Many golfers – particularly beginners – look to their driving and putting prowess as being the critical points in their game. But inevitably the vast majority of holes in any course will not result in tee shots landing on that desirable, finely-cultivated destination – the green.

To make the most of your putting, you first have to arrive in proximity of that all-too-evasive little cup. That means fine-tuning your approach shot to maximize the possibility of sinking your putt in the fewest possible attempts.

There are several key areas to focus on when addressing your short game, notably your golf approach shot. Generally, approach shots are those taken outside of a 100-yard range from the hole. Weekend golfers statistically will reach the green from this distance only 22% of the time – usually due to coming up short or inaccurate shots from making poor contact with the ball.

There are several areas of focus that will improve the short game.

Know Your Position

Stating the obvious, it’s critical to know just where you lie in relation to the green, to make the most of your next shot. Observe your position, and know your strengths:

  • One option is to equip yourself with a range finder. If you’re not satisfied with your ability to estimate the distance to the green, or to that intimidating dogleg for a layup shot, one of these electronic tools can help you with a good estimate of the yardage. These can be found in a broad price range from a very basic model for $40 or so, on up to a full-featured precision version into the hundreds of dollars.
  • Use the yardage markers to your advantage – they’ve been installed for your use. If you don’t know your distance, you’re not going to pick the right stick for that approach shot golf requires.
  • Speaking of picking the right stick, that’s a critical factor in getting that ball where you want it. If you’re consistently coming up short of your target, don’t let your ego take control of club selection. If you need more iron – use it.  A little extra time on the driving range never hurt anyone’s game. Use your practice time to get an accurate feel for how your irons perform, and your short game will show the results.
  • Pick the right club, and let it do the work. Using one less club and trying to kill it with brute force is the wrong approach. This will usually result in a fat shot or hitting the ground early behind the ball.

Lie is just as important as the distance in determining club selection for the distance to be conquered. An uphill or downhill lie will have a dramatic impact on total ball travel. Take note of weather conditions as well, since wind conditions and wet turf will affect your results.

Hitting the Approach Shot Accurately

Knowing your distance and picking the right club is a good start, but now you have to get your swing and contact perfected.

  • How you approach the ball is just as important as the club you select. Nothing sounds sweeter than that “thunk” of a well-hit ball off the fairway. To get results like that, the face of your iron needs to come down on the ball, creating the compression that will generate the lift and distance you’re aiming for.
  • Focus on letting your left leg take an extra share of your weight, to get set for the shot. Let the club head trail the shaft, putting your grip a little ahead of the face at address.
  • Take heed of your stance, even having your partner evaluate your position relative to the ball. Lean slightly over the ball, as opposed to a straight up stance. This will provide better contact with the ball, due to a sharper angle of motion.
  • As you swing through, keep the club extended with the head following your grip end – right up until the face makes contact with the ball.

Test yourself on hitting down on the ball. A good drill for a practice round or the driving range is to set a tee just a few inches behind the ball. When you swing through and make ball contact, you should never hit the tee. This is a skill that takes a little time to develop, but is well worth the effort toward improving your approach shots.

Practice Makes Perfect

Nowhere is this more true than in the challenging game of golf. Keeping sight of fundamentals is constantly preached by even the finest pros.

Watch your swing – make it a smooth, continuous movement without any hesitation that can pull your shot. Let the club follow a natural arc as your weight shifts toward your target.

Fortunately for beginners, amateurs and even pro-am golfers, the seasoned professionals have historically been very open and generous in sharing their techniques and hints on how to improve every aspect of the game.

Master tips are plentiful in books and online, including detailed videos on how to improve driving, approach shots, and putting fundamentals:

  • Club selection
  • Proper stance for every type of shot
  • How to improve your swing for distance and accuracy
  • Grip – a critical element for consistency

Approach shots are an important fundamental that have been a win-or-lose element in many a tournament. Honing your expertise at this part of the sport is literally a game changer.

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