This semester, I’m taking Mechanics of the Short Game. The other day, instructor Jay Friedman came into class and told us we should watch the most recent Golf Channel Academy with Jim Furyk – on the short game. Perfect timing! Want to know why the 44 year old Furyk is a walking ATM? It has a lot to do with his short game. Furyk led the PGA Tour in scrambling in 2014. Scrambling is the stat the Tour defines as the percent of time a player misses the green in regulation but still makes par or better.
Host Michael Breed starts with Furyk around the practice chipping green at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida where Furyk lives. Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, has won 16 PGA Tour events, and was named the 2010 PGA Tour Player of the Year the year he won the FedEx Cup. He’s ranked in the Top 10 in scrambling in ten different seasons on Tour. We should listen to what he has to say about the short game.
From about four yards off the green, Furyk demonstrates chip shots using a 55-degree wedge. It’s a shot he says he’s trying to fly about a third of the way onto the green and let trickle out. “This is one that if I hit a really good shot,” says Furyk, “It should have a chance to go in. If not, I should leave a kick-in.”
Furyk says amateurs make a few mistakes – they play the ball too far back in their stance, get their feet turned too much to one side, and get too wide open. This causes the club to come up too quickly, to come across the ball, and down into the ground with the leading edge. The steeper angle of attack digs the leading edge of the club into the ground, causing either a chunk or a skull.
Furyk employs a square stance, with most of his weight on his leading side to promote solid contact. He also plays the ball slightly forward of center. Furyk says he thinks of chipping as Raymond Floyd described – putting with loft. Furyk holds the club more vertical with the toe of the club down and the heel of the club off the ground. He’s really close to the ball and then swings with his shoulders. The club is gripped more in the palms of the hands like a putting grip (even though Furyk putts left hand low). Furyk says he keeps his lower body pretty quiet until he gets to about 30 yards out. At the end of the day, he’s trying to land the ball roughly four feet over the fringe and then let the ball roll the rest of the way like a putt. He focuses primarily on his landing area.
Anytime Furyk is just off the green, he says he’s trying to carry the ball safely onto the green. With his 55-degree wedge, that may be 4-5 feet onto the green depending on the pin placement. With an 8-iron, it’s still 4-5 feet onto the green, but he wants it to roll out more. Furyk says another reason he likes to get the heel of the club off the ground is because it means the club will encounter less friction (out of light rough) and less of the sole making contact with the ground for more solid contact. Furyk says it’s natural for him to hit a lot of his shots with a slightly open face to add a little more bounce, help the club go through the ground a little easier, and make for a softer ball flight.
Furyk says Nick Price pulled him aside a long time ago when he first got out on Tour and to him to get the club coming more from the inside on chip shots for more solid contact. Price claimed the sand wedge was designed to simply scuff the turf with the trailing edge, utilizing the bounce. A more outside swing path leads to poorer contact and can result in the club sticking into the ground. Furyk is always trying to hit the inside quadrant of the golf ball, something he says his dad taught him to do.
Furyk’s Best Tip
From tight lies, especially dead into the grain in some of the greenside collection areas that you find out there, Furyk recommends grabbing a hybrid or a 3-wood to take the skull or chili-dip out of play. The shot should get you up onto the green somewhere between 10-15 feet with a chance to make a putt for par. Furky uses a putting stance and grip (more in the palms) all the way down to the graphite with the ball in the ball more in the middle of his stance. Then he uses his shoulders to make the swing.
Furyk says he thinks the flop shot is overused by amateurs. There’s not a lot of margin for error. Furyk recommends hitting a pitch shot with a more open club face rather than take a big swing with a 60-degree wedge. He says to use the flop shot only as a last resort if it’s the only shot you have. For softer shots, Furyk still sets the club on its toe but plays the ball a little more forward than he normally does. Then he makes a bigger swing to get a little higher trajectory. The club never gets above waist high on the backswing. The trajectory is about shoulder height. Furyk remarks, “You have a putter for a reason. You don’t have to hit em’ all a foot. You can knock it 6-7 feet by the hole and make it coming back.” This was the best line of the whole show, in my opinion.
The flop shot is more like a bunker shot. You can’t be shy! The ball is up the stance, the club face is wide open, and Furyk is going to hit the ball fat off of a tight lie. Again, he gripping down on the club probably an inch, maybe a little bit more. He says he plays all of his short shots from weight anchored more on his left or leading side. Good short game players, adds Furyk, “Don’t have a lot of toe rotation. In order for that to happen, your body has to keep moving. On the way through, my body’s got to move. My belt buckle has got to go toward the target. In order to keep that face at the sky and get soft, my body’s got to move with it.”
Point the Clubface Skyward
Furyk believes it’s important for the clubface to stay pointed at the sky. That gives you the soft control. When the club is rotating over, you’re de-lofting the club, it makes it harder to control, and you’re going to start driving the ball rather than hitting shots that have some check or some softness to them. A face pointed at the sky makes for a soft shot. Amateurs want to rotate the hands and arms through. The body has to move to keep the club from flipping or turning over (toe up). That keeps the club pointing at the sky.
When Breed and Furyk get to talking about bunkers, Furyk says Jeff Sluman is the best bunker player he ever played against. He says Sluman would pre-set the left hand with a weak grip to gets the face open. When he puts his right hand on the club, the face is already open, which allows the club to slide under the sand. The bunker shot is very similar to the flop shot.