Throughout the years, I have seen some great ball-strikers struggle with their short wedges. You would think it would be an easier shot, but most average golfers -- and even some good ball-strikers -- struggle with this part of the game. On occasion, you might have seen a PGA Tour player stick the club in the ground and "chili dip/chunk it." This isn't hard to do if you're misusing the bounce (angle on the bottom of the club), and if the grain of the grass is growing toward you.
So, why is this shot such a struggle for most golfers?
I would say one of the primary reasons most golfers struggle with short-pitch shots is because they are only comfortable with the full-swing motion. When was the last time you went to the driving range and watched anyone spend an hour hitting 10-, 20- and 30-yard pitch shots? Not too often, I bet. The fact is that most average golfers don't practice learning what a shorter swing feels like, so when it comes time to hit a shot that calls for a shorter swing, they usually revert to their normal full swing and decelerate to the ball, hitting, most likely, a poor shot.
The second reason players might struggle is because their club head gets closed in the backswing, and is then swung too much to the inside of the target line. This scenario is probably the No. 1 killer of short pitches.
The third reason is because most golfers try to hit pitches like they hit their chip shots. They lean the handle of the club forward as they hit the ball. Chipping and pitching are different techniques. A forward-leaning handle at address position for shots that are longer than a short chip could possibly lead to chunked shots.
Lastly, tension is often too high in the hands and arms to allow the bounce of the club to interact with the turf correctly. Tension in the hands and arms is the No. 1 reason players will blade a shot across the green.
Remember, full-swing shots are power shots, and short pitches are weaker shots.
Pitch shots are not mini full swings.
The kinematic sequence (the order of body part movements) of how the body moves on a longer pitch and full swing is primarily:
1. The lower body moves fastest to start downswing, then the torso moves as the lower body slows down.
2. The torso slows down and the arms accelerate.
3. The arms slow and the club-head accelerates into ball.
In the short pitch shot, the sequence is reversed completely:
1. Club head moves first
2. Arms follow
3. Chest turns to support arms
4. Hips turn slightly after the ball is hit
5. Flat-footed at the finish, with most of your weight in your left side
So, how can we create a weaker shot?
1. Sixty percent of your weight should be on your left side, with your nose in front of the ball. Keep your weight on your left side for the entire swing.
2. Narrow your stance with your left foot flared. A slightly open stance is fine.
3. For a right-handed golfer, use a stronger left hand (more right rotated on grip) and a weaker right hand (on top of grip).
4. Short backswings (Try a 9 o'clock left-arm position at the top of your swing with little wrist hinge or wrist set)
5. Toe of the club should be pointing to sky (no closed face)
6. Low-tension swing (Tension is often high with players who struggle with short wedges.
7. The kinematic sequence has to be different. We can't drive the legs in the downswing to start. Let gravity work on the club head and allow it to fall under the ball as you turn your torso to target.
8. This will help utilize the bounce on the bottom of the wedge.
9. The club should bruise the ground when swung correctly (no digging).
10. Your lower body should stay quiet, with your right heel staying on ground at finish.
The next time you go out to practice, try to work some of these key points into your setup and swing, and your short-pitch shots should start to improve.
Owen is the PGA director of instruction at the Country Club of Maryland in Towson. For more of Owen's golf advice, check out owendawsonpga.com.