A Lesson Learned: Short game distance control

By Christian Czaja, PGA
Published on
A Lesson Learned: Short game distance control

Wow, wow and wow what a fantastic 2012 Honda Classic!

The PGA Tour is off to a great start for its Florida swing with a memorable and exciting Honda Classic. The golf experts say that a Tour Pros career is defined by how many Major Golf Championships they win. Well in the case of Rory Mcllroy, I'd say winning this years' Honda Classic and ascending to the #1 position of the world rankings, proves to be career defining as well.

The event had many terrific highlights. Here are a few that got my attention. First was Davis Love III shooting 64 in the first round. Then we watched Brian Harmon shatter the course record with a 61 in the second round. Then journey man Tom Gillis is at the top of the leader board. The super large galleries that made this years event look and feel like a major. And of course Tiger blazing the "Champ" course with a 62 in the final round. I was very pleased to watch my favorite player on the PGA Tour Erik Compton finish t26. Talk about a good role model- that guy is incredible. For those that missed watching golf this week, you obviously missed some great golf, great talent and great stories!

So what is the lesson learned from the 2011 Honda Classic? It has to be the importance of what I call the final "dynamic" in golf - being able to control the intensity and distance of a short game stroke.

Consider, a key statistic this week was Rory Mcllroy getting the golf ball up and down 20 out of 24 times in very stressful conditions. Even on the back nine on Sunday, with thick rough, high winds, fast greens and feeling the pressure from Tiger making eagle on the final hole - and he still had 5 holes to play with a slim two-stroke lead - Rory got up and in on 14, 15, 17. That's really incredible.

This week I was out at PGA National 3 days to watch the tournament. And I watched the telecast on tv when I wasn't there. What I noticed is that Rory was brilliant with his short-game distance control. Many of his scrambling saves were not of the standard variety. He played several long bunker shots (20-35 yards), and got it close for enough to one putt. He hit some pitch shots that require unreal feel and got those close enough for par saves. He wasn't at his ball striking best Sunday, but he more than made up for it with his surreal short game.

So how does a golfer develop such feel and control. Here are my suggestions:

First you need the right equipment. I recommend you play with three wedges. Pw,Sw, and Lw. Rory played with a Pw 46 deg., Sw 54 deg., and Lw 60 degree.

Most of your time should be spent with the sand wedge. Keep it simple and learn the feel with one club first then add the other clubs later.

Work on your short game basics with a PGA Professional. There are some critical short game mechanics that you need to get so that the golf ball contact becomes predictable. The flat left wrist at impact is one.(rt handed players). Learn the basic set up position. The chip and pitch set up it different then your full swing set up. The stance should be very narrow on a chip and open to the target line. The pitch is a bit wider and open to the target line. The legs should have more flex and your weight should favor your front foot.

Again, getting the ball "up and down" 20 out of 24 times this week was amazing. If you get a chance to watch Rory on those shots, I urge you to do it. I would suggest to all junior golfers out there to copy the short game style of the top PGA Tour players. Try and imitate what you see the best players doing around the green. Check out there mannerisms. When I was working on my short game I would try and copy Raymond Floyd or the late Paine Stewart's style. Watching the best can be a great way to really get the feel.

And the final tip would be to practice more on your short game. Everyday on the lesson tee I promote this idea with my students. Whether it's the new golfer, the country club member or guest, talented junior player who's looking to play college golf or the Professional golfer looking to get to # 1 in the world rankings. The goal is to score lower. Every shot in golf is different. The fastest way to get to the next level in golf is to improve your mechanics and feel around the greens. Pros like Rory send hours around the green developing the feel that allows them to focus on getting the ball in the cup and preform at the highest level. Practicing short game shots from a variety of distances is important. Going out the the chipping green and placing golf balls in different lies and distances helps one gain feel for the speed and size of the stroke needed. Get the mechanics first then feel second. In my opinion there is no limit on how good you can be around or on the green.

At the Honda Classic we saw some super lag putting. With the flagsticks tucked the pros often played away from the trouble and then were faced with long putts. If you practice these type of putts you get a better feel for distance. There is a saying in golf that the more you practice the luckier you get!

The lesson learned is to develop your short game mechanics with the help of your local PGA Professional and the put in the time like Rory Mcllroy and watch how it pays off!

Congratulations to Rory, Tiger and Tom. Could be the new Big 3 in golf

And I think they should now call Rory "R.U.D.s" instead of RORS. RUDS is an acronym for Rory up and Downs...I like it.



Christian Czaja is the 2011 South Florida PGA Section Teacher of the Year. He can be reached for lessons at or 561-213-9213.