Westchester / Hudson Valley Magazine Golf Guide
Shave strokes off your score with our local pros' favorite sure-fire short-game shots.
By Dave Donelson
Every golfer wants to whack booming 300-yard drives, but the guy who collects on the bets at the end of the round is almost always the one who makes the fewest putts. The short game is the scoring game, so I went looking for some help with mine. (I can’t hit 300-yard drives anyway.)
The place to go for short-game instruction in Westchester is GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford, where Head Golf Professional Brian Crowell, Director of Golf Rob Labritz, and their crew of golf instructors work their magic at the most complete golf-teaching center in the county, if not in the entire Northeast. Not only does GlenArbor provide its members with a driving range, there’s an indoor teaching center as well as two heated bays for year-round use. The feature that really sets GlenArbor apart, though, is the short- game center, which opened last year.
“Sixty-five percent of your strokes are taken within a hundred yards of the green,” Crowell says. That’s why GlenArbor architect Gary Player, the teaching pros, and Course Superintendent Ken Benoit designed a learning facility where players can hone every aspect of their short game, from fairway bunker shots to three-foot, side-hill, downhill putts. “We’re trying to help people enjoy the game more,” Crowell says. “Game improvement is a significant part of that. Flop shots, lag putts, bunker blasting—there’s a lot more to golf than just smashing the ball off the tee then tramping through the woods until you find it. To get the most out of golf—and to lower your scores—honing your short game is the way to go.”
The Confidence Builder
Missing a three-foot putt with the match on the line ranks right up there with back-ending a police car at a traffic light on the list of life’s most disheartening moments. GlenArbor pro and Golf Digest for Women “Top 50 Instructor” Debbie Doniger says it’s all in your head. “It doesn’t matter what kind of stroke you use, if you’re confident, it’s much more likely to go in. Start the ball on your intended line and stay very steady.” The drill she recommends to build that confidence is to set up two tees on either side of the ball, then make your normal stroke. If the putter face is square, it will hit both tees simultaneously. If it’s off, adjust your stroke, and try it again. And again and again and again until you get it right and ingrain the move into your muscle memory.
The Flop Shot
Phil Mickelson is famous for his flop shot. Are you? Faced with the need to lob the ball out of the rough, over a greenside bunker, and next to a tight pin, most players can imagine any number of disasters. Those bad results don’t need to happen, though, according to GlenArbor Director of Golf Rob Labritz. You can use a lob wedge or even a sand wedge for this shot. “The key is to have your club face open,” Labritz says. “Make sure your feet are aimed slightly left of your target so the club face is aimed at it. The higher you want to hit the ball, the farther toward your front foot it should be.” Then, swing like you mean it and, above all, follow through. The ball should float high out of the grass and land softly on the green.
The Putter Pop Shot
Westchester courses are famous for small, fast greens surrounded by a collar of rough, which is where my ball often ends up. When I asked GlenArbor Head Pro Brian Crowell what to do, he said, “You could hit a perfect lob wedge, you could use a hybrid club and sweep through the grass, or use this putter pop shot, which is the safest.” To hit the putter pop shot, he says, “Put the ball six inches behind your stance and hit down on it at a forty-five-degree angle. The ball will hit the ground underneath and bounce forward. It should carry one to three feet in the air, then roll with topspin.” It’s particularly effective when the ball is snuggled down in the long grass next to the green, Crowell says. “It’s a safe shot, but it takes a little bit of practice.”
Hybrid clubs are showing up in everybody’s golf bag. The fairway-wood-iron-whatever combination clubs are great for hitting long, high-approach shots. But they’re also effective around the green, according to GlenArbor Teaching Pro Dave Gagnon. “You can become deadly with this,” he says. “It’s like a Texas wedge with loft. It lifts the ball over chunky ground, then gets it rolling on the green.” Gagnon recommends using a hybrid with 19 degrees or more loft. Play the shot even with your sternum with a slightly open stance and choke down below the grip to the shaft. “All I’m trying to do is feel the club head swing and let it release,” he says. “If you keep your arms too stiff, you have no feeling. It’s a real small swing because there is a lot of power in the club.”