The Key To A Sharper Short Game

by Jane Schafer, PGA

If you’re like most golfers, you probably spend the majority of practice time working on hitting long drives. You might think that by improving your driver–and finding an extra ten yards–your scores will improve.

Here’s the catch: focusing solely on your drives actually impedes your chances of lower scores.

To actually lower scores, you’ll need to improve your short game and putting fundamentals.

Developing a variety of skills near the green will lead to significantly lower scores. I recommend that students spend 60% of their practice time on short game.

One of our simplest short game shots is a basic chip. By working on a chip, a student is practicing impact and learning techniques necessary to create ball flight. A chip is generally defined as a lower-trajectory shot that has a little air time and rolls farther than it flies. It is a firmer-wristed one-lever stroke very similar to putting. Students who have been introduced to solid putting fundamentals will have greater success learning the chip.

When chipping the hands, arms and club work together as one unit making set up critical. The feet are placed close together (a good reference is the length of the blade of the club) and the player stands close to the ball. The hands are placed on the lower portion of the grip for more control. The ball will be farther back in the stance with the hands placed in front of the lead leg creating a slight forward shaft lean. The weight is placed more on the lead leg. The hands and arms form a lower case “y”. The club moves backward and forward in a pendulum type motion and generally the club head stays below knee height (7 to 5 on a clock face). I teach my juniors to move the “y” back and forth without breaking the leg. In other words, the wrists remain firm and the motion is created by the movement of the shoulders and center.

Players should hold every finish and evaluate results in order to improve technique and develop feel. Many students are out of control in the finish and focused on reaching for the next ball instead of processing cause and effect. Always practice the way we play and take time to evaluate results.

Practice drills should include solid fundamentals. Results should be measurable and attainable with a moderate amount of work. I prefer drills that can grow with the player – meaning the bar can be raised as skills improve. One of my favorite drills is called “The Par Game”. This can be played alone or you can challenge a friend. This game is beneficial for chipping and pitching.

Take three balls and whatever club or clubs you wish to practice. I recommend choosing clubs based on the situation rather than relying on a “favorite” club (practice with your 7, 8, 9, and all wedges). Hit all three balls from the same point. Any ball within a club length of the hole scores a point. Any ball holed is worth 5 points. After the first round, move to a new location with a different challenge and hit the next three shots. Based on skill level, a player may decide to make 20 points, or 150 points. Challenge a friend to be the first to reach 50 points. If you play “The Par Game” regularly your short game will improve and soon you will see those lower scores.

Jane Schafer, PGA
Country Club of Miami