How to Pitch
It’s common knowledge that the short game is the most important aspect of scoring. We often hear that 60-65% of our shots are taken from 100 yards and in (there are some discrepancies with that number because of close putts, but overall the data is correct), yet rarely does anyone spend 60% or more of their practice time on these shots.
If you’re a long hitter, you’ll have 5-10 (or more) 30-100 yard wedge shots on an average-length course (6,300 – 6,800 yards). If you’re shorter, you’ll need to make up ground on par 5s and long par 4s that you can’t always reach in two. While we tend to spend a lot of time trying to improve our full swing, the truth is that unless you really commit and practice A LOT, you’re going to have a difficult time changing your swing. While short game shots certainly require technique, the swing is shorter and the margin for error is a lot less drastic if we know what we’re doing. If you practice, you’ll develop touch, and be able to compete with anyone regardless of distance. Very few of us will ever hit it as far as Dustin Johnson, but if we really committed, we could be just as good around the green.
There are three things that really kill your score in golf: lost balls (including water hazards), not hitting the green from 100 yards and in and three-putting. If you avoided all three for an entire round, there’s a good chance you’d easily shoot your best score ever.
Today, we’ll focus on the second score-killer. If you know what you’re doing, pitching isn’t that difficult. There are two main faults, and they generally pertain to higher and lower handicappers.
Fault 1 (Higher Handicapper) – Trying to Lift the Ball
This is very common on all shots, but especially around the green. Novice players tend to leave all their weight on their back foot and try to help the ball into the air by scooping. This leads to poor contact, skulls and chunks. We need to learn to use the natural loft of the club to get the ball in the air.
The Fix – Keep Your Weight on Your Front Foot Throughout
The first rule of setting up for any pitch shot is to lean towards the green. Lean your entire body so your head is even with or even in front of the ball (the ball should generally be played in the middle of your stance). Keep your feet close together, and feel ALL your weight in your front foot. Simply swing from hip to hip, pivoting around your front leg. The club should brush the grass without taking a big divot or missing the ground entirely.
The Drill – Flamingo
Set up using the steps above, and leaving your front foot flat, drop your back foot back and raise your heel so you’re on the toes of your back foot. Now, hit some short pitches, rotating around your left hip. Let the clubhead brush the grass and keep all the tension out of your hands, shoulders and arms.
Fault 2 (Lower Handicapper) – Too Steep, Big Divots
People who’ve played for awhile tend to try too hard to hit down on the ball, especially on short shots. When we pitch, we want to use the bounce of the club, rather than the leading edge. Using the bounce will give us more spin and more room for error (using the leading edge you’ll have to strike the ball perfectly to get it close).
The Fix – Spin the Cover, Not the Core
While we definitely want the club to bottom out in front of the ball, it’s much more of a brushing the grass feeling than taking a deep divot. See if you can get a feeling for shallowing out the swing, letting the bounce of the club brush the grass rather than the leading edge.
The Drill – Hit Off Tight Lies
While lower-bounce wedges will do better with this drill, it will be helpful regardless. Find a tightly-mown area, hard dirt or even a cart path (use an old wedge!). Try to make good contact. Most players would be scared to death of a shot like this, but if you use the club the way it’s designed, you’ll be able to hit it pure and even put a lot of spin on the ball.
Remember these three things and you’ll improve your wedge game tremendously:
- Always lean towards the green (weight on front foot and keep it there).
- No tension in your hands, arms or shoulders throughout the swing.
- Brush the grass with the bounce rather than the leading edge.