Throughout my 15 years of teaching, I've learned no two golfers swing the club alike. I've also learned that, despite the individual thumbprint every player puts on his or her swing, good swings share several common traits at key points of the motion. Unfortunately, these traits differ from the commonalities found in the swings of lesser-skilled golfers. In fact, high-handicapped golfers tend to do the exact opposite of what a fundamentally solid swing requires. Of course, you don't need to swing exactly like a Tour player to improve your ballstriking. However, building a few of the common traits found in higher-level swings into your own will pay huge dividends, especially those that pertain to pitching and chipping.
The biggest misconception high-handicappers have when hitting pitches around the green is that they feel the need to scoop or lift the golf ball into the air. It's true the ball must elevate to clear a bunker, high grass, etc., but you can't get it airborne via the scoop method. I cringe when I hear a golfer say they want to get under the ball when they pitch. This is the opposite of what you want to do. Good players understand that the clubhead must come into the ball on a descending path, so that the ball rolls up the clubface, creating backspin. Hitting down is what gets the ball up.
Setup For Pitching
Hitting crisp pitch shots begins with a good setup. Good players know that to hit down, they need to set up on top of the ball. Since high-handicappers want to help the ball up into the air, they do the opposite and set up behind the ball.
When a good player prepares to hit a pitch shot, he or she positions the ball in the middle or back of the stance. These players narrow their stance and lean toward the front leg. This position places the head on top of the ball and the hands in front of the ball at address. It also promotes a downward angle of attack, facilitating a ball-first, turf-second type of contact.
High-handicappers tend to do the opposite when they pitch or chip. The tendency with a high-handicapper is to try to lift the ball in the air. As such, most amateurs feel the need to lean back on the back foot and scoop the ball at impact. This setup promotes a sweeping motion, which is what you want for the driver, but not for short shots. As a result, high-handicapped players tend to hit fat and thin pitches.
Narrow your feet and play the ball back in the stance. If you want to hit a high pitch that lands soft, place the ball in the middle of the stance. If you want to hit a low running pitch, play the ball opposite your right heel. Lean your weight toward your front leg and press your hands forward. Your head should be on top of the ball.
To assure the proper setup, assume your normal stance, then remove your left hand from the handle and place it behind your left knee. This will force you to lean toward your front leg and will help you get your head on top of the ball at address. You should feel 70 percent of your weight on the front leg. Return your left hand to the grip, keeping these positions intact. Now you're set up to hit down on the ball and produce an excellent, crisp pitch.
Class-A LPGA teaching professional Karen Palacios-Jansen is the Director of Instruction for Swing Blade Golf Enterprises (www.swingbladegolf.com).