By Ian Hardie
As I have written about a few times before in such articles as, Why most people struggle when learning golf, Are you a frustrated new golfer and Why a lot of new players give up the game of golf within their first two years, the focus of most golfers introduction to the game of golf is generally on full shots and how to hit the golf ball each time.
While it would seem, that focusing on hitting the bigger shots first and picking up all the little subtleties, of the games smaller shots afterwards, would be a logical way to learn the game.
It’s not actually the most effective method for a human to learn things.
In reality, we should be learning the game much like a child that’s learning to walk for the first time – try to stand, stand up, take a step or two, walk between two points, then once they are able to walk develop running and ultimately sprinting.
When you relate that sequence to golf, you get the progression of short putts, long putts, chip shots, pitch shots, full shots, then finally, driving.
And yes, you read that right – I am comparing driving the golf ball to sprinting.
Oddly enough, most parents don’t envisage their child learning to walk by attempting to get them to sprint first but as you are reading this, I bet that somewhere in the world there’s a golfer being introduced to the game with a driver in their hand on the first tee of a course!
The trouble is of course, when most new golfers get to the golf course – they are fairly unlikely to want to learn the game from the green backwards and only get to hitting drives after about six months of lessons and practice – even though, by doing that, they would eradicate the many years of frustration that most other golfers endure by beginning with driving and pretty much ignoring everything else.
The difference between the two approaches is that the ’green backwards approach’ allows a controlled development in terms of body movement as the golfer learns the game.
If you have never considered it from that angle, you might want to pay attention.
Putting is effectively a shot that is played with a small rotation of the shoulders and no lower body movement at all, chipping is a shot that is played with a slightly larger rotation of the shoulders and a small amount of lower body movement, while the focus of this article, pitching is the third stop in the development of a golfer using the ’green backwards approach’ which requires an even larger rotation of the shoulders and a little more lower body movement.
You may have realized by now that, I’m talking about learning the game of golf in a sequence that builds on each previous one with the movements of the body getting bigger each time – which of course means that there are two stops after that.
Which are of course, full shots and then finally, driving the golf ball.
Anyway, let’s get down to the business of looking at just what pitching is as my definition may just surprise you but at the same time it may clear up a confusion or two that you may have had on the golf course.
If you ask most golfers what pitching is – they will general answer that it is a shot that is played close to the green with a club known as a pitching wedge – in reality though, it’s a bigger subject than that.
Pitching can best be described as any shot that is played with an effort that is more than a chip shot but less than a full shot – this means that for most golfers it covers a distance of between 30 and 150 yards.
You can see an example of a short pitch shot in the image at the top of this article.
Although just to confuse matters a little bit, sometimes a pitch shot is necessary from as little as 3 or 4 yards away from the green (I’m going to tell you how that works another day).
Just the same as when you are chipping the golf ball, the intention when pitching is to get the golf ball onto the green to enable you to then proceed to putt the golf ball into the hole as easily as possible and due to the longer distance that it is usually played from.
It’s fairly unlikely that you will hole many pitch shots but not impossible of course.
However, when played poorly, a messed up pitch shot can cost you many extra shots during a game through your golf ball ending up in water hazards, sand traps, the rough or a long way away from the hole on the green.
As you can guess from the distances I gave above – pitching can’t be a single type of shot played with the pitching wedge each time and is in fact a group of many different golf shots that can or more correctly – should be played with a multitude of different clubs.
In fact, it’s possible to play a pitch shot with anything from a lob wedge through to a #5 iron.
Definitely, not just a shot played only with a pitching wedge and the reason for this range of clubs that can be used for a pitch shot is one I outlined earlier – it’s any shot that is played:
With an effort that is more than a chip shot but less than a full shot.
Now, you may be wondering how on earth I could be suggesting that a #5 iron could ever be used for a pitch shot but I think I’ll leave explaining that for another day as well.
So, let’s take a look at the usual reasons that you may find yourself hitting a pitch shot on any given golf hole.
There are two main ones:
Firstly, it can come about due to you playing a short par four or a short par five hole – where you hit an extremely good drive or a good drive, then a good second shot that also finishes on the fairway and close to the green – not close enough to play a chip shot but not far enough away to play a full shot with any of your golf clubs.
Playing a pitch shot in this situation gives you the opportunity to score well on the hole by possibly having one putt to finish the hole.
Making a good pitch shot extremely important when you end up in a good position.
A good pitch shot will not only allow you to go on to make a good score on that hole but it will also help you to maintain the positive mental attitude that golf requires throughout the game.
An attitude that is rather hard to hold onto if you take a couple of pitches and a few putts after being that close to the green for a shot or two!
Secondly, you may find yourself having to hit a pitch shot due to your previous shot not quite going in the direction that you were hoping to (did I say that nicely enough?) and instead of finishing on the putting green – you may find your ball in deep rough or some other problem situation that is still some distance to the green but not a full shot with any of your golf clubs.
A poor pitch shot or shots after some other problem has got you to that spot can have a devastating effect on your game and for most golfers.
Quickly compounds their error and makes their score on the hole, go up and up.
It should be clear to you by now that a good knowledge of pitching can be both an attacking and a defensive weapon when playing golf but at the very least – good pitching will help you to enjoy your game a lot more than a golfer that struggles along playing the same type of shot with the same club – regardless of where they are on the golf course!
I’m going to take a look at just how to get the basic pitching action going in your game in the article “How to play a pitch shot in golf – part two” soon.