When you think about the Masters (April 8-11), what comes to mind are the flawless deep green fairways, and slick bentgrass greens set against white sand bunkers, towering Georgia pines, azaleas and dogwoods. You think about players slinging drives around the corner on the par-5 13th, or negotiating Eisenhower's Tree on 17.
But this year, I'm going to pay more attention to possibly the most important skill you must have to win at Augusta National – short game and putting. I can't think of too many places where it might be more critical – from reading and executing perfectly paced putts to impeccable sand play. (See above image of Tiger Woods' incredible chip shot at No. 16 en route to winning in 2005.)
And then, of course, there are those Augusta tight lies that would have most average golfers shaking in their FootJoys and pulling out the Texas wedge (putter) around the greens. To execute a perfect pitch shot from five to 15 yards with almost zero margin for error, you need more than feel; you need perfect fundamentals and great rhythm.
Which brings me to this: If you want to impress your friends, forget the long drives; become a wizard around the greens. But to accomplish that, you're going to need more than practice, especially if you’re like 98 percent of the golfing population. Very few of us have anything that resembles what the pros do around the greens, and reading a tip or two in a magazine, or taking one chipping lesson isn't nearly enough.
I recently had the opportunity to go through one of Dave Pelz' three-day Scoring Schools held at Chateau Elan Winery and Resort, just outside of Atlanta, which appropriately is just a couple of hours or so from Augusta.
This isn't just instruction; it's religion. I challenge anyone to go through three days of Pelz' practical, scientific approach and not to come out of it with a new faith. I found myself, for example, in my next round, almost hoping I would miss greens so I could try out my new fundamentals.
Admittedly, the first time out on a golf course – which came at The Landing at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga., this week – I still hit a couple of poor pitches as old habits die hard. But the times I executed what I learned was pure euphoria. My chipping, for example, is 100 times better than it used to be. I have every confidence that if I apply the principles and fundamentals I was taught during three intense days of video, drills and close supervision, short game and putting will be strengths, not the biggest part of my handicap.
You should know, of course, that it isn't cheap to attend a three-day school – about $2,400 or so – but think about how much you've probably spent over the years on new drivers and irons, not to mention all the Nassaus you might have lost because you couldn't get it up and down in three, much less two.
Pelz also offers more economical options, such as a two-day short-game school, which doesn't include putting, and there are also one-day clinics held throughout the country and the UK. The full-blown three-day schools, by the way, are also offered in Michigan, California and Florida as well as Ireland. You can go to pelzgolf.com for more information.