GOLF DIGEST SCHOOLS

The Ultimate Guides: Approach Shots

1  of  5

Lesson 1: Iron Play

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OVERVIEW

Few things in golf are more frustrating than splitting the fairway with a drive and then wasting it with a poor iron shot that leads to a big number. In this video, Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Jason Birnbaum shares his best tips for hitting crisper long, middle and short iron shots that will lead to more greens in regulation and lower scores.

SWING THOUGHTS

For middle to long irons, play the ball ahead of the middle of your stance. For short irons, play it in the middle
On iron shots, hinge your wrists early and keep your left wrist flat at the top
Focus on a spot in front of the ball when hitting irons. This keeps your weight more forward, setting up ball-first contact
When selecting a club for your approach, locate the trouble around the green. If it’s long, club down; if it’s short, club up.

DRILLS

Tee in the grip

  • Stick a tee in the butt end of your club
  • On the takeaway, hinge your wrists and get the tee to point down to the ball. This gets the club on the proper plane early in the swing
  • Use this drill when hitting balls to groove crisp contact
Lesson 2: Playing from the Rough
2 Lesson 2: Playing from the Rough
  • The first fundamental of recovery shots
  • How to ensure a ball-first strike
  • Why most rough shots fail
  • 4 common lies and how to handle them

The Ultimate Guides: Approach Shots

2  of  5

Lesson 2: Playing from the Rough

video breakdown

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OVERVIEW

Even the best players in the world spend a lot of time playing from the rough. For amateurs, the thick stuff can be intimidating, but fearing it will only make it more difficult. Jason Birnbaum’s tips will help you get over these daunting lies and get out of the long grass more effectively.

SWING THOUGHTS

From the rough, pick a club with plenty of loft
Stand closer to the ball in the rough for a steeper angle of attack and a cleaner strike
To avoid catching long grass, grip the club firmly and play the ball farther back in your stance
From rough lies, hinge your wrists quickly and accelerate through the ball so that the grass doesn’t slow you down
To prevent fat shots out of the rough, don’t try to help the ball up in the air
Always assess your lie in the rough. This will dictate your club selection and swing

DRILLS

Practicing From Different Lies

  • For buried lies, practice with a more lofted club to safely get out of the rough
  • For flyer lies, practice by swinging easy with less club
  • For lies with the grass growing away from the target, practice with your wedges to get it out
  • For lies with the grass growing toward the target, let it rip
Lesson 3: Fairway Woods
3 Lesson 3: Fairway Woods
  • Basics of the setup and swing
  • The challenge of these long clubs
  • Master the clean sweep
  • The most effective practice technique

The Ultimate Guides: Approach Shots

3  of  5

Lesson 3: Fairway Woods

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OVERVIEW

One of the more difficult shots amateurs face is the long approach that requires a fairway wood. Most players aren’t confident hitting a 3-wood off the ground, and they don’t practice the shot enough to build confidence. In this video, Jason Birnbaum shares his best confidence-building techniques and tips on how to make solid contact with these long clubs.

SWING THOUGHTS

To make long approach shots easier, use a fairway wood with more loft
With fairway woods, play the ball forward and tilt your spine back
On fairway-wood shots, make a wide swing back and maintain that wide arc coming down
To avoid a choppy swing with fairway woods, feel like you’re sweeping the ball
Fairway woods tend to bring trouble into play, so make sure to identify that trouble and play away from it

DRILLS

Use a tee in practice

  • When practicing your fairway woods on the range, always tee up the ball
  • Tee the ball very low: This gives you a little help and will build your confidence
  • Be precise in your setup – ball forward, body tilted back – and practice making a smooth swing
Lesson 4: Fairway Bunkers
4 Lesson 4: Fairway Bunkers
  • Overcome the built-in tension
  • Why thin beats fat every time
  • The single best swing thought
  • Changing your mind-set in the sand

The Ultimate Guides: Approach Shots

4  of  5

Lesson 4: Fairway Bunkers

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OVERVIEW

Driving the ball into a fairway bunker is a nightmare for most golfers, so emotions are part of the problem. That negative tension can lead to another bad shot out of the bunker, adding to the frustration. Jason Birnbaum’s fairway-bunker advice will make life a lot easier when you’re faced with this challenging situation.

SWING THOUGHTS

From fairway bunkers, use a shorter club with more loft. This will ensure that you get the ball out on the first try
Don’t dig your feet into the sand on a fairway-bunker shot. Set up tall
In a fairway bunker, play the ball forward, allowing for a sweeping motion that will catch the ball cleanly
Don’t go for the miracle shot from fairway sand. Getting the ball out is your priority

DRILLS

Staying Tall

  • In the practice bunker, work on setting up tall at address
  • Maintain your height as you swing to the top
  • Don’t dip down on the downswing; instead, try to catch the ball thin
Lesson 5: Uneven Lies
5 Lesson 5: Uneven Lies
  • Adjustments for hitting it solid
  • Avoiding left and right misses
  • The mental side of playing the slopes
  • Simple reminders for the course

The Ultimate Guides: Approach Shots

5  of  5

Lesson 5: Uneven Lies

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Throughout the course of any round, you’re going to face a variety of situations, including shots from uneven lies. These uphill, downhill and sidehill shots produce some unique challenges, especially mental ones. Players tend to treat these like any normal fairway shot, but uneven lies require adjustments and a plan, which Jason Birnbaum helps with in this video.

SWING THOUGHTS

From downhill lies, aim left, play the ball back, set your weight forward and swing with the hill
From uphill lies, aim right, play the ball forward, set your weight back and swing with the hill
With the ball below your feet, aim left, set your weight on your toes and stay in your posture as you swing
With the ball above your feet, aim right, set your weight on your heels and swing more around your body

DRILLS

Uneven Lies

  • Practice hitting balls from each of the four uneven lies
  • Set up with a focus on where you put your weight: forward on downhill shots; back on uphill shots; on your toes with the ball below you; on your heels with the ball above you
  • Make sure you keep your balance and strive for solid contact

The Ultimate Guides: Approach Shots

Lesson
1 / 5
Lesson 1: Iron Play
2 / 5
Lesson 2: Playing from the Rough
3 / 5
Lesson 3: Fairway Woods
4 / 5
Lesson 4: Fairway Bunkers
5 / 5
Lesson 5: Uneven Lies
The Ultimate Guides: Approach Shots INDEX
Lesson 1: Iron Play
1/5
Lesson 1: Iron Play
  • How to pre-set solid contact
  • Keys to a repeating swing
  • Avoiding the common pitfalls
  • The art of picking the right club
  • How to pre-set solid contact
  • Keys to a repeating swing
  • Avoiding the common pitfalls
  • The art of picking the right club
Lesson 2: Playing from the Rough
2/5
Lesson 2: Playing from the Rough
  • The first fundamental of recovery shots
  • How to ensure a ball-first strike
  • Why most rough shots fail
  • 4 common lies and how to handle them
  • The first fundamental of recovery shots
  • How to ensure a ball-first strike
  • Why most rough shots fail
  • 4 common lies and how to handle them
Lesson 3: Fairway Woods
3/5
Lesson 3: Fairway Woods
  • Basics of the setup and swing
  • The challenge of these long clubs
  • Master the clean sweep
  • The most effective practice technique
  • Basics of the setup and swing
  • The challenge of these long clubs
  • Master the clean sweep
  • The most effective practice technique
Lesson 4: Fairway Bunkers
4/5
Lesson 4: Fairway Bunkers
  • Overcome the built-in tension
  • Why thin beats fat every time
  • The single best swing thought
  • Changing your mind-set in the sand
  • Overcome the built-in tension
  • Why thin beats fat every time
  • The single best swing thought
  • Changing your mind-set in the sand
Lesson 5: Uneven Lies
5/5
Lesson 5: Uneven Lies
  • Adjustments for hitting it solid
  • Avoiding left and right misses
  • The mental side of playing the slopes
  • Simple reminders for the course
  • Adjustments for hitting it solid
  • Avoiding left and right misses
  • The mental side of playing the slopes
  • Simple reminders for the course