Long and short of it: Spend time on smaller shots

KEVIN HAIME

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

This week, I had the opportunity of playing with quite a few amateurs, most of whom are obsessed with their long game, but I'm seeing a lot of shots wasted near the green.

The truth is, most people don't spend near enough time working on their short games.

On Friday at my golf centre, I took a random head count and their were 21 people hitting balls and just two on or around our putting greens.

Incidentally, that's a pretty typical ratio. Ten-to-one is about the norm on any given day, which is really out of whack considering the fact that up to 60% of golf is played with less than a full swing.

To have any chance of lowering your scores, you really should give the driver a break and work on your smaller shots. Most of the average players I've been playing with really only have one shot around the green and they're not very good at it.

Some situations require high soft shots and others require low running shots. Here are just a few things you can do to improve your short game and lower your scores:

TAKE SOME LESSONS: Short game lessons will really pay off in spades. You don't need terrific athleticism to hit small shots so with a little help anybody can have a pretty good short game. Different shots require different ball positions, different weight distribution and different wedges. None of the shots are really complicated, but you'll still need to be shown the basics before you can work at them on your own. Look at it this way, if you just take two or three short game lessons in the next few weeks, I guarantee you'll save thousands of shots during the next few years on the course.

LEARN YOUR RATIOS: The most important thing you need to do when you're practising is to learn your flight to roll ratios for every shot. Simply put, you need to get a feel for how much any given shot rolls once it hits the ground. When I swing my pitching wedge with the ball in the middle of my stance from inside 20 yards, it rolls as far as it flies. That's a 1:1 flight-to-roll ratio. So if I need 10 yards of flight and 30 feet of roll, I pitch with my pitching wedge. From the same distance, hitting the same shot, my sand wedge flight to roll ratio is 5:1. In other words, the same 10 yards of carry will only give me two yards of roll.

TIGHTEN UP YOUR ACTION: Unless you're willing to practise your short game for hours every day, stay away from the Phil Mickelson full swing from just off the green. Most golfers take way too big a backswing on their short shots. Until you've put in quite a bit of practise, try to make your swing as simple as possible. Keep your backswing shorter and maintain acceleration to a finish. Think about how you would toss a ball on the green. When throwing a ball, your follow-through would always be longer than your backswing. When I see Average Joes swinging their club head back to shoulder height for a green side pitch, I cringe because I know something ugly will probably happen. In most cases, you can get a good result with a shorter simpler swing.

IMPROVE YOUR BUNKER PLAY: Nowhere in golf do people waste more shots than in the bunker. Sand traps are score killers for just about every average player. The truth is most golfers really have no idea what they're supposed to do in the sand and very few ever practise this shot. Even pretty good amateurs usually struggle out of the sand. If you want to see fear on the face of a golfer, just give him a lousy lie in a bunker. So why do pros call sand shots some of the easiest shots in golf? Because they have a quality wedge and they understand and have practised the shot. If you want to bring your game to the next level, talk to a pro for some advice on a quality sand wedge and then get a lesson on how to use it. Then get in the sand and practice for a few hours. If you spend just a little time on the shot, you'll get rid of the fear and stop making those big numbers.


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