3 X 3 X 3 Short Game System

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How the 3 X 3 X 3 System Works ... Basic Concepts for Short Game Play ... A Method for
Controlling Carry and Roll Distances from the Greenside Fringe Out to 125+ Yards

The 3 X 3 X 3 System refers to a method for making a series logical choices between a systematic progression of three (sometimes less) options.  For example, your first choice is to change the club, not the swing, in order to change several variables to include: ball flight trajectory, carry distance and roll distance you must use a pre-shot routine.  This routine will guide you through the pre-shot fundamental adjustments needed to produce a wide variety of shots from a minimum amount of swing (muscular force/touch, backswing length, use of your hands etc.) manipulation.

The further goal is replace talent and touch, to the highest degree possible, with technique.  The saying, “some days chicken, some days feathers” applies to golf.  There will be days when your touch and control are with you and there will be days when you can’t feel or do anything right.

Objectives for Short Game Play

Control multiple variables

… to see, intellectually understand and systematically execute, with a higher level of confidence, the great variety of shots needed for short game play

Replace talent with technique

… there is no such thing as a finesse” shot for an amateur golfer … always find some way to muster up the courage to swing firmly on every shot … even if it means hitting the ball past the hole!

Learn and use one swing technique to produce a nearly unlimited variety of shots

… technique is more important than talent … learn to execute one simple swing technique … control the shot by selecting the correct club and pre-stroke technique.

Reduce (not completely eliminated) the need to develop and maintain a precise sense of “touch and feel”

… how a Tour or skilled player handles greenside recovery shots is very different from how 90+% of amateur golfers need to get this work done.  Tour players have a much higher sense of touch and feel which allows them to use a more risky technique.  Everyday players do not have this sense and are not capable of playing the same shots with any kind of consistency.   Second, even if the pro technique is learned, the required sense cannot be maintained. Amateur golfers need to use a technique that matches

Increase both the rate and depth of skill learning, which leads to higher levels of on course performance

… how fast you learn a skill and how well you can use the skill is dependent upon many factors.  Simple can be learned both faster and deeper than complex or sense dependent skills

Rules for Short Game Play

Hit every shot firmly… there’s no such thing as a “finesse” shot for an amateur player!

Playing a short shot from a “tight” lie gets the attention of even the best players.  Once you have “laid the sod”/”chili dipped” a short shot, it gets real easy to do it again.  It is equally easy to “skull” a shot completely over the green by trying to get the airborne.  There are two principles of short game play that must be adopted before any serious learning/performance can progress.  The first concept is to let the loft club do the work of getting the ball airborne.  This means you must get you hands out of the shot.  The basic chip shot is simply using a lag putting stroke with a lofted club.  The second concept is to swing through the ball with an accelerating stroke.  Proof that you have done this properly is that the forward swing will always be longer than the backswing.  The backswing will always be slower than the forward swing.  Finally, the hands will be “quiet”.  The same concepts apply to the basic pitch shot.  To apply these concepts, you must be prepared to accept a small compromise. 

It is far better to hit the ball a few feet past the hole than to commit the big error of a chili dip or skull.

For chip shots, quitting on a shot is the number one cause of “sticking it in the ground”, fat behind the ball.  The cure is to make a commitment to making a firm stroke.  Trying to get the ball airborne is the number one cause of skulling the ball over the green.  The cure is to trust the loft of the club to elevate the ball enough to land on the green.  The following concepts relate to the first two concepts. 

Land the ball safely on the green whenever possible
… Aim every shot at an Intermediate Aiming Point … this is your true target

It is far easier to predict and control the roll of the ball on all greenside recovery shots when the ball lands of the closely mown surface of the green.  In addition to the smooth surface, the slope of the ground is usually far less severe than from the area surrounding the green.  Balls that land in taller grass or on a slope will have unpredictable amounts of roll and take erratic bounces. 

A distance of about two paces (6-7’) from the mown edge of the green is the minimum safety area.  Trying to play a tightly aimed shot to just over the mown area is adding a very large element of risk to a shot.  First, you face the possibility of landing short of your target and getting the unpredictable roll release.  That’s the good news.  The far larger  problem for most amateur golfers is the possibility of the dreaded chili dip or skull shot resulting from the stress of trying to finesse the ball. 

If the green has a tier between you and the hole, then the aiming point changes to a point 6-7’ past the first level area on the second tier.

 

Get the ball on the ground and rolling as soon as possible

… it is easier to control the amount of roll than the distance the ball flies.

 

Critical Learning Factors … learn the short game in a systematic manner. 

Learning short game skills progresses as a stepwise building of concepts and mechanical motions.  Short game shots are played below shoulder high on the backswing side.

The first mechanical fundamental is to quiet the hands.  Most hand action is taken out of the mechanics for all normal short game shots.  This means the wrists have NO cocking for chip shots and only a very minimum amount of cocking of the longer pitch shots. There are three wrist movements that must also be eliminated.  The first movement is cocking of the wrists.  This occurs when the thumbs are moved towards the elbow (radial flexion).  This movement can be visualized when you take a grip on a club, hold it chest high and move the shaft down towards your nose.  

The second movement is a flexion or extension of the wrists.  This movement can be visualized as a “flip/flop” motion.  This motion is the primary cause of both hitting fat and skulling the ball.  The “K” position helps take the hands out of standard chip shots.  At address, the shaft and the lead arm form a generally straight line from the ball to the shoulder.  The wrist of the lower hand is extended so that the upper arm and the shaft form an angle.  The two arms and the shaft form a “K” shape.  With your wrists in this pre-set position, it is much easier to keep them quiet. (no flip/flop).  

The final motion to be eliminated is any “fanning” of the hands (remember hands = clubface).  This occurs when the top hand pronates and the bottom hand supinates (radius rolls over the ulna in either arm) causing the clubface to fan open..  In less technical terms, the “thumb bones” of the forearm roll over.  The thumb bones include both the thumbs themselves AND the radius bone extending from the inside/top of the wrist up to the elbow.    From this position, three things can happen on the forward swing.  First, the clubface can remain fanned open, causing the ball to fly to the right (for right handed players).  Second, the clubface can be rolled back to a square position causing the ball to fly at the target.  Third, the clubface can be over rotated to a closed position, causing the ball to fly to the left of the target.  Thousands of authors have explained their views on one of the most feared and aggravating shots in the game … the dreaded shank.  Rolling the hands at takeaway is the ONLY cause of a shanked shot.  One mistake can create three results and two of them are bad.  Fanning the clubface open must be eliminated if you are to gain any consistency.

The second learning task is to learn to control the length and direction of your backswing.  The length of the backswing when combined with a consistent stroke rhythm is the primary control for how far the ball will go.  The direction of the swingpath ALWAYS           follows the alignment of your shoulders.  From a good posture, following your shoulder alignment is a natural movement.  With good posture you create a “monkey arms” situation where your arms are allowed to go where they will.  If you do not interfere with this natural swingpath, it will follow your shoulder line.  The final mechanical concept is to control the rhythm of the shot.  This concept in combination with controlling the length of the backswing, controls the amount of force applied to the ball. 

These mechanical concepts are best learned in a sequential manner.  First learn to keep your hands quiet.    The chip shot is nothing more than using your lag putting stroke.  A good way to learn is to tee a ball in the fringe and use your putter and lag putting stroke.  This will automatically limit the length of your backstroke.  Your goal is to keep the hands quiet.    After your hands are quiet and you are comfortable with a backswing that finishes near your knee, focus your attention on the direction of your backswing.  You can move the ball back in your stance and open your shoulders slightly.  The hands and clubhead must follow the shoulder line.  Finally, learn to control the rhythm of the stroke.  ALL basic short game shots should use the “Sloooow annnd GO!” rhythm.  When the hands are quiet, the backswing consistently finishes near the knee and the swingpath is following the shoulder line, you can begin to break the swing down in segments. 

First, focus on the speed of the backswing.  Learn to make a  “Sloooow annnd GO!” movement.  The speed of your backswing affects the speed of your forward swing.  If you speed back three bad things can occur.  You will consistently make too long of a backswing often breaking your wrists, decelerate on the forward swing or hit the ball too far. 

Additional, mental learning concepts include:

No Such Thing as a Finesse Shots for Amateur Players

 … there is no such thing as a finesse” shot for an amateur golfer … always find some way to muster up the courage to swing firmly on every shot … even if it means hitting the ball past the hole!  Accept the possibility of going past the hole in favor of the more common tendency to leave the shot well short.

Positive Mental Attitude … Expect to Succeed Because …It’s Just a Putt

Take your hands out of the stroke as much as possible … this means firm wrists (minimum cocking) and soft fingers!  Consistent short game play is achieved when all shots are played as an extension of the lag-putting stroke.  As the length of the backswing increases, the amount of hand action also increases to a small degree.  The function of the hands is to provide stability to the stroke and feedback (“feel”) to the nervous system.

Select the Correct Club

A critical concept of this system is to let the club do the work.  This means two things.  First, you must choose the right tool for the work to be done.  This requires you have a mental concept of how the system works, particularly for chip shots.  Second, it means adapting a “no hands” stroke technique.

Use a pre-swing routine

To control the numerous variables needed to create multiple shot trajectories and roll patterns while using one basic stroke technique, you must adapt basic pre-swing fundamentals in a systematic manner.  Following an orderly routine not only insures you have hit all the checkpoints, it also improves your confidence that the system will do most of the work in a reliable manner.

Setup/Type Shot

Again, using a pre-shot routine is the key to consistency.  The idea is to systematically adapt normal, full swing fundamentals to the requirements for these specialty shots.  The 5-word mnemonic:  Club, Grip, Point, Aim and Hang accounts for each pre-shot fundamental.  The goal is to change the pre-swing and to leave the swing alone.  The movement should be part of a controlled plan.  Backswing length, swing rhythm and swing force are predetermined a consistent regardless of the shot.  Each of these factors naturally change as the length of the backswing changes.  Just as the performance objectives for a running chip shot are radically different than for the a cut lob shot, so too are is the setup to produce each shot.  The swing concepts are similar … control the rhythm of the swing, control the length of the backswing and control the amount of force used for the shot.

Club affects the effective loft of the club.  Grip length and pressure affect the swing force applied to the ball.  Point, which sets both ball position and face alignment, affects the effective loft of the club and alignment of the body.  Aim sets the alignment of the body relative to ball position and face alignment.  Finally, Hang sets your posture over the ball.  Obviously setup is a complicated, interactive series of things to do.  Just walking up the ball and taking a haphazard or even careful stance will never work.  Each pre-swing variable must work in cooperation with other variables if you expect to produce consistent, positive results.

Control the Length of the Backswing

The pre-swing selection of which club to use is the most important pre-swing concept.  Likewise, controlling the length of the backswing is the most important in-swing concept.

Control the direction of the Swingpath

Swingpath direction works in combination with clubface alignment to control trajectory by changing the effective loft of the club.  The swingpath ALWAYS     follows the shoulder line.

Control the rhythm of the swing

If the length of the backswing is controlled by limiting it of pre-determined lengths, then controlling the rhythm of the stroke becomes the most important factor in controlling the force you impart to the ball.

3 X 3 X 3 Variables
 

Shot Carry & Roll Club(s) Grip Length Backswing Length Control Of
Chip 9-12' C
15-60' R
GW, 8I, 5I Sh, M, Lg Sh (7-8 O'clock) Roll Distance
Pitch 5-50 Yds C
10-15' R
LW, GW, 9I Sh, M, Lg Sh (8-9 O'clock)
 M (9-10 O'clock)
 Lg (10-11 O'clock)
Carry Distance
Non-Wedge Short Approach 50-125+ Yds C 8I, 5I Lg Lg (10-11 O'clock) Carry and Roll Distance

Club Selection

Chip Shots the distance the ball will roll is controlled by choosing between three clubs with different lofts.  The goal is to have one swing technique to produce multiple shots.  The tiny in-between distances (when the system doesn’t work perfectly) are subconsciously controlled by a minimum manipulation of swing variables.  For example, with a chip shot, the length of the backswing is between 7 and 8 o’clock.  This is an area, not a fixed point.  With NO conscious effort (after learning and practice), you will shorten or lengthen you backswing as needed for these “tweeners”.  This the substitute for the “touch” needed to get the ball really close, beyond what the system will produce.

Typically a set of golf clubs has about 4° loft difference between each club.  The goal is to skip to clubs in the series to have enough difference to make a difference in the trajectory and the subsequent amount of roll.  Following this scheme, you have a choice of what clubs to use.  Some players who have use a 4-wedge system (LW, SW, GW and PW) use the LW as the first club in the series.  The SW and GW are skipped. The next lower lofted club would be the PW.  The 9 and 8Is are skipped and the 7I is the last of the three choices.  Other players might choose to use the GW, 8I and 5I.  The difference between these two approaches involves your confidence in using the highly lofted LW.

If  you trust your LW for the shortest chips, then using the LW as the initial club is probably the best choice.  If you struggle (chili dip and skulls) using the LW, the better choice is to drop down to the GW as the starting club in the series.  The typical SW is not a good choice for the first club in the series because of the inverted sole (bounce angle) which raises the leading edge of the blade too high of the turf, requiring you to make an extreme forward press (hands in front of the ball) or to use a very steep angle of attack down into the ball.  Both circumstances tend to cause you to “stick” the club into the ground behind the ball. 

Typically a set of golf clubs has about 4° loft difference between each club.  The goal is to skip to clubs in the series to have enough difference to make a difference in the trajectory and the subsequent amount of roll.  Following this scheme, you have a choice of what clubs to use.  Some players who have use a 4-wedge system (LW, SW, GW and PW) use the LW as the first club in the series.  The SW and GW are skipped. The next lower lofted club would be the PW.  The 9 and 8Is are skipped and the 7I is the last of the three choices.  Other players might choose to use the GW, 8I and 5I.  The difference between these two approaches involves your confidence in using the highly lofted LW.

If  you trust your LW for the shortest chips, then using the LW as the initial club is probably the best choice.  If you struggle (chili dip and skulls) using the LW, the better choice is to drop down to the GW as the starting club in the series.  The typical SW is not a good choice for the first club in the series because of the inverted sole (bounce angle) which raises the leading edge of the blade too high of the turf, requiring you to make an extreme forward press (hands in front of the ball) or to use a very steep angle of attack down into the ball.  Both circumstances tend to cause you to “stick” the club into the ground behind the ball. 

Pitch Shots, you use one club and change the length of the backswing to vary the distance the ball will carry.  The choice for how you play these shots begins in the parking lot when you choose how many wedges to carry.  Most players will benefit from using 4 wedges and using two clubs, the LW or the GW for pitching the ball onto the green.

Most pitch shots will be played with your Gap wedge if you are using 4 wedges or you pitching wedge if  are carrying less than 4 wedges.  The LW can be used pitch shots that require some additional elevation, but not so much that you must change your swing technique to that used for a Lob shot.  This scheme give you’re the general ability to choose a high or low pitch, which in turn gives you some additional control of how much roll distance you can expect. 

Grip Pressure

This variable is the true “tweener” factor for very fine tuning short game shots.  A soft grip produces less distance while a firm grip produces greater distance, particularly with the roll on chip shots.

Grip Length

Using one swing rhythm helps to control the amount of force applied to the club.  One swing rhythm requires far less learning and produces far greater consistency in the results.  After club selection for chip shots, grip length is the second most important variable for controlling the distance for both carry and roll.  Choking down to a short grip produces less striking force with same amount of muscular force (swing rhythm).  This is the simple use of the law of levers.  The longer the shaft (lever), the greater the swing force applied to the ball.  As a general guide, take a mid-length grip position and adjust as needed to control the desired results.   

There are three general grips lengths, short, middle and long.  The short grip is assumed when the thumb of the bottom hand touches the shaft beyond the end of the grip.  The long grip is your normal full swing grip where the top hand is fully on the end of the club (no overlapping the end of the shaft).  The middle grip position is simply half-way between the two extremes.

Backswing Length

With this system, the length of your backswing for all chip shots is limited to a defined area between the 7-8 o’clock position.  This roughly relates to a position where your hands move to the area of your knee.  The backswing is limited to an area, not a specific point.  This allow you to handle the “in-betweener” distances not covered by club selection.  The distance the ball rolls is the variable we need to control.  This is handled by aiming every shot at the same general intermediate aiming point and changing the trajectory of the shot by changing the loft of the club (see club selection).  Keeping the backswing and the rhythm/force of the forward swing consistent has multiple benefits for both learning and performance.

For pitch shots, the swing must change.  The rhythm/force of the swing can remain consistent if the length of the backswing is used to control the distance the ball will fly.  With the idea of still keeping things simple, the backswing is moved to three general lengths:  short, medium and long.  These lengths correspond to 8-9, 9-10 and 10-11 o’clock positions.  Each of these positions, like the length of the chip backswing is an area, not a point.  Again, the idea is to allow you to handle the in-between carry distances.  The three clock areas roughly relate to below the belt, above the belt and chest high.  A key concept is to minimize the amount of wrist cock. 

The basic pitch shot is a “dead hands” shot.  This means the ball will “roll out” it it’s finish.  An unexpected benefit is that the amount of roll you get from any length pitch will be about the same.  The reason for this phenomenon relates to the trajectory of the shot.  As the backswing lengthens, the carry distance not only lengthens, but it also elevates to a higher peak.  The downward flight of the ball becomes steeper which limits the forward roll.  This is a general concept, not an absolute rule.  Your task is to master the technique and then “range in” your carry distances.


Definitions of the Various Short Game Shots

The definition of each short game shot type is related how you control the three critical short game variables … ball flight distance, trajectory and roll.  Using a precise language to describe each type of shot helps both a learner and teacher to communicate more clearly.  Confusion about what type of shot is being played can be directly traced to television commentators and golf pros who are very casual in their use of terminology.  To hear these people talk, no pro ever hits a chip shot.  This has some truth to it.  Tour pros tend to use one or two highly lofted clubs for all short game play regardless of the desired shot pattern (ball flight distance, trajectory and roll). 

Rather than changing clubs, Tour pros will typically change their swing dynamics (hand action, backswing length and force applied).  They tend to hit rather than swing.  This means the hands do not move very far back away from the ball.  To clubhead is moved by cocking the wrists.  This produces a “V” shaped swing arc rather than the “U” arc recommended by this system.  There are positive benefits to using the hands in this manner if you have the skill to control the force applied to the ball and to make precise ball contact.  This is a professional technique intended for those players who have high skill and the practice time to maintain that skill.

For these and other reasons, we will carefully define and teach the hands free, swinging system.

Chip

A deliberately low flying shot that rolls more than it flies.  The objective is to drive the ball low and to make it roll under control like a lag putt

The previous and following graphics illustrate the major concepts for playing chip shots.  All chip shots are played from the near fringe area to a close, intermediate target located safely on green.  The amount of roll from the intermediate landing target to the final finish target is controlled by the effective loft of various clubs. One swing technique using a choice from three variably lofted clubs is used to control ball flight and roll distances for short, intermediate or long length chips.  In between distances are controlled by grip pressure and grip length rather than swinging longer or harder.  A closely defined pre-shot set-up routine produces a restricted swing motion technique which replaces talent with technique.

Two Types of Chip Shots

Learning the Chip Stroke … four goals

Dead Hands, Minimum wrist Cock … the “Y” formed at address will be maintained throughout the entire stroke motion; at no time will the amount of right wrist cock be increased or decreased; the hands are passive connectors; the motion is controlled by the movement of the arms.  The back of the top hand leads the clubhead through the shot.

  1. “It’s Just a Putt”!  With concept in mind, learn to chip by using your lag putting stroke as the basis for the chip stroke.  From about 3-4’ off the green, select a lag putt target about 35-40’ across the green.  As you would for a lag putt, visualize a 10’ yellow blanket covering the hole (your short putt 90% zone). 
  2. Tee a ball about ½” off the ground.  Using your putter, execute the 5-part setup routine with chip modifications (hands forward, ball back, clubface open, shoulders open and 60/40 weight distribution favoring the front foot.  With your thumbs on the flat part of the putter grip, putt the ball with you focus on not letting your wrists break on either the backstroke or coming through the ball.  Swing your arms in the direction of your open shoulder alignment
  3. When you are comfortable you are NOT using your wrists and that the stroke is a shoulder and arm motion, switch the putter for an 8-iron.  Do exactly the same thing with the 8I as you were doing with the putter … just putt the ball with a lofted club.  The ball will still be teed up about ½”.  If you were using your putting grip, continue to do so.  Your performance objective is to duplicate the putting stroke.  Your attention can be focused on swinging the “Y” shape down at the tee.

Limited Backswing … the length of the backswing will be limited to the hands moving no further back than a 7-8 zone; at no time will the hands move more than 3-4” past the right knee

  1. When you are comfortable that you are putting with an 8I, the next step is to learn to limit the length of your backstroke. Your thumbs will move into a “soft zone” between the 7-8 o’clock position.
  2. This zone is generally opposite your back knee.  Stopping just short of your knee will be about 7 o’clock.  Moving just past your knee will be about 8 o’clock.
  3. You will move your thumbs into this zone by feel.  There is never an exact position.  The sense of touch you will develop with practice will subconsciously tell you how much swing you need.  Your job is to trust you senses.

Strike the Ball … the forward swing will be a firm, committed, accelerating motion into and through the back of the ball

  1. There is no such thing as a “finesse” stroke for amateur players and there usually isn’t much margin for error for even the best players.  The backstroke always shorter than the forward stroke.  A longer forward stroke is proof that you struck the ball with an accelerating stroke
  2. With the ball still teed up, strike downward and forward into the tee.  As your skill improves, systematically lower the tee until it is flush with the ground.  The tee is always your aiming point, even when it is not there on the course.
  3. While you want to make a descending swing into the ball, you do not want to hit either fat or thin.  You will have to do some experimentation to find the exact, bottom dead center of your swing arc down into the ball.  This means moving your stance forward or backward relative to the ball.  This is best done making “brushing” strokes on a piece of low carpet rather on inconsistent turf.  If you are using a putting stroke, there will be a point where the club consistently touches the ground.  This point is where you do not have to try to help the ball into the air (the loft of the club will do that) nor do you have to fear hitting “chunked” shots.

 “Slooow And GO” Stroke Rhythm

  1. You will use your lag putting rhythm for chip shots.  The key to consistent contact is to NOT rush the forward stroke.
  2. The backswing will be about three times slower (longer time) than the forward swing.  The forward swing will move about three times the distance of the backswing in the same amount of time. 
  3. There will be smooth transition between the backswing and forward swing, the transition is nothing more than not being anxious to hit the ball.  The “and” part/transition is the most important part of the chip stroke.

The Pitch Shot


Definition …

A deliberately low trajectory shot (a deliberate attempt to drive the shot on a lower so trajectory so that it rolls the maximum possible distance

 

A pitch shots are played

A pitch shots are aimed to a specific, intermediate target found safely on green

There is not attempt to control the amount of roll from the intermediate landing target to the final finish target

The same club is used for all pitch shots

The distance the ball flies is related to the length of the club (grip position)  … short, middle and full length

The length of the backswing is the second variable for how far the ball flies … the backswing is restricted to three backswing lengths

Short 8-9 o’clock … hands below waist high

Medium (9-10 o’clock … hands just above waist high

Long (10-11 o’clock … hands about chest high

A pitch shot is a “hands free” shot where the wrists remain uncocked

The distance the ball rolls from the intermediate target is relatively the same for all length pitch shots because of the increasingly higher trajectory and softer landing of longer shots … the goal is to “range in” or estimate the roll

Both technique and touch are required to execute a pitch

In between distances are controlled by feel for slight variations in the length of the backswing

 

Gravity swings:  The two left hand images shows the swing motion for an Intermediate length pitch shot.  The backswing goes to about belt high with reduced wrist cock (perhaps a little more than shown in the image).  The forward swing is longer than the backswing.  The two right hand images show the movement for a long pitch.  The key to both shots is to have an accelerating swing motion.  Proof of this acceleration is seen when the followthru is longer than the backswing.

Set-up and Execution of the Basic Chip Shot

 

Set-up and Execution of the Putting Chip Shot

 

Set-up and Execution of the Basic Pitch Shot

 

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