I'm not sure why, but amateur golfers seem to be wired to aim at the flag on middle-and short-iron approaches. Everybody likes to make birdies, but many players don't realize just what kind of risk they're taking when they aim that way.
Tour players see pin positions like the one above and quickly accept that a 30-footer is a good outcome. The flag is sitting at the front of the green, directly behind a deep bunker. For a tour player, hitting a bunker shot isn't a problem, but one from a bunker that deep, to a tight flag, could mean a bogey or worse.
Aiming at the safe green zone is the best play, even with a short iron. You could risk aiming at the yellow -- a slight push might leave you with a decent birdie putt -- but going for the flag doesn't make sense. For every birdie you make, you might record nine "others." It just doesn't add up.
Hands Off Pitch Shots
When you're faced with a 30- or 40-yard pitch, it's easy to forget that the correct technique is a smaller version of the full swing, where the arms and body -- not the hands -- move the club through impact. At shorter distances, the tendency is to slow everything down and use your hands to flick at the ball -- either because it seems like the right way to produce a shorter shot or is a misguided attempt to create backspin.
Instead, make sure you turn your body through the ball -- less aggressively than you would for a full-wedge shot but still a real turn -- and the clubhead moves through with the hips and shoulders, not ahead of them (right). You should feel as if your hands are passive and aren't contributing to the power of the shot. You regulate distance by the length of your swing and speed of your rotation.
With this technique, the consistency and quality of your impact will improve, and you'll be able to predict your landing spot and roll-out distance with much more accuracy.
*Hank Haney is a Golf Digest Teaching Professional. He runs the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head. *