Butch Harmon: Four Shots You Need to Know
Every golfer loves standing in the fairway with a perfect 7-iron yardage, ready to make a stock swing and stick it next to the pin. But when you get around the greens, circumstances often force you to create a particular kind of shot. Sometimes the issue is a difficult lie, or an obstacle in front of you, or a tricky hole location—even the pressure of your score or the outcome of the match. You have to make quick adjustments to your standard short-game technique to handle the added challenge. Here we'll look at a few specialty shots that can save you in a pinch. —With Peter Morrice
BUNKER PLAY: YOU'RE UNDER THE LIP
Here your standard bunker shot won't get the ball up fast enough to clear the bank in front of you. To hit a higher shot, you need to add loft to the clubface. Open the face significantly, then take your grip and play the ball way forward in your stance, opposite your front foot. At address, drop your hands back a few inches so they're behind the ball—that will add loft and help the clubhead slide through the sand. As you swing back, turn the face more open by cupping your left wrist, feeling the toe of the club rolling to your right so it points behind you (above). From there, focus on slapping the sand a few inches behind the ball, with the clubhead skimming, not digging. You'll pop the ball up and drop it softly on the green.
CHIPPING: THE PIN IS WAY BACK
The common mistake here is using the club you usually chip with—often a wedge—and trying to carry the ball deeper into the green. That requires a longer, harder swing, which makes the shot tougher. Instead, try the hook chip with a 7- or 8-iron. Set up with your weight favoring your front foot and the ball off your rear foot. Take the club back to the inside and swing the toe over through impact, closing the face (below). You'll create more run on the ball by adding hook spin. You don't have to make a longer swing to hit a longer shot.
PITCHING: THE BALL IS BURIED
Not only do you have to play a soft shot to the green, now you have to do it from a buried lie. First, realize you're not going to hit the ball cleanly—you have to chunk it a bit to get out of the thick grass. Take your most lofted wedge, open the clubface, and play the ball about middle. Set more weight on your front foot, and grip the club a little firmer in your left hand. Your goal is to swing down through the shot without the toe of the clubhead passing the heel. If the toe passes, the heavy grass will grab the clubhead, and you'll dump it short. To minimize how much grass you catch, pick the club straight up on the backswing (watch video below). Then feel as if you're sticking the heel of the club into the ground. Remember, keep that left hand firm, and make sure the heel gets to the ball first.
PUTTING: YOU NEED TO MAKE IT
So far we've been talking about adjustments. But in this case, don't change anything. When golfers have to make a putt, they slow down. But they're only icing themselves, like when a coach calls timeout to delay a big free throw. Pressure mounts with more time. The grip gets tight, the stroke gets jerky—the rest you know. If your routine is one practice stroke, don't make three. If you usually take two looks at the hole, stick with that. And as for reading the putt, your first read is usually best. Once you get over the ball, it's total commitment: Pick your line (below), follow your routine and pull the trigger. To make sure your head stays still, listen for the ball to drop with your left ear. You'll like what you hear.
Butch Harmon, ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America, works with Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedeker and Natalie Gulbis.