To Score Better, Focus on the Scoring Shots


Series:

Your score in a round of golf is a tabulation of the shots you hit. So what shots are you hitting when you play? You hit a driver or some longer club off 12 to 14 teeing grounds and some shot to all 18 greens. That's 32 "Full Swings."

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If you were to score 64, those 32 shots amount to 50% of that score. The other 50% come from short shots -- putts, chips, pitches, bunker shots and the like.

If you were shooting 64, you wouldn't be reading this article.

FACT: The overwhelming majority of your shots come from the "short shots." If your practice doesn't reflect this reality, what does it reflect?

As a golfer, interested in shooting lower scores, there is little doubt you've heard this sermon before -- "devote more of your practice time to your short game." The reason is as simple as the math above, your score comes from your short game.

But wait there's more. When you spend time practicing your putting and your short shots and swings -- in the proper way - you get double the reward because the skills you develop in this area transfer to your long game.

Let's start with the easiest shot to practice: Putting

Practice Putting breaking putts from a variety of distances -- 3 feet, 5 feet, 10 feet and 20 plus feet.

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When Tiger Woods wins a golf tournament, he outperforms the field by nearly three times from 25 feet or more: he doesn't do this without practicing from this distance.

When you practice putting you exercise numerous aspects of the game that affect every shot you make. Or at least these are things that should be a part of putting practice.

Strategy:
-- Aggressive: firm and in the middle.
-- Conservative: soft and in the side (the high side)

Effective putting practice includes strategic decisions. Speed effects line, so you need to decide how you are going to make the putts go in to read the break.

This decision making process is important to your overall game. You should start each hole with a game plan.

You practice your "routine" by adopting a strategy (see above), choosing a target based upon that strategy, setting up to that target, and then focusing to implement a swing/stroke that will hit the selected target at the intended speed.

Having a routine is important to all shots. Golf is 100% offense and making a golf shot is a positive action. The player needs to enter into his area of play with a plan and a mechanism to implement the plan -- a thought, a waggle, a look, etc. and it doesn't have to be the same routine for all shots. Practicing your routing in putting is easier for most people. Since the terrain affects the roll of the ball we are comfortable starting our process from behind the ball, examining the terrain, making a decision and then attempting to execute that decision. By practicing putting you make this process part of your shot making habit.

You practice your touch by having to control your speed to get the ball to follow your selected line and strategy.

Touch would translate into trajectory for full swings. Getting in the habit of trying to control how long you ball "stays on the line" as you practice putting is like controlling how long your ball stays in the air, or how high it goes in the air.

When you practice putting you practice seeing shots, seeing curves, controlling distance. These attributes are important to all aspects of your game.

Chipping (a shot that flies a short distance and rolls out to the target) and Pitching (a short shot that flies more and stops soon after landing).

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When you practice your chipping and pitching, you are practicing all the same skills as putting plus the impact portion of a full swing. Successful pitching and chipping is the result consistent solid contact of the center of the clubface to the ball. This solid contact is the same goal the golfer has when executing the full swing. Taking away the extra movement involved in a full backswing, transition, and downswing makes it easier to learn. Moving at a slower speed makes it easier to learn.

What makes a good pitch or chip? To be an effective pitcher or chipper you need to control the trajectory of the shot, and the direction of the shot. Control of these aspects is gained through control of the shaft angle through impact and the clubface angle (open or closed) through impact. Choosing the trajectory is your strategic issue, so again the decision making process and commitment to the choice plays a significant role.

Control of this portion of the swing is what puts you in control of your iron shots. So practicing pitching and chipping will lead to better contact and control in your full iron shots.

If you act now you'll get the added benefit of confidence.

Preparing to get your ball into the hole from 125 yards and in opens up an entire world of possibilities. When you are able to make good scores simply by getting close to the green you allow yourself to be more aggressive with your shots at the green.

When missing the flag doesn't mean automatic bogey, you can go at more flags.

In Gary Player's biography he tells about how he wanted to win majors. He observed that in majors, the flags were often positioned behind bunkers. He concluded that if he wanted to win majors, he had to go at those flags, and as a result he would end up in some of those bunkers. He therefore set out to become the best bunker player in the world. Wow! It worked. Gary Player won majors. Was it because he was the best bunker player in the world? I don't know. I do know his confidence led him to attack flags hidden behind bunkers. I know that this mentality led him shoot scores that won majors, just as he planned.

And let's not forget, YOUR SHORT GAME ACCOUNTS FOR MORE THAN HALF YOUR SCORE.

So practice hitting your driver, practice putting, practice pitching, chipping and bunkers, and if you have a little time left hit three or four five irons.

Good luck and good golfing.

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Ron Philo, Jr. is an accomplished competitive golfer. Ron has played competitive golf around the world, including appearances in six PGA Championships and one US Open. He brings his competitive background to the instructional experience in an effort to help all students achieve their full potential. Ron was recognized by Golf Magazine in its February 2005 issue as one the Top Teachers by region. He was also recognized by Golf Digest as "Best-in-State -- 2004/2005" for his teaching in Vermont where he has spent the summer seasons teaching. Ron is a two-time recipient of the "Teacher of the Year" award from the North Florida PGA.