Most practice is pretty simple: Pound out a few buckets of balls on the range or stroke putt after putt on the putting green. Most high handicappers skip practicing one of the most important parts of the game, the short game.
Whether they simply don’t or don’t know how, chips and pitches are overlooked, so the “scoring shots” never improve. No longer. Here’s a practice routine everybody can use to shore up chipping, pitching and sand play.
Chipping: Different Clubs, Different Lengths
Take a bucket of balls to an area just off the putting green. Choose three holes at varying distances from your spot. Chip to each hole, regularly changing targets, trying each time to fly the ball a third of the distance and let it roll the remaining two-thirds. Experiment by changing clubs, noticing different trajectories, distance and spin; this exercise will give you a feel for what you can and cannot do with various clubs. Chip from a good lie, then, once you’re in a rhythm, drop the ball and play it as it lies. Keep varying your shots to develop feel and confidence. After you’ve chipped all the balls, putt them one by one into the holes.
Few practice facilities have real greens that can serve as targets for pitch shots. As a result, you usually pitch to a small tree or ball washer. With a little creativity, you can turn the following games into effective practice.
Leapfrog — Start by hitting 20-yard pitches to the base of a tree using your pitching or sand wedge. Keep hitting shots until one strikes the bottom of the tree. Then mix it up a bit: Try to land a shot 10 feet short of the tree, then land the next one between the last ball and the tree. Keep “leapfrogging” your way toward the tree until you miss, then start over. You won’t face this challenge on the course, but you will develop a feel for what kind of swing will send a ball a given distance.
High Jump — Find a bush or shrub at least four feet tall. With an empty range basket on the opposite side, hit shots over the bush from about 15 feet away, trying to land them in or near the basket. Every time you’re successful, move a step closer, repeating the process until you can no longer clear the bush. This is a great way to learn the valuable lob shot.
Sand: Find Different Lies
Unless your home course has a practice bunker, restrict your sand practice on the course to off-hours when you won’t get in anybody’s way.
Start by hitting regular sand shots, concentrating on proper technique: open face, open stance and a descending blow an inch or two behind the ball. When you’re into a rhythm, move to a downhill lie and hit a few shots, taking note of how the ball reacts in flight and once it hits the green. Then move to an uphill lie and do the same thing. Put yourself in as many situations as you can: sidehill lie, ball in footprint, plugged lie. Make sure you remember the results of each type of shot so when you face a similar situation on the course, you’ll know how to handle i