Everyone has a story about how they got started in this crazy game. Here is mine: I grew up in Upstate New York in a family of very enthusiastic Yankee fans. By the time I was eight I had decided that I would be the next center fielder for the Bronx Bombers as soon as my hero, Mickey Mantle, hung up the spikes.
Thanks to better than average hand-eye coordination I was a solid hitter. Then out of the blue in my 13th year a pitcher who was probably twice my size threw a pitch that started at my head and broke over the outside corner of the plate. In about a second and a half I decided I needed to find a new sport.
A friend belonged to the local country club and took me out one day. My first swing went about 240 yards down the middle but then I quickly came back to reality.
I got clubs from Santa that Christmas and within 13 months had broken 80 for the first time. Over the years I’ve thought about how that could’ve happened, especially in an area of the country where the gold season is comparatively short. Here’s the answer: the two courses that I played didn’t have ranges so I either played or practiced short game. A lot.
I never took a short game lesson but watched good players and played with good players when they’d let me. To me the full swing is technical and mechanical but chips and pitches are all about creativity. So, what I did was experiment with different ball positions and club face angles just to see what would happen. I’d hit low running chips with a sand wedge and flop shots with a 7-iron.
I call these two shots the squeeze and the slide. For the low runners the shaft is leaning forward as I squeeze it against the turf. For the slide the clubhead is going under the ball and popping it up.
I frequently tell my students about two 2-word phrases that are both critical. The first is “lie assessment.” In other words, determining what shot options you have based on how much cushion is under the ball. Minimal cushion equals minimal options. The second phrase is “stay left” with your weight in your set-up and throughout the shot. We have to control the swing bottom with these shots and if the weight is drifting to the right in the backswing the bottom will drift right as well.
If you want to get really, really good at the short game let your imagination run wild. Take a break from YouTube videos and just be a kid again. You might find yourself getting up and down from a trash can!