Mastering The Basic Pitch Shot
When you find yourself outside chipping distance, but not yet a full swing wedge shot, we call it a “pitch shot”. It may be the one skill that separates those who can score and those who can’t. If you master the fundamentals here, it will translate to your sand game, and even into your short irons. So let’s get to the basic fundamentals of the straightforward pitch shot as I see them. You may find that my ideas on this are somewhat different than you’ve read elsewhere, and that’s fine. But I’m confident that if you will build your short game around this basic pitch shot technique, you will find success. And you’ll find this builds on what I said last week – good golf should be learned from the hole backward. If last week’s chipping instruction made any sense at all, this lesson is a natural progression.
As I’ve written many times before, all golf shots are infinitely easier to master if your starting position is sound. That means a good grip, along with solid posture and ball position. The grip should be light for maximum feel and to help maintain a slow, smooth tempo. You should feel control of the club in the last three fingers of the left hand, and a light touch in your right fingertips to optimize feel and to keep you from getting quick – it’s almost impossible to get too fast in your swing if your right grip is very light.
A sound posture is very important to good pitch shots. Your legs should be flexed at the knees, and your upper torso bent over from the hips – not the waist – a little more than for a full swing shot. Your forward foot should be pulled back slightly, but not so much as to cause the hips or shoulders to become open to the target line. For right hand players, in this position, with your left arm hanging naturally from your shoulder, your left hand should be in line with the inside of your left thigh, at about groin height. Again, this is a slightly lower hand position than for a full swing. The heel of your hand should only be 5-8” from your thigh. This is your natural position, and how your hands should be positioned at address and “covered” at impact.
When you set up with your wedge in your hands, the shaft should lean only slightly backward so as to not de-loft the club significantly. The proper angle puts the ball about even with or just slightly back of your sternum. In this set-up position, take your wedge in your left hand, and then put your right on the club lightly. Allow the left hand to move backward only an inch or two to assume a comfortable address position. The right shoulder drops slightly to allow the right hand to take its position on the club.
The takeaway is with a backward rotation of the upper torso – a good shoulder turn and “quiet” hands are key to the pitch shot. The hands will move almost straight back away from the target as the torso rotates, and only get about waist high. Though the backswing is restricted to half length, you will have made almost a full turn of the upper body. You should feel like your hands are in almost the same relationship to your sternum as they were at address; in other words, a “one-piece” takeaway. The wrists set slightly, but do not make a significant change in angle from where they were at address.
The forward swing is initiated with a turn of the torso back toward the target, and the arms, hands and club maintain their relationship to the sternum. The pitch swing should feel like it has few moving parts – no excessive wrist cock or release, etc. The arms, hands and club return exactly on the same path through impact as they took going back. Impact copies the address position.
If you have done this much correctly, your pulled back left foot, and continuing rotation of the upper torso through impact will cause the arms and hands to come to the inside of the target line after impact, and extend well left of your target line. Always try to rotate your torso so that your sternum is facing the target at completion, the hands are well left of that and about as high as your left shoulder.
The most common mistake golfers make when hitting pitch shots is to cast the clubhead at the ball, which causes the hands to move away from the body, thereby completely changing all the geometry that was created at address, and destroying the bounce and loft characteristics of the wedge you are using. This will either cause the clubhead to pass the hands before impact which results in a thin shot, or it causes a steep downward clubhead path and a chunked shot.
If you really want to understand good wedge play, closely watch the PGA Tour pros when they are hitting short pitch shots around the greens and see how they maintain the angle between the shaft and left arm all the way through impact, and into the follow through. If there is any “secret” to good wedge play, this is it – the hands have to be low and quiet through impact! They should almost exactly cover their address position.
So, it’s hard to explain this completely in a single blog post, but that’s my best effort. Let me know where you want to get more, and we’ll continue this dialog as long as you wish.
I assure you that if you will master these simple basics, you will lose any “wedg-ilepsy” you might have, and you’ll be well on your way to building a better short game.
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.
[ comments ]
WOW, my head hurts... man sometimes i feel like i need a PHD to play this game!
Very good tips that i will try. My fault would have to be sloppy setup sometimes, i rush too often and dont get in right position before my swing enough.
"the shaft should lean only slightly backward so as to not de-loft the club significantly." does he mean slightly FORWARD?
The one peice take away really seems like it will prevent any handsy motions i look forward to practicing with that technique.
A video would be good.
If you want to be a good pitcher of the golf ball, watch Steve Stricker. He makes it VERY simple, very little wrist action, GREAT tempo.
"When you set up with your wedge in your hands, the shaft should lean only slightly backward so as to not de-loft the club significantly." - Terry, I would beg to differ on this point just a tad (I'm sure we're splitting hairs). I have always felt to chip or pitch the ball effectively you MUST have the shaft and handle forward, not leaning back. Having the handle lead allows crisp contact with the golf ball.
The more angled the shaft, the more punchy it gets. A pure pitch is more vertical. You can get real punchy for coming out from under a branch and over a bunker and stopping it quickly. That's like a 45* angle with the shaft.
In other words, maximum loft, if everything else is equal provides for the softest landing, and or the most spin if technique is there. Although I think like you, I feel safer with the ball back a bit.
@windowsurfer... I used to teach golf a little, and I assigned the class to go to their local library and get some books, or videos on golf. Nobody went. There is tons of material out there at your local, and free! Magazines as well. Stay with the classics and the big names - there is also slick trendy golf garbage there.
In fiction, I highly reccommend John Updike's Golf Dreams - you won't learn anything about good technique, but it gets your head and heart straight.
The best $13 I ever spent on my golf game was to buy a used copy of Phil Mickelson's short game DVD from amazon.com. Helped to QUICKLY get my handicap down to as low as 11.5 this summer from 18 the beginning of the season. My two cents...
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