We all want to hit a chip shot that rolls in, or sink a 20 foot putt, but in most cases just playing it smart around the green is the better call. Let's take a look at some simple techniques to play smart, not flashy around the green. Learn these and you just might put together a golf short game strategy that could very well improve your score.
Notice the “No” Zones
The first rule of smart golf is to avoid trouble. Naturally, we need to take a moment to assess any areas we want to avoid. Any water around the green? How about the bunkers? Is there a steep slope or false front?
This doesn't mean you need to aim so far away from the hole that there's no chance of the ball going in. Instead, think about getting the ball in the hole in 2 strokes, rather than trying to be a hero and have to make up strokes from the hazard.
Trouble areas may not be noticeable until you watch other players hit their ball, so pay attention to the rest of your group. Watch how the ball is responding to every chip and approach. Just by observing, you can score an advantage by knowing what areas to avoid. If you want to lower your score, this is key.
It’s important not to overthink this though. We want to play safe golf, not scared golf. Too many times I have aimed aggressively away from a hazard and regretted it. A modest awareness of the dangers around the greens is usually enough to prevent your ball traveling right for the hazard.
Short game strategy is much like a math problem. When you input the data on the areas to avoid, factor in things like slope and speed, then you have all the information you need to execute a target to trust.
Choose Your Shot
There are several different options when choosing a shot around the green. To choose the best shot, it’s important to look at the lie and line of your ball. Using the information of where you want the ball to land, or the line you want the ball to travel on, then you can choose the best club for that trajectory.
Typically, it is easier to control a putt. So, if you can putt a shot, that will be the most consistent and controlled option. However, notice if the ball has a lot of thicker fringe or grass to get through. Because the putter does not have a loft, the ball needs to have a clear path to get to the green. Putting off the green can be unpredictable if the ball cannot glide over the grass to get to the green.
If you can't putt the ball from off the green, but the ball has a long way to roll on the green, pitching the ball may be the best option. A pitch shot is a simple putting stroke, but you will use a wedge or even a low iron if you want the ball to roll out even more. The pitch shot is helpful to keep control of the ball, and simplify the shot so that there is less room for error.
Know the Basics of Set Up
Having a basic knowledge of the little adjustments for specific lies, can make a big difference around the green. For example, if your ball is in thick rough around the green, there are a few little adjustments you can make to ensure you make solid contact with the ball. First, you will want to choose a club with a lot of loft. A gap wedge, or sand wedge will be 53 to 55 degrees loft, which will work for getting out of the rough if you have 60 to 90 yards to the hole. If you are around the green in thick rough, a lob wedge is the best choice, which is 56 to 60 degrees loft. After choosing the right club, then your setup will change slightly. Grip down on the club, play the ball back in your stance, shift your weight to your front foot, and take a steeper backswing. All of these little adjustments will help in making contact with the ball in thick rough, and give you the confidence to trust the shot. This tip and several more can be found in our Golf Shot Survival Guide.
Trust Your Stroke
In the book (and movie), “Seven Days in Utopia: Golf's Sacred Journey” one of the lines used is “see it, feel it, trust it.” I love this line because it sums up and simplifies the golf short game. If you do not trust your shots, there is a high likely hood that it will not go where you want it to.
I understand that trusting a shot can be hard, especially if you are just starting out. One way to train yourself to trust the shot is to hold the follow through and keep your head down. You do not need to look up immediately around the greens to see where the ball went. Often when we are too eager to see where the ball goes, we end up lifting out of the shot and “topping it”. If you hold the follow through a few extra seconds, and keep your eyes locked on that spot where that ball was, it builds trust that you made solid contact and your swing got the ball where you wanted it to go.
Walk the Line
Ok, you made it to a safe spot on the green and are lining up your putt. The biggest problem when putting is typically gauging the speed. One way to get a feel for the distance is to walk the putt. Some professionals recommend pacing out your putts, which means you roughly measure the distance of your putt and use that information to determine how far back you need to take your putter. I personally walk my line to get the feel for the green. When I am standing in the middle of the line, I can feel if there is a slope that I was missing. I can also see the break from a different angle. This usually gives me the insight I need on the slope and break.
Of course, it’s important to keep the pace of play in mind. Walking your line should not take more than 20 seconds. You should also choose your line while everyone else is hitting. You do not want to slow the pace of play.
We end with the reminder of confidence. Confidence is extremely beneficial for your mental game. Have your “go to” short game shots, study up on techniques for difficult lies, use the strategies in this article, and let all of that information fill you with confidence when you play. Your golf mental game cannot be underestimated.
Forget the days of carelessly walking up to a shot and hoping for the best. Create a smart plan around the greens to avoid those double bogeys or more. Eventually playing it safe around the greens will come naturally. Before you know it, the routines you’ve created for smart golf will pay off and lower scores will be a breeze.