There's a certain humiliation that comes with dumping a shot from just off the green. It's not like hooking your tee ball or hitting a screamer with an iron -- those are macho misses. In the short game, you're only trying to nudge the ball 10 or 15 yards, and sometimes you can't even do that. You chunk, you skull, you shank. You look up, and your buddies are either cracking up or checking email. Then somebody whispers, "You're still away," and you get to keep going when all you want to do is crawl into your golf bag. Herewith is our attempt to throw our collective arm around you, tell you it's OK, that every golfer hits these shots. If you can just limit them, you'll pull your game out of the pits.
THAT BALL IS OUTTA HERE!
You've no doubt been party to the "home-run wedge" -- that 50- or 60-yard shot that inexplicably airmails the green, evoking comparisons to a tape-measure blast in baseball. What causes this disaster? And how can you avoid those taunting jeers of "Don't forget to touch home plate!" from your golf buddies?"When a wedge gets away from you, it's usually because of too much wrist hinge, which can cause a sudden burst of acceleration on the downswing," says Golf Digest Teaching ProfessionalJim McLean. "Throw in a flyer lie, and short shots can fly farther than intended. It happens even to better players on occasion."To avoid this miscue, "Don't hinge your wrists as much on the backswing," McLean says. "Feel as if you're making the swing with only your arms, keeping your hands and wrists quiet. And maintain a smooth rhythm. The ball might not spin as much when it lands, but from this awkward distance, you're looking for dependability, not heroics."-- Guy Yocom
CHIPS WITH NO SCOOPS
Do you find yourself grabbing the putter from five, 10, even 20 yards off the green? It's not a bad strategy, but let's face it, you're repressing the memory of some embarrassing chunked chip, which isn't good for your chi. (See Hunter Mahan's flub on the last hole of the 2010 Ryder Cup.) Walt Chapman, director of instruction at Fairways and Greens Golf Center in Knoxville, Tenn., says the typical cause is a locked lower body."Amateurs scoop at the ball, so they don't shift forward on the downswing." A good drill, Chapman says, is to swing back, pause for a few seconds, then hit it. "People get mixed up in the transition to the downswing, and from this still position, your body has nowhere to go but forward." Make putting a choice, not an act of desperation.-- Max Adler
WHEN IT GETS GOING SIDEWAYS
Shanking a chip is the ultimate sucker punch. You're sitting pretty next to the green, then suddenly you're climbing into a bunker, wondering what just happened. John Bierkan, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, says the shank comes from swinging into the ball from too far inside -- you pull the club inside going back or the club gets too inside coming down. Either way, you strike the ball with the hosel, not the clubface.Bierkan says practice swinging along a bunker rake to get your swing on line. "Lay a rake with the handle pointing at your target, then take your stance six inches from the rake and the ball a few inches on the other side of it. If your takeaway is the problem, you'll clip the rake going back; if it's your downswing, you'll hit it coming down."-- Keely Levins
ON IN THREE, THREE PUTTS
Three-putting might be the most infuriating way to throw away strokes: You hit two or three good shots to get up on the green and still walk away with bogey or worse. The common cause of three-jacks is a poorly judged first putt, usually one that comes up way short. Have you tried practicing with your eyes closed? It can make you an expert lag putter, says Todd Sones, a Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher who operates the Todd Sones Impact Golf Academy in Vernon Hills, Ill.Sones has his students close their eyes on the practice green. "Of course, you have to read the break and aim your putter, but then forget about the line," Sones says. "Once you set the club behind the ball, there's no reason to think about line. Let your brain be consumed by distance control." Try it: Stare at the hole for a few moments, then close your eyes, visualize where the hole is, and putt to it. It'll open your eyes to the possibility of making some putts.-- Stephen Hennessey
OK, LET'S TRY THAT AGAIN
Leaving a ball in the sand is golf's version of shooting yourself in the foot, because back at your feet is where the ball ends up. The next shot is a repeat, assuming it didn't nestle into the crater you just made. Ask Thomas Bjorn, who took three to get out of a bunker with a two-shot lead and three holes to play in the 2003 British Open. (He lost to Ben Curtis by a stroke.)To blast it onto the green in one swing, Cheryl Anderson, one of Golf Digest's 50 Best Women Teachers, says to slide the club through the sand -- don't dig. "Imagine the downswing is a race between the clubhead and the grip end. The clubhead has to win," she says. "Keep your hands and arms loose so you can whip that clubhead through. The sand will splash out high, with the ball following."-- Jeff Patterson
BEAT THE BLADE
If you've ever uttered this sad refrain -- "Is that out-of-bounds, or is it a hazard back there?" -- you know how horrible it feels to blade a pitch shot clear over the green. Alex Fisher, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher based at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix, says those thin screamers happen when the arms swing too fast."The key is to sync your arms with your body rotation," Fisher says. To feel this, he recommends placing the butt end of a wedge on your belly, gripping down to the metal of the shaft, and making small practice swings. You can't hit balls like this, but you can simulate the motion, focusing on quiet arms. "Concentrate on the forward swing, with your chest and the club finishing toward the target at the same time."-- Max Adler