The Top 7 Short Game Mistakes
I've written about lots of topics here over the past few years, but my goal is always to help you score better. And in the reality of golf, that means hitting more fairways (regardless of distance), keeping your approach shots on the safe side of the hole or green and sharpening your short game. Today, I'll share with you what I believe are the most common mistakes golfers make around the greens that prevents them from optimizing their scoring.
  1. Tempo. The most common error I see is a chipping and pitching tempo that is too quick and "jabby". One of my favorite thoughts is that "gravity" is the key to developing a solid tempo for your chips and pitches. Another is to feel the end of the backswing on these touch shots. Comparing golf to painting a room, your short shots are your "trim brushes" – a slower stroke delivers more precision.

  2. Set Up & Posture. To hit good chips and pitches, you need to get down more to the ball. Get closer to your work for better precision. Too many golfers I see stand too tall and grip the club to the end.

  3. Grip Pressure. A very light grip on the club is essential to good touch and proper release through the impact zone. Trust me, you cannot hold a golf club too lightly – your body won't let you. Concentrate on your forearms; if you can feel any tenseness in the muscles in your forearms, you are holding on too tightly.

  4. Hand position. Another common error for recreational golfers. Watch the tour players hit short shots on TV, especially from behind them, looking down the target line. Their arms are hanging naturally so that their hands are very close to their upper thighs at address, and only just a bit ahead of the ball. Many amateurs have their hands too far away from their body at address and through the swing. Copy that tour player position and your short game will improve dramatically.

  5. Lack of Body Core Rotation. When you are hitting short shots, the hands and arms have to stay in front of the torso throughout the swing. If you don't rotate your chest and shoulders back and through, you won't develop good consistency in distance or contact. "Handsi-ness" is the killer of your short game.

  6. Club selection. Every pitch or chip is different, so don't try to hit them all with the same club. I see two major errors here. Some golfers always grab the sand wedge when they miss a green. If you have lots of green to work with and don't need that loft, a PW or 9-iron will give you much better results. The other error is that golfers are afraid of their wedge and are trying to hit tough recoveries with 8- and 9-irons. That doesn't work either. Go to your practice green and see what happens with different clubs, then take that knowledge to the course.

  7. Clubhead/grip relationship. This error falls into two categories. The first is those golfers who forward press so much that they dramatically change the loft of the club. At address and impact the grip should be only slightly ahead of the clubhead. I like to focus on the hands, rather than the club, and just think of my left hand leading my right through impact. Which brings me to the other error – allowing the clubhead to pass the hands through impact. If you let the clubhead do that, good shots just cannot happen. And that is caused by you trying to "hit" the ball with the clubface, rather than swinging the entire club through impact.
So, there are my Top 7. Obviously there are others, but if you eliminate those, your short game will get better in a hurry.
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[ comments ]
rmetz676 says:
Here's what I see even more than the quick "jabby" stroke. The golfer takes a lonnnng backswing, then decelerates into the ball, creating a "Charles Barkley-esque" looking move. The result is rarley good.

My mental picture is opening or closing the sliding door in my kitchen. It takes a smooth motion; too hard and the door slams, too soft and it gets stuck in the track. And to do it smoothly, you do use your chest, shoulders and hips. Pay attention next time you close a sliding door, you'll notice that you've turned your hips and shoulders by the time the door is closed.

It's amazing how we lose the ability to perform instinctive motions when we're holding a golf club...
onedollarwed says:
Number One... not enough practice. Seriously though, many of us don't have the right facilities to really practice our short game.

When I was in Oakland CA, they had a little practice green in the middle of the city you could just walk up to and practice, free. However, it was so shaggy you couldn't really practice properly. Many other facilities have the same problem (a dome we went to in the winter had a sand trap with sand so dry and fluffy the ball would sink 4 inches down). And it seems like every empty field has NO GOLFING signs.

I work on the nine shot types at the range, and use half of the balls for chipping. Those green mats repel the club so easily, that it doesn't really simulate real grass and having the club "go through the dirt."

For us public/muni players, spending extra time at a course during a paying round is what we need; there are often grass practice areas, and even a real bunker, and a green. But then time is an issue: Perhaps pay for 9, and practice for 2 hrs?
bducharm says:
Good article Terry. Another key is ball position. I see too many people using a SW with bounce that moves the ball too far back in their stance, thus eliminating that one thing that helps - bounce!
onedollarwed says:
@rmetz any post with the word "Barkleyesque" gets top honors! And what an indelible image, no?
When I began to really score is when I began to really care about scoring, and focused exclusively on the short game. Sincerely investing in the short game is priority #1 at a certain point. Once you can get the ball down the fairway reliably (Tee to 100yds or so), the whole game changes: you've really got to get the damn ball in the hole with only 2 or 3 chances. We used an alternate scoring system to reflect that: (Linear footage of the shot sunk, +10 for par, +20 for birdie. You can use +5 for bogie for players at 15 hdcp or more). A tap in for par=11pts, a 12-footer for birdie=32pts, a tap in for bogie=1 pt. So you see the swing in scoring for clutch shots. 9 tap-ins for par=99pts. A good round is 100pts/9holes. Another one was to play each hole as a par 3 once you crossed the 150 marker (except if it was already a par 3). Reorienting your mind, your strategy, and your limited attention is key!
GBogey says:
Biggest issue I see in technique is using way too much arms and not enough rotation, which also leads to trying to "lift" the shot or slowing down and letting the clubhead pass the hands. Tactically, I see far too many players trying to "fly" the ball to the hole which is far more difficult than letting it run to the green (and even if they fly the ball to the hole the roll then takes them too far past the hole to make the putt). But they see the pros fly the ball so they think they should too.
Envythepea says:
@onedollarwed - Your comment hit it for me. The course I play in my town used to have an executive 9-hole course next to the 27 hole regular golf course. Some years back they lost the lease on most of the property that the exec course was built on, but they retained two holes (the first and the ninth) and turned them into a practice facility, you could bring your shag bag out there and really work on all aspects of your short game. Two months ago they let those go and now there's just the driving range where you hit from mats. I bought the new SCOR wedges right about the time they closed the practice greens. My only choice is to pay for nine holes and work on my wedge game there. $25 to practice isn't cheap but it's the only way I'm going to get any real practice in. I can't seem to hit a good bunker shot we my new wedges --I dig in too deep every time! I know they're good clubs but need to adjust to hit them right.
Bryan K says:
Two things that I have found very important are body core rotation and hand position. I've been working on staying inside because I get better control of the target line of the shot that way. If my hands get too far away from my body, I lose control. And body rotation...if I properly rotate my body, it helps the clubhead get through the impact zone on those occasions where I hit just a tiny bit fat.

But the one thing not mentioned here is weight distribution and transfer. I have to keep reminding myself to *not* transfer my weight when I'm hitting my wedges.
Tim Horan says:
@Bryan K - here is a drill that will get the weight transfer and rotation into context for you. Take two clubs in hand take a quarter to a third length back swing and then accellerate them through the impact zone and to a full high finish. the theory here is that the additional weight(two clubs)make you transfer enough of your weight to balance you and quieten your hands down and then forces you to throw your weight forward into the impact and finish. Taking this into a full swing you need to ensure that you maintain flex in the right (back) leg resist at the hips but rotate your upper body.
Tim Horan says:
Another drill to promote the rotation is to set up as normal and then draw your back leg back off the target line say 4 inches and keep your heel of the deck. This puts the weight on your front foot and assists rotation in the back swing.
Gromit5 says:
#2 could use some clarification. "Getting down to the ball" might be misconstrued as bending more from the waist. Maintain good posture while increasing knee flex in addition to choking down on the club in order to improve consistency and accuracy.
wedgeguy says:
When I refer to "getting down to the ball", I mean gripping down further on the club, facilitated by slightly more flexing of the knees, and slightly more bending from the hips (not the waist, actually). Hope that clears that up.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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