Golf would be much easier if we played on the same hole, 18 times in a row. Imagine if you only needed to hit a handful of shots, and you could spend all your time mastering them. Too bad golf is the most varied sport I can think of, so varied that I've played several rounds of golf while never hitting the same shot twice. This is especially true around the greens, since so many different green complexes require so many different types of shots. Out here in Arizona, elevated greens are popular, and often you have to know how to adjust your pitches so they either fly or roll the right distances.
For instance, I may have a pitch from 20 yards on two separate occasions. For the first one, I have very little green to work with so I have to hit the ball up into the air. The second 20-yarder is flat, with plenty of green between me and the hole. Let's look at how to play each shot.
To hit the high pitch, here's what I do. Play the ball in the middle of your stance, with slight forward shaft lean. Keep the wrists supple, and hinge the wrists so the club and your left forearm form something that looks like the letter L. Keep your weight centered as you take the club back–don't let it shift much, and don't keep it over your left side. As you swing down, let the hands unhinge at impact; they rehinge as you follow through. In case you're wondering, the rehinging post-impact is important! When hitting this shot, if you think about rehinging post-impact, you'll instinctively speed up the wrists through the shot, adding the necessary loft to hit the ball higher than normal.
Lessening the hinge of the wrists will slow the hands, helping you hit the ball on a lower trajectory.
Now, let's look at the pitch that flies lower. To hit this shot, set up the exact same way you did for the higher shot–ball centered, weight centered and slight shaft lean (to ensure you hit slightly down on the ball). As you take the club back, I want you to keep your wrists more rigid and resist the temptation to hinge the club! This will shallow out your swing plane significantly and add a lot of width to your stroke. Think of a pendulum, and as you swing down and into impact, don't rehinge your wrists. Instead, keep the club low and allow the body to rotate more through the shot.
Experiment with these two shots, and you'll find that the no-hinge shot is probably a little easier than the shot with the added hinge. Experiment with different swing lengths, too, and learn how far different swing lengths go. With practice, you'll find that knowing more than one shot from the same length is necessary for shooting lower scores.
Derek Nannen, PGA, is the Director of Instruction at the Eagle Mountain Golf Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. Visit eaglemtn.com for more information.