Nailing your in between yardage shots

Western NY PGA Tips

If you’re an amateur that can consistently hit a 7-iron to 150 yards and an 8-iron to 135, you’re doing pretty well.

So, what about all the other yardages in between?

Jeff Urzetta is the Director of Instruction at legendary Oak Hill Country Club and he’s been a teaching pro at the club for more than seven years. He’s also the nephew of the late Sam Urzetta, a Rochester native who won the 1950 U.S. Amateur.

The setup Urzetta wants for this shot is not complicated. Choke down on the club a little bit, keep the ball position just slightly back of middle and slightly narrow the stance. The swing is the key.

“You’re still going to make sure you make a shoulder and hip turn, but keep your arm swing a little shorter,” Urzetta says. “From there, you can stay aggressive, really rip through. There will be a little bit of a cut off finish which comes from the shorter backswing.”

Urzetta piles emphasis on turning the body and not using the hands to “swat” at the ball. The biggest problem is with amateurs who get handsy on these shorter or choked down shots. Championship level players rely on their body to make the swing.

“Arm and hand action can give you a little more speed, but it’s a lot more inconsistent,” he says. “You’ll hit three out of ten good ones and they might be a little bit further, but we want to see that eight out of ten consistently.”

Removing the arms and hands as much as possible from the swing will control the club face angle much more at impact. Urzetta says rotating the body is the motor of the golf swing. It still has to happen, even on a shorter shot.

The best way to practice this shot at first is with the wedges. Urzetta wants a player to start with shots that involve a backswing only a quarter of the way behind. Hit chips that look like short punch shots to learn.

While amateurs will think of this shot as a way to control distance, the goal is actually to control trajectory. That will, in turn, control distance.

By choking down on the club, the shaft will stiffen at impact and will reduce the amount of kick at the bottom of the swing. The result in a lower, more controlled ball flight.

“This serves up a multitude of purposes in the golf swing,” Urzetta says. “(It handles) your in between yardages but also knock down shots. Take an extra club and (this is) how you hit a punch shot. A cold day, a windy day, even in the rain, it controls spin a lot better so you’ll be able to control the ball more efficiently.”

A ball that’s spinning less will roll out a bit more, but it will also drive through the wind instead of ballooning.

“Depending on how much you shorten your backswing and how much you choke down, you can hit a club and a half (less),” Urzetta says.

This shot will also allow a player to gap their wedges. Many players have lots of yardages inside 100 or 125 yards that require less than a full swing. This technique will work with all of those shots. Urzetta says take less backswing to reduce the distance.

When Urzetta demonstrates the follow through, it looks like a sudden, almost violent stop to the swing. If executed correctly, the shorter backswing will naturally lead to a shorter follow through.

It’s the same as the pendulum. It only swings forward as far as it swings back. Gravity plays a big part in the golf swing of any distance. A swing that goes back, say 75 percent, should finish at about the same spot.

Again, the problem most hackers create is adding force with the arms and hands. It’s a swing that comes without a lot of reliability.

“Once you gain control of the backswing and you just focus on rotating on the way through, the arm swing just follows suit,” he says. “You’ll find it’s much easier to control that finish position.”

While amateurs are often hoping for shots from full swing distances, high level players are sometimes more comfortable with the in between shots. Urzetta says he has played events where he was trying to set up shots from less than full swing distances because they can be better controlled. Uncle Sam used this swing to win that U.S. Amateur.

“He said he punched everything. That’s what he was trying to do,” Urzetta says. “Other guys were hitting 7 or 8 iron, but he could hit a 5 or a 6 iron and he had a lot more control. He said he would even do it downwind.”

Urzetta adds that, for a player who is learning or still struggling, hitting a choked down shot throughout a round is a good way to gain control.

“You’re learning how the pivot controls the golf swing,” he says. “Your arms and hands stay passive, which is going to give you a quieter clubface.”

And it’s going to create a better swing. From any distance.

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