Tip #3 The Simple Pitch

Pitch-FinishThe pitch is often the shot that the average golfer struggles with the most. It is also the shot that allows low-handicappers and pros to separate themselves from the field. In other words, the pitch is a shot that has the potential to make every golfer better.

Here are some thoughts to put the pitch into context:

1) The pitch is generally a fairly high trajectory shot, and we play it from short range when we need more fly than roll from the ball (over some rough and a sand trap to a pin on the close side of the green , for example). A chip is the opposite: we play it when we can roll the ball most of the way to the target.

2) The pitch is similar in technique to the full swing, and is mainly different from the chip in that we cock the wrists to create enough force to loft the ball. In rolling shots (putt and chip) we generally keep the hands and wrists quiet, whereas higher and longer shots (pitches and full shots) usually require setting the wrists to provide power.

3) There are many types of pitches, including the blast, flop, the low spinner, and the pitch and run. The average golfer should at least feel comfortable with a basic pitch, and then learn the others over time.

4) Pitching tends to be difficult for people because it has all the moving parts of a full swing, but adds a finesse element as we try to regulate the distance of the shot. The average player is generally better off putting and chipping the ball whenever possible.

Here are some of the most common problems that emerge when golfers attempt to pitch the ball:

1) Some golfers struggle with the pitch because they try to take distance off of their wedge shots by taking a fairly normal backswing and then decelerating as they approach impact. Contact usually suffers when we do this, and even if we make decent contact, the shot will likely go off line.

2) Many golfers try to control the shot too much with the arms, usually right from the start during the backswing. Creating a disconnect between the body and the arms makes the timing of contact difficult, and it often makes a player’s balance suffer too.

3) Just as it happens in chipping, many golfers fight the instinct to scoop or lift the ball when pitching; the tendency is even worse in pitching, though, because there is so much loft on the club-face and we know we need to get the ball air-born, so we try to “get under” the ball. Contact and distance control suffer greatly when we use the arms and hands to try to lift the ball off the ground. And if it’s not tough enough to resist the scooping instinct, a lot of us actually “need” to make a scooping or flipping move through the ball as a compensation for other swing failures.

4) As in all shots in golf, if we get off balance or out of plane during the swing, we will struggle to hit solid shots. The same is true in pitching.

Here are some thoughts about the setup and execution of a basic or simple pitch:

1) Set up fairly close to the ball, with an athletic posture and “soft”, bouncy knees. Consider moving the lead foot away from the target line a little as if “opening” the stance. This does three things: helps keep weight off the toes, clears the left hip out of the way for impact, and allows us to build a little bit of coil in the body even if we make a smaller than usual backswing.

2) Which wedge you choose and the ball position are variable based on the shot required: a more lofted club and the ball further forward for high pitches, and the opposite for lower pitches.

3) Feel a connection between the lead arm and the upper torso. Start the swing by turning the lead shoulder with the arm still connected; soon in the takeaway, cock the wrists in a fairly steep angle, forming a “letter L” between the lead arm and the shaft of the club. It’s important to let the lead arm swing at least a little to the inside even though it’s likely a short backswing because contact tends to suffer when the lead arm stays parallel to the target line. Unwind the swing through impact by smoothly turning the knees and belt buckle to face the target while shifting weight to the front foot. Allow the club to follow this action. Try to let the wrists un-cock and release naturally rather than using them to hit or lift the ball.

4) A few general thoughts: imagine having a wrist set in the backswing, but not in the follow-through (this helps to avoid lifting and scooping); avoid deceleration by thinking “short to big”, meaning a short backswing to an almost full follow-through; and imagine the tempo and balance of an easy side-arm toss to keep centered and rhythmic. Regulate the distance of the shot by adding shoulder turn and a little extra arm-swing to the backswing as necessary (or by changing the club).

5) Choose a club with more bounce, or open the face of a wedge to expose and increase the bounce, to help on shots from fluffy or furry lies (thick rough, soft-sanded bunkers, etc.) and to help avoid chunking these finesse shots.

Since the pitch is generally the toughest shot for golfers to conquer, it is also the shot that has the most potential to give golfers an advantage when they do become proficient at it. A good goal for any golfer would be to become very good at a simple pitch and then add various other pitching techniques to become a true short-game genius.

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