It's nice being good enough to have options around the greens, but I usually end up playing a shot that's well within my wheelhouse. In the first round of the Tour Championship last year, on the par-4 17th hole, I faced an up-and-down from just short of the green. The hole was cut in the back, just over a ridge. I could have flopped it, played a bump-and-run or even putted it. In the end I went with a trusted shot—my "driving spinner." Playing the ball back in my stance, I banged it low and firm into the ridge with my 59-degree wedge. The ball bounced once, checked, then rolled in for a birdie. I shot 66, and tied for fourth. The key to that shot: minimal wrist break (right), so you're applying speed with your arms and shoulders more than with your hands. It reaffirmed to me that hitting the reliable shot is better than getting fancy. Read below for a couple more shots I love to play.
THE DEEP-ROUGH SLIDER
When the rough is thick, the temptation is to go down after the ball and slash it out. That's a bad policy, even from the heavy greenside rough we see on tour. If you're hitting down sharply and thumping the ground beneath the ball, you're creating too much speed and making it tough to control how far you hit the shot. You also risk catching it fat, which from thick rough pretty much guarantees failure.
The better way to play this shot is to make the clubhead travel as level as possible through the ball so you shred some grass but not so much that you feel a lot of resistance. Choose your most-lofted wedge—for me, it's my 59—and open the clubface so the grass is less likely to grab the leading edge and kill the club's momentum. Swing back and through with a steady rhythm and no burst of speed as the club enters the rough.
Finally, keep the clubhead low to the ground and moving toward the target after the ball is gone (below). If the club stops right after impact, you know you've hit down too steeply.
THE NO-FRILLS PITCH SHOT
From 20 to 40 yards, my most reliable shot is one that doesn't require a lot of pre-swing adjustments or a fancy swing shape, yet it's versatile enough to handle most situations. It's a no-frills pitch shot, though there's a little more to it than meets the eye.
Start with a narrow, slightly open stance, your feet almost touching. That will help you feel centered and prevent you from leaning too far left or right, which is the worst mistake I see golfers make. Play the ball in the middle of your stance, and grip the club lightly. On the backswing, control the motion with your shoulders, and let your hands and arms simply go along for the ride.
Through impact, swing the clubhead toward the target and keep the face square. Let the loft on the face determine the shot's trajectory. Most important, sweep the ball off the turf, taking little to no divot (below). If you hit down sharply or try to help the ball into the air, you're going to have problems.
Chris Kirk has won three times on the PGA Tour.