Lower Your Scores With This Short Game Practice Routine

In this video, PGA pro John Howells shares his tips on how to improve your short game and shoot lower scores

PGA pro John Howells hitting a chip shot at the short game area at JCB Golf Club
(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

It's all well and good posting a score when the long game is firing but, as most of us know all too well, instances such as this are rare. Instead, a golfer's full arsenal is usually tested out on the course.

In the video and article below, PGA pro John Howells explains how you can improve your wedge play by having a more structured short game practice routine. And all it takes is 60 minutes.

When things inevitably go awry, it's vital to have a reliable short game to bail you out of trouble. It's one of the things tour players do that amateurs don't. Even when the world's best are having an off day, they have an uncanny ability to turn what should probably be a score in the high 70s into something around par.

One of the biggest problems for amateurs is that they get lured in by the quest to 'hit bombs' and don't devote enough time to this area of the game or don't know an effective way to practice it. Here's a handy guide to use.

First 15 minutes

It begins with technique and understanding a couple of simple concepts. You want the club to be working around your body in a semi-circle so it just brushes the turf at impact. That way, you'll be able to develop a consistent action that can be relied upon under pressure.

PGA pro John Howells setting up to hit a pitch shot at JCB Golf Club

You want the body parts stacked on top of each other so that your shirt buttons are right above the ball

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

And a lot of it comes down to the set-up position. When chipping, you want to adopt a narrow stance with the ball positioned in the middle. From here, popular belief tells us to get the weight forward but it's more efficient to keep everything centred. Your shoulders, hips and feet should all be in a line to use the bounce as effectively as possible. If done correctly, you shouldn't see much of a divot.

And the same applies in the bunker - you want to control as many of the variables as you can. Find a consistent grip that feels comfortable and ensure the ball position remains as constant as possible. (There will, of course, be exceptions depending on the shot you need to play.)

PGA pro John Howells drawing a 'T' shape in a bunker to help him hit better bunker shots

Drawing a 'T' shape in the sand is a brilliant way to develop a consistent address position

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Check out the video for a simple ball-position drill that will improve your bunker play and get practising until you've honed a solid technique.

Minute 15-30: Sloping lies

While practising from flat surfaces is a great way to develop sound fundamentals, the reality on the course is very different, so it's important to be adaptable - there are limitations to how well your normal motion will work when navigating a slope. From a downslope, for example, if we adopt the same technique, the likelihood is that the club will bottom out too early and you'll either hit it fat or thin.

PGA pro John Howells with a golf club across his chest to help him prepare to hit a chip shot from a downhill lie

It's vital to adjust your body so it is perpendicular to the slope

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Instead, you want your body to be perpendicular to the slope so as to utilise the bounce again. The shot will naturally come out higher so choose your club accordingly based on the situation you're in.

From an upslope, the same applies in that your spine angle should be at 90 degrees to the ground.

Minute 30-45: Distance control

Once the technical kinks have been ironed out, it's time to focus on the shots themselves, and more importantly, becoming a master of distance control. Whether done by changing clubs or adjusting the length of swing with a trusty wedge, that's up to the individual, but we would advise ingraining three stock yardages into your repertoire.

PGA pro John Howells pointing to a spot on a green that he wants to land a chip shot on

Good short game practice should involve distance control - here's John picking eyeing up a landing spot

(Image credit: Howard Boylan)

Focus on picking out a landing spot for each different distance and practise away. In time, you'll develop a feel for these shots that can be used on the course. Do the same from the bunker, once again controlling the variables. Alter the length of swing, how open the face is and the club selection if needs be but keep the set-up and amount of sand taken as constant as possible.

Final 15 minutes: Pressure game

We've all felt the pressure on the course. Whether it's during a stroke play competition or in a weekly doubles match against friends, nobody is immune. By introducing an aspect of it into your practice, you'll be better equipped when it really matters.

This par-18 game is a simple way to achieve that. Play three short chip shots, three long chip shots and three bunker shots, holing out each time. The par is 18 (obviously) and the tour average is 21.

It's a great way to end a session as it recreates some of the feelings you experience on the course and gives you a target to try and beat each time.

John Howells
Top 50 Coach

Location: JCB Golf & Country Club

John joined the JCB Golf & Country club after spending seven years as the Senior Instructor at the Butch Harmon School of Golf Dubai. His coaching style is very much holistic in nature and TPI physical screenings are an integral part. John is able to identify physical limitations that may affect your swing and he has worked with the likes of Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Steve Webster and Rayhan Thomas.

Biggest influence:

Without a doubt the six years I spent working for Butch Harmon. I worked there from 2012 to 2018 and had the ability to everyday learn from one of the best modern instructors in the world today, Justin Parsons, who was my mentor and boss. We also were very fortunate to meet and learn from Claude Harmon III and Butch. The time spent in Dubai was the most pivotal because being surrounded by excellence was so inspirational for me as an instructor. I was able to frequently watch tour players practicing on site and working with their personal coaches, I was able to shadow coaches such as Sean Foley working with Danny Willet, Alan Thompson working with Tommy Fleetwood. 

Greatest teaching success story: Working with Rayhan Thomas for three years as his putting coach was a pretty special opportunity for me. Seeing him go on to win his first professional tournament at the 2016 Mens Tour Dubai Creek open where he set a world record equalling nine birdies in a row. 

Biggest challenge:

There is a new wave of golfers coming through the Bryson DeChambeau era and I am cautious about how many young golfers will attempt to play the game the same way as he does over the coming 10 years. We could see a lot of young talented golfers fall by the wayside either through injury or not being able to move the same way that Bryson does. I am really supportive of golfers pushing the boundaries of human physical performance so I admire what Bryson has been able to do, however I am apprehensive as to what this might be doing to the way young golfers see the game as a weightlifter/crossed with golfer/crossed with long drive champion.