Avoiding Common Short Game Misfires

Hitting the ball from the tee is easy compared to the short game. Heck, the ball sits up on a tee, you hit it with the same club most every time, and you can swing away and hit it as far as you want. The short game, however, presents you with shots of different lengths and shapes from different lies. More possible shots mean more possible miscues. Don't be daunted, though: Every short-game shot has a common denominator of acceleration and simple mechanics. The shot isn't as difficult as it seems.

You can start improving your game this very minute simply by identifying and avoiding the common miscues from this article.

Playing without purpose

Despite what you see on television, you should golf at a brisk pace and not deliberately. Touring professionals play for hundreds of thousands of dollars and do so on closed golf courses in front of T.V. cameras. Although you should try to emulate their play, you shouldn't try to emulate their pace of play.

Without slowing up play, be sure to take the time to adequately check your lie, read the green, and clearly visualize a shot before you play it. Prepare for your shot while you walk to your ball or while other players hit their shots.

No matter what, don't hit a shot without having a crystal clear vision of it and deciding on a specific target. Play quickly, but don't just smack the ball around.

Being under-prepared

Practice the various techniques and types of shots before you confront them on the golf course. Practice helps you build confidence and widen your array of options. Your self-confidence tells you when you're ready to try a certain shot on the golf course. Sometimes, just like with a rookie quarterback, you have to press a certain technique into service. Pressure presents the truest test, and you have to perform under fire — but make sure you prepare the shot enough times in practice to build up your confidence.

Using the wrong club

You can have a better short game, lower your score, and have more fun if you play shots you're comfortable hitting. If from 30 yards and in you feel comfortable hitting a 7-iron for every shot, and it works, do it. Tell yourself, "I'm comfortable doing this. I love hitting this club."

Tiger Woods uses a 60-degree wedge for every shot around the greens. He doesn't change. He doesn't punch 7-irons. He hits bunker shots with his 60-dergree wedge. He doesn't need to use a bunch of wedges, because he has one wedge that he likes to hit every shot with. He hits an amazing flop shot with a full swing where the ball only goes 20 feet, and he hits a shot that goes 50 feet by skipping along the ground knee high. But he does it all with one wedge that he feels very comfortable with.

Comfort and confidence contribute as much to short-game success as practice. After you get comfortable with a particular club, and make it your go-to club, you can focus your practice sessions around shots hit with the club.

Maintaining unreasonable expectations

If you play with the reasonable expectation that from 30 yards and in all you want to do is get on the green and two-putt, you can be a better player! Problems arise when players think they have to get it close to the hole. They over-analyze, psyche themselves out, and end up missing the green; now they have to chip it on or play a bunker shot and drill an eight-footer for par.

Relax and play within your abilities. Have a clear, concise, reasonable expectation of what you want to do. From 30 yards away, Tiger Woods can reasonably expect to get the ball up and in, but it may not be a realistic expectation for you. You should make getting up and down your goal, but your reasonable expectation is to get it on the green and two-putt.

Over-thinking

The whole object of golf is to be comfortable, confident, and to play in the subconscious. Let it happen by letting the game come to you. Trust the lessons you've taken, trust the skills that you've developed on the conscious side, and just make the swing. All you can do is practice to develop a consistent swing and become confident with it. From there, golf is a matter of hitting a ball and walking after it. If you prepare yourself and don't take every second so seriously, you can enjoy the walk.

Aiming to displease

Short-game shots are all straight shots. Unlike other shots in golf, you don't hit short-game shots with the intention of curving the ball. You don't need to hook it or fade it in there. Just knock it straight. This may seem like a simple concept to grasp, but remembering it can help you tremendously with your aim.

If you have a 10-foot break from right to left on the green, you still hit a straight putt to try to make it; you just have to aim 10 feet to the right of the hole because of the break. You don't aim at the hole and try to push the ball out with your putter. You pick a spot for your target line and aim so that the green takes care of the work for you.

The same goes for a 30-yard shot over a bunker, or any pitch or chip from off the green. You may determine that the uneven green will cause the ball to break 10 feet from the right to the left after you hit your target, so you have to allow for that, but all you want to do is hit the ball straight to your target landing area.

Remove the curves and angles from your mind after you pick your line and focus on hitting the ball straight.

Ignoring textbook technique

In golf, you practice fundamentals, and you develop preferences. You have to adhere to the fundamentals to be successful; the preferences you can enjoy.

The trick is, you can't let a preference take over a fundamental, because you reduce your chances of success. It may feel good to stand a certain way when you putt, and being comfortable is great — but you can't be a good putter if your stance clashes with the fundamentals of putting.

For instance, you can't grip the putter with the toe in the air and stand far away from the ball and think you can be a good putter. If you do, the putter naturally comes off line. Your preference defies the fundamental that the blade should come straight back along the target line, come back down along the same line, and swing straight through toward your target.

Getting too far from your work

Fundamentally, if you put your eyes over your target line, keep your putterhead over the line, take the putterhead straight back on the line, and bring it forward straight through, you can be a good putter. The same goes for chipping. The closer you get to "your work," the easier it is to make good shots.

You won't find any magic that drives this premise, just simple physics and logic. Think of a dart thrower or a billiards player. They each face their target and toss the dart or slide the cue right on line toward the target or hole.

Golf's a little different from darts and billiards because you stand to the side of the ball, but you can improve your chances by getting as close to the line as you can.

Experiencing death by deceleration

Don't stop the club when it strikes the ball at impact. Never, on any shot in golf, should you decelerate. Let the club swing freely and through the ball to its natural completion, as if you're sweeping away dust with a broom or as the pendulum of a grandfather clock swings. Stopping at impact can only result in a flubbed shot that falls short of your target. Make sure you have confidence in the type of shot you want to hit and in the club you pull out of the bag. Most players decelerate because they don't want to hit the ball too far or because they don't have confidence in the shot. Commit . . . and hit!

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