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There is one area where recreational golfers and tour professionals have somewhat common ground – the short game.
True, the pros are far more talented with pitching, chipping and putting. But both amateurs and pros need to rely on their short game to score. What’s more, chipping and putting don’t require brute strength, clubhead speed and length. The short game demands a dozen elements to play masterfully from 60 yards and in. I have covered this topic a few times previously (starting in 2006 when I first started writing this column), but I have mostly focused on the combination of touch and feel for chipping and putting. After thoughtful research I have come to appreciate that there are several more factors to master.
First, let’s take imagination.
That doesn’t just come into play when you find your ball in an awkward or precarious position. You need keen imagination when you have several options for your shot, or need to create a certain shot to make a stellar recovery. Like Tiger and Phil.
That comes with skill; the skill to execute. Skill isn’t an innate gift; it comes from practice with the right kind of fundamentals and technique. Practice is useless if it ingrains faulty movements. Very few high handicappers spend enough time practicing their short game technique, and it’s partly why they can’t break 100 or 90. You can’t rely on a hunch, a guess, a wish or just hope to get it done.
One of the more subtle aspects of short game technique is developing a sense of what is needed for a particular shot. A pitch shot from 60 or 70 yards needs to be precise as to the trajectory and to where it lands. Sensing the distance and the right club comes with experience. Practice, playing a lot and paying close attention to what happens to your shots will help you develop a necessary instinct as to what to expect when you choose to play a particular shot. It will guide you to make the correct judgment as to what to do, whether it’s a greenside chip or an approach shot over a gaping bunker. Experience coupled with skill will serve to keep your nerves from being your enemy, because you will approach what you have to do with plenty of confidence.
Arnold Palmer called it with what he said years ago: “What separates great players from the good ones is not so much ability as brain power and emotional equilibrium.”
When it comes to putting, those same combinations of factors are involved, but then there are a few more.
One is steadiness.
Too many casual golfers tend to putt like they are stabbing a roast turkey. They need watch to tour pros, and especially the women, who stroke the ball (rather than hit the ball) delicately like it is a precious jewel. LPGA players are phenomenal putters!
Also with putting comes patience. Sometimes you may believe that you’re putting well and the ball won’t go in. Patience is a virtue. If you’re putting well the ball will eventually go in, more than you think.
One other note about putting is that one really needs to start with a sense of comfort to begin a round, and that means understanding the speed of the greens and sensing the breaks. Try to always go to the practice green and hit putts from 40 feet to 5 feet before your round.
I would be remiss if I did not stress visualization – that is seeing in your mind’s eye exactly what you are trying to do.