Specialty Shots

Tips for mirroring pros’ go-to moves
BY TOM MACKIN — Summer 2019

ro golfers draw from a deep and varied arsenal of shots, and their ability to perform those shots in pressure situations sets them apart from the bulk of us. How do they do that consistently? Technique, practice, and more practice. That’s why they’re always ready to execute the not-so-simple shot called for in a not-always-so-easy situation. Whether it’s a Mickelson-like flop shot, using a stinger off the tee, or making a pitch shot stop on a dime, you can save strokes and play like a pro by adding the go-to special shots on the next pages to your own bag of tricks.

When you’re missing a lot of greens, try … The Flop Shot

Tips from Dave Pelz: The Texas-based instructor works with current PGA Tour pros, including five-time major champion Phil Mickelson, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, and three-time PGA Tour winner Brendan Steele.

The shot: “The ideal lie for this shot is when the ball sits in a fairly tight lie about a quarter of an inch off the ground. To hit it, align your shoulders, hips, and feet left of the target and keep the clubface wide open so it’s almost facing skyward. Keep the ball just ahead of the middle of your stance. If you hit the ball with a descending blow, and the clubface is open enough, the ball will rise up quickly. You have to swing hard to make this happen though, because the open clubface doesn’t add much forward momentum to the ball. You want the club to meet the ball at the very bottom of the swing arc and have your arms fully extended at impact, as you do when hitting a driver.” 

Practice drill: “To develop this shot, first go to a wide-open driving range and practice it. When you can hit it successfully 10 times in a row, find a hedge (or an obstacle that won’t propel the ball back toward you), stand 10 feet from it, and work on hitting the ball over the hedge or obstacle. Move progressively closer as you continue working on executing the shot.”

When you want to pitch it close, try … The Quick Check

Tips from Pia Nilsson: The co-founder of Vision54, a program and golf school based at Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., ranks 14th on Golf Digest’s “50 Best Teachers in America” list. She works with numerous LPGA players, including 2018 Rolex Player of the Year Ariya Jutanugarn.

The shot: “Pitch shots that roll way past the hole create difficult putts. That’s why when the pros find themselves with a good lie five to 20 yards off the green, they’ll hit a pitch shot that bounces once or twice and then stops suddenly, usually leaving themselves a short putt. To do that, position the ball just back of center in your stance. That helps create a low launch angle since the club — use a lofted wedge — comes in steeper. To create backspin, maintain speed through the shot while holding the clubface square to the target. Ariya is strong and can maintain the speed necessary for this shot.”

Practice drill: “Create a ‘gate’ (i.e., string or PVC piping hanging 3 feet in the air between two poles placed 4 feet apart) on the fringe of a green. Stand close to the gate and launch pitch shots just below it and onto the green. Move progressively farther away from the gate to lengthen the shot. Work on keeping the clubface square to your target throughout the shot. Maintain constant grip pressure and finish with your weight on the front foot.”

When you need more control of your shot trajectory, try … The Stinger

Tips from Jason Birnbaum: One of Golf Digest’s “Best Young Teachers in America”, the director of instruction at Manhattan Woods Golf Club in West Nyack, N.Y., works with PGA Tour player Roberto Díaz and Web.com players Oscar Fraustro and Alex Rocha.

The shot: “Made famous by Tiger Woods, the stinger is useful on narrow courses because it’s easier to keep the ball in play, and also on windy days because of its lower flight path. Take a narrower stance than usual, feet just barely within shoulder-width. Keep 60 percent of your weight on the front foot, choke down slightly on the club, and forward press your hands about an inch ahead of the ball at address. Keep the ball position pretty neutral, which when using long clubs means just in front of center. Avoid placing the ball way back in your stance; doing that can change other parts of the swing, notably the impact point.” 

Practice drill: “This shot requires a shorter follow-through than usual. Using a driving iron, make your regular full backswing at normal speed, but try to stop the swing almost immediately after impact. Exaggerating such an abrupt end will create crisper contact and helps lower the ball flight. The club shouldn’t rise above your hips on the follow-through.”


When you find your ball in a divot, try … The Divot Escape Shot

Tips from Warren Bottke: The PGA Master Professional was a 2018 inductee in the South Florida PGA Hall of Fame and worked with two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. He teaches at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and has worked with PGA, LPGA, and Champions Tour winners.

The shot: “Don’t be discouraged. This shot can be handled successfully with patience, proper technique, and practice. You’ll need a more lofted iron or wedge. Position the ball in your stance in accordance with the ball’s position in the divot. For example, if the ball is in the front portion of the divot, play it front of center in your stance to catch it on the upswing. Always place more weight on your front foot (60-40). On the takeaway, pick the club up a little quicker with your hands to create a steeper angle of attack and make sure to hit the ball first, not the ground. If you’re within range of the green, use a three-quarter swing for better control — that means less ball compression at impact, so use an extra club. You don’t need to be physically strong like a Brooks Koepka to execute this particular shot — just focus on making the proper swing.” 

Practice drill: “Create divots on the practice range and place balls in them to get used to hitting from that type of lie. Addressing that situation repeatedly in practice will give you the confidence to execute the shot successfully out on the course.”

When you want to make more 3-foot putts, try… The Tempo Putt

Tips from Derek Uyeda: The lead instructor at Grand Golf Club in San Diego ranks among the top 50 golf instructors in California in Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers in Your State.” He works with PGA Tour golfers Charley Hoffman and Xander Schauffele.

The shot: “PGA Tour players make at least 97 percent of 3-footers thanks to a consistent putting rhythm. The time it takes to make a putting stroke should always be the same, no matter the length of the putt. The average PGA Tour player makes a stroke in .9 seconds, or about 82 beats per minute, from the start of the backswing to contact. They also do something to trigger their putting motion. Xander and Charley tap their putters on the ground behind the ball before starting their backswing. Charley even wiggles his toes before he takes the putter back. Do whatever helps you start the swing and establish the proper tempo for your putts, especially the short ones.” 

Practice drill: “Download a metronome app on your phone and practice developing your own putting rhythm while listening to it. Try 82 beats a minute, but adjust accordingly to whatever you feel most comfortable with. Jabbing at or decelerating into the ball on these short putts is pretty inefficient. If your tempo is good, the putter tends to swing correctly.”


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