several setbacks and successes, I showed up for my long overdue 8th golf lesson mentally somewhere between having my chest puffed out and my tail tucked between my legs.  My new full swing is at a point that I need periodic check ups and corrections, but there is plenty within my golf game that still needs fixing.

In that spirit, this latest golf lesson was really two lessons in one.

A couple of days before my lesson, I had walked perhaps my best 18 holes ever at Kearney Hill Golf Links.

The day before that , I’d stop keeping score after a few holes and walked off after only 9 holes because I flat-out could not hit the ball, suffering through a steady crescendo of frustration and disappointment.

Something had finally clicked for me in my full swing at Kearney Hill, and I was able to repeat this swing successfully as I warmed up on the range before my lesson.

I'm extremely fortunate that my practice facility has extensive short game facilities, allowing me to work on everything from putting to bunker play to 60-yard approach shots.

I’m extremely fortunate that my practice facility has extensive short game facilities, allowing me to work on everything from putting to bunker play to 60-yard approach shots.

It was a tempo issue that I’d had to work through (note to self: slow down the backswing…it works every time), and once I’d solved my quandary, I knew I needed to move my lessons forward to the short game area.

After watching me hit a few full swings and planting the seeds of a few minor tweaks, my golf pro, Mike, asked me what I wanted to work on.  After avoiding the issue all season, I finally confessed that my formerly serviceable short game had disintegrated down to basically one useful shot (a back-footed flop shot) and a whole bunch of hope and prayer.

Mike began the short game lesson by asking a lot of questions about my short game, to which most of my answers were either, “I don’t know” or “I’ve never really thought much about it.”

Through these questions I realized that until recently, I’d never really thought about my short game.  At all.

Sure, I’d spent a little time at the range hitting short chip and pitch shots, and I’d used a few quick chips on the putting green as a substitute for a few range balls if pressed for time before a round.

However, I don’t remember ever dedicating much thought to what I was trying to accomplish during such sessions.

Damn it, Phil, you make it look so easy.

Damn it, Phil, you make it look so easy.

So, Mike and I set out to build me an inventory of useable short game shots from which to select during a round, rather than just relying on good hands, intuition, and feel.

We started with trying to hit a classic low, running chip.  The only thing I was doing correctly when we began was that I was using my 51-degree gap wedge rather than my 60-degree lob wedge.

I was setup way too closed and playing the ball way too far back in my stance to exert any control or produce consistent results.  When Mike informed me that I should never set up to hit a shot with the ball placed outside the insoles of my feet, it was the first time I’d ever heard it.

Instead of playing the ball so far back in my stance, which produced an exaggerated descending blow and excess, unpredictable spin, I quickly found that I could achieve much more predictable, if not yet accurate, results using a much flatter swing with the ball moved up to the inside of my right foot.

Also, unwittingly, I had devolved into hitting any pitch or chip with most or all of my weight on my back foot.  So, modifying my stance so that my weight rested on my left foot, with my body leaning toward the target, perhaps felt the most uncomfortable I’d ever been with a golf club in my hand.

Hello, Mr. Pelz, I hear you're some kind of short-game wizard or something.  So, I have a friend...

Hello, Mr. Pelz, I hear you’re some kind of short-game wizard or something. So, I have a friend…

Like everything else I’ve changed in my golf swing this year, I’m confident that it will take two or three practice sessions before this change no longer feels awkward, but experience has proven that it can become the new normal.

Also, this “new” type of chip shot will allow me to re-incorporate my pitching wedge into my short game, as I found that chipping with my pitching wedge gave me even better distance and direction control, as the ball got on the ground quicker, making judging the shot more like reading a putt and requires a much shorter swing, also like a putt.

As enlightening as learning the standard chip shot was, Mike was really pushed his luck by trying to teach me a mid-length pitch shot, to the point that we laughed perhaps more than we learned.

For this drill we moved further from the putting surface and chose a new target cup 60 or 70 feet away.  He tried to teach me a modified pitch shot that would carry further before getting on the ground and required a bit of an open, fade-inducing set up.

It's going to take a lot of work, but I know I can do this.

It’s going to take a lot of work, but I know I can do this.

Given my years of bad muscle memory playing any chip or pitch other than a flop shot from a closed stance, to say this drill proved awkward is a shameful understatement.  Let’s just say Mike made the shot look very easy, and I made the shot look like he needed to think about another career.

The set up and my attempts at this long chip felt every bit as unnatural and weird as my first lesson when I underwent a complete set-up overhaul.  Mike watched five or six of my shanks in a row and had no idea how I was doing hitting the ball with my hosel.

At the end of this little episode, the swearing and consternation had been replaced by morbid amusement and laughter, with Mike and I both agreeing that my mind had maxed out on what it could process in an hour’s time.

Later that afternoon, I returned to the range to get a start on the tremendous work I need to put in on my chipping.  The set up and swing felt increasingly less awkward the longer I practiced.  And thankfully, no innocent bystanders were injured as a result of my practice.

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One thought on “The 8th Golf Lesson – Transitioning to the Short Game

  1. Dave, congrats for finally addressing your short game. It is the key to the single digit handicap door lock. Work it hard and keep us apprised of your progress. Good luck! Brian

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