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Long-term benefits in short game clinics

WE have heard it before and we will hear it again: the short game is the key to a good score, whether you're a professional or an amateur. The problem is, it's just not sexy. I mean, don't you just love that thrilling feeling of smashing the ball right off the meat with the driver and sending it soaring into the distance?

That's what it's all about for most of us, and club manufacturers keep pumping out new technology to keep driver-mania in full flow among the world's handicap golfers.

I don't know a golfer who doesn't want to play better, to score better, and to lower his or her handicap, yet most will opt for the 'new driver' syndrome as a solution.

We also hear often from the pros and from TV commentators about the virtues of length and power.

"If you can hit the driver 340 yards, you've only got a 7/8/9 iron to the green and that makes the game more simple," is their mantra.

Allowing for hitting it shorter off the tee, and adding in approach shots, the problem for 'ordinary' golfers is that many of us can't deliver a 7/8/9 iron safely to the putting surface, even if we are 150-120 yards out.

And let's talk about 20-50 yards off the green. Can you guarantee getting down in three, never mind two, from that distance? Maybe it's time to think about that.

Dave Pelz, short-game guru to the stars, including Phil Mickelson, has compiled huge amounts of data from professionals and amateurs over the years.

Key statistics are that at any level, 60-65pc of all shots are played within 100 yards of the hole, and that 80pc of shots lost to par occur from that distance.

All of which underlines the value of a recent experience attending a one-day Scoring Game School at the impressive Dave Pelz facility at Killeen Castle, venue for the Ladies Irish Open and the Solheim Cup.

Tutors Jussi Pitkanen, born in Finland but a long-time resident of Ireland, and Conor Devery from Tullamore, guided a group of eight golfers -- five men and three women -- through a thorough review of short-game techniques.

The programme began with a discussion about the key elements of pitching and then it was time for some practical work. With an indoor area, huge putting greens, a range, and an extensive bunker complex, the Pelz School at Killeen Castle is superbly fit for purpose.

Conor and Jussi also avail of a host of teaching devices and inventions designed by Pelz to help the learning process of his techniques. Our morning was spent working on pitching, bunker play and chipping, before a break for lunch. The afternoon schedule called for three hours devoted to putting.

If you told me that in advance, I would have wondered, 'how could you do that without getting bored?', but there was plenty to work on: proper technique, rhythm, green reading, pace putting, short putts, and practice drills.

The time flew by and when we wrapped it all up at the end, everyone had taken in lots of information.

We were then given a booklet that contained the essentials of the areas that had been covered.

Any problems? "The only problem will be if you do not go and practise what you learned today. If you do that, you will improve your scores," was the message from Jussi and Conor.

The general consensus was that this was a very worthwhile day, as it gave the golfers a chance to focus in detail on pitching, chipping and putting, and to go away with definite techniques for playing and practice.

And if you ever had any doubts about the importance of the short game, ask 20-year-old Tom Lewis, who shot a sensational five-under-par 65 to be joint leader of the British Open on Thursday last.

Of course he drove the ball well, struck most of his other shots beautifully and handled his emotions and mental state brilliantly -- but 38 of his 65 shots -- nearly 60pc -- came from inside 120 yards of the green.

The breakdown in that area was: 26 putts; six wedge shot approaches (52-degree wedge twice, 58-degree wedge three times, pitching wedge once); three chips; and three greenside bunker shots.

For his tee shots on the 18 holes (12 par fours, four par-threes and two par-fives) he used the driver 11 times; two-iron twice; three-wood once; four-iron once; five-iron once, and seven-iron twice.

Of the irons in his bag, apart from the wedges already mentioned, Lewis used his three-iron once, five-iron twice, and the six, seven, eight, and nine-irons once each for various shots.

He was in fairway bunkers twice and had to splash out to various distances, but the key point is, the short game was crucial.

And when he struggled, particularly on the last two days, Lewis, who won the Silver Medal for leading amateur with nine-over-par for the tournament, summed up: "Playing with Phil (Mickelson) on Saturday made me feel terrible, really, especially around the greens.

"If you're going to play with the best players in the world you have to chip and putt like they do. I've got to keep grinding at that and work on my swing a little bit."

Dave Pelz Scoring Game

School at Killeen Castle

One-day clinic: €195

Half-day putting or wedge school: €149

Two-day wedge school: €900

Three-day school: with transport to/from Dublin airport, accommodation and breakfast at Dunboyne Castle Hotel, and a round of golf on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Killeen Castle course, €1,100.

For further information contact 01 6893030 or email pelzgolf@killeencastle.com

Irish Independent