Play Your BestJanuary 11, 2016

Curing Faults: The dreaded skulled pitch

You need to loft one, but you catch it in the teeth
Illustration by Chris Gash

Faced with a short pitch over a bunker, your plan is to throw the ball up in the air and stop it fast. Instead, the leading edge of your wedge slams into the middle of the ball and sends it over the green. We call that "hitting it in the teeth."

Many people think the cause of this sickening shot is falling onto the back foot during the downswing in an attempt to lift the ball over the bunker. That's part of it, but the real culprit is the breakdown, or cupping, of the left wrist through impact.

To hit it high, you want your left arm and the shaft in a line at impact, pointing straight down to the ball. Your wedge has lots of loft, so you don't have to try to add more by scooping, which causes the left wrist to cup and the club to swing up at the ball.

This problem often can be traced to a short backswing, resulting from tension. Feel your wrists stay passive going back and move your lead arm and the shaft together to the ball.

Another cause of the left wrist breaking down is a lazy through-swing. You want more speed coming through—think crisp—for soft pitches that stop fast. Your ball will thank you.

Rick Smith is a Golf Digest Teaching Professional.