Anyone who enjoys a punt on golf tournaments knows that a wager on Matt Kuchar is likely to keep you interested all the way to Sunday evening.
Kuchar has 71 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, with over 50 coming in the past five years. The game’s most consistent player might have only five PGA Tour titles since 2010, but one was the ‘fifth Major’, The Players in 2012, and his solidity has seen him spend most of the last two years in the world top 10. One of the key reasons for his steadiness is his scrambling expertise –Kuchar is consistently in the top 10 of the PGA Tour’s stats for getting it up and down.
Who better, then, for club golfers to listen to in an attempt to turn bogey into par more regularly?
1. The first step to tackling a chip shot is assessing the lie. It changes what sort of shot you can play.
A good lie gives you so many more options for the type of shot you can consider playing; a bad lie reduces those considerably. Typically, a bad lie means you need to adopt more of a flop shot, with more loft. It’s needed to get the ball out of the heavier rough it is sitting in. It’s tough to play a bump-and-run shot with a ball lying in heavy rough. My decision on which shot to play is made for me by the lie and decided by what gives me the greatest margin to hit a shot that will leave a putt I can make.
2. Once you’ve decided on what kind of shot to play, pick the appropriate club and commit to it.
If it is a good lie and you have a lot of choices, consider them carefully – but once you’ve chosen the kind of shot, select the club for the job – whether it is a hybrid, pitching wedge or lob wedge – and forget about all the rest. You see guys picking out a lob wedge and then trying to bump and run the shot. Pick the club and be committed to it.
3. More often than not I will use my lob wedge as I feel I have greater touch and more variety of shots with it.
It’s good for amateurs to have a ‘go to’ club they feel comfortable with. You’d like to be good at them all but before you get to that situation, get confident with one club and develop slight variations in the shots you can hit with it. It will help you become more consistent.
4. The ball is important, off the tee and around the greens.
I use the Bridgestone B330-S because it seems to cut through the wind better than any other ball. It really is a competitive advantage if you don’t have to guess what your ball is going to do in windy conditions. It has performance benefits in the long game but with its urethane cover it is also soft enough on chip shots to spin; and spin means control.
5. If you’re serious about playing good golf, use the same ball every time you play.
Don’t have a bagful of different brands and models; find one you like best and stick with it. If you’re serious about having the knowledge to know how your ball will react, this is important. It becomes a guessing game if you are switching balls and trying to work out the same shot with different balls.
6. If it is particularly windy, consider a bump and run shot.
It takes spin off the ball, and the wind can’t affect it as it stays low to the ground. But chipping and running depends on the line you have to navigate towards the pin – it needs to be clear. But it’s a useful shot when too much spin can hurt you. Putting instead of chipping is the same; if the line you have to navigate to the hole is fairly clean and you think it will come out well, putting is a great way to go. If the grass is too long and there are too many variables, hit a chip.
7. To hit those chip shots you see on tour that check up on their second bounce, speed is the key.
You need speed to put spin on the ball. I feel the biggest key in chipping is a wide bottom of the arc, where the club strikes the ground. A wider bottom gives a larger margin for error. Someone with a more steep, V-like swing path raises the likelihood of chunking or blading it. A wider ‘bottom’ uses the bounce more and this more U-like ‘bottom’ to the swing gives more consistent contact. Then you use the speed in the swing to get the spin. And I’d rather see a person with more weight on the back foot than the front foot. Any time you are leaning forward with the hands forward, shaft leaning forward and the clubface closed is taking bounce off the club and the margin for error is smaller.
8. Bunker shots need not be scary.
Follow the same rules as for good chipping; use the bounce and create clubhead speed. Make a long backswing and ensure that the clubhead passes the hands – the sooner the better.
9. I tend to do my short-game practice in practice rounds.
I think one of the important scrambling skills is the ability to adjust to the various grasses round the greens, so I do a lot of my short-game work on the course in the practice days leading up to the tournament. Perhaps you can pick a quiet time to play your course and do some short-game work round the greens.
10. Embrace the challenge of scrambling.
Getting up-and-down is a test in its own right. The point of the game of golf is to get the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible. A good short game is one of the ways to do that effectively and it can certainly knock shots off your round. So relish the challenge the short game sets you. What if you missed the green? Try to see how few shots you can take to get down. With that positive approach, you’ll find your scoring improves.