The short game has been the bane of my existence (as it is for most amateur golfers). I've struggled with the long game too, but I can at least ADVANCE the ball to within pitching distance. But nothing is more humiliating than to be 50 yards from the green and take a big divot BEHIND the ball and have it go nowhere. Blading or pulling the pitch are just as bad.
A pitch is like a shorter full swing or a longer chip (with a little wrist action); the backswing of a pitch should be like the full swing (vary the length of backswing and followthrough for the length of shot being attempted). A pitch shot is also somewhat like a greenside bunker shot, except the pitch swing might be less vigorous for the same required distance (many of the tips below apply to greenside bunkers). The arms still must stay in front of the body, but they don't travel as high (if they go higher than 9-o'clock you're really probably hitting a full wedge shot).
- Posture is EXTREMELY important; don't setup with an arched upper back and drooping shoulders. Keep a good spine angle with the shoulders back as you would for a full shot. Either bend the knees more or use a more narrow stance to maintain the correct posture
- Open the club face (a little for lower trajectory more for higher trajectory) BEFORE taking your grip; use the bounce…not the leading edge (consider the photo of Anthony Kim's club face--the club has not turned over as in a draw shot); increases margin for error and adds loft to the club
- Go with a neutral to weak grip (grip more in the palm of the left hand with the back of the left hand facing the target, and maybe turn the right hand over the top of the club a bit more); you want to prevent opening and closing the club face and digging at impact--now you're using the BOUNCE of the wedge to glide along the grass and that provides some margin for error--don't use the leading edge (same for bunker shots) unless you have a buried lie
- Grip down on the club ONLY for added control and feel (I use the middle of the grip); gripping down reduces the length of the shot, but use shot length to do this instead
- Use a tension-free swing and feel the weight of the club; think of swinging a weighted rope
- Always consider the lie--if it's tight then consider a chip if there are no obstacles
- Open the stance a little as you open the club face; the weight can be a little more to the left instep; don't shift much going back; turn the left foot out more and make the right foot more perpendicular
- At address, ground the club behind the ball ensuring the arms are straight and elbows close together; then and only then should you raise the upper body slightly to HOVER the club just above the ground and behind the ball; this helps ensure a downward blow and helps avoid fat shots
- Ball positioned well forward (really exaggerate this--especially in a greenside bunker); position the ball off your big toe but set up as if the the ball is in the middle of your stance; you'll think there's no way you'll hit a good shot but WRONG; play ball back a little more for increased spin and lower flight (ball will run more)
- Favor the left leg by pressing into it at address; on the backswing, avoid any great shift into the right leg
- Use a shallow, U-shaped swing (unless the lie is buried--then use V-shape)
- Think of using a longer takeaway; try to keep the butt end of the club pointing at the belt buckle on the backswing
- Set and hold the wrists on the backswing and into impact; use body rotation (think of turning the belt buckle towards the target and letting the arms chase)
- USE THE RIGHT HAND TO PITCH: Think of it as an underhanded throwing motion; the key is to set the wrists and leave them that way through impact--this means the left wrist will be flat but facing the sky during the follow-through, and the right wrist will remain slightly bent back through impact; the more the right palm faces the sky on the followthrough, the more loft that was added--back off from this to flight the ball down (Lanny Watkins); this is especially important for flop shots
- Follow through more around the body instead of down the line, swinging more to the inside after impact; the arm motion should circle around to your left hip on the followthrough
- Make certain to come through with the right shoulder!
- The club will often finish in a verticle position with a slight left arm chickenwing
- Brush the grass in your practice swings; feel relaxed during the motion; the club head should not dig
- Accelerate -- don't start fast and finish slow (do the opposite)
- Turn through and complete the finish (let the right foot come up)
- Watch the ball disappear before looking up! ALWAYS, ALWAYS avoid looking up too early (on all short game shots). This is the first thing to verify if chipping, pitching, and putting go awry. Keep looking down until the club makes ball contact!
- Let the finish mirror the backswing (higher for higher trajectory; lower for lower trajectory)
- For higher shots (lobs) and bunker shots with a high lip, take a wider stance and bend the knees more
When you swing the golf club back the most important aspect of pitching a golf ball, besides for using a sand wedge, is that you open the clubface and you do it with your right wrist more in the open position as opposed to bent back. You don’t need a lot of wrist cock, but you do need to feel that the right wrist is more in an open position, one that will give you loft when you come into the shot. So if you have trouble pitching the golf ball chances are that you bend your right wrist back and take the club to far back into the inside. Open the right wrist as you go back, not a lot of wrist cock, but keeping the club out in front of you with your right wrist more in an open position will make it so much easier for you to pitch the golf ball up in the air and onto the green. Open that right wrist and just let the club slide underneath the ball.
You don’t have to have a wrist cock in your pitch shot. Watch Steve Stricker hit his pitch shots the next time he is on TV in a PGA tournament. He sets up with an open stance and open clubface but does not have a wrist cock. His club opens and closes to the target line as his arms swing on plane around his body but he avoids wrist action. This method requires a larger swing but I believe it is the easiest method for most golfers to perfect.
You should feel like your hands are in almost the same relationship to your sternum as they were at address; in other words, a “one-piece” takeaway. The wrists set slightly, but do not make a significant change in angle from where they were at address.
The big thing for me on pitch shots is getting the clubhead swinging and letting that move my body, not the other way around. I start with the ball slightly forward and my hands centered in front of me. I also play the face a little open for all my pitch shots. Then I hinge the club upward going back, not around my body, with the toe pointing to the sky. Coming down, the club should unhinge the same way it went back (left). I want to feel it swinging down and through. The momentum of the club pulls my body to the finish.
A feeling to key in on is the sense of swinging to the inside after impact (as pictured below). Be sure to keep the face open or looking up while the club tracks to the inside as this will prevent the leading edge from digging.
[From Open Face | Andrew Rice Golf]
One of the ways that the professional golfers add speed to the pitch shot is that they weaken their grip. Their right hand comes to a weaker position on the golf club. This means that the ‘V’ shape that your index finger and thumb make will be pointed towards your left shoulder. This will feel very strange at first. This will allow you to accelerate through the shot and will stop you from closing the club face through the shot. Having the weak grip will help you to open the blade in the back swing (remember, this is only for the pitch shot) and will also allow your to release the club at speed without closing the face of the club at impact.
This is the "brushing of the grass." Take a few practice swings and brush the grass each time. Notice how easy it is if you are relaxed and not "gripping the devil" out of the club. Go back and forth and back and forth like a metronome.
As in chipping, a lot of amateurs play pitches with the ball too far back, causing the leading edge to dig at impact. The pitch is like the sand shot, except you don't swing as hard. Play the ball about middle, and keep your weight slightly forward. The club's bounce should graze the grass the way it slides under the ball in the sand. This is more forgiving than playing the ball back, because the club can actually hit the ground behind the ball and still slide through
Try to get the ball up in the air, with a slight cut action and have it land softly. This will give you the sense of keeping the face open and using the bounce of the club correctly. It will also prevent the wrists from being overly active. A feeling to key in on is the sense of swinging to the inside after impact