We've all been there: Walking up to the green and seeing your ball in a position that requires a scary, high-risk shot. There's no doubt some shots have a higher degree of difficulty than others, but the four shots below are ones that you might be making harder than they need to be. Some setup and execution tweaks will help your short game immensely.
With the help of top Michigan teacher Jason Guss and Golf Digest Best Young Teacher Alana Swain, you'll be able to execute the buried-ball bunker shot, downhill pitch, flop shot and low, checking spinner with ease the next time you play.
The buried-ball bunker shot
"Bunkers are already scary enough for a lot of players," says Guss, who runs his academy at Hawk Hollow Golf Club in Bath. "When you start talking buried lies, you might be tempted to just pick it up and take your two-shot penalty. But you don't have to." The secret to getting out in one swing is turning your sand wedge into a digging club instead of a skidding one. "By closing the face, playing the ball back in your stance and hitting down on it, you'll get the leading edge going down into the sand to gouge the ball out," says Guss. "Follow through down into the sand, and be ready for the ball to roll out more than normal."
The downhill pitch
"When you can't take a balanced stance, the tendency is to make less-than-clean contact," says Swain, who is based at the PGA Tour Performance Center in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "To make sure you hit it clean, set up with the ball in the center, and make sure you keep your sternum and nose over the ball. Stay on top like this and make a high-to-low swing where the clubhead finishes low and around you."
The flop shot
"Sometimes you need to go over something and a low chip just isn't an option," says Swain. "A flop relies on loft, not spin to make the ball stop near where it lands." To hit it, first make sure you have the right conditions—a clean lie with the ball sitting up on a cushion of grass. Then open the face of the club before you set your grip, and play the ball from the front of your stance, near your lead heel. "The swing feel you want is that the clubhead is moving a lot more than the handle. Keep your grip very loose, because if you tighten up on it you're basically guaranteeing a skull across the green," says Swain. "The face should stay open the whole swing, and when you finish, it should actually be pointing back at you."
"This is the cool shot you see the tour players hit on television," says Guss. "It's the one where the ball takes two hops and then stop. But they're not making it spin the way you might think." The heavy backspin on the shot comes from clean contact slightly low on the face—not from smashing down on the ball. "It also helps to have brand new grooves on your wedge, a tour-caliber ball and a nice, tight lie," says Guss. "Set up with the ball in the middle of your stance and with your weight set slightly forward. You're going for slightly low contact—not thin—and hitting the ball before the club comes in contact with the ground."