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A short-game guru’s two different methods to tackle tight lies

September 14, 2017

Don’t worry—you’re not the only one who struggles in the super-short stuff. Shots from tight lies, particularly pitches requiring less than full power, challenge golfers at every skill level, including many PGA and LPGA Tour players. And for good reason—these are really difficult shots with a really small margin for error.

Understanding the parameters of a problem is the first step in turning a weakness in your game into a strength, so let’s define what we mean by tight lie.

My definition of a tight lie is when the golf ball is sitting with an eighth of an inch or less space beneath it, on a surface so firm you can’t take a normal divot.

From such a lie, there are two optimal shots (or swings) to consider:

1. You can “kiss” the turf with a high-loft, low-bounce wedge.

2. You can pick the ball in a sweeping, bump-and-run motion with a low-loft club.


Take a look at the photo below, which captures the final shot of a 60-ball practice session at Augusta National with Mr. Short Game himself, Phil Mickelson. I know there were 60 shots hit that day because I counted out the balls myself, then watched Phil “kiss” the practice-range turf on every one of them. The turf was firm and tight, yet very few bits of grass—and almost no dirt—were disturbed during this 30-yard pitch-shot exercise. (And for the record: There wasn’t a chunk or skulled ball in the bunch.)

The challenge in hitting this type of wedge shot from a tight lie is to make certain that the bottom of your swing arc is perfectly positioned so that your club kisses the dirt immediately after it makes contact with the ball. To pull this off, it’s necessary to use a wedge with only modest bounce on the sole (< 10 degrees), and to hold it in a slightly open position at address and through impact. This will keep the club’s leading edge snug to the ground without digging into it.

It’s a highly effective shot—but there’s an alternative.


This tight-lie solution, illustrated in the photo below, works best for shots that don’t involve a carry over a hazard or an obstacle, shots in which you’ll want the ball to stay low and run to the pin. For consistency on this shot, you need a very level golf swing and the ball positioned just past the bottom of your swing arc. The key is to pick the ball, with solid contact, without disturbing the turf beneath it.

To begin, grip down very slightly on a low-loft club (in the photo, I’m using a 6-iron). This effectively raises the bottom of your swing arc. Center the ball in your stance, with your hands just in front of it at address. Then use a normal swing back and through, keeping it as level as possible. Learning to control distance on this shot will take time, but a little practice will go a long way toward improving your touch.

Although taking on tight lies is never easy, both of these very different techniques will deliver short-game gems for you.