Good technique helps, but it only takes you part of the way there. The best shots merge technique with good decision-making and strategy that takes full advantage of the terrain on and around the green. With the help of Golf Digest top international teacher Tom Stickney, see how the best professional players match the right shot with the right strategy to get it closer to the hole.
Cam Davis: Let the Wind Take You
"Here, Davis has lots of wind at his back, a lie in the rough and a green with all kinds of room in front of the pin," says Stickney. "Instead of forcing something, he lined up slightly open to the target and swung so the face of the club was slightly open to his swing direction. By using more club and swinging easier, he was able to keep the ball down and have it spin less, so it could ride the wind, land at the front of the green and roll back. There's so much more room for error short on this shot. Get the distance a little off and you're in the middle of the green.
C.T. Pan: Read the Green on Approach Shots
"Just like a green provides certain break on your putts, it does the same for approach shots," says Stickney. "When you read the entire green complex—in front of the pin, behind it and all around—you can find areas that will actually give you more forgiveness, like on this shot. Pan knew that going long would send the ball back off the backstop. All too often, weekend players make mistakes in spots where the green sends the ball farther away, not closer."
Phil Mickelson: Use Land Angle and Spin Together
"The more spin you have and the steeper the ball lands the faster it stops," says Stickney. "The front pins and tucked pins on Tour require a trajectory as high as possible. So how to do you make the ball stick near its pitch point? First, move the ball slightly up in your stance, and open the face just a touch. Feel the club 'pass' your hands through impact, which reduces the amount of forward shaft lean and increases your effective loft."
Denny McCarthy: Play Bunker Shots Like Shooting Pool
"Imagination is the hallmark of great short game players," says Stickney. "When you can see different routes to the hole, you can pick the best one, like leaving the cue ball in the best place for the next shot in pool. Here, McCarthy sees that floating a bunker shot to the left will let the ball roll gently down to the hole—letting gravity do the work." To hit this style of soft-landing bunker shot, add a bit more flext to your lead leg and open your body and the clubface more at address. "A good visual? Feel like you're holding the face open through impact so that you could balance a wine glass on it," says Stickney. "Pick a specific landing spot and let the slope work for you."