Televised golf focuses on contenders (and stars), which means you're seeing all kinds of great shots around the green—because those players are the ones hitting more good shots that week. You could get discouraged watching great players jar it from seemingly impossible lies, or you can take encouragement knowing that short game shots are one place where anyone can develop the physical skills and strategies tour players show off.
"You don't need crazy strength or speed or even elite coordination," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher Stan Utley, who is based at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale. "It comes down to managing the mixture between loft and clubhead speed to hit the shot a situation requires. Anyone can use speed and loft to produce trajectory, and let gravity and descent angle help you slow the ball down. That's even a factor on some of these lower shots, where a less-lofted club would produce more run."
Here are six short game shots from recent tournaments, and how you can add them to your arsenal.
Hideki Matsuyama flop: Make the ball go up, not out
"Everyone immediately notices all the clubhead speed Hideki Matsuyama uses on this flop shot, but the key thing to understand is that that speed needs to produce 'up,' not 'out,'" says Utley. "You need to rotate the club even more open on the backswing, and splash behind the ball at impact. The bounce kicks against the ground to elevate the ball. Not opening the club enough or landing too close to the ball is what sends it over the green."
Gary Woodland hook pitch: Rotate your forearms, not your hands
"This is one of my favorite shots. The club is closing as it comes down on the ball, which produces really solid contact and a checking draw that rolls out like a putt," says Utley. "The most common mistake players make when they hit this is to turn down the face with the hands through impact, which can produce a flip hook. A better way to consider it is to turn the shaft down slightly with your forearms on the downswing."
Sungjae Im fringe chip: Pick your landing spot
"You have to pick a landing spot on every short game shot, and you can use the terrain to help you," says Utley. "Look at the shot Sungjae Im picked here. He hit it over the rough, but short of the green, so he could use the fringe grass to take some speed off the ball. He was able to hit the shot he needed by using the grass when gravity wouldn't let him take care of it with a steep descent angle. It's really like playing pool. You're looking at the overall lay of the land, and picking the highest percentage strategy to set up the easiest next shot."
Will Zalatoris fringe putt: Think putter speed
"It's common sense that you need to hit fringe putts harder, especially ones like Will Zalatoris has here," says Utley. "But what a lot of players don't realize is that when you're going up a slope like this, the grass is usually growing against you—which can make the ball bounce and lose pace more than you expect. That means you have to spend more time at the course you play practicing through trial and error to see how much clubhead speed you need to get the ball going through the thickness of fringe grass you face."
Scott Piercy bump and run: Loft is your friend
"On a long, down-grain runner from the fringe, you might think a less-lofted club like a 7 or 8 would be the play," says Utley. "I always like to use a lofted wedge for this, because even on a low shot, the lofted club offers a softer hit and some controlling spin. An 8-iron would tend to make the ball come off hot and run more. What you like to see is the ball coming off and rolling a long way with the same speed, like this shot from Scott Piercy."
Scottie Scheffler rough pitch: Use speed early
"Scottie Scheffler is using a shot I teach all of my students, where he generates the speed on the downswing early instead of late," says Utley. "Notice how there's no follow-through. He might have hit that shot with 35 miles per hour of clubhead speed, but he got to that speed right away after transition and went from fast to coasting through the ball. That's a great way to manage your touch instead of gunning it with hand speed at impact."