Scoring With Pitching

Jordan Spieth’s caddy, Michael Greller, used to loop at Chambers Bay.

The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay starts on Thursday, but at the Golf Academy, there’s plenty to talk about. In Advanced Elements of the Short Game, we talking about who we thought would win the tournament. PGA Professional Jay Friedman, who’s a little old school, said he thought anyone could win it because of the course set-up. He called it “silly golf” and said he thinks that the winning score could be over-par. His picks were Sergio Garcia or Rory McIlroy. The class seemed to favor Masters winner Jordan Spieth whose caddy, Michael Greller, looped at Chambers Bay for a time.

Jay has a point. There are so many great golf courses here in the United States. Why did the USGA feel it necessary to try to re-create the links-style experience that we’re going to get at St. Andrews next month? The terrain across the pond is different from the terrain over here. Why do we feel the need to copy what the Open Championship has already mastered? I will say that it’s interesting Chambers Bay was awarded a U.S. Open in February of 2008, just eight months after opening.

Then the discussion shifted to scoring with pitching. The pitching wedge is actually rarely used for actual pitching. Instead, most players reach for a gap wedge (50-52 degrees), a sand wedge (53-58 degrees), or a lob wedge (58-64 degrees). A sand wedge typically has a much greater bounce and is designed for bunkers. It’s also much heavier – the extra mass makes it easier to get out of fluffy lies. A lob wedge is going to produce a much higher, softer shot with higher spin.

You should always try to execute the easiest shot first (think putt). But when there’s no other option, it’s time to pitch. If at all possible, it’s important to pitch the ball to flat areas. They provide consistent bounce and roll-out. You want to avoid landing on the tops of humps as they make for crazy, uncontrollable bounces and roll-out.

There are several different pitch shots to consider based on the lie, the type of grass, and the intended target.
There are several different pitch shots to consider based on the lie, the type of grass, and the intended target.

There are several pitch shots to consider as you become a more advanced player:

* Punch and Run – good/fair lies; ball middle of the stance or back; hands ahead and weight evenly balanced; level through impact; quiet hands reduce backspin; this is the safe shot; longer carry, more green

* Hinge and Hold – medium lie; ball middle of the stance or back; hands even with the ball and weight evenly balanced; hinge on backswing, hold through impact; ball comes out on a higher trajectory with some spin; this is a utility shot played closer to the green when you higher trajectory to get the ball to stop quickly

* Pinch Shots – clean/tight lies; clubface square; ball position slightly behind sternum for steeper angle of approach; ball flies lower and will check with additional spin; for this shot, make sure there’s a little room behind the hole

* Cut Shots – moderate to good lies with intermediate obstacles; requires a different set-up; open the face, aim left, and swing across the line (out to in); the ball flies higher and softer and is pushed to the right of the target; great shot when there’s limited stopping distance, less green short or long, or when the hole is cut on a ledge

* Pitches Requiring Spin – think loft, then spin; hard pan lies require require a more perfect swing and a club with less bounce; maximum loft is produced when there’s a steeper angle of approach

Different grases
Pitching from different grasses requires both swing and club adjustments.

Pitching from different grasses also requires certain adjustments. Different grasses influence the extraction of the ball and the spin that can be produced. Bentgrass is the most favorable because it’s softer and thinner. Bermuda grass is the least favorable because it’s thicker and has more blades per square inch. It tends to swallow the ball and create more resistance. Heavier rough requires a heavier club, a longer, faster swing with a firmer grip, and acceleration through impact. Heavier rough also results in more errors in contact (fluffs and thin shots) and less spin, which means more roll-out.

Fluffy lies will result in less solid contact, less carry control, and less spin control. Allow a greater margin for error and think about trying an explosion shot, like the kind of shot you would hit out of a bunker.

Loose, sandy soil produces errors in contact and requires more of an explosion shot with an open clubface and a longer swing. Use a sand wedge for softer soil conditions and a lob wedge for firmer soil conditions.

If your ball is sitting in a mulch bed, try playing the ball back in your stance. Hit it with a slightly descending blow but don’t pinch it. If you find your ball on an unpaved cart path, play the ball back in your stance. Use a club with less bounce such as a gap or lob wedge to slightly pinch the ball. The ball will come out on a lower trajectory.

Uneven lies require even further adjustments. For sidehill lies in which the slope runs away and the ball is below your feet, aim your clubface and your body to the left.

Match your shoulders to the slope, and swing with - not into - the slope.
Match your shoulders to the slope, and swing with and not into the slope.

When the ball is above your feet, aim your clubface at the target and play the ball back in your stance. Uphill lies will result in increased loft. Downhill lies will result in decreased loft.

Uphill lies require a less-lofted club because the slope adds loft. Play the ball in the middle of your stance and match your shoulders to the slope. Swing with – not into – the slope.

Downhill lies require more loft. Play the ball back in your stance. Again, match your shoulders to the slope, and swing with – not into – the slope. Think about playing a cut shot.

If the green is above the ball, the shot will be of a lower trajectory, land flatter, and roll-out more. Try using more loft, hitting a cut shot, or adjust your landing area to carry the ball a shorter distance. If the green is below the ball, the shot will land softer and have less roll-out because of the higher trajectory. Use less loft, hit a normal pitch shot, or change your landing area to carry the ball a longer distance.

As a class, we have to demonstrate each type of pitch shot at outdoor Skills Development next Tuesday at Ken McDonald Golf Course in Tempe.

Golf Club Assembly & Repair
Today, I re-gripped a golf club for the first time. It wasn’t quite as scary as I thought it would be, but I certainly have an appreciation for the guys who’ve re-gripped my clubs for me in the past. They made it look so easy! That comes with experience.

Each of us was given a club and an assignment – to add wraps or to take wraps off (stretch the grip). I did both. I was fortunate to work with one of my classmates who had a little re-gripping experience of his own, and that helped out a lot.

PGA Professional
PGA Professional Gary Balliet uses a torch to remove a graphite shaft.

PGA Professional Gary Balliet also showed us how to take a grip off without ruining it by using a hypodermic needle and mineral spirits. Then he showed us how to gently remove a graphite shaft from a hybrid using a Graphite Shaft Puller. Nowadays, it feels like there’s a gadget for just about everything you want to do to a golf club.

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