Short game tips from the British pitch & putt champion

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John Deeble only took up pitch and putt “to learn the basics of golf before moving on to play a proper course”. But when he discovered he was good at it, he could play it competitively and rounds took just over an hour, it became his passion. The 34-year-old from Dagenham began playing internationally in 2003 and 12 years on, he is a six-time British Champion. We asked the wedge wizard to share his short game secrets. 

How good at pitch and putt are you?

I play off +3 and finished third at last year’s World Championship. That performance topped off a golden year, which also saw me win the British Strokeplay Championship, the British Matchplay Championship and the English Open. The last of these was the biggest win of my career so far as, along with Britain’s best, the field also included internationals from Holland, Portugal and Spain.

What are the rules of pitch and putt?

Competitions are played over 18-hole, par-54 courses, with the longest hole we’ll tackle being 100 yards and the shortest being as little as 40 yards. Competitors have to use a tee for their first shot on every hole and are only allowed to carry two clubs in British events. International events are slightly less strict and allow three clubs. 

Which clubs do you carry?

I use a putter and a 54° Vokey wedge. A lot of people think you need lots of wedges to have a good short game, but to be honest, within 100 yards, I can manoeuvre the ball to whatever height and distance I want with my 54° wedge. If I need to hit it 40 yards, I open it up and make it a 60° wedge. And if I need to hit it 90 or 100 yards, I hood the face and make it a 48° wedge.

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What can golfers who play full-length courses learn from pitch and putt?

The main thing is the value of feel. For me, most golfers approach the short game too technically. They obsess about their wrist breaking at the right time and their plane being on line and it hurts their feel, which hurts their short game. By virtue of having to play a variety of short shots with one club, I’ve developed a natural feel for playing different pitches and chips at different heights and this saves me an awful lot of shots whenever I do play a full-length course. 

Is pitch and putt just an easier version of golf?

Not at all. It’s tough, mainly because of the size of the greens, which are much smaller. On a normal golf course, you can be 10-feet left, right, long or short without being in any trouble. But if you’re 10-feet away from the pin on a pitch and putt course, you will have missed the green and be in trouble. Because of this, you have to be able to control the flight of the ball. Whether the hole is 40 or 95 yards long, you need to be able to manipulate your club to hit the shot that exact yardage or you’re looking at bogey. 

Do you have any swing secrets? 

When I play my tee shots, I move the ball forward in my stance and tee it up higher. This alteration means I hit the ball on the way up and this means it rolls up the clubface, spins backwards in the air and stops quickly when it lands. 

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So you never play chip and runs?

I play them around the green, but I would never play them from the tee. In pitch and putt, the size of the greens mean you have to send your tee shots vertical or you won’t get them to stop quickly enough. Knowing this, my only consideration on the tee is where on the green I want to land the ball.

You must have an obedient ball…

I do and it’s incredibly important. In pitch and putt, your ball must behave correctly and consistently when it lands. As a result, no competitive player uses a hard ball and most of us use a Titleist Pro V1.  

Are there any mental keys to having a good short game?

Belief is essential. No matter where you are on the course after your tee shot, you have got to view your second shot as a birdie chance and try to hole it. The best thing about this attitude is, even if you fail, your chips tend to end up pretty close. 

How many twos do you make on average?

I expect to birdie every hole, but am pretty happy if I end up with five or six, as that tends to mean I’ve shot in the 40s. My best score is a 10-under 44, which I’ve managed a couple of times. I also hold the course record at my home club Dagenham, where I shot a nine-under 45. 

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How many holes in one have you had?

I average two or three a season, but it really depends on the course you are playing. At an easier course than Dagenham, I’d expect to get 11 or 12 a year. 

Want to get involved with pitch and putt? Visit the British Pitch & Putt Association site

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