Golf pitching tips, technique & drills

In this article we’ll cover the essentials of golf pitching, and give you a plan to build this area of your game. We’ll start off with golf pitching technique and concepts, move onto some pitching tips and finish up with some great pitching drills and practice games.

Golfing pitching shots – Whats the big idea?

We tend to class golf pitching as any shot between 30 – 70 yards. It’s one of those fiddly in-between shots that many golfers struggle with. There are three key stages to developing your golf pitching ability. You must learn to:

  1. Create a crisp descending strike, and hit the middle of the club face.
  2. Refine your start direction, so you are laser accurate. 
  3. Master your trajectory and distance control to optimise your distance control.

Golf pitching technique

There are two critical point most golfers get wrong in their pitching technique. Firstly, they tend to try to help the ball up in the air, rather than create a downward strike. Secondly, their backswing tends to be far too long, meaning they almost always have to decelerate into impact – Unless they enjoy clearing the green by 50 yards…

Use the following step to sure up your fundamentals. This will still be useful even if you’re a scratch golfers.

Golf pitching set-up

There are two changes you need to make from your full swing setup. The first is to hold further down the grip. You will need to shuffle slightly closer to the golf ball when you do this.

This makes the golf club a shorter lever, giving you more control and allowing you to make a more positive swing at the ball from short distances. It is such a small point, but so valuable.

Golf pitching set up angles. Set up with your spine in a neutral position and a little knee flex. Feel athletic and balanced.
There are two small changes you need to make from your full-swing setup. Hold further down the grip, and have your feet slightly closer together

The second change, is to have your feet closer together (pictured below). There is no exact answer to how close your feet should be. Below is how I set up for pitch shots from 25-30 yards, as I get back towards 70-80 yards my feet are almost full stance width (the image further down).

golf chipping technique
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The rationale for this change is more important to understand than getting a measuring tape out to perfect your stance with.

Great pitchers of the golf ball have brilliant body rotation back and through their pitch shots. Having your stance slightly narrower de-activates your hip abductors, and makes it far easier to rotate your hips, pelvis and upper-body as you swing back and through.

Your ball position is best around the centre of your stance, with a little more weight favouring your front foot.

Side note: The reason I sound a little vague above when mentioning ball position is that, as you become highly-skilled (5-handicap and below) you can actually be quite adaptable with your ball position. To begin with keep it centre, or even slightly back of centre, this will give you added margin for error with your strike.

golf pitching set up. The golf ball should be centre of your stance, with a little more weight on your front foot.

Golf pitching swing

Once you have your pitching setup mastered follow the video below.

Golf pitching practice stage one

To begin with grab some balls, and make swings at the driving range or pitching area focusing on a crisp descending strike. It should feel like your body rotates back and through, with your arms hugging your sides.

Extra tip: Ensure your follow-through is the same length, or longer than your backswing. This will help you accelerate through impact. 

With this form of practice don’t worry about a target or any specific distance. Just focus on a great strike, and see how the varying length swings alter the ball trajectory and distance. 

Arrowing your pitch shots down the flag stick

Pitching in reality is a mini full-swing. Your backswing path has a strong influence on your start direction. If your arms become detached from your body, you will always struggle with pulling pitch shots, and you will feel like you have to manipulate the club face through impact. 

Extra tip: A poor swing plane has a knock-on effect for distance control. Having to manipulate your club face through impact alters your dynamic loft and spin loft. These impact factors a key for controlling distance.

Having your pitching swing a little too flat is not actually as bad. You will struggle a little with your strike, but it’s the better side to be on. If you struggle with your arms becoming disconnected, try placing a towel under your arms, as shown below.

Another really great tool for improving your swing plane and pitching is this swing ball training aid. The advantage of the swing ball training aid is that it also focuses on getting your arms to fold and rotate correct. It is also a little easier to hit shots with than a towel.

You really know when you have your swing path correct for pitching. You will start to feel as if all you need to do is rotate through your shots and your pitch shots arrow down the flag stick –  its a wonderful feeling.

Pitch shots – Mastering trajectory and distance control 

On to the final step of distance control – Elite players do miss most of their pitch shots slightly left or right. However, they are exceptional at controlling the distance of their pitch shots.

Best golf range finder – A golf pro’s review
A great golf range finder can really help dial in your pitching and iron shots. Check out this review for further information.

Below is snap shot of the stats analysis analysis I complete for tour players. This is an output from a player on the Challenge Tour for the past two events. Notice how most of the error is a fraction left or right, but his distance control is excellent. 

This is an example of shot distribution analysis. Knowing you don’t hit your shots close enough is one thing. However, this analysis breaks down where the misses occur and under what circumstances. You can build your own mini version with the Golf Insider Performance Diary

How do you master distance control? The basics above are key, then it comes down to refining your club head velocity, dynamic loft and angle of attack at impact. You need to be able to hit five pitch shots in a row with near identical strike, trajectory and distance.

If you fail here, take a look back at how your body rotates through your pitching shots – I’ve banged on about this a lot in this article, but it really is the hub of your pitching action.

If you body stops rotating, the arms slow down but the momentum of the club head means the club carries on moving forward. This leads to wrists flicking and considerable changes to all three impact factors mentioned above (club head velocity, dynamic loft and angle of attack).

Golf pitching drill

To finished with here is a great little pitching drill / skills game. You can play this pitching drill on a short game area, or fit it in to 9-holes play.

The scoring is brutally hard, as you will see after your first attempt of playing it. However, I like it, it gives you feedback on the direction of your misses. It also forces you to improve your poor pitch shots, as these dramatically affect your final score.

Once you have these basics in place try altering the clubs you use to pitch with, and your ball position. The same mechanics with a change in club and ball position can give you a great variety of pitching options from 30 – 70 / 80 yards.

Extra (elite) tip: Putting the ball further back in your stance does usually result in more backspin. However, if you’re looking to stop the ball as quickly as possible on the green you might find a higher trajectory with a little less spin a better option in some conditions. This can be achieved by having your ball position forward of centre, with a lofted club.

Golf pitching summary

I hope this post gives you a plan to go away and implement. Even if you are a competent player do start by checking your basics. A poor set up is often the cause of a poor pitching action. For more short-game tips check out the ultimate chipping guide.

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Happy golfing, Will @ Golf Insider

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