Whether your skills are strictly amateur or allow you to keep pace with any single-digit handicapper, you'll never reach your true potential as a golfer unless you learn one of the game's great tricks: turning three shots into two around the greens. In other words, you must find a way to become a scorer. Scoring is what separates the better players you know from everybody else. Taken to a higher analogy, it's what separates the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh from the rest of the players on the PGA Tour.
Furthermore, it's what will ultimately help you reach your potential as a golfer. Isn't that what this great game is all about—the number in the scorecard beside your name? To go from an average golfer to a scoring machine, use the following greenside plays. Perfect these shots and you'll be well on your way to joining the ranks of the scoring elite.
Every golfer is bound to miss a green or two (or three or nine) during the course of a round, which always presents a challenge to your scoring ability. Regardless of your driving and long-iron skills, if you can't get the ball close to the cup (and sometimes in it) when you do miss a green, your scores are going to skyrocket like a popped-up lob wedge. However, if you can make the most of a green missed, you'll keep bogeys at bay and maybe produce a few birdies, and that's when scores really begin to plummet. The key to turning three shots into two is assessing the lie and selecting the right shot. For most situations, the High Softie, Mid Trickler or Low Runner should do the trick.
The High Softie
A tilt of the shoulders (so the right sits higher than the left) and a neutral shaft position help create the extra loft the High Softie requires. However, don't make the mistake of trying to lift the ball into the air. Your setup and the loft of the club will take care of that. Like you should on every short shot, hit down and through.
When you're faced with the daunting situation of having to chip to a hole cut very close to the fringe, opt for the High Softie. Unlike the other two chips we'll discuss in this story, the High Softie presents a good amount of risk and quite a bit of challenge. But from the rough, you should be able to enjoy consistent success. (If the lie is tight, go ahead and use your putter.) The High Softie helps the ball land like a potato chip on a lake. It's a great scoring play when there's little room between you and the pin.
To execute the High Softie, position the ball more forward in your stance. More important, tilt your right shoulder lower than the left. This will effectively add loft to the shot and help it fly higher than normal.
As you tilt your shoulders, be careful not to lean the shaft away from the target. The clubshaft should lie perpendicular to the ground. The vertical shaft position allows you to make maximum use of the bounce of your wedge (the rear portion of the sole that helps the club to skid, rather than dig, when it hits the ground). This effectively lessens the chance of mis-hits and increases the loft on the club and shot.
The Mid-Trickler is the best option when you've only got a small amount of green with which to work (20 feet or less), yet significantly more room than the situation best-suited for the High Softie. The Mid-Trickler also requires a reasonable lie, one where there's some grass under the ball (beware tight lies and hardpan). Like the Low Runner shot we'll discuss next, the Mid-Trickler is a low-risk play. Nevertheless, it requires practice in order to catch the ball just right. Effectively played, expect the Mid-Trickler to produce a shot where the ball hops once, checks up and then trickles toward the hole.
Set up with the ball positioned more toward the center of your stance and your shoulders level. This setup encourages a fairly neutral shaft lean, which will allow you to make contact with the ball using the true loft of the golf club.
In order to consistently get the ball close to the hole from short range, it's crucial that you don't add or subtract loft from the clubface, which automatically reduces or increases the distance of the shot, respectively. A slight forward lean of the shaft and level shoulders at address best allows you to maintain the true loft of the club.
The Low Runner
The Low Runner is the preferred play when there's plenty of green between you and the flagstick—say, over 20 feet or so. You can play this shot from nearly any type of lie, particularly a tight lie, when there's not much grass under the ball. There's very little risk involved and you should expect the ball to skid, check up and then run toward the hole. It's a shot that would make your Scottish ancestors proud. Even better, it takes advantage of one of golf's key truths: It's easier to control distance when the ball's in the ground than when it's in the air.
To play the Low Runner, move the ball back in your stance and tilt your left shoulder lower than the right. This will ensure the correct shaft lean (toward the target) that you need to reduce the loft on your club and help you use the leading edge to pinch the ball crisply.
In order to keep the ball low (and this is true for any low shot, not just the chipping play we're discussing here), the shaft must lean forward at address. This creates a more shallow impact and keeps the golf ball from climbing up the face and launching high. Of course, if you simply forward-pressed your hands from your standard chipping address position, you'd run into a myriad of swing problems. The trick is to set the lean by tilting your right shoulder lower than your left. This automatically sets the forward shaft lean. It also encourages a forward displacement of weight, which should also aid your technique.
Its All In The Lean
Hopefully, you understand that the key to executing these shots requires the correct shaft and spine lean at address. Leaning the shaft and spine away from the target controls the height of your shots, and it's the height associated with each that makes such an invaluable play. Practice these three shots, learn when to use them and become a scorer!
PGA teaching professional and Senior Instruction Editor Chuck Winstead is the director of instruction at The University Club in Baton Rouge, La.
The Mental Art Of Scoring: Forget The Score
By David F. Wright, Ph.D., PGA
Golf truly is a unique game. There are no plays to run. No offense or defense. No time-outs. Worse yet, there's no real recovery from a bad play. You have to live with your mistakes, which makes how well you deal with them the key to playing well.
An important lesson from which every golfer can benefit is to always play in the present and avoid the tendency to get too far ahead of oneself. Most golfers tend to make these mistakes when it comes to keeping score. How many times have you set a target score to shoot, only to find that as you got closer to that number, the round became increasingly difficult? Truth is, monitoring your score and calculating what score you're on track to shoot is a recipe for disaster. It takes you out of the present and into the future which, in golf, is a difficult means to playing well. Golf requires complete concentration on the shot at hand. Any future thinking will limit your ability to fully perform in the present.
Try something new the next time you play a round. Before you tee off, inform your playing partners that you don't want to know where you stand during the day's round (forget their comments—your goal is to improve, not to please your buddies). Announce your hole totals, but do your best from tabulating a running score. If you're tempted to look at your scorecard, take a deep breath, slow down your movements and shift your thoughts to the conditions of the shot before you. By not focusing so much on score, you'll find it a lot easier to take your mind off future thoughts and redirect them to the present. After the round, don't be surprised to learn that your total is lower than you may have thought!
PGA professional Dr. David F. Wright operates the Wright Balance Golf School (www.wrightbalance.com). He's recognized as one of the top 100 instructors in America and is an assistant coach for the University of Southern California men's and women's golf teams.