Controlling Trajectory in the Short Game
By Tim Mahoney
In executing short game shots, inside 50 yards (pitches and
chips), a player’s ability to control the ball’s flight trajectory can be just
as important as controlling the ball’s direction and overall distance. A golfer has options to create consistent
ball flight trajectory and as a result consistent shot patterns swing after
Option One – Ball Choice:
A golfer’s choice of golf ball will have an affect on a golf
ball’s flight characteristics. It is the
dimples on a golf ball that are responsible for its flight
characteristics. Their design (size,
shape and pattern) will help dictate the ball’s trajectory. The size and depth of the dimples affect
performance. Shallow dimples generate
more spin on a golf ball than deep dimples, which increases loft and causes the
ball to rise and stay in the air longer and roll less, which is advantageous
when playing to elevated greens. Deep
dimples generate less spin on a golf ball than shallow dimples, which decrease
loft and causes the ball to stay on a lower trajectory, with less air time and
greater roll, which is advantageous when playing to low elevated greens.
Option Two – Ball Position:
A correct ball position helps you contact the ball crisply and
achieve the proper trajectory on the shot.
Ball position affects the path and the angle of approach the club takes
into the ball which ensures a consistent loft angle of the club at impact. With the ball positioned too far forward,
your shoulders align left of the target, thus creating a swing path that is too
steep and out-to-in. If you locate the
ball too far back toward your right foot, your shoulders are closed, which
creates a swing path that is too shallow and in-to-out. You will be able to produce consistent ball
flight trajectories only if the ball is positioned correctly in your
stance. For chip shots, position the
ball about two inches back of center.
You want to strike the ball with a descending angle of approach creating
a low trajectory, running shot. For all
wedges and pitch swings from normal lies position the ball in the exact center
of your stance.
Option Three – Swing Technique:
To create a low trajectory chip or pitch shot, set your
hands slightly ahead of the ball. A
forward hand position will naturally de-loft the clubface, helping to start the
ball on a low trajectory. Also,
concentrate on making a rhythmic swing with a slightly slower tempo on the
forward swing. A slower tempo will
produce less spin, helping to keep the ball on a low trajectory. Stay level with your hips as you swing
through impact. Feel as though the
handle of the club leads the clubhead through the hitting area to prevent adding
loft to the clubface at impact. A low
trajectory shot means a low finish. The
lower you want to hit it, the lower you want to finish, not only with the hands
and arms, but with the clubhead as well.
While it is okay to play the ball back in you stance to produce a lower
trajectory, it is not advantageous to play the ball forward in your stance as a
means of getting a higher trajectory.
Playing the ball forward in you stance moves it ahead of the bottom of
your natural swing arc. To hit a higher
shot, the first choice should always be to take a more lofted club and make
your standard swing. The second choice
is to open the clubface, aim your swing line to the left of the target and keep
the ball exactly in the center of your stance.
Keeping the ball in the middle of your stance ensures crisp contact.
Option Four – Club Selection:
The easiest way to vary shot trajectory from a normal lie is
to choose a higher degree lofted club or choose a lower degree lofted
club. If you need a higher soft landing
shot, choose a lob (60 degrees), sand (56 degrees), gap (52 degrees), or a pitching
wedge (48 degrees). If you need a lower
running shot, choose a 9 iron (39 degrees), 8 iron (34 degrees), 7 iron (30
degrees), or 6 iron (26 degrees). It is
easier than creating a different swing or changing your mechanics. Clubs are designed with the clubface having
different lofts. It is loft that makes a
golf ball take flight on an ascending trajectory, not an upward direction of
swing. The club actually hits the ball in
a horizontal or slightly downward angle.
Choose the option that works best for your game. Your golf ball selection will be based on the
design of the golf course that you’ll be playing. Under normal lie conditions, you’ll want to
maintain a consistent ball position for crisp club to ball contact. Vary the length of your swing technique to
produce low or high trajectories. And
choose your club wisely. Practice with
different lofted clubs and observe the ball flight trajectory patterns. Take your observations to the golf course.
Low short game shots
The average professional golfer on any of the world tours
hits an average of 11-13 greens a round.
As a result, 5-7 opportunities are presented for an up-in or an actual
chip in. After 35 years of teaching golf
around the world, mastering the chip shot is the fastest way to lower your
handicap, provide more enjoyment and assist all levels of golfers an
opportunity to exceed their personal objectives.
At the Mahoney and Troon Golf Academy we have eliminated
shots titles: chipping and pitching and have replaced the situation with a low
shot or a high shot. In all short game
situations the player’s goal is to land the golf ball safely onto the putting
surface and allow the golf ball to release to the hole. Successful short game
results are the effect of a correct set-up, swing motion, and club choice.
Club choice is the effect of the lie of the ball, the amount
of green you have to work with and the distance you are away from your desired
landing area. Worse the lies choose a
higher lofted club. More green you have
to work with, take a lower lofted club to allow for more run out. The further you are away from the landing
area, choose a higher lofted club in-order to land the golf ball safely onto
the green. When in doubt, choose the
higher lofted club and produce a lower ball flight.
Preparation in the short game is 90% of the success of the
end result. For a lower lofted shot,
position the ball towards your back foot, lean your body weight towards the
target with the shaft leaned forward.
Keep in mind that the golf club will bottom out directly below your
nose, Position your head in front of the ball and the club will find its low
spot in front of the ball.
During your swinging motion, minimize the amount of hand
action and pivot on the back swing and allow your upper body to turn back with
arm motion. The club head should remain
under your hands. On the forward swing
allow your resisted core hips to initiate the motion with limited hand and
wrist motion. The club head should
remain under your hands. Hold your
finish until the ball comes to rest.
Eliminate the shot titles during your golf rounds and
attempt to the control your short game shots with elevation. Set-up, club choice and motion will give you
controlled results and lower scores.
Controlling distance with your Wedges
Golf is a unique activity where you have the combination of
distance, direction and trajectory control of the golf ball. In the short game the ability to score is
directly related to controlling the distance of the golf ball. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie
Fowler have the ability to control the distance of their wedges within 95% of
the required goal. For an example, on a
30 yard shot, Spieth has the control of his wedges to hit the ball 28.5 yards,
a differential of 1.5 yards in total distance.
Distance is controlled by club choice, length of club at
address, length of swing, elevation of the shot, solidness of the strike and
the speed of motion. All golfers should
have a minimum of 3 wedges with the lofts of 48, 52 and 56 degrees of
loft. All wedges should have a
differential of 4 degrees of separation.
As you work with the wedges identify the distance of ½, ¾ and full
Length of club at address will have a direct impact on the speed
of the motion throughout. Golfers should
attempt to grip down the shaft, ½ of a grip and a full grip. Combine this with different length of swings
as well. A shortened club will work with
a shortened swing and a long club will work with a long swing. All wedge swings should be balanced or
symmetrical on both sides of the motion.
A partial backswing should match a partial forward swing. The golf swing
needs to be balanced in order to control speed and distance.
A mirrored impact position and address, of the will assist
with controlling the loft of the club. The impact position should be identical
to the starting position. Unlike the full swing where the shaft needs to be
forward leaned for speed in pitching the shafts needs to match.
Solidness of the strike is the effect of the angle or plane
of the swing. A vertical swing motion
will produce a toe hit and conversely a horizontal or flat swing will produce a
heel hit or a shank. The club must be
swung on the desired angle or right angle to your spine.
Distance control in the short game is the effect of the
club, speed, length of swing and solidness of the hit. Control these variables and you to will pitch
“Find your distance potential”
One of the keys to playing golf in this era is to hit the
ball long. As golf courses continue to be designed longer and more
difficult, hitting the ball with power allows players the best chance to
score. Although Tiger Woods has possibly the greatest short game in the
history of the game, it is also a huge advantage the he has been consistently
ranked among the longest hitters during his career. How can you hit it
Quite simply, there are two keys to hitting it long:
solid contact and speed. Hitting the ball in the center of the face with
maximum speed will allow you to hit it as far as you can. This combined
with the latest in club and ball technology can help you find your true
The first thing you should determine is if you hit the ball
solidly with your current swing. The easiest test is to use face tape
that can be found at most golf shops. Place a piece of tape on your club
and hit a shot. The ball will make a mark on the tape which will show you
your contact point. Hopefully you will find you are consistently finding
the center of the clubface. Make sure you test both woods and irons as
you want solid contact with all clubs.
If you find that your contact is not as solid as you would
like, look at two things to improve your swing. Make sure your posture at
set up and throughout your swing is in an athletic position that you maintain
during your swing. Good posture will help you swing the club around your
body consistently “on plane” which leads to center hits.
Once you are satisfied with your contact point, the next key
to distance is trying to increase your swing speed. In the golf swing
there are three power sources that will help you swing the club faster.
The combination of proper wrist action, an arm swing that puts the club in
position throughout the swing and a powerful body pivot that supports the
swinging action of the club will allow the club to swing consistently and
Finally, if you feel you are making solid contact and are
using your power sources, make sure your equipment
fits your swing. Clubs and balls that are fitted specifically for your
swing will probably give you an extra few yards as well.
Learning to hit the ball longer is a very fun part of the
improvement process. Examine your current swing and determine your needs.
With a little practice, hopefully you will find a few more yards.
Remember if you do hit the ball farther, you will have
shorter approach shots to the hole. It is important to work hard on short
game distance control so you can take advantage of your distance and hit it
closer. This should take pressure off your putting game and allow you to
improve your scoring average.
Consistency is the number one goal of all players from Jordan
Spieth to Jack Nicklaus. Distance,
Direction and Trajectory make up the elements of the ball-flight. Golfers need all three elements for
consistent ball striking. I believe that
the sequence of learning is: trajectory,
distance and direction. The three
components are interrelated and we cannot have one with out the other.
Trajectory is controlled by:
Selection- the club is designed to provide loft. Allow the manufacturer to get the ball
of Approach- the correct angle of approach provides solid impact and the proper
consistency starts here. Grip, posture,
ball-position, aim, mind-set and tension level are the fundamentals of the
plane- a vertical swing shape will produce high shots and a flat swing shape
will produce lower shots.
speed- without swing speed the golfer has a difficult time producing loft. Golfers with a limited swing speed will
produce the same trajectory for all clubs.
Distance is controlled by:
Selection- longer clubs longer shots.
of motion- increased range of motion will assist in distance.
of contact- hitting the ball in the center of the racket. Path and plane are significant
influences. Vertical plane produces toe
hits and a flat plane produces heel hits.
speed at impact. Body rotation, arm
speed and wrist movement are the biggest influences. Overall swing speed is a goal not club head
Direction is controlled by:
parallel lines of the eyes, shoulders, forearms, hips, knees and heels.
alignment at impact. Clubface at right
angle to your swing path at impact.
path at impact. A swing path that is
from the inside to along the target line to the inside.
Every golf lesson and group activity I participate in every
golfer is in search of consistency. Ball
flight has three elements: trajectory, distance and direction. You master all three in order to gain