To Make More Birdies, Learn the Pitch Shot with Bite

The 2009 PGA Teacher of the Year, Mike Bender (left) with prize pupil Zach Johnson

Your ball is in fairway or light rough, about 30 yards away from the hole, and you’re playing a shot that you would like to see land in the neighborhood of the flag, skip once or twice, then bite and hold. For the average player, this is as close as we get to the show-off shot in which our ball lands with backspin “juice” and actually sucks back toward the point it was played from. In reality, say the teaching pros, it’s just as valuable as that moonwalker shot you see on TV.

Mike Bender, founder and director of instruction at The Mike Bender Golf Academy in  Lake Mary,. Florida. is the pro with today’s recipe for an aggressive pitch shot from a good lie, with “bite.” Bender, whose students include 2007 Masters champ Zach Johnson, was just honored with the highly prestigious Teacher of the Year Award for 2009 by the PGA of America. If you’d like to learn the technique for a land-and-grab pitch, pay attention to the top teaching pro in the land—and do as follows:

>> Using a sand wedge (one with a relatively thin sole) play the ball back in your stance, off the right foot.

>> Feel your hands “ahead,” or closer to the target than the ball is, at address.

>> Don’t fiddle with your grip. “The clubface will appear to be hooded or closed.” says Bender, “That’s due to it being back in your stance. You’ll get used to that look, just keep the face aimed straight at the hole.”

>> Take the club back naturally, allowing hands and clubhead to work inside the ball-to-target line

>> On the downswing, make more of a descending blow than you would on most iron shots. “You should feel crisp impact, and you’ll probably nip off a small divot,” says Bender.

A good general thought: “Don’t let the club pass the hands,” Bender intones. The initial result of all this will be a slightly lower ball flight than you normally get with a sand wedge, then touchdown up near the pin and a biting finish that should leave its share of makeable birdie bids.

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