Can anyone become a great short game player?
I’d say it’s quite possible to become a good short game player, but it may not be possible to become a great one. The course I grew up on, all the greens were raised, so you were always having to hit delicate chip shots. I used to play a lot on my own because there were no juniors around. I taught myself how to chip and then over the years I’ve added to that.
So are you great or just good around the greens?
I’ve said in the past, and I’m not afraid to say it, that I consider myself one of the best out there on Tour. Padraig Harrington is one of the best and so is Brett Rumford. There are a few. I spend a lot of time with Padraig [Harrington] playing games around the chipping green.
How much do you need to practise the short game?
Every day when I’m playing. There should never be a day that goes by as a pro where you don’t work at it. I always play different shots. I never stand there and hit the same shot, I think that’s pointless.
How important is spin when playing shots around the green?
It all depends on the player, really. I like to play with spin, but Padraig will play the same shot with height. I’lI change my wedges every few weeks so that the grooves are fresh and sharp. I can then carry the ball to the hole with confidence and see it check up quickly. Padraig prefers to stop the ball by throwing it higher in the air.
Do you ever close the clubface and play the ball off your back foot?
Absolutely not. Never. It’s the exact opposite for me. I play it off the front foot, use good clubhead speed and control it with spin.
Many coaches advocate less loft, picking a spot on the green and getting the ball running like a putt?
That’s an effective shot but it’s not for me. Most guys don’t chip like I do. Everyone has a strong part of their game. Graeme McDowell is one of the best putters I’ve ever seen and so is Jordan Spieth. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson drive the ball better than anyone. Sergio Garcia’s iron play is the best in the world. My skill is my chipping.
Would you swap any elements of your game for those you’ve just mentioned?
Yes, all of them. I’d love Rory’s driving and Spieth’s putting, but I wouldn’t swap my short game for anyone else’s.
How important is it to visualise the shot and pick a landing area?
It’s important to visualise, for sure, but I tend not to pick a specific spot for landing the ball. If I have shot over a bunker, for example, I’ll visualise it going over the sand softly rather than at a normal pace. Another important tip is never see a mistake. I always see the ball floating safely over the sand.
What are your expectations?
Put it this way, every shot I play around the green, I’m looking to hole it. I’m always slightly disappointed if I don’t.
How do you accurately judge distance when pitching?
For me, it’s just feel. From inside 60 yards, I don’t get a yardage from my caddie. Once or twice a year, maybe, but it’s rare.
Do you ever walk ahead – up to the green – to survey the shot?
Occasionally, but my caddie warns against that. We prefer to just see the shot and play it without adding too much complexity to it all. If you get into the habit of overthinking things, it’s easy to lose your feel. If the pin’s cut on the left side of the green, I might try and hit a little draw to spin the ball into the hole. Likewise, if the pin is loacted on the right side, I’ll maybe think about cutting it in.
What is your view on the role of the hands in chipping? Some players advocate that you need to keep your wrists firm when chipping?
The speed comes from the nine o’clock position down. But I still consider my hands to be passive rather than active. It’s as if the club falls on the ball without really being propelled.
How important is it for the short game to be using the correct equipment?
It’s massive. I went into the Open with a Cleveland wedge I’d used at Chambers Bay in the US Open that was a few weeks old. It was perfect for links turf. So I tried to get the lads in the truck to mimic it and make a new one. They’d shaved a bit off in America and it was perfect. They made me four different ones and just couldn’t get it exactly right, so I decided to use the one I already had. Too much bounce is no good and not enough isn’t much use either. I think for amateurs, too much is better than not enough, though.
Do you use different wedges for chipping?
I play 99% of shots around the green with my 58º Cleveland lob wedge. I very rarely hit a chip-and-run shot, but if I do then I’ll play it with my 52º.
Should amateur and club golfers be custom fitted for their wedges?
Definitely. It’s more important than a driver fitting. The short game is where you pick up shots.
Can grooves really change the way you play a shot?
Yes. And you have to keep them really clean. Absolutely spotless.
Do you have wedges with different bounces?
I have one set built with 6º bounce and another with 10º. I use the set with more bounce on softer ground.
My 3 golden rules for great chipping
1. Grip the club lightly
If you look at people who don’t chip well, they always grip the club too tightly and they get the clubface shut. You just can’t chip consistently from that position. A lighter grip enables you to play short shots with speed. If you grip the club too tightly, you’ll drive it through the green. Grip lightly and let the clubhead pass the hands through impact. Allow it to pass the hands too early and you’ll knife it. It’s all about using the bounce on the club. You don’t want to dig the club into the ground at all.
2. Hinge your wrists
I never hit any chip shot without cocking my wrists. I’m a very ‘handsy’ player around the greens. I think keeping the wrists solid is a technique for players who struggle with their chipping. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not the way I do it. In my technique, my left hand controls the clubface and my right hand adds the speed.
3. Play the ball forward in your stance
I think moving the ball too far back in your stance is a big problem. I like to play the ball forward so that I can use the bounce on the base of the club and throw the head at it. I play it with speed. Back in the stance and you have to quit on it a bit, there’s not as much speed and there’s less spin.