How often have we turned up for the medal round, exchanged pleasantries with our playing partners and, upon swapping cards, noted that our handicap is well below others in the group? You intend to show them a thing or two! You outdrive them all by 70 yards and are feeling cock-of-the-walk. However, plans soon go awry when you duff your approach, followed by a three putt. Your “dottery” partner finished with a tidy par. What the heck just happened?
Well, despite your partner’s poor distance off the tee, their short game was their secret weapon. You have been warned! This is repeated over and over again, every day on courses around the world.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why practicing your short game will reap more benefit than slamming drives at the range:
1. On average, you’ll bring your driver out of the bag 14 times a round, assuming it remains rested for some par 3s
This means that the other 80 or so shots (speaking for myself) are played using other clubs in your bag. Of those shots, the bulk will be invested in trying to get the ball from the 100-yard point into the hole. Surely this reason, if nothing else, highlights that the short game demands more of your practice time. You will have more short shots than long ones, and the better players will manage this aspect of their game expertly.
2. You need a good short game to get out of trouble
Do you practice hitting 40 yards with a shrub affecting your backswing? Do you try various irons in your bag to assess loft and pitch as possible approach shots off the green? You will need a wide repertoire of shots in your short game so that you can get that little white ball as close to the hole as possible — preferably to nab the one-putt and, at worst, the regulation two-putt.
3. You’ll get immense insight into your longer game by focusing on how you swing and contact the short clubs
If you have ever been for a lesson, the pro will not be asking you to set a Guinness Book of Record drive. They are far more interested in how you manage your 7 or 8 iron or what landing distance you can squeeze from a full pitching or lob wedge. Getting your routine (including grip, stance and tempo) corrected on your short game will inevitably provide benefits when you have the big gun in your hand on the tee.
4. You don’t need to go anywhere to practice your short game
If the local park prohibits you from playing and your yard is too small, then set up some putting exercises in the hallway or the office. These are easy to construct and great circuit breakers if you wish to step away from the computer screen or desk. Invest in some plastic balls and use them at home — no harm done should the odd one land in the neighbor’s yard or strike a window.
5. A poor and unreliable short game eats away at your confidence
You might be King Kong off the tee, with back-slapping all round. However, as you approach your weakness and eye-ball it, your confidence will quickly be eroded by your lack of finesse with the short clubs and the putter.
6. “Happy wife, happy life,” said the wise man
While slipping off to the range for an hour is not going to be mentioned in your divorce papers, you might consider the benefits of remaining closer to home with carpet putting practice routines or backyard chipping.
7. There is a strong correlation between putting stats and the tournament results
Rory McElroy’s putting was ranked first when he won the 2016 Deutsche Bank Championship in early September. When his putting ranking blew out to 64th the following week, it was not surprising that he came 42nd in the BMW event. At time of writing, Day and Speith tied first in putting rankings on the PGA Tour, with DJ a mere 0.001 stroke behind them.
There is no contesting the fact that the better putters are also populating the leader boards. The PGA Tour site is a fascinating data bank of all sorts of statistics relating to distances, approaches to greens, around the greens and up and downs from bunkers. A cursory check of the various leader boards, cross-referenced to longest drives, assures me that it’s the guys with the reliable short game that are taking the money.
If you are serious about your short game, consider joining the international pitch and putt community. The International Pitch and Putt Association (IPPA) boasts communities all around the world and manages it own rankings. The R&A Rules of golf still apply. The only difference is that the overall course length cannot exceed 1,090 yards (1,000 meters) and any individual hole cannot exceed 80 yards from the tee to hole (70 meters).
— Nancy Incoll