Golf Digest Teaching Professional Jim Flick got some credit last week at the U.S. Open for the work he's been doing for the past six years with one of his pupils, Beau Hossler. Only 17, the kid who'll be a high school senior this fall actually led the Open for about 15 minutes on Saturday. He was still in contention going into Sunday's final round. He shot rounds of 70-73-70-76 to finish T29.
Flick says one of the keys to Hossler's good play at Olympic was his short pitches. Early in the week they worked on two specific shots with a sand wedge. You can use these in your game as well.
1. Pitch from tight lie.This year at the Open, the USGA created several chipping areas around the greens. If your ball ended up there, you were faced with either putting onto the green, or hitting a soft pitch from a very tight lie. Jim showed Beau how to hit the soft pitch. "You play the ball slightly forward of center in your stance, and lay the clubshaft back to use more of the wedge's bounce, but don't open the clubface," Flick says. "Then during the swing, you use very little wrist hinge. It's really an arm swing. That's how you make good contact and hit the shot softly."
2. Pitch from deep rough. The other shot they worked on is more typical in U.S. Open conditions: the ball sitting down in heavy grass but fairly close to the green. What to do? Flick says he worked with Hossler to get the club more vertical going back. "Open the face to increase the loft on the wedge and play the ball back of center in your stance," Flick says. "When you swing down, be aggressive, but limit your follow-through, holding the face open past impact. Use a tighter grip pressure so you can keep the face from closing in the taller grass." Flick says to think of it as a bunker shot. It's OK for the club to hit the grass behind the ball. The ball should pop up fairly softly, but will have some roll-out, so you need to allow for that. He also says that if you're really close to the green, say a foot or two from the fringe, play the ball off your right foot, lean left, and close the clubface. "Just chop down on the ball and allow for a lot of run-out," he says. "The ground will limit your follow-through."
Both of these shots require a lot of practice, Flick says. He told the young Hossler to make every setup and swing fit the lie of the ball and the shot he's trying to hit. That's great advice for all of us.