Greenside gems from the 15-time major champion, taken from decades of Golf Digest content
Tiger Woods’ short game is perhaps the greatest of all time—his ability to turn a tough greenside shot into an unforgettable moment is unmatched. Fortunately he has shared some of his best secrets with Golf Digest through the years.
Though it might take some practice before your short game reaches elite status, Tiger's tips will definitely help how you approach these key shots.
Preparation is key in golf. It might seem tedious to spend time charting greens and the breaks of putts, but it's obviously crucial for tour pros. And it can help you shave strokes off your game, too. “Take notes on hole locations, paying attention to breaks and direction of grain," Tiger says. "You'll be more comfortable on the greens—and make more putts.”
Try Tiger’s method on your home course: Make an overall assessment of each green—slope, speed, tiers—and take notes on possible hole locations. Also, record the break on the putts you face. Over time, you’ll reduce your guesswork, which should be minimal if you’re playing the same course over and over. As Tiger suggests, being comfortable will bring out your best putting.
We’ve all been there. You’re in the midst of your round and suddenly you lose your touch. Whatever the issue, there’s a good chance the inconsistencies are coming from something small and more importantly, easy to fix.“ Proper posture and good eye alignment are two of the most important elements of a consistent putting stroke. Whenever I’m struggling on the greens, I can usually trace the cause to a mistake in one or both of these areas,” Woods says. One common fault is setting up too far from the ball and extending the arms. Try Tiger’s quick fix and stand more upright at address. This will shift your eyes back over the ball, get your arms hanging freely from your shoulders, and help you regain your feel.
Standing over an important putt can put pressure on your game—and your grip. Borrow one of Woods' tips on short putts by using a light, consistent grip to help you feel more relaxed over those tough testers. A softer grip will let you release the putterhead, which Woods says is a critical factor on super-fast greens. “My grip pressure on an average tour green might be 5 on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being the lightest and 10 the tightest,” Woods explains.
While the greens at your home course might be slower than the ones on tour, that doesn't mean your grip pressure should be different. Woods uses lead tape on the bottom of his putter when facing slower greens. He says the tape helps him find a consistent stroke, no matter where he’s playing.
Find some time to practice with a lighter grip pressure than you're used to—think about Tiger’s 5. Keep in mind, it's important to get comfortable with any grip change, including your tension level, before using it one the course.
The running chip is a shot every golfer should have. When there's plenty of green to work with, it's the best percentage play to get the ball close. Gain confidence on these little shots by setting up with the shaft more upright, your wrists arched upward, so it feels like the toe of the clubhead is down. Woods used this fix back in 2007, and said at the time: “It makes hitting it solid contact easier, especially on dicey lies. It also helped me improve my bump-and-run.” Keeping the toe down will allow you to swing on a straighter path and get the ball rolling more quickly. With your chips rolling out more consistently, you can start reading these shots like you would a putt to get the ball close.
You don't want to ruin two good shots up to the green by hitting a bad chip. If you find yourself chunking or skulling these important shots with some regularity, you might be flipping your wrists at impact. Instead of getting frustrated, focus on letting your right wrist hinge naturally on the backswing and then keeping everything moving together as you swing through. "Make sure your hands and arms continue through the shot,” Tiger said.
Playing a golf course with penal rough doesn't mean your score has to suffer. Woods has developed his own technique for navigating thick rough around the greens. “I play it kind of like a bunker shot in that I hit behind the ball an inch or two, depending on the severity of the lie and how far I want to carry the ball,” Tiger says.
According to Tiger, the key to hitting this shot is keeping the face open through impact. (You might need to grip the club a little tighter to accomplish this.) Tiger says he sets up to the ball like a normal chip, but then takes a more vertical backswing to avoid the thick grass. Down and through, the club will slide through the grass because of the open face.
“My goal is to roll it to a makable distance, unless I’m lucky enough to hole it.”
We’ve all watched in awe as tour players turn a short-sided bunker shot—an automatic bogey for most of us—into a makable putt for an easy up and down. With Tiger's expertise, you'll be able to spin your sand shots close. “I grip the club a little more in my fingers to get more flip in my release. This is one time when I think the flip is good,” Woods says.
Try Tiger’s technique on these little touch shots: Take an open stance, play the ball forward, and rotate the clubface open until it’s pointing at the target.
“The key,” Woods says, “is increasing your clubhead speed through impact. So I really fire the club through with my right hand.”
As Tiger says, the ball will come out high and soft. Then you can go do what Tiger would do: Roll in the putt.