The pitch is one of the most challenging shots in golf. You not only have to visually judge the length of the shot, you have to swing slower than usual. Shorter swings give you less time for any compensation you might have in longer, fuller swings. Poor technique usually results in poor contact with the ball.
Golfers typically fall into one of two groups of pitch shooters:
- Steep-angle pitchers (or “diggers”) strike down sharply on the ball and let the leading edge of their wedge hit the ground first. Their divots tend to be deep, and the ball flies lower and a little quicker due to the de-lofted club face.
- Shallow-angle pitchers (or “scoopers”) tend to keep their spine tilted more toward the backswing through impact, which shallows the angle of the club and allows the sole, not the leading edge, of the club to strike the ground.
New golfers often add a scooping action in an attempt to get the ball in the air, causing the sole of the club to hit the ground before the ball. The result is a thinned shot. The sole of the club does its job and prevents the club from digging, but it can bounce up too quickly into the middle of the ball.
If you want to improve your pitching, first check your equipment. Do you have the right wedge for your pitching style? If you employ the steep motion, you need to have more bounce angle on your wedge to prevent the digging of the club as much as possible. The degree of bounce is typically the smaller number located on the back of the wedge—be careful not to confuse it with the loft of the club. A high bounce would be in the 12- to 14-degree range. Shallow pitchers need less bounce on the club (in the 6- to 8-degree range), since they already use the sole of the club more in their strike. They do not want the club bouncing up too quickly and ruining the strike.
To enhance your technique, you need to be versatile with your pitching and be able to use both techniques. The best pitchers vary the impact depending on the shot or the lie. If you are a deep-divot, leading-edge striker, learn to slide the club under the ball with a more “U-shaped” swing through impact. If you make little or no divot and always hit high and soft scoop shots, lean more to the left (if you’re right-handed) and hit a pitch shot with the club handle in front of the ball at impact. The shot will fly lower and run longer.
Once you master the technical side, it’s ideal to have equipment that provides a selection of bounce angles. A sand wedge with higher bounce (helpful in bunkers) and a lob wedge that has a little less bounce for tighter lies are simple but effective choices. Now you are truly ready to face any lie or shot selection. You can pick the right club (and bounce) for the shot you visualize and have the skill to execute it correctly.