This is our second BITESIZE INSIGHT on Stan Utley, the renowned PGA tour short game guru who also had a career playing himself for many years.
Our first INSIGHT was on his book – THE ART OF PUTTING, while this book deals predominantly with shots around the green and decision making required to achieve your best score.
As consistent with the BITESIZE series we will focus on some of the most interesting aspects of the book. As in his putting book, Utley employs a player orientated lexicon, creating a feel and visualisation that the player can grasp and implement.
So much of golf instruction has been aimed at those with real problems around the greens, the advice is more of an avoidance strategy. I would bet that a very high percentage of readers would acknowledge hearing, reading or implementing the ‘ball back, hands forward’ technique to avoid miss hits. Utley goes against the grain here – if you pardon the pun!
This steep angle of attack is not the solution it promises to be. You actually create a very small margin of error – hit slightly behind the ball and a lot of the energy of the swing is lost into the ground and the ball goes nowhere near the target. Alternatively you may come out of the shot to combat this and lift up your body and hands which likely creates the thin – scuttling across the green.
Many players end up with a compromise of striking the ball first, taking a healthy divot and putting up with the low trajectory. With firm or fast greens you have to get pretty creative to keep the ball on the green.
THE ULTIMATE SHORT GAME SETUP
To combat the above problems Utley prescribes a neutral setup – one where the shaft is vertical at impact. This is designed to present more loft at impact and create a softer landing flight. He mentions using the increased ability to use the sole of the club in providing more forgiveness to the shot, a bigger margin of error. Of course their are an endless variety of methods that are successfully employed for different scenarios.
Players like to experiment but it is key to understand why you do something. A very important factor in the setup is the location of your weight as this greatly influences the low point of your swing. As general advice goes a slight preference of the front foot is advised by Utley – but not for bunker shots as the sand rather than the ball is the intended target.
“USE THE BOUNCE”
This is perhaps the area of ‘his’ technique or explanation that creates the most confusion or difficulty in implementation. Many golfers see the short game as a very separate entity to the long game and try to apply a very different approach or technique to achieving the desired result. Utley regularly highlights the benefits of a graduated setup and swing where a six iron swing shares many characteristics with that of a short pitch.
Rather than manipulating the club and trying to keep everything fixed with a minimum of moving parts like a lot of instruction, Utley wants your technique to flow. This echoes a lot of older teaching such as that of Ben Crenshaw who liked to see some leg movement – in putting! (he is renowned as one of the best putters in history)
Utley uses the phrase frequently throughout the book – “use the bounce”. Its a nice image for the golfer and can be defined as taking very little divot if any when pitching. Players get the sensation of the club gliding or skimming the turf rather than digging in. This is applicable in bunkers too, where less sand is moved and less clubhead speed is required, theoretically improving consistency.
Since the book has been published 3d analysis and testing by renowned biomechanist Rob Neal and acclaimed short game coach Andrew Rice has shown that even with this technique there is still a significant shaft lean of around 15 degrees at impact. This isnt to be confused with attack angle but is interesting to note. Below is a great video of a shallow pitch as prescribed by Utley and demonstrated by Rice.
“LET THE CLUB PASS THE HANDS”
The photograph below highlights Utleys approach to playing from greenside rough. As a player he had a self professed “worse than average” long game and so had to rely on his short game for a pay check! To gain control from the rough enough trajectory needs to be created so that the ball doesn’t roll uncontrollable upon landing (spin is not possible from most lies).
To create this loft but still make decent contact through the thick rough he advocates placing the majority of your weight on the lead foot, but still keep the shaft neutral to create the loft. Without the weight on the left you would lose to much club speed and consistency due to the thick rough.
A further thought through the impact zone, is to feel that your clubhead passes your hands as he demonstrates in the third image – again to maintain the loft on the club for a soft landing shot and to prevent the thick grass turning the face closed.
A GREAT DRILL FOR YOUR SHORT GAME
A drill thats good to feel this release is demonstrated in the photo – practice one handed. You must control the swing with your big muscles to hit decent shots. It prevents you from using the strength of your second hand to manipulate the club. Its a difficult drill at first but one worth persevering with. It’s very applicable to your putting also – why not read our article about it?
The praise below speaks volumes. There is something in the book for all levels of golfer – don’t be putt off by the detail of some of the above discussion! If you fancy reading this book click here.