Three Critical Golf Shots To Master

Put Your Practice Time Into Putting, Pitching and Driving

The Rules of Golf allow every golfer to carry up to 14 clubs in their bags during a live round or competition, and most of us take full advantage of that longstanding rule. But no matter your level of play, 65 to 70 percent of the shots you hit during a round of golf are done with just three clubs. If you can focus on those three critical golf shots when you do get to the range, you’ll have the best chance to play a good round and have more fun doing it. The three most important shots in golf are driving, pitching and putting. Following are a few tips and drills for these three key shots. We’ll start on the green and work our way back to the tee.

GET A GRIP ON PUTTING

three crucial golf shots 1-3I like to give all my students a good set-up routine for putting. I believe that if you have a good putting grip, good posture and are the right distance from the ball every time, you’ll have a better chance of making a solid stroke and having fewer putts.

I have created a simple 4-step system to get you set up correctly. It starts with the grip.

  1. Pick the putter up so that the shaft is level with the ground. Place the handle in the “lifeline” of your left hand (if you’re right-handed), so the shaft is lined up with your left forearm, as in Photo 1.
  2. Starting with your right hand on the shaft (Photo 2), pick up your left hand index finger and slide your right hand up until it touches the left hand. Lay your index finger over one or more fingers of the right hand. Now you’ve got the “reverse-overlap” grip that most Tour Pros use (Photo 3)
  3. Now that your grip is set, start with yours arms bent and your elbows touching your sides (Photo 4).
  4. From here, simply bend over from the hips until the putter hits the ground. Now you’re in the correct putting stance with the eyes directly over the ball (Photo 5), provided you have the correct length putter.

PERFECT PITCHING POLICY

There’s some new information that we didn’t have a year or two ago about the pitch shot:

  1. Thanks to new force plate technology, which measures weight shift and ground forces during the swing, we know that Tour Pros start with 60 percent of their weight on the left leg at address on a pitch shot. And their weight stays on the left leg during the backswing (Photo 6)
  2. The pitch shot’s kinematic sequence is different from the full swing. On a full swing, the lower body starts the down-swing. But for pitches, the upper body starts the downswing sequence. That’s why you see Tour Pros hitting pitch shots with a more flat-footed swing—without a lot of weight shift, compared to their full swing (Photo 7).

Another way that the pitch shot swing is different from the full swing is with the release. On a full swing, we want the arms to cross over after impact so that the face closes (pointing down half way through the fin-ish). But on a pitch shot the clubface should still be open or aiming more toward the sky, at the follow-through (Photo 8).

three crucial golf shots 6-9

There are several types of pitch shots—in fact, I have 9 or 10 different pitching mo-tions. But the basic pitch that I want you to learn is one with a fairly low trajectory. The key to this type of pitch is to have a forward shaft lean at address and impact (Photo 9). The forward shaft lean has a lot of positive benefits that will help you get up and down more often. A forward shaft lean will:

  • Eliminate the “bounce” of the club (the angle between the leading edge, trailing edge and the ground)
  • Move the ball higher up the face at impact
  • Reduce the loft which makes the ball go farther, allowing you to take a shorter and slower swing
  • Create a downward angle of attack, which produces backspin

What happens if you don’t have that forward shaft lean? If the shaft is reaching the ball in a more neutral position you are probably flipping the hands at impact. The result will either be a fat shot that dumps the ball into whatever bunker or hazard is between you and the green or you’ll bring that bounce into play causing you to skull the ball across the green.

DRIVING

three crucial golf shots 10-11The important distinction between approach shots and driving is the Angle of Attack (AOA). With irons, hybrids and even fairway metals, you want the clubhead to hit the ball on a slightly downward attack angle. But a driver needs contact the ball on an upswing. You accomplish this by moving the ball placement further forward with a driver, toward the front foot (Photo 10). It’s also important to keep your head behind the ball at address and during the swing. A left lean at address or sliding the head forward on the downswing will cause a downward strike.

However, when you move the ball for-ward, the shoulders tend to open at address.

And an open shoulder position will force you to take the club outside on the take-away, minimize your backswing shoulder turn and probably cause you to swing outside-in, across the ball at impact—producing an all too common slice.

To counteract that tendency, here’s a new pre-shot routine for you to try. Place the driver head seven inches behind the ball (at the swing’s low-point, as in Photo 11) and then set your feet. This will keep your shoulders square and make your set-up feel comfortable, just like an iron. Then slide the clubhead up to the ball to complete your stance. You’ll also notice in Photo 10 that I hover the clubhead above the turf so that I contact the ball without hitting the grass.

three crucial golf shots 12-13I have two more great tips to improve your driving:

  1. This may sound weird, but I want you to line up with the ball on the toe side of the clubface at address (Photo 12). Most golfers don’t realize that when the clubhead swings up to the ball, it will also move a little farther away from you. If you don’t compensate for that outward force, you’ll end up with a lot of drives hit off the heel of the club.
  2. Next, I want you to hit the ball slightly above the center of the clubface, because that will give you maximum distance (carry and roll). See Photo 13 for an example. The trick to making this happen is hitting the tee with the bottom of the clubface on every drive. After a correctly hit drive, the tee should be leaning forward or be knocked right out of the ground.

three crucial golf shots 14Here is a drill that will definitely improve your driving. Place a rolled-up towel one foot in front of a tee. Now take a swing and clip the tee but also miss the towel (Photo 14). This drill promotes the feel of that important upward AOA and also teaches you to hit the ball high in the face (by hitting the tee).

Keith Lyford is Director of Instruction at the Golf Academy at Old Green-wood in Truckee (Lake Tahoe) California. Lyford is one of the nation’s Top 100 Teachers and a 3-time PGA Teacher of the Year. Visit him at www.lyfordgolf.net

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