The short game can be one of the most frustrating parts of the game of golf. It’s such a short shot, whether that’s the putt, pitch, or chip. It should be easy.
We’re close to the hole and, we think, that should make it a higher percentage shot because we don’t have to worry about hitting the ball far. Instead, it often becomes one of the lower percentage shots, meaning the success rate drops significantly.
One of the reasons for this is because we’re just replacing the skill of hitting the ball far with hitting the ball the correct distance.
That’s not the only reason the short game is difficult though. If it were all about hitting the ball the correct distance, then it might not be super difficult. In this article, we’re going to focus solely on pitching and one of the biggest mistakes people make with the pitch shot; skulling.
Now, the word skull, or skulling, is commonly used in the golf community, but if you’ve never heard it before, I’ll explain what I mean.
Basically, a skull shot in golf is when the bottom of the club comes into contact with the middle or upper part of the ball. It causes the ball to fly off the club face really fast, low, and is impossible to control the distance.
I’m not even going to bring up what happens if you skull a flop shot! But, let’s just say the skull often results in a ball that flies way over the green. Most golfers have done this before when trying to hit a pitch shot. Not all golfers know how to correct it though.
Let’s talk about how to do that, but first, we’ll address why it happens.
Why Skulled Pitch Shots Happen
The skulled pitch shot happens for one main reasons, the club hits the ball on the way up. So, the club has already bottomed out behind the ball and begins to move back up in the air when it comes into contact with the golf ball. That’s why the bottom of the club face is what actually hits the middle of the ball in this case.
There are a couple reasons why this happens.
- Weight on the Back Foot
- Head Movement
- Breaking the Wrists
The first, and probably most common reasons is that a player is decelerating through impact. That means that the downswing is slowing down as the player swings. A lot of people do this because they are trying too hard to control the distance of the shot.
If they’ve made a backswing that feels too far, or long, then they will, often subconsciously, slow down their swing, so they don’t hit it too far. The problem is, this does the exact opposite and will result in a ball that goes even farther than they expected. When the club is slowing down through impact, the bottom of the swing shifts backwards and the club hits the ball on the way up instead of down.
Weight on the Back Foot
The next reason why a skull may happen is that a player puts too much weight on their back foot. This is a common practice for amateur golfers. They’ll lean backwards because, once again, subconsciously they think that’ll help get the ball up in the air easier.
Since they are hitting a pitch shot, the goal is to get the ball in the air for much of the shot.
The problem is, this has the exact opposite effect, once again. When the weight shifts to the back foot, again, the bottom of the swing arc also shifts back. That means that the club is going to bottom-out behind the ball and then start traveling up and into the golf ball, creating a skulled pitch shot.
The third reason a skulled pitch shot happens is that a player will lift their head too early. Most people have heard the tip to keep their head down before. This is, in my opinion, an overused piece of advice, but in this case, it ought to be listened to.
On these short shots, people will move their head and look towards the hole or sway their head back or forward right before impact. It’s usually the anticipation of wanting to see where the hole is and where the ball will land that leads to this move.
It’s a really subtle move and often can’t be seen without the use of a camera, but it’s very common. Moving your head before impact will also change the bottom of the swing arc and lead to an upward motion into the ball, just like the previous two reasons above.
Breaking the Wrists
Finally, another common reason that people will skull their pitch shots is that they flick, or break, their wrists before impact. What I mean by this is that the wrists will bend in order to open the club face and lift the ball in the air.
If you focus on the back of your wrists, this area ought to remain flat throughout the entire swing. After impact, it’s not as important, because the ball is already gone, but up until impact, it’s crucial that a golfer keep the back of their wrists flat.
Again, when the wrists break before impact, the club moves in an upward motion too early and hits the ball in the middle or top of the ball, when the goal is to hit the bottom of the ball.
How To Stop Skulling Pitch Shots
Now that we’ve discussed why skulled pitch shots happen, we can talk about how to stop them. Each one of these will link directly to a paragraph above in the “why” section.
First, we mentioned the decelerating through impact will lead to a skulled pitch shot. In order to stop decelerating, there are a couple things that you need to do.
One thing you need to do is relax your muscles. Tense muscles will tend to over-guide the club and will either swing it too fast or too slow. Instead, think about letting gravity take the club through impact. If you let the club fall through impact by using gravity instead of your muscles, then it’ll always accelerate through impact at the right pace. Now, you might wonder, “how do I control the distance if I’m not trying to swing the club at the right speed?” On these pitch shots, you use the length of your backswing to control the distance, sort of like a putt, instead of the speed of the swing, like a full-swing.
Weight on Front Foot at Setup
Next, we talked about having too much weight on the back foot can lead to a skulled pitch shot. The fix for this is fairly simple. Start your shot at address with about 70% of your weight on your front foot and leave it there the whole time. This will allow you to swing down on the ball and not come up.
Keep Your Head Still
The third item we discussed is that a player may skull it because they lift their head too early. It’s really tempting to do this because we really want to see where the ball will go. We also want to make sure that the ball goes the right distance. On some level, we think that if we watch the ball fly in the air, we still have some control over it.
You’ve probably seen people use their body, called body English, to try and stop or move a ball in the air. I’ll let you in on a little secret, that doesn’t do anything. If it’s a bad shot, the damage is already done by the time the ball is in the air. Take a good swing and you won’t have to worry about what the ball is doing in the air. In order to correct his flaw, over-emphasize you head staying down and looking at the point of impact.
If you struggle with moving your head, you can even keep you head down until the ball stops moving on the green. The important part is that at impact your head is down and it doesn’t move until after the ball leaves.
Keeping a Flat Wrist
Finally, keeping the wrists flat can be a big struggle for people. Often times amateur golfers will think that they are keeping their wrists flat, but they aren’t. It’s hard to see on your own.
A good thing to do to help check and make sure the wrists stay straight is to finish with the club face low and pointing up to the sky.
So, on the shorter pitch shots, you could rest a glass of water on the club face. You can also see if your wrists are flat at the finish position. If your wrists are bent at the finish, then they probably bent too early in the actual swing.
Drills To Stop Hitting Skulled Pitch Shots
Now, it’s one thing to know what the issues are and why they happen and another to know how to fix them. In this section, we’ll talk about a few drills you can practice to work on pitching and not skulling the ball.
Weight Forward Drill:
This drill is fairly easy to do.
- All you need to do is find a towel or golf club grip to put under the outside of your back foot.
- Then, hit your pitch shots like normal.
The goal of this drill is to get your weight forward on to your front foot. If you’re able to keep your weight forward on that foot, then it’ll be easy to hit. But, if you sway backwards or start on your back foot, then you’ll notice too much weight on the item under your foot.
One Handed Pitch Drill:
For this drill, we’re working on accelerating through impact.
- Pick a hand to swing with.
- Grip the club with only one hand and take some practice swings.
We’re not going to hit actual shots because they won’t be good with just one hand. The goal of this drill is to feel the club just falling through impact with gravity. Since you’re only using one hand, you won’t be as tempted to swing hard or decelerate. It’s easier to just let the club fall through impact, which is accelerating. Try the drill with both hands alone. Then imitate that pace with a regular swing.
Ruler On Wrist Drill:
- Put a wristwatch or strong rubber band on your front wrist (left for right-handed player).
- Then, grab a ruler, pencil, or tee to put under it on the back of your wrist. This will create a flat space. It should make it difficult to bend your wrist in one direction.
- Then, hit some pitch shots and keep that wrist straight.
You’ll notice that if you bend your wrists too early, it’ll be uncomfortable because you’ll bend into the object on your wrists.
So, if you struggle with the short game, specifically with skulling pitch shots, give these tips a try and see how they improve your game.
You might find that you do all four of the swing flaws, a combination of a few of them, or just one.
Whatever it is, try to work each element in to your pitches, so that you are more and more consistent each time you step up to a shot. I’m sure you’ll see your scores drop as a result of better pitching. And if all else fails, just stick to the bump and shot!
Finally, make sure you are playing the correct amount of bounce on your wedges. This article can help.