Everybody knows that if you want to get better in golf at the margin, you have to work on your short game. Why? To clean up the messes when you miss a green, of course. But that’s just the obvious reason. There are three other big ones.
The first is that once you know you can get it up and down from anywhere, you are more fearless in hitting your approach shots to the green. It’s a minor annoyance that you’re not putting for birdie, but at least you know you can save your par. Even if you hit it in the bunker, while you may know that the odds are longer, you know you’re good enough to get it done. It takes pressure off and tension out of your swing.
The second reason is that because of that confidence, you don’t get as upset that you’ve created a circumstance to be dealt with by missing a green. It’s not the end of the world; in fact, the odds are in your favor. So there’s not a bolt of doom to upset your equilibrium, to yank you out of the zone.
But the third, and I think the most underrated, is that working assiduously on your short game teaches you as much about your full swing as it does your short game. Why? Because at impact, the chipping motion—bumping a ball on the green so that it runs like a putt to the hole—is a microcosm of impact in the full swing. Learn that, and it will migrate its way into your full swing.
Done properly, the chip shot is struck by a slightly descending mini-stroke led by the left hand that solidly compresses the ball against the ground, even if ever so slightly. The difference between the compression of a chip shot and the widespread practice of “picking” a chip shot is what separates the men from the boys, the ladies from the girls. The compressed ball has a solid feel, the picked ball has a thin, tinny feel. And it sound tinny. The picked ball is caused by an overactive right hand trying to time the hit because the left hand isn’t doing its job of leading the clubhead through impact.
Once you learn to trust the left hand to lead the club through impact, all the other short game shots, the pitch shot, the lob shot and the sand shot become much easier. Why? Because you learn to trust the technique and you can feel that you’re hitting the ball solidly. That means that you can control those shots around the green better. You learn how to hit shots with the same swing on different trajectories.
And, as I indicated in yesterday’s post, “Two Standard Deviations,” all of this “how-to detail” is effectuated by nothing more than trying to hit the ball to a target. If you become ball-bound, you lose the objective of the shot and end up trying to scoop the ball into the air.
All of this came up for me because I came across a quote from Pete Cowen yesterday. I didn’t know until then that he was U.S. Open winner, Graeme McDowell’s coach. And that led me to Cowen’s website in the U.K. What I found there is the best kept secret in the United States: Pete Cowen is the best coach in Europe and has such additional luminaries as Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen (the British Open winner out of nowhere), Henrik Stenson and World #1, Lee Westwood in his stable. Why haven’t we heard of this guy before? Probably because the Europeans have never had a more explosive year than this one.
In the quote, Cowen was explaining why McDowell had his breakthrough year:
As his coach, I am especially satisfied that the hard work we have been investing in the short game is finally paying dividends in the full swing – make no mistake, the better your understanding of impact, spin, compression and flight control around the green, the better the golfer you will become from tee to green.
I rest my case…and you can read the whole article here.
Plus, I’m working with a woman on her short game who hits the ball better than most men.