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Friday, September 23, 2011

Why Pitching Seems So Hard

Dexter did a post called The Dreaded 40-60 Pitch Shot about his problems learning to get the ball close from this distance. He included a video by PGA pro Brad Hauer that showed one way to do it. And it sounds simple when you watch it. So why do players have so much trouble with these shots?

It's because nobody agrees on how to do them. Just to give you an idea of what I mean, I'm going to show you a couple of other videos on the same topic. You'll notice that they not only disagree with each other, but they seem to disagree with the video Dexter posted as well! (Don't worry, I won't leave you hanging without some simple guidelines to help you.)

The first video comes from Australian PGA pro David Milne and it's part of his Pro Tour Golf College series.

Now here's somebody you may have heard of -- Phil Mickelson -- and he has an entirely different approach.

As I mentioned, neither of these videos say the same thing as the one Dexter found. And I'll let you in on a little secret... there are even more ways to approach this shot. Dave Pelz, for instance, teaches a system of pitch shots in his Short Game Bible that focuses on using different wedges with backswings of different lengths. Is it any wonder weekend players get confused?

Let's just focus on these three videos and find the commonalities between them. Believe it or not, there are several similar things that all three teachers are doing. In fact, the things I'm going to point out here won't be far off from what any method teaches.

First of all, Hauer is swinging on a much flatter plane than either Milne or Mickelson. That makes these swings look very different! Hauer's hands rarely get above his waist either before or after he hits ball. The other two are making much more upright swings, and that contributes to the apparent contradictions.

Then Phil says you should "accelerate" the shot, as opposed to the smoother rhythm the other two are teaching. Milne specifically seems to contradict this acceleration idea. This is a case where we have to ignore what the teachers say but pay attention to what they do. I'm going to point out two things that are the same in all three videos, although they don't describe them the same way.

Let's start with the Milne / Mickelson rhythm contradiction. What are they both saying NOT to do?

Milne says not to take the club back short and try to make a hard hit with a short finish. Mickelson says not to take it back long and slow down... which will cause you to have a short finish. Both finish with their hands higher at the finish than they were at the top of the backswing. And even flatter-swinging Hauer gets his hands to travel as far on his finish as he did on his backswing.

Lesson #1: Keep a smooth rhythm throughout your swing -- no speed-ups or slowdowns -- and make sure your finish is at least as long as your backswing. Wow, that's not so difficult, is it? It's something you can check pretty easily. And remember, if you have a flatter swing, your finish will be closer to the length of your backswing; with a more upright swing, your finish should be noticeably longer.

But how do you do that? Speed control can be a bit tricky, but if you know what you're looking for, you'll see that all three men are using the same technique for speed control. Did you notice that all three of them are making full shoulder turns, even though the swings are not as long as a full swing? We have a name for that move on this blog. All together now -- ONE-PIECE TAKEAWAY.

This is what Hauer is encouraging you to do with that glove drill of his. (And that glove drill specifically creates a flat swing, in case you didn't know. If you keep your upper arm "tight across your chest" as he suggests, it's inevitable.) But if you've paid any attention to my numerous posts about the OPT, you know that your lead elbow automatically points down toward the ground throughout the entire swing. And when it does that, your elbow stays close to your side as he suggests. There's a reason I keep covering the same few moves over and over, folks -- if you do those few basic moves correctly, a lot of other problems take care of themselves.

Lesson #2: Control the speed of your pitching motion with a one-piece takeaway. By using the big muscles of your upper body to swing the club rather than your arms, it's much easier to make a smooth rhythmic swing. If you make a sudden jerk on the downswing, you'll throw yourself off-balance and not hit the ball solidly. If you try to slow down as you hit the ball, it just feels uncomfortable.

Hauer's flatter swing is the most obvious use of the OPT. Mickelson and Milne appear to have more arm motion because their swings are more upright.. but that arm movement is vertical. They don't move their arms across their bodies as they make their swings. Watch the videos a few times and you'll see that their hands stay pretty much in front of their bodies all the way through the pitch, just as I try to get you to do on your full shots.

And finally...

Lesson #3: The length of the backswing depends on which wedge you're using. Milne and Mickelson both specify that they're using 60° lob wedges, and I suppose Hauer is doing the same. But you may find that you don't hit your lob wedge far enough for this pitch shot. If so, instead of trying to lengthen your backswing and make a longer swing, just go to a different wedge. I personally find my current 54° sand wedge is better for this shot; my lob wedge gives better results in the 30- to 40-yard range. A backswing that goes only to waist height and no higher will probably give you more consistent results.

Hopefully this post will help you get closer more often with those mid-length pitch shots. It doesn't take much practice at all to find the wedge / swing length combination that feels natural for this shot. And that's really the key to this shot -- find the combination that feels natural to you for this distance.

Then you can make your own video to confuse people. ;-)


  1. Funny that you feature these two videos because I did consider using them, but went with Hauer's because it looks more like my swing. I found that when my backswing is short like Phil's, I always hit the ball fat and leave it short.

    I usually use my 60 degree wedge as well for this shot, but now that I think about it, I may have my feet too close together, which makes the shot too "handsy" and I flip my wrists. I'll try using my 56 degree the next time I'm faced with this shot. Maybe it will allow me to swing a bit smoother and rid my swing of the jerk on the downswing.

    I need this shot in my arsenal. If I can get good at it, I will be shooting in the mid 70's. This is the shot which usually leads to double bogeys for me.

  2. Just remember, Dex: The key to this shot is finding the wedge that you can hit this distance with a smooth, rhythmic half shot. Once you do that, you can make this shot almost with your eyes closed.

    Keep them open, though. You'll want to see the ball stick next to the pin. ;-)