As golf’s foremost authority on the short game and putting, Dave Pelz has committed his working life to research and teaching in a bid to help golfers lower their scores.
With his uniquely analytical approach to the game, the former NASA scientist, who runs 11 Scoring Game Schools around the world, including The Grove in London, explains that improving skills within 100 yards of the hole is the fastest route to lowering handicaps.
Golfmagic recently caught up with Pelz at The Grove to discuss several aspects of short game and putting.
What’s your advice for some one who is thinning their chip shots or worried about hitting them fat?
First off, let’s talk about the definition of a chip shot. A chip shot to me is something that does not fly above the waist. It’s low and it’s meant to have minimum back spin and run when it hits the green.
For me, a pitch shot is something that’s over my head. It may or may not have backspin on it. It may stop quickly and may hit, bounce and check, or it might run.
On a low-running chip shot, you don’t want backspin. Most people when first given a club and they attempt a chip shot, they either hit it well or hit it fat.
The importance when hitting the chip shot is to take fat out of the equation. Put the ball on the back of your right ankle.
What most golfers do is put the ball in the back of their stance, where their toes are pointing. That ball is forward relative to my body, relative to my natural arc. If I make a good swing, I will hit that shot fat. Not because I made a bad swing but because the ball is in the wrong place. You want the ball on the back of your right ankle.
I don’t have to hit it perfect from there, you just know you won’t it fat. Take the correct swing and just hit it out there somewhere and it will run low towards the cup.
Your short game bible endorses the use of an extra lofted wedge. Does your research and data support the notion that there could in fact be a need for more loft than 64-degrees?
Yes and no. For years, I have given 64-degrees to players because the more greens you miss, the more you need one. In America, there’s an egotistical push that club members want their greens to be fast.
The faster you make the greens, the tougher it is for pitching. You need more backspin to stop the ball by the hole. There are more requirements for 64-degrees and boxed grooves.
Now, two years ago, the USGA and their ultimate wisdom said boxed grooves are no good and we want V-grooves, which cuts in half the possible spin you can put on a pitch shot. I think it’s a terrible decision. The worst one ever made in golf because amateurs don’t hit greens with 4-irons. They hit greens with wedges.
So now amateur golfers who are buying brand new clubs with V-grooves can conceivably - if they swing properly - only impart half as much spin as they used to be.
It’s become much tougher for amateurs. Pros hit seven to ten wedges a round, amateurs hit 15 to 30. When you miss greens, you have a shot from around the green. 64-degree with V-grooves you don’t get the incredible backspin. 64 is right at the edge.
With boxed grooves, I could have a 68-degree wedge and be right at the edge. 70-degrees is too much loft. With V-grooves, you don’t want to go past 64. I would never promote 68-degrees with V-grooves. 64-degrees is the limit. Every amateur should have a 64-degree wedge. The more greens you miss, the more you need one.
When an amateur comes to play their chip or pitch, what should they be thinking when they’re standing over it?
I think it’s not a question imagining a good result or feeling a good wedge shot running up to the pin, if you have bad swing mechanics. I try to teach bad swings to be good swings, but then once you get a reasonably good swing, I say start practising a pre-shot ritual so you do the same thing time and time again.
It’s like learning French. If you practice a bit a lot of times, it’s a lot better than practising 24 hours a day and then never again.
Have good rhythm. Relax. Take one look and go. Don’t try and think about it. Rhythm is the most important thing. Get your ball in the correct position, so whatever swing you’re making, it hits it in your natural swing arc.
Don’t think too much about ball position, just make it a habit. Phil Mickelson owns a swing and executes it. He doesn’t think about it. He just plays with feel on top of mechanics.
How much emphasis do you put on reading putts?
We’ve been proving in our schools that almost everyone doesn’t read enough break. So if it breaks 12 inches, you tell yourself it’s going to break three, and then you say aim six. In the middle of stroke, you think it’s 12. That makes you change your stroke mid-swing and makes you inconsistent.
We teach guys to read greens. A 12-inch break is easier if you call it 12 inches, than if you call it a three. Most amateurs under read greens by a factor of three. If it breaks three inches, it probably breaks nine.
We have machines where we press a little button and it gives us a laser beam so we know how much putts break. Teaching people to see that is very difficult and we are working on research right now.
In November of next year, we are launching a book to see how to read the real break of a putt. I would say misreading greens is the major problem with putting strokes. It causes bad putting strokes. If I saw it reads three and really reads 12, I blame my stroke and not the read.
What is the optimum putting speed?
17-inches behind the hole is the optimum putting speed. You will make the most putts that way.
Faster than that, you will get more lip outs. Leave the ball short, and you are not going to make any. I’ve never seen a putt stay short and go in.
We play games at our Schools, where you’re penalised. 34 inches by is ok. 35 inches past, I penalise you. If you leave it short, I also penalise you. I don’t reward, I just penalise when guys don’t putt well.