Short Game Brilliance by Michael Haywood

By Michael Haywood
If you wish to take your game to the next level, then the short game is where you want to go. It is no surprise that the most important statistics on the PGA and LPGA tours are short game stats. On Sunday afternoon, it often comes down to who gets the ball up and in from around the green that determines success or failure. The improvements of the short game can single-handedly reduce a player’s handicap or, in the case of University of Arizona Senior and 2008 Curtis Cup team member Alison Walshe, make the difference between winning an NCAA title and finishing in the back of the pack. To better understand the essentials of a good short game, begin with the selection of clubs in the bag. Because there are many different types of wedges to choose from, it will be very important for you to select the one(s) that fit your game the best.

The 50 and 52-degree wedges are designed for the player who wants the comfort and reliability of a gap wedge for in-between shots. A player will choose one of these wedges in place of a
long iron or fairway wood, ultimately giving themselves four wedges in the bag: 48, 56 and 60.
The 54 and 56-degree wedges are the common sand wedge varieties that are versatile from bunker to fairway conditions. This player will choose one or the other depending on preference and style of play.
The 58 and 60-degree wedges also depend greatly on what the player expects to achieve from bunker conditions. While the 60-degree wedge is the most popular choice, the 58 suits the needs of those players who want a little more distance from their lob wedge from the fairway.

Whichever you choose, the important aspect of club selection is a matter of feel and style of play. I do not recommend the same clubs for everyone, and you should be open-minded in determining the selection that fits for you.
Without the proper pre-swing fundamentals, success is very difficult to achieve. In the photos above you will see that Alison has a solid set-up position with her hands hanging naturally from her body in a very relaxed manner. Her ball position is slightly forward of center with a narrow width of stance. This stance will increase in width as the shot increases in length. It is always important, however, to feel centered over the ball at address, keeping the weight equal on both feet. Everything about Alison’s set-up position is stable and relaxed with little or no tension—and it allows her to begin the takeaway.
You will find that the set-up is the same with any short shot from around the green—including the bunker. Notice that Alison is also very square (parallel) to the target line; this allows the club to be swung on a consistent path back and through the ball. Now, some players will feel a little more comfortable with a slightly open stance out of the bunker. It is important to note that being open to the target too much can lead to poor and inconsistent position at impact.
Last, but probably most important in the set-up, is the position of the hands at address. Alison does a fine job of ensuring her hands are slightly in front of the ball. From this relaxed and simple position Alison is now ready to begin the takeaway.

Take-away is where players often tighten up and pull the club far too much inside, leading to an inconsistent path through the ball. It is important to note that the takeaway is simply a position move with length. This length is step one of three steps that will determine distance and direction.
In Alison’s position you will see that the club moves straight back from the ball. This position allows the club to set in a “toe-up” position, allowing the player to bring the club back down just inside the line. I often get the question of, “How much do I move my body on the takeaway?” The fact is the body will move to thedegree the hands and arms tell it to, but the last thing a player needs to do is force these positions or hold them back. You will see that Alison’s body does move on the takeaway but to a very small degree, again not forced and with no tension.
Because of this, Alison can now return the club back to the impact position confidently, knowing she can maintain the speed of her hands through the ball without decelerating at impact. Being consistent with your wedge game is important. Understanding that the same fundamentals apply with each swing is essential to good results. Challenging yourself in the following manner will give you a more well-rounded short game and more options as you approach a shot from around the green.

Use the lofts on your wedges to give you similar but different shots to the same target.
One wedge shot may carry the ball further with more height while the same wedge with a different technique can produce a lower height while landing it just on the green allowing it to “roll out.”
Using the length of the swing a player can produce similar results with different clubs by squaring, opening and even closing the club face. Use that length of the swing to control speed and tempo.

The one thing I have seen over the years is that far too much emphasis is placed on impact. By worrying too much on “hitting the ball” instead of “through the ball” players will cheat themselves out of the rhythm and feel that is needed to become a good short game player. The downswing should be a mirror image of the take-away, ensuring the club is returned back on the line it traveled initially (or slightly inside). However, what cannot be seen in any still picture is the player’s ability to maintain or increase their speed through the hitting area. Alison has grown acutely aware that her positions at impact are completely irrelevant if she does not sufficiently maintain the speed of her hands through the ball, returning the club back to the original address position at impact.
A good follow-through is the by-product of a solid and fundamentally sound down move that is based primarily on the speed of the hands—this cannot be emphasized enough. In Alison’s follow-through, she keeps the club out in front of her torso and through toward the target. This is such an important position because the player cannot do this if they decelerate or slow the hands down through impact. Alison’s follow-through positions in both the shots (chip & bunker) are practically identical to her positions on her take-away. She has become proficient at using the length of her swing with good speed through the ball to create a consistent quality of shot.

Once you become familiar with these techniques you can fine-tune your short game by being very specific with where your ball lands on the green. A specific rule of thumb is the 25 percent rule. Pick a spot that is approximately 25 percent of the distance from the front edge of the green to the flagstick. What is critical is to choose a club that will land the ball on this spot, allowing it to roll out to the flag. The choice of club will vary from player to player. It’s important to experiment with your equipment to see which clubs work with what shots.
The best way to control these and all short game shots is to use the length of the club to your advantage. By choking down on the club you move the hands closer to the club head, establishing control of the club. By ensuring a consistent speed through the ball, a player can now control the trajectory, distance and direction of the shots. Spot and Speed are critical elements to a successful
short game.
The improvement in a player’s short game can be the single most important step toward lower scores. Make the commitment, build a consistent approach with the help of a PGA professional and use these techniques to create a great short game.