The Golf Short Game Guide: 12 Tips To Improve Your Short Game

You have probably heard it a million times, but it bears repeating. You drive for show and you putt for dough.

Your golf short game is, of course, more than just putting, however, the statement reigns true. It doesn’t matter how well you hit the ball if you can’t get it in the hole.

Did you know that over 60% of your shots during a round of golf come from 100 yards or closer to the hole?

Their short game is what separates a scratch golfer from a player that struggles to break 100.

The good news is your golf short game is easy to practice. Invest the time and watch your golf handicap drop.

Keep reading to learn:

  • What is your golf short game?
  • The different components of golf short game
  • 3 Tips for each component

Let’s get started!

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What Is Your Golf Short Game?

You can define the short game in a few different ways.

One definition: golf short game is anytime you are using a wedge or your putter. This isn’t wrong, but we wouldn’t consider hitting a full pitching wedge to be part of your short game.

With that in mind, it’s more suitable to describe the golf short game as any shot you hit from 50 yards or closer to the pin.

There are 4 different components to your golf short game. Pitching, Chipping, Bunker Play, and Putting.

Do you have a plan to improve your golf game? Invest time in your golf shot game you may soon break 100, break 90, or break 80!

12 Tips To Improve Your Golf Short Game

We want you to improve in all facets of your golf short game. To help you succeed, we have provided 3 tips for each component.

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Component One: PITCHING

Pitch shots are the longest shots in your golf short game. Typically, from 30-50 yards from the pin and you are hitting a short wedge shot.

Related Article: How Long Should A Game Of Golf Take?

#1: Pitching – Control The Distance With Your Backswing

A pitch shot is hitting a wedge with 30% to 70% power. The challenge for most golfers is understanding how to hit this type of shot.

How should you reduce the power of your swing? A common mistake is taking a full backswing and decelerating at impact.

This is a recipe for disaster. Slowing down your swing at impact can cause chunks, tops, and even shanks.

Instead, adjust the length of your backswing to control your power. Take a shorter backswing, but still be aggressive at impact.

This technique will help you be more precise with your pitch shots and you will still be able to spin the golf ball. The speed at impact puts spin on the ball.

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#2: Pitching – Use Loft & Hit Down On It

A full swing is easier to execute than a half swing. Always select the wedge for your pitch shot that is closest to a full swing.

In other words, use as much loft as possible for the pitch shot you are trying to play.

Trust the golf club to get the ball in the air – never try to lift the ball. Instead, hit down on it and trust the loft & bounce of the club.

#3: Pitching – Don’t Get Cute With It

If you are hitting a pitch shot, you should be within 50 yards from the green. If this is the case, you need to make sure your next shot is a putt!

Course management is important even when hitting a pitch. Pay attention to the pin placement.

If the flag is tucked near the edge of the green or over a bunker, play smart. There is nothing wrong with aiming towards the center of the green.

Give yourself a chance (a putt) for par, but don’t walk off the green with more than bogey.

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Component Two: Chipping

Chipping is taking low golf shots, where the ball is played along the ground and spends little time in the air

Chipping is the most complex part of your golf short game. There are several different types of chips and you will need to execute them from various lies.

#4: Chipping – Be Creative & Pick The Correct Shot

There are several ways to hit every chip you encounter on the course. Bump-n-run, flop shot, low spinner, and a blast – just to name a few.

The first step is to decide on the type of shot you want to play. You need to consider the slope of the green, the distance to the hole, and what is between you and the flag.

Be creative. Pick the shot that you are comfortable playing and has the highest likelihood of success.

Always consider putter. Arnold Palmer famously said, “Your worst putt will usually be as good as your best chip”.

The thing to remember about chipping is that you have options. You can use different clubs and play different shots.

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#5: Chipping – Hands Forward

We consider this the “golden rule” of chipping. Regardless of the shot you choose, keep your hands forward of the golf ball.

Setup to your chip shot and before starting your swing make sure your hands are slightly forward.

Hands behind the ball can cause you to scoop it, skull it double-hit it, or chilly dip it. There are a lot of golf terms to describe bad chip shots!

Like every good rule, there is an exception. If you need to hit a “super” flop shot, you may need to move your hands back a bit.

We hope you don’t have to hit a “super” flop very often.

#6: Chipping – Read The Green

All chips at some point end up rolling on the green, so why do many golfers forget to check the break before they chip?

You need to know the slope of the green and the direction of the break before you hit your chip.

Pick the spot on the green you hope your ball will land and then read from that spot to the hole.

The best way to get up and down is to chip it close. Reading the green before you chip will help you do this more often.

Or chip it in and eliminate the need to putt!

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Component Three: Sand Trap Shots

Bunker shots are an interesting piece of your golf short game. High handicappers are scared of the sand, but professional golfers consider them easier than other golf short game shots.

#7: Sand Traps – Open Up

Are you open to change? Open to new ideas? The good news is that hitting great bunker shots is all about being open.

Start by opening your stance. Your feet and shoulders should be aimed at least 10 yards left of your target (right-handed golfers).

Next, open your clubface. Your stance is open, your clubface is open, and your club path should go left off the target as well.

Being open will help you get the ball quickly in the air and it will land softly on the green.

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#8: Sand Traps – Don’t Hit The Ball

We know this advice might sound crazy, but it is true. When you execute a high-quality sand shot you don’t actually hit the golf ball.

You want to slice under the ball, hit the sand, and splash it out of the bunker.

Listen to your sand shots. You can hear if you did it correctly.

If you hear a click, you hit the ball and it probably went too far or was bladed into the lip of the bunker. You don’t want to hear a click.

Great bunker shots make more of “thump”. Your wedge thumps the sand and the ball softly lands on the green.

#9: Sand Traps – Speed At The Ball

In tip #8 we explained why you don’t want to hit the ball on bunker shots. You do, however, want speed/acceleration at the ball.

That is, you want your wedge to zip under the ball and slice through the sand at some speed. This is how you get the ball in the air and put spin on it.

Be aggressive on bunker shots and trust your practice. Fear is your enemy in the sand.

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Component Four: Putting

You can’t write a golf short game guide without a section on putting. Your putter is the most used club in your bag.

Putting is the quickest way to improve your golf short game and lower your golf handicap.

#10: Putting – Use Your Large Not Your Small Muscles

The putting stroke is a pendulum motion. The large muscles involved are your shoulders and your upper back.

Your wrist and hands are small muscles. The perfect putting stroke is made by rocking your shoulders.

You don’t want your wrists or hands to drive your stroke. They are harder to control and can cause you to “yip” putts.

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#11: Putting – Visualize The Break

All great putters can read the greens. You need to understand the slope and curve of a putt before you hit it.

Take it a step further. Before rolling the ball, visualize the path it is going to travel to end up in the hole.

Once you can see it, simply stroke the ball to make it happen. Being a great putter is all about believing you are a great putter.

#12: Putting – Find The Style That Works For You

Putting is our favorite part of golf short game. There is no one ‘right’ way to do it, it’s just about finding what works for you.

If you are struggling to make putts, try a different style of putting.

Perhaps try changing your grip. Try cross-handed putting or try “the claw”. Both are used to great success on professional tours around the world.

Try a different putter length. You can use an armlock putter or long/broom putter.

Find a way to consistently roll the ball and you are on your way to being a great putter. The boss of the moss!

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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