Regardless of where you play, you’ll eventually face a tough pitch off hardpan. This is a dicey situation, as ultra-tight lies such as hardpan make it easy for the clubhead to bounce off the turf and into the top half of the golf ball, skulling it over the green. The key for pitches off hardpan is to make sure the clubhead does anything but bounce off the turf. Knowing how to accomplish this will save you strokes not only in this situation, but in dozens of others that involve tight lies.
Here’s the general rule concerning ultra-tight lies: The tighter the lie, the more the club should rest on its toe at address. When you elevate the heel of your club, you reduce the chance that it will catch the hardpan. This is the first critical step of executing pitches from hardpan and from other less-than-cushy spots. The appropriate swing from this address position can create magic from a difficult situation.
Let’s assume you have a 30-yard shot to the green from your hardpan lie. Select a pitching wedge (which features less bounce than a sand wedge) and position the ball in the middle of your stance. Bring your body toward the ball without changing the distance between your body and hands until your clubhead rises up on its toe. Notice that your clubshaft becomes more vertical. Now, position the majority of your weight into your front hip, keeping your body upright. Your upright posture and higher hands position will produce a steeper angle of attack into the golf ball and eliminate any cupping in your target wrist.
Pull your front foot back to open your body to the target and aim your clubface slightly to the right of the target. As you do this, make sure you keep the ball in the middle of your stance.
Before you make your play, find a similar lie nearby and take a few practice swings to set the pace of your motion. Then, use your regular long pitch stroke, making sure to keep your commitment to the pace you’ve chosen.
Early Set: An early set or cock of the wrists is necessary in order to keep the tempo that’s required to hit this shot consistently. If you don’t cock your wrists early, you’ll feel the need to add hand action on the downswing, which leads to the dreaded flipping of the wrists at impact.
Weight Shift: A swing off hardpan features body turn, but no weight shift. Your weight should start, remain and finish on your target foot.
Body Line Swing: Allow your arms to swing along your body line, which is to the left of the target (for a right-hander). Remember, you should have your clubface pointing to the right, so swinging “along the body line” should send the ball toward the target. To play this shot well, you’ve got to trust your geometry. An open stance line combined with an open clubface line balances out to a shot that starts midway between the two—on the target line.
Take the time to practice this shot so you feel comfortable making such an aggressive swing to hit the ball such a short distance. And experiment with various degrees of open stance and open clubface combinations so you can see how much these adjustments affect the height and distance of each shot.
A Final Heads-Up
Good pitchers off hardpan use very little knee action on the way back. Rather, they rely on wrist hinge and the folding of the trailing elbow with a small amount of upper-body rotation to set the club. However, on the downswing, the knees should lead the way. Just keep everything rotating—if you stop or slow the chest on the way down, the trailing arm will overpower the lead arm and the clubhead will flip—exactly what you don’t want with this shot.
PGA professional Dr. T.J. Tomasi is regarded as one of the top 100 teachers in America. He is the director of instruction at Lyman Orchards GC in Middlefield, Conn.