Golf Short Game Guide for Beginners

If you ask an expert about what is the most important skill to master in golf, the majority will answer the short game. The short game is often the maker or breaker of a good score. You can hit 300-yard tee shots but if your short game is weak, you’ll end up with a higher handicap.

Before you master the short game, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of what it is. The short game refers to a few different shots and setups instead of just one.

In this post today, we’re going to learn everything there is about it. Consider it your 101 guide to the short game.

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What is Short Game in Golf?

In traditional golf, there are four basic components to the short game. If you’ve seen professionals like Phil Mickelson doing different variations of short shots, don’t try to mimic them immediately. Those are played by advanced players for a reason.

The four basic shots in short game for regular players would be:

  1. Chip shot
  2. Pitch shot
  3. Bump and Run shot
  4. Bunker shot

Chip Shot

Chips shots are usually played when you’re close to the green. However, you can play this from any distance you want. A chip shot is identified by the nature of ball flight. Chip shots generally fly low and bounce more than once after impact.

An interesting fact about these shots is that you can use any club from the 14 in your bag. We’ve seen players using everything from drivers to putters! The ideal selection is usually a mid iron or a wedge.

You need to select the club for chipping based on your experience level, your comfort with each club, and the obstacles on the course. The more you’re in tune with your game, the better you can judge when and how to chip.

Analyzing the surface condition is very important before you go chipping. As the ball will bounce more than once, an uneven surface can change the direction of the ball. Ideally, you should chip when there are no obstacles between you can the green. Also, the grass should be relatively shorter.

Pitch Shot

Less experienced players confuse between a chip shot and a pitch shot all the time. While they are very similar in terms of the nature of the swing, chipping and pitching are used for different purposes.

A pitch shot is identified by the backspin. The goal is to land the ball softly. Pitch shots are played when there is an obstacle in the line of the shot. Also, when the ground conditions are in your favor, like in the rough, you may want to pitch the ball right on the edge of the green.

You don’t have the flexibility to use any club from your collection for pitching. You need to select high loft clubs to create the necessary backspin. An 8 or 9 iron and wedges work best for pitch shots.

Another key element is your stance. You need your feet at shoulder width to properly hit the shot.

In terms of ball position, it should be right under your sternum for the most part. But you’re free to make changes if you want the ball to go higher or farther. If you push the ball forward, you get more height and less distance. The opposite is true when you move the ball backward.

Bump and Run Shot

This is a unique one. And you won’t see many amateur players attempting to play this shot. They’re most likely to stick to their chipping and pitching.

Bump and run shots are sometimes known as chip and run because it’s very similar to chip shots. The difference is that the ball bounces just once and then rolls toward the target. If you’re lucky, you may hole the ball with this shot as well!

When it comes to club selection, the sky is the limit. As long as you’re comfortable and confident with your selection, any club will work. We’ve seen players use long irons from the edge of the green!

The goal of a bump and run shot is to keep the ball relatively close to the ground. So, the less lofted clubs make sense. Because the more loft a club has, the more ball flight you’ll get. A 7-iron is a good way to test your skills for this shot.

When you’re setting up for this shot, you should go with a narrow stance. It’ll bring you closer to the ball and give you more control over your swing. The stance is almost similar to a putting shot.

Another thing to keep in mind is the weight transfer. You don’t want to transfer your body weight to your front aggressively. It should be a very mild transition. Also, don’t put too much weight on the front foot. 60-70% works best for most players.

In terms of ball position, a bump and run shot is dramatically different. If you go through any ball position guide on the internet, you’ll notice that the ball position for all shots is somewhere between your front foot and the middle of your body.

But for a bump and run shot, you need to push the ball a little more toward the back foot. This is done to keep the ball flight lower. The swing for this shot will be very mild as well. You can start with your putting swing to see it does. If it’s too slow, you can tweak the force you want to apply.

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The Bunker Shot

Greenside bunkers are usually another name for a nightmare for new players. But when you know how to tackle it, it’s not as bad as it seems. The smart practice is to tackle the bunker shots head-on. Because no matter how hard you try to avoid it, you’ll end up in a greenside bunker sooner or later.

The first step is to get out of the mental block. In most cases when a player botches a bunker shot, it’s more mental than physical incompetency. Did you know that even the best players in the world have an average success rate of 50% in saving a bunker shot?

So, why bother fearing something that’s actually hard to accomplish. You should just give your best. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Among the things you need to adjust before you hit a bunker shot come to your address position, your weight distribution, your stance, and your hand position.

At address, you need to include a little more bend at the knee than your regular shots. It’s because you don’t need much lower body movement while saving the ball from the bunker. Also, the extra bend will help plant yourself better on the sand.

You need to open up your stance a little more as well. Increasing the distance between your feet will give more range of motion to your arms.

In terms of weight distribution, you need to follow the same rules as the bump and run shot. About 60-70% of your body weight on your front foot.

A key element in succeeding with bunker shots is your club face angle. For most shots, you want your club to be perfectly aligned with the target, known as a square club face. But for bunker shots, your club face should be open. Meaning, the club face should face away from the target on your right side, if you’re a right-handed player.

Lastly, for a standard bunker shot, you should choke up the club and loosen your grip a little.

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Advanced Short Game Shots in Golf

Once you’re done mastering the four basic short game shots in golf, you can move along with the more advanced shots. Whenever we think of such shots, there are two that come to mind instantly.

  1. The Flop Shot
  2. Low trajectory high spinning wedge shot

Flop Shot

A flop shot is played when you have very little room around the green to land your ball. It’s one of the hardest shots to master in all of golf. The ball flies high and lands softly on the green with little to no roll. You need to time the impact perfectly to nail this shot.

The tactics are fairly similar to pitch shots. But you need immense control and understanding of your playing style and the game altogether.

Low Trajectory High Spinning Wedge Shot

Veteran players consider this a weapon of mass destruction! You can play these shots in varied distances and conditions, given that you’ve mastered the mechanics. It’s a relatively low shot with a high spin on the ball. There might be one or two bounces on the way before the ball lands right on the green and stops.

Final Words

There’s no doubt that the short game is the most important part of a player’s skillset. And it indeed takes a player years to fully master the aspects of the shots. The fact is that you need to start somewhere.

This guide is purely educational. If you’re interested in different drills and techniques for all the shots we’ve discussed in this post, take some time to explore our website.

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Thanks for reading today’s article!

Nick Foy – Golf Instructor

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