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Deep Culture Travel:

A Flip of the Wrist and You're Toast:
Improving Your Short Game

by Karen Misuraca, published in Airlines Magazine

You rocket off the tee like a champ and hit a good second shot on the fairway on nearly every hole, but somehow your handicap stays mired in the high nineties like a buried lie. If that sounds familiar, you're a perfectly average golfer whose frustrations begin a hundred yards from the hole--in the "scoring zone." More than half of your score is your short game.

With a few adjustments to how you pitch, chip, hit out of the sand, and putt, your scores will drop and your spirits will rise. "High-handicap golfers have the same two things in common in their short game--wrist-break, and awkward body position," said Anne Chouinard, Director of Golf at the Canadian Golf Academy, one of the country's largest golf learning centers.

Weight on Back Foot

She said, "More often than not, when you have trouble with your chips and pitches, you are leaning away from the target with your weight back and the ball too far forward, trying to lift the ball with your hands and scoop it up into the air, and the club often hits the ground first. What happens is shots that are fat, thin, topped or flying too high."

To achieve the ideal 60/40 weight distribution which tilts the spine toward the green, Chouinard has her students practice swinging with their back foot on tiptoe, heel off the ground, to exaggerate the feeling of weighting the front leg, a position that improves most short game shots.

"Think in terms of moving through the ball, not scooping," she said, "with your hands in front. And, you need a firm, flat wrist to lead the clubhead. Keep the clubface square through the entire shot and don't let the clubhead beat your hands to the ball."

Lori and Annika

Tour players face the same challenges with their short game. Lorie Kane, Canada's top LPGA pro, got a heads-up from rival, Annika Sorenstam, who said in a TV interview that Lorie would be a real threat if she worked on her short game. According to Chouinard, Kane's coach, "Lorie has always been a great ball striker and putter. When we heard that from Annika, we started working inside ninety yards and around the green on alignment, body-turn, and all the elements of her short game. There is no doubt, now, that Lorie gets a crisper, more consistent, repetitive impact in the scoring zone."

Currently third on the LPGA money-winner's list, Kane held off Sorenstam to win the Takefuji LPGA Classic, and lost to her in a sudden death playoff the next year. Approaching the decisive hole from eighty-one yards, Sorenstam nailed her sand wedge to within four feet of the hole. Kane placed a pitch shot to within ten feet and missed her putt for birdie. Kane said, "When Annika laid up to that eighty-yard range, I knew that she was just deadly from there."

The Pitch

Eighty to a hundred yards from the target, the pitch--a high trajectory shot with little roll--looks like the full swing, with the clubhead above the waist, and shoulders and hips moving together, but without the body coil. Tiger Woods calls it "a mini-version of the full swing." Hands are slightly ahead of the ball, arms and shoulders together, with a little wrist hinge allowed.

The Chip

The chip is a low, running shot. When you have lots of green ahead and more roll involved, Chouinard says, you use a less lofted club. With less putting surface ahead, and from high grass, hardpan or dirt, use a more lofted club and place the ball farther back in your stance, for a high, soft landing. U.S. Open winner, Johnny Miller's visualization for chipping is to imagine tossing a softball with his lead hand onto the green and watching it roll into the cup, to "see" the target line.

In The Bunker

Think of skiing when you approach bunker shots, says Chouinard. "You absolutely must have a sand wedge for sand play," she said, "The sole is different, it's heavier, and it's built like a ski so it can scoot under the ball. Anything else will dig in, rather than skidding under."

Important in the entire short game, accelerating steadily through the ball is even more important in the bunker. Tiger Woods wrote, "I always accelerate. The club head must be gaining speed when it enters the sand instead of slowing down."

To practice bunker play, without a ball, make a light footprint pointing toward the target, and make a mark in the middle. Then, aim three or four inches behind the mark and try to remove the entire footprint.


Chouinard recommends carrying at least three, and possibly four wedges in your bag. "Today's equipment is different. Lofts are stronger and clubs are longer than even a decade ago," she said, "The old nine iron is now a pitching wedge, and there are lob wedges and 'gap' wedges, and the sand wedge is stronger than before. When you think about it, you have a choice of about a dozen clubs from the tee to a hundred yards from the green. Make it easy on yourself and use the right wedge for the right distance within the scoring zone."

On the Green

About putting, Chouinard said, "Seventy or eighty-percent of my students use too long and too flat a putter, which prevents them from getting into the proper posture. You must be able to look directly down at the ball with your arms hanging softly, straight down."

She recommends this experiment to check for the all-important firm wrist on the putt. Place a golf pencil into your watchband with the pencil lead pointing at the knuckles. If your wrist breaks, the pencil lead will poke your hand. And, to get a good feeling for the correct rocking motion of the putt, put a 2-iron or a 3-wood under your arms and across your chest, and rock your shoulders up and down--not side-to-side--on same plane as the target line.

Above all when putting, don't peek! Keep your head down until you hear the ball drop into the cup... plonk.

Quick Tips for the Short Game

    Firm, flat lead wrist
    60/40 weight distribution (60 on front foot)
    Hands ahead of the clubface through impact
    Accelerate steadily through the ball
    Use the right wedge/loft for the distance and trajectory

Canadian Golf Academy

The largest golf learning facility of its kind in Canada, the Canadian Golf Academy opened in 1999 overlooking the river in the Brudenell River Provincial Park on Prince Edward Island. The nine-hole, par-30, Academy Course here was designed by renowned golf architects, Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, specifically for use as a practice venue.

Among several focused schools, the Academy's Short Game Golf School comprises five hours of instruction focusing on pitching, chipping, sand play and putting. Students get personal video analysis, and each takes home a customized learning manual with coaches' notes, comments and prescriptions.

Comprehensive practice facilities include a 475-yard, double-ended practice range with five bentgrass target greens, 10 all-weather tee stations, 4 acres of practice greens with sand traps, and a complete indoor training facility.

Also within the Rodd Brudenell River Resort is the Dundarave Golf Course and the Brudenell River Golf Course.

Canadian Golf Academy
(888) 698-4653, (902) 652-2081
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