The Basic Pitch Shot
Pitching Made Easy
Practice and Master those 30-80 Yard Pitches
I have always felt that pitching was the "gray area" for golf instruction. There is a lot of conflicting and confusing information out there on how to hit a pitch shot, how to control trajectory and how to control distance. It is also a shot that requires a lot of practice and finesse to really become an expert. I find that there isn't a lot of practice time being put into this part of the game (30-80 yards).
The first place most golfers go when they get to the practice facility is the driving range with putting coming second. While at the putting green, they may hit a few green side chips, but rarely do you see them hitting hundreds of balls from the 30-80 yard range. Practice facilities and driving ranges often lack in targets from 30-80 yards so golfers aren't really encouraged all that much to work on their pitching game.
The basic pitch shot however can be made easy if you just keep things simple. Really, all you are trying to do here is hit an abbreviated form of your full swing. With the right set up and technique it all comes down to controlling distance and trajectory.
The first step is to visualize the ideal shot. Try to see the trajectory, bounce and roll that will work best. Once you have a good mental picture of this pick an exact landing spot. Your landing spot is key in the short game. Without it you have nothing. All your focus and energy must be on getting the ball to come down on that spot. Next it's time to select the best wedge to get the ball to that landing spot with the trajectory and roll that you need. So now that you've picked your club, visualized the shot and picked your landing spot, let's talk about execution.
Your ball has landed within the 30-80 yard range and you want to hit a simple basic pitch shot onto the green.
To hit a basic pitch shot with average TBR (trajectory, bounce and roll), simply remember CCC (center, center, center). Set up with your weight center, your ball positioned center and your hands and the club shaft centered in the middle of your body. Champions Tour Player, former PGA Tour Player and good friend Jay Delsing agrees when it comes to keeping things square and simple. Jay has a reputation by some on tour as one of the best short game players and teachers around. He professes square as the answer which I have long agreed with. Try to avoid tricky tips out there where your stance and club face are open when it is totally unnecessary.
Once you are in your CCC set up, stand with your feet just two club heads apart and keep your lower body quiet as you swing, making sure to hit down on the ball. You can vary distance simply by altering 3 things:
- length of swing
- pace of swing
- choke up or down on the club
I recommend choking down an inch on almost all short game shots simply for more control. Note that the more you choke down the stiffer the shaft will become and the lower you will hit the shot, so don't play around with this too much unless that's your intention. Altering the pace of your swing is awkward and should be reserved for very low handicapped, skilled players. Everyone has their own natural tempo and throwing that off can result in decelerating, becoming jerky, accelerating at the wrong point and all sorts of errant shots. It is best to stay with your normal tempo and stay aggressive through the hit so you will get good, crisp, clean shots with spin. So that leaves simply altering the length of your swing to control distance. This is where the hours of practice come in. To simplify things I recommend mastering 3 different backswing lengths. While in college I developed 3 different backswing positions that where easy to visualize:
- club shaft parallel to the ground
- left arm parallel to the ground
- hands shoulder high
About that same time short game guru Dave Pelz came out with his method of using the face of a clock to measure how long your backswing is. Great minds think alike! :) Whichever method works for you just nail down a few different lengths through hours of practice and figure out how far your ball flies when you stop your back swing at each one. Do this with each of your wedges.
Keep your basic pitch shot easy:
- visualize the shot
- pick your landing spot
- pick your club
- stand with feet 2 club heads apart
- set up CCC
- set your club face square
- pick your backswing length
- stay with your normal tempo and make sure to accelerate
Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.