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The difference between a long birdie putt and a short tap-in is in playing the right kind of shot from within 100 yards of the green.
The difference between a long birdie putt and a short tap-in is in playing the right kind of shot from within 100 yards of the green. (Dio Dipasupil/eclipsesportswire.com)

Mastering the short game will improve your golf score

Les MillerBy Les Miller,

What separates a good golfer from an average golfer? The Scoring Zone, from within 100 yards, there isn't a good player who doesn't expect to knock it close.

This was the case at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill tournament earlier this year. On the 16th hole, Tiger Woods drove his ball into the deep rough, where from a bad lie, he decided to lay-up to approximately 100 yards from the green.

There he played a perfectly played wedge shot to within 4 feet of the hole, making par and taking the lead in the tournament. That wedge shot put him in position to win the tournament.

The Scoring Zone is where average golfers can dramatically improve their scores. The difference between a long birdie putt and a short tap-in is in playing the right kind of shot from within 100 yards of the green. There are three basic shots from within this distance: a low pitch, the medium pitch and the lob shot.

Once you master the mechanics of these shots, you will see improvement in your scores.

The low pitch

Typically, this shot is used when the terrain between your ball and the green is flat, uphill or there is a back pin location.

First, take a lower lofted club, your 9-iron or pitching wedge, instead of your sand wedge. Next, choke down an inch or two on the grip, and address the ball taking a slightly open stance. Play the ball back in your stance near the center of your body.

Finally, pick out a spot where you want the ball to land, and make a swing to land the ball in that area. (Practice these shots on the driving range to get the feel for distance control.)

Medium-pitch shot

The medium-pitch shot flies high but releases somewhat once the ball hits the green. They're the shots you hit most often from within the Scoring Zone, especially if you have water, a bunker or other obstructions between you and the green.

Depending on the distance, these shots are played with your wedges, the gap, sand or lob. As with the low pitch, start by taking a slightly open stance, and play the ball toward the middle of your stance.

Allow the loft of the club to get the ball into the air; don't try to help it up, hit down and through taking a divot on these shots. (Practice these shots on the driving range to dial in your distance control with each wedge.)

The lob

The lob shot is used to hit shots over an obstruction, bunker, etc., to a tight pin. Of all the shots you will hit from within the Scoring Zone, this is the shot that requires the most practice to perfect.

It starts by taking a narrow and open your stance. Next, at address, make sure your clubface is open ... and by open, I mean very open. The ball is going to fly where the clubface is facing, so aim your feet and shoulders well to the left of your target.

Now, play the ball forward in your stance (up by your front toe) and stand a little further away, with your hands lined up behind the ball. Finally, break the wrists early on the back swing, and increase the speed of your hands and wrists during the swing on these shots. (You need speed to pop the ball up into the air on these lob shots.)

On the PGA Tour, watch Tiger and Phil hit these shots around the greens, they have mastered these shots to perfection. With a little practice you can, too.

Les Miller was a longtime Golf Writers of America member who covered golf instruction for several newspapers and golf publications. His many years of experience as a golf professional, director of product development and tour relations for several major golf companies gave him a unique background and ability to help golfers increase their enjoyment of the game.

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