Pitching 101

In the previous article we looked at the short Chipping stroke and here we will move up the power food chain to the slightly longer shot most would call a Pitch, looking for a more flighted ball.

Technically speaking, what we are looking at here is still a chipping motion as there is zero wrist cock. Distance wise we are looking at short range skills around the green as opposed to a full blooded shot. We can term the stroke as flat footed as it requires very little pivot motion. Also there is no need for a wrist cocking action as the ball still has little distance to travel.

We have two ways to move the club to the ball, either a pull or push. Either way will work as long as you do not mix up the power sources. Right arm thrust through the ball as per what was discussed in the chipping article is my own preferred method as there are fewer moving parts to the motion and overall power requirements are still small. Accuracy is the key to the short game so this is keeping it simple.

The Set Up

First of all determine how far you need to hit the ball (Fig 1) and work out where to line up your clubface (Fig 2). Assessing the shot properly will give you which club which will get the ball flight distance and green ball landing actions you need to get the job done.

The difference in ball positions between chips and pitches are that now we wish to set up to the ball in its neutral ball position rather than necessarily off the back foot. Let's assume we are using a wedge. This means finding where our left hand hangs naturally and the clubs design to get the ball in the correct spot. (For more detailed information on setting up read How to Fix Your Swing). Being a wedge this will mean having the ball located under your sternum (see How to Fix your Swing in this area to see photos of the set up routine).

For simplicity our shoulders are parallel to the intended flight line (Fig 3). Our hips and feet may be slightly open but be aware that many, many players will end up with open shoulders without meaning to if they follow this route. Check this occasionally if you are not sure by asking someone to stand behind you and let them tell you where your shoulders are pointing. By having our hips open to the line, this actually has a limiting factor on the amount of pivot turn that can be made. This can help check any tendency to allow the pivot to turn too far.

The Stroke

The stoke itself requires the right arm to lift the club back and up (and it has to go in so you do not consciously have to think of this bit) with the forearm and shaft finishing parallel to the ground – and at this point the shaft would be parallel to the intended flight line (Fig 4). If the butt of the club is aiming outside that line in front of the ball then there has been too much "in" and not enough "up" lifting going on.

Most weight can remain loaded onto the target side foot, 75-80%, and it can remain there throughout the entire shot.

Here is the real crux of this swing – where is the low point of the arc of this shot? It is still under your left shoulder. It is nowhere near the ball as the club design has the ball position under your sternum. So here is the trick. Work out where on the ground the low point is. Yep, it's forward of the ball by 4" and outside the ball by a good inch!

So if we take the ball away and make a good swing, the club will hit the ground just in front of where the ball was and go down and out towards the low point. Notice this is not making the club travel straight down the target line. That is called steering and it is a cardinal sin. The ball comes off the face of the club at 90 degrees so even if the clubhead is traveling down and out the ball comes off the face in the direction the leading edge is pointing. The swing path actually has little effect on the initial ball direction at all.

So get your thinking cap on. Draw a line between where the ball is and where the low point is and that is the line on which you will be swinging your golf club. Scary but all your clubs swing that way. It just shows up most clearly with a wedge and being a short slow stroke you can learn to swing that way most easily as you can see what is going on. Focus too an maintaining the 'y' (Fig 5 and 6) When I demonstrate this to students it takes them, at most 3 or 4 balls, to cleanly hit the best compressed pitch shot the majority have ever heard.

Now we have our club shaft parallel to the ground in the backswing and an aiming point that is not necessarily the ball. Thrust down and out to the low point with the right arm and continue through with the swing (actually a hitting motion as we are talking about a right arm thrust to power the shot) until you reach the point at which both arms become straight (Fig 7). If you have successfully arrived where the club looks out to the right side of the pin instead of aiming at it, life is good (Fig 8). You will have found that post impact, your hips followed your hands around.

If you are aiming at or left of the target take stock of what just powered that stoke. You may start to feel that your hips have led your hands and so your entire upper torso, including that right shoulder, started to turn left. The right shoulder in this instance will be working in a classic "Over The Top" motion even at this short level of shot. Here also, the low point has moved from where the machine was set up to well inside it.

People say "keep your head down". What they mean is that the head is connected to your shoulders, connected to your torso, connected to your hips etc. If any of them rotate too soon all those hard worked out alignments are thrown out the window. If the swing is directed along the correct path, keeping your head down just happens.

Of major importance in all this is maintaining the flat left wrist and right wrist bend and club on-plane throughout the stroke. This is not a handsy stroke at all as many golfers think. It is about maintaining a structure to support the shaft most efficiently and returning the clubface back to its impact fix position to get the ball to go where you have aimed it.

If you push down and out to the low point the ball just gets in the way and you will hit the ball and then take a small divot that will not be outside/in but rather more very slightly inside /out.

The power you make this stroke with should be the same for each club. That way you can change the club to change the distance you wish the ball to go. Is it that simple? Yes, once you get this idea of using imagination only to work out how far you need to hit the ball and what ball action on the green is required, it can be one way to skin the cat.

Thanks to Chequers Golf Club and Stuart Hall for the use of the course and time.

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