October 1, 2014

Teaching Teachers

Short game targets can point your students toward lower scores

By: Rob Stocke, PGA, with Don Jozwiak

As a teacher, I’m trying to create the same love of the short game with my students – and giving them a fun place to practice these shots is part of the strategy. At The Golf Club of Georgia, we created a short game practice area with seven targets that serves as a great place to practice and work on wedge play. We’re the home course for the Georgia Tech golf team, and those players practically live at the short game area; so do our club’s better players and top juniors. By creating a similar setup at your facility, and by working on short game technique in your lessons, you can help your golfers see immediate improvement on the course.

The Golf Club of Georgia made the decision to revamp its range almost three years ago, and it’s one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. We added the short game target area by putting in seven poles as targets, with 10 yards between each target. The farthest target is 100 yards from the middle of the teeing area, and the closest is 40 yards – but the tee box is 40 yards deep, so the targets can range anywhere from 120 yards to 20 yards depending upon where they tee it up.

Two of the targets are on an existing target green, but the other five are on 10′ by 10′ grass landing areas that are mowed to green height. They receive shots just like a green so golfers can see how their shots land and if they’ll stop. As I tell my students, if they can get their wedge shots to stop on a 10-foot area around a target, they’re going to have a lot of short putts. Our better players spend a lot of time in this area, and it’s fun to see families come out and challenge each other to games. We also use it for competitions during our member-guest: We assign different point values to each target, and players get five shots to score as many points as they can by getting their shots to stop on the landing areas. It’s a bit like Skee Ball for golf, and people love trying to paint the targets white.

As a teacher, I also use our short game target area as a way to lead students to discovering the importance of scoring shots. I’m sure you’ve had plenty of new students who believe their short game is pretty good, and that what they really need is to add 10 yards to their drives. When I hear that, I take them over to the short game area and ask them to hit 10 balls to the 40-yard marker. Most of them can’t keep more than two in the landing area. I’ll explain that’s eight shots they just wasted from 40 yards, and they can save a ton of strokes just by improving that part of their game. That really gets them interested in the short game.

The drill I use most often with my students to make sure they make solid contact with their wedges is having them feel like they’re taking the butt of the club and putting it in their back pocket, or in their side belt loop, on the follow-through. That tends to get their body a bit more engaged so they can rotate a little better, and it takes their hands and wrists out of it. So many players try to scoop the ball into the air, or flip the club. Once impact is consistent, it becomes a lot easier for them to dial in their distances. If a player is all over the map, skulling one shot then hitting the next one fat, they’ll never find consistent distance control. And once impact is consistent, we can start looking at whether clubfitting can help with distance control. Perhaps the golfer would benefit from a different mix of wedges, or wedges with a different sole design, to further improve consistency.