With the weekend warrior in mind we created Bump and Run, a weekly Q&A with some of the game's top instructors. Each Friday, a teaching professional will occupy this space and answer questions directed toward improving your game. This week it's Dana Rader, owner of the Dana Rader Golf School at Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge in Charlotte, N.C.
Owner, Dana Rader Golf School, Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, Charlotte, N.C.
- Golf Digest's 50 Greatest Teachers
- Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America
- Golf Magazine's Top 25 Golf Schools
- LPGA National Teacher of the Year (1990)
- Author, Rock Solid Golf - A Foundation for a Lifetime (2002)
An LPGA Master Professional and one of Golf Digest's 50 Greatest Teachers, Rader is the author of the book, Rock Solid Golf. One thing she's always trying to preach to her students is rock-solid fundamentals, especially in the short game. We caught up recently with Rader to discuss her keys to better wedge play.
'The No. 1 thing I teach all levels with regard to the pitch shot is that you've got to get your arms and hands in the right position, and you have to open your chest up through the shot and use your body to hit the ball,' said Rader. 'People tend to keep their bodies still and hit with their arms. That just gives the ball a lot of topspin and overspin, so when you do hit it good you can’t stop it. Once the body stops, the hands take over and scoop, or slap at it.'
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How does a pitch shot differ from a full swing shot in terms of technique?
Your full swing is basically one speed, and that’s full speed. When you get into the short game, variables come into play (lie, speed, rhythm and tempo, different lofts), so the technique is more difficult in that it requires a whole different set of skills in terms of tempo and feel.
I think the biggest thing is making sure you don’t have to swing at it so hard. People go at full swing shots full speed; you approach the short game with smaller swings and lower swing speeds. I see people hit a pitch shot 20, 30, 40 yards from the green and there’s way too much speed for the shot they’re trying to hit.
Wedge play is all about distance control; it's not about power. How do you practice good distance control in pitching?
The best drill I know for this is the Handkerchief Drill. Place a handkerchief or styrofoam cup down at 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards, each one 10 yards apart. Take one club, like your sand wedge, and try and hit each target.
The thing is, most people don’t know what 30 and 40 yards looks like; they haven’t paced it off. By pacing off the yardages and putting down the handkerchiefs or Styrofoam cups, you can begin to see what 30 yards is as you practice on the driving range. Then you can see it better out on the golf course because you’ve practiced the shot.
Land the ball at the handkerchief. You’re working on your landing areas, which will help you with your distance control.
How do you best regulate distance in pitching? Is it controlled by the length of the swing, follow-through, or the speed of your body's rotation?
I'd say length of swing, and also loft. If, for example, you had a 20- or 30-yard shot, I’m going to have you grab a sand wedge because it’s an easier club to hit the right distance. Focus on short swings and loft.How do you adjust your swing to hit high, medium and low pitches?
There are several ways you can adjust trajectory. No. 1 is ball position. I tell my students to use the right for roll, left for loft method. If you want the ball to go a little higher, you have to move the ball more to the left in your stance (for right-hand golfers). If you want more roll, you're going to move it farther back in your stance, to the right, to bring the trajectory down.
Next thing is you can bring the ball down even lower by using a less lofted club. The less loft you have, the more roll you’re going to get.On a standard pitch, is the plane of the swing more up and down (vertical) or flatter than people realize?
It’s flatter than people realize. If I’m trying to hit a real flop shot I might get the shaft angle steep. It's half of a full swing, and if you go into a half-swing checkpoint it [the club shaft] will be a little bit around your body, behind you. It won’t be directly inside. It’s always going to go straight back from the target, but as soon as you pivot the shoulders the club is going to come a little bit more around. This will give the ball better spin and control in terms of how you impact the shot.
A little earlier, you mentioned the importance of keeping your body moving, or rotating, through the shot. What's a good drill to help you sync up your arms and body?
Assume your golf posture, and with your left arm extend the club straight out away from your left side at waist height, toward the target. Your left arm will be extended almost in line with the back of your heels. In order to get your right hand to your left hand, you have to turn your shoulders. If you don’t, you can’t reach it. Just turn toward the target and shake your left hand with your right hand.
One short-game shot that gives amateurs a lot of problems is the pitch over a bunker from a tightly mown lie. How do you overcome the fear of such a shot?
It's a scary shot, no doubt, even for better players. Those tight lies, if you turn too much, you’ll hit the ground too soon, and if you don’t turn up, you’ll hit the ground too soon. I always get the student to focus on the handle leading the clubhead as you pivot the body through the shot. So, as you’re coming into the ball you’re going to strike it with the handle leading. And right as you strike the ball, allow the chest to pivot on through to carry the club toward the target.
I encourage them to brush the grass because you do need to take a little bit of a divot in order to get any spin on the ball at all. If you don’t, you’ll get a lot of overspin. So I do have my students take practice swings brushing the grass a little bit so they can feel the clubhead reaching the bottom of its arc.
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