My good friend and mentor Mike LaBauve once told me a story about watching Greg Norman practice at the U.S. Open. The Shark was practicing in the chipping area, but he wasn't hitting any shots. Rather, he was tossing balls underhand to the flag. Why? Well, Norman was trying to toss the ball at the perfect height, so it would land in the right spot to release the proper distance to the flag. After he found the shot he was looking for, he reached into his bag, selected the appropriate club and swung in a way that repli-cated his toss.
Most golfers just grab a club and swing away without any definitive notion of what they really want. The ball-toss drill is maybe the best thing you can do to learn to think, see shots and make decisions like a pro!
• Use your imagination
SET FOR SUCCESS
Setting up for a pitch shot is simple. All you have to do is play the ball in the center of your feet and adopt a slightly narrower stance with your weight favoring your front foot. Although there are varying methodologies as it relates to shifting of weight in the golf swing, you'll find that all theories encourage the weight to stay on the front foot throughout the entirety of the pitching motion.
Just as in chipping, it's imperative that your forward-weight lean include both your upper and lower body. To ensure a proper forward lean, try this drill: Reach down with your left hand and touch your left knee (right-handed golfer). By practicing this drill, you'll notice that your weight will move left and your shoulders will stay level. This weight-and-shoulder position encourages your swing arc to bottom out just forward of the ball, thus creating ball-then-turf contact.
• Ball Centered
Look, Then Chip
WORK THE SEAMS
Your golf swing is an arc. That means that your clubhead must swing away from the target line, back to the target line and then back away again in a pure circular arcing motion. And it's your arms that build the shape of your pitching swing and thus help you create consistent contact.
To create a perfect arc, make some swings where you feel as though your left and right arms act as doors that close against your body. In the backswing, swing your left arm against your chest. In the followthrough, swing your right arm against your chest. Notice how in the backswing, as the left arm works against your chest, the right arm must relax and fold back behind the seam that runs down the side on your golf shirt? In the followthrough, as the right arm swings across your chest, notice how the left arm now folds back behind the left-side seam?
Feeling this sequence: left arm across–right arm across, right arm behind–left arm behind, will help you understand and feel the arm movement necessary for building a perfect arc on any shot that you hit!
• Left arm across–right arm across
WALK & STRIKE
No matter how long your shot is, it's important that your feet act in a manner to support the swinging of the club. A fantastic way to feel how the feet facilitate contact, balance and rhythm is to utilize this walking-and-swinging drill.
With your feet together, start swinging the club. Your hands and arms should control the movement, creating an even-sided pendulum-style motion. As the clubhead swings into the backswing, take a small step forward with your front foot. Swing through, clipping the turf as you allow your back foot to gently release into the finish."
1. Place three balls on the ground and strike the first ball...
2. ...then, without stopping, walk up and hit the second ball...
3. ...and finally strike the third ball. This will help your hands and feet work together in unison.
Once you get the feel, line up three balls a couple of inches apart. Walk and swing, gradually moving toward your line of balls, striking each one in succession. Once you get clicking, you should feel how the hands and feet work together in rhythm to create each effortless hit.
• Start with feet together
CLOSE THE DOOR
Remember that even on the smallest golf shots, you're still playing a game whose swing is built on an arc. As it relates to chipping, imagine that your right arm (right-handed golfer) is a door that swings open and then closed into the followthrough. As your arm swings across your midsection into the finish, the handle and clubhead will naturally arc off of the target line to the left. This arcing to the left is one of the key components to ensuring that the bottom of the swing meets the ground just ahead of the ball, creating the proper ball-then-turf contact you're looking for.
• Play on an arc, ensuring that the club swings off of the line of flight into the finish
SEAL THE DEAL...PIVOT!
Any golfer who strikes the turf early on a chip shot most likely has a motion that's void of any pivot. Your pivot is vital to providing rhythm to your swing, while effectively moving the bottom of your swing arc forward, creating ball-then-turf contact.
As the clubhead begins its swing, allow a small amount of pivot in the backswing. Once the backswing motion is set, view the pivot as the motor, which propels the clubhead forward into the back of the ball.
At the finish, you should notice some rotation in your hips, the shaft and lead arm in relative alignment and a touch of air beneath your back heel and the turf.
• View your pivot as the motor of your chipping swing
Jeff Ritter is a coach, author and speaker specializing in peak performance and life inspiration. He teaches at the ASU Karsten Golf Course/PING Learning Center in Tempe, Ariz. For more information, visit jeffrittergolf.com.