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Flight Control

Tim Barter


Hold it off for a lower controlled pitch shot

One thing that I try to impress on all of my clients - whether he or she is a tour professional or a low-handicap amateur - is the importance of pitching. The fact is, you cannot realistically expect to hit your average 5-iron to 10 feet, but you can, with practice, learn to pitch it that close on a regular basis.

And that means perhaps five or six excellent birdie opportunities in a round. With the help of European tour rookie Jamie Elson, I want you to focus on the skills that a good player
employs to vary the trajectory of his pitch shots from that key 50- to 90-yard range.

There are occasions when a standard pitch shot trajectory is not appropriate, notably into a strong head or side wind (when a lower shot like this is called for), over trees or obstacles, or when you cannot stop the ball with spin alone, when a high cut-up type shot may be required.

First, the lower flying shot. At the set-up, the first adjustment is to position the ball a
little further back in the stance than normal (just back of centre), the shoulders square or parallel to the target line (it's perfectly OK for the feet to be slightly open).

This type of shot is controlled primarily by the pivot (i.e. turn-motion) of the body, and we can see how 'on-plane' Jamie is as he maintains his original spine angle to create a controlled three-quarter length backswing position. That's all you need to play a controlled and low-flying pitch shot - the more compact, the better.

Controlled and Compact for a lower trajectory

Early and then full release for maximum loft

OK, now time to open things up. The first thing to notice here at the set-up is that Jamie has naturally opened his stance and (fractionally) the clubface in preparation to launch the ball on a higher trajectory than the club's loft would naturally dictate.

Rather like a greenside trap shot, the set-up primes the action: Jamie intends to cut across the ball slightly through impact. We can see that at the top of the backswing the clubface is noticeably more open than it was for the lower shot, and the swing itself a little fuller.
This shot is more a combination of hand/arm action and body pivot.

As Jamie unwinds, the wrists are clearly uncocking more eagerly than for the low shot in order to ensure the maxi¬mum loft is presented to the ball for the higher trajectory. Through impact we can also see there's a much fuller release of the club - and thus more speed, which adds to the spin rate of the ball... which increases the height.

From a coaching perspective, the conclusion of the swing is something you should pick up on. As these two markedly different pitch shots illustrate, your body language is key to the nature of shot you intend to play. The lower held-off action was defined by a lower, more compact, restricted finish, the hands never allowing the clubhead the freedom to release. By contrast, the high shot features this freewheeling release of the clubhead, with the right hand and forearm playing a greater role - the fuller finish being the direct result of the greater momentum of the clubhead.

Next time you practise, use these contrasting follow-through images to work on your own pitching technique. While it may seem a little strange to focus on a position that occurs after the ball has been struck, believe me when I tell you that rehearsing and copying these distinct follow-through positions will positively assist you in making that particular swing.

We call this the 'rewind drill'. Start by posing the position in which Jamie finishes his swing, let your backswing flow from there, and simply continue on to hit the shot - aiming to arrive once again at that finish. I think you'll be surprised at how quickly this exercise gives you the feel for the nature of the shot you are trying to play.

Full and free wheeling swing delivers maximum loft

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Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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