Short Game Games

Lower your scores by making practice fun

Putt 'Til You Drop

Putting from all directions to the same cup will force you to work on right-to-left and left-to-right breaks.

One of the absolute basics of good scoring is solid putting from short to medium range. If you're confident from these distances, it will take pressure off all your other short-game shots and make you a better lag putter as well.

To get started, go around a hole placing tees a step apart, all at a distance that's about four feet from the hole. Make eight stations (marked by tees) around the hole and begin anywhere you like. Try to make at least four in a row, all the while concentrating on your alignment and speed control. Every time you make four consecutive putts, start over and try to make four more. Don't quit until you can make two sets of four at every station.

Once you're confident with the four-footers, increase your distance one foot and repeat the game. Continue moving back until you get to the 10-foot mark, which I guarantee will be quite a challenge.

The wrists and elbows should maintain the same angles through the entire stroke.

Improved putting is probably the quickest way for players of any level to lower their scores. Even on the PGA Tour, putting rules—next time any player wins a big tournament, check his putting stats. You can be assured he's probably one of the best, if not the best, putter in the tournament that week.

There are many different ways to stroke a putt, just as there are many different ways to make a full swing. However, the modern stroke tends to feature very little wrist or elbow movement during the stroke. The putterhead should be powered by a rocking motion of the shoulders, with the distance of the backswing and downswing being the same. It's_Ê best if you allow the clubhead to open and close naturally during the stroke

Take a look at the structure I've created in my setup position. My elbows are slightly bent, and my wrists are solid. Maintaining these positions will create consistency.

Playing games and doing drills are great ways to improve your putting prowess because they help make practice fun and can instill the proper techniques. However, it's extremely important to have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish during the putting stroke before you spend a lot of time ingraining bad fundamentals and troublesome tendencies.

At right, you can see a good setup position. My stance is comfortable and not too narrow, providing a balanced, stable base. My arms are hanging comfortably, though bent at the elbows, and my wrists are slightly cupped. It's critical to maintain these solid positions throughout the stroke, particularly through impact. If you allow these positions to break down, your ballstriking and overall consistency will suffer. Notice how my eyes are, more or less, directly over the ball (not too far inside or outside). If you want to be able to aim properly, this is a must.

Make the mistake of playing the ball too far forward in your stance, and your consistency will suffer.

In a good golf swing, the clubhead is released freely through impact. The same should occur in a good putting stroke. Here, you can see the club moving back to the inside.

Chipping For Dollars Getting up and down consistently is often dependent on your chipping ability. Compete with yourself or a friend and improve your stroke quickly.

Here's a chipping game that's fun to play by yourself or with a partner. Place three clubs about three feet behind and around the hole (pictured above). You can vary the distance the clubs are from the hole, depending on how challenging you want the game to be, but three feet is a good place to start. Pick any type of chip shot you want (bump-and-run, spinner, flop, etc.) and play nine holes at a time by chipping nine balls as close to the hole as possible. After you hit your shots, walk to the hole and remove the three clubs. Add a stroke for any ball that touched the clubs. Every ball represents a hole in a round of golf. If you can make your first putt on any ball that didn't touch a club, consider that a par. Obviously, if you hole out, that's a birdie. Putt all the balls out with a two-putt maximum (two putts also adds a stroke). Keep your score and challenge yourself to get better every time you play. This game is particularly good because it also tests your putting ability.

Practice Makes Perfect It's important to combine chipping and putting practice. It simulates what you'll have to do on the golf course.

One of the most important things you can do to improve your short game is find ways to combine chipping and putting. Obviously, when you're playing a round of golf, you don't get to hit a number of chips or putts in a row (hopefully), just as you don't get to smash 10 or 15 consecutive drives as you might on the range. Instead you have to be able to follow a chip or pitch with a putt, just as you have to follow a drive with an iron shot. It's critical that you get used to this progression in practice, or you'll have problems when you get out onto the course. To help yourself develop a more proficient short game, be sure to putt out every ball when you play the three-club game. Try to concentrate equally on both chips and putts, and if need be, put more emphasis on putting. If you fail to one-putt, however, don't give yourself two or three more tries. Take your one-point penalty and move on. Remember, you want to simulate on-course play._Ê

Consistent, solid impact is as important for chip shots as it is for full iron shots.

If putting is the quickest way to lower your scores, then chipping is the best way to lower your number of putts per round. No matter how good a putter you are, the closer you get to the hole, the more likely you'll be to sink putts. The first step to becoming a good chipper is simply to be able to make solid contact every single time you line up to the ball. If you tend to hit your chip shots fat and thin and off the toe and heel of the club, you'll never be a consistent chipper of the golf ball.

To become a more proficient chipper, try choking down on the grip. This will help you gain more control of the clubhead. Place the ball slightly back in your stance to encourage a crisp, descending strike onto the ball. When you make your stroke, be sure to keep your right wrist bent through impact to further encourage a slightly downward angle of attack and a smooth, brushing motion of the clubhead. Practice these simple techniques, and you should see your results improve considerably.

To become a confident chipper, you must develop sound fundamentals and learn to make consistent contact.

Ball-first contact is key to crisp chips. To accomplish this, you must learn to lead the clubhead with your hands, as seen here. It should feel somewhat like a sweeping motion. When chipping, play the ball significantly farther back in your stance than you would for a putt, and don't be afraid to set up with a good amount of forward shaft lean.

Golf Tips Senior Instruction Editor Chuck Winstead teaches at the University Club in Baton Rouge, La._Ê

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