I owe much to many, and I’m supremely grateful to all those who have supported and believed in me over the years. First to my father, Whitey, an amazing athlete, tireless worker and devoted husband, who led by example and kept our family close together. To my mother, Lonnie, who taught me to love the game of golf and always thought of her boys before she thought of herself.
Lastly, a big thank you to two real pros: photographer Angus Murray and my editor, David DeNunzio, who despite his busy duties as instruction editor at Golf magazine, graciously offered his time, expertise, and experience in the writing of this book.
At the Titleist Performance Institute (T.P.I.), we use the latest technology to unlock the secrets of the swing, then use what we learn to help our Tour staff professionals squeeze out every ounce of scoring potential from their game. We often do this with state-of-the-art fitness training. Other times, we crunch data. And on some days we go the old-fashioned route and dig it out of the T.P.I. practice-range dirt.
The biggest perk at T.P.I. is getting to work with the biggest names in golf. I see dozens of Titleist staffers every month from all of the tours. One of the most fun to be with is Tom Pernice Jr. Tom is obviously a solid player with multiple wins on both the PGA and Champions tours and he controls his wedges like no player I have ever seen. In my mind he is the best wedge player alive. Obviously, he has the right information on how to hit wedge shots, so when another Titleist player began struggling with his short game, I called Tom and asked if he wouldn’t mind helping me out. I knew it was a strange request, especially since I was asking him to share his insights with a competitor. He asked me who the player was, and when I told him it was Ben Crane, he quickly agreed to help. Turns out that Tom and Ben are good friends.
With a few simple setup changes and a key technical alteration, Tom got Ben pitching the ball better than ever. We visited Tom on two other occasions over the next several months: once to help Ben’s bunker swing, and another to improve his play from Bermuda lies. When we rang Tom a fourth time, I detected a noticeable pause on the other end of the line. “Guys,” said Tom, “I’m more than happy to keep helping you, but why don’t you just make an appointment with my short-game coach and have all of your questions answered?”
Ben and I looked at each other with surprise and in unison said, “You have a short-game coach?” And that was the first time I heard the name James Sieckmann. It was a day I would never forget, because James has become a close friend and a secret weapon for my players and me.
James was the first coach to explain to me, in simple words, how a short-game swing was completely different from a full swing. Like almost everyone else, I thought the former was just a miniature version of the latter. Was I ever wrong! James’s theories made me look at golf in a completely different light and answered questions about the short game that had plagued me for years.
When James is at T.P.I. coaching one of his players, I make a point to watch “The Master” at work. James has an amazing amount of knowledge and a real gift for communicating his message. I’m constantly picking his brain to improve my understanding of how all the pieces fit together. If you struggle with your short game and think that you’ll never get better, trust me: It’s not your fault. You just need the right information. Information is the key to success. James Sieckmann has the correct information and experience to help you quickly build a short-game arsenal for maximum confidence from 120 yards and in. Once you understand the secrets to making solid contact with a wedge, there’s no looking back. By understanding the fundamental differences between the full swing and the different types of wedge shots, you’ll finally see why you’ve struggled for so long. Better yet, you’ll be the envy of your regular foursome.
I hope you enjoy James’s book. I know your short game will thank you forever!
DR. GREG ROSE
Cofounder, Titleist Performance Institute
March 21, 2014
I’m excited for you and the improvements you’re about to make to your short game. I’ve played professional golf on the PGA and Champions tours for more than twenty-five years, and every week in event pro-ams I see firsthand the devastating wedge-play struggles of the recreational golfer. Sometimes I’ll ask a pro-am partner why they do the things they do from 100 yards and in. I’m shocked at the answers and concerned at how bad the information is that they’re carrying in their heads. I do my best to help them as we go, but I feel like an army of one battling thousands.
James Sieckmann is my personal short-game coach. In this book, he’ll explain the true wedge fundamentals and how to fuse them into your game. I’m positive that as you work your way through the book, you’ll clearly see why your short game is failing you. It’s not your skill level; it’s your information. The players I’ve tried to help haven’t been given the tools to get the job done. But those days are over. I see a great, confident, and consistent short game in your future.
James and I have worked together for more than twenty years. In the early days, I was lucky enough to befriend and practice with the great Seve Ballesteros and see his short-game magic up close. James has studied Seve’s techniques intensely. We’re a perfect match in that we both believe that Ballesteros’s wedge work is unmatched in the history of the game. In basing his systems on Seve’s methods, James has become the best short-game instructor in the world.
My short game has improved to a point where I can confidently (and without feeling too boastful) say that it’s right there at the top of the PGA and Champions tours. I owe it all to our hard work and James’s ability to communicate and teach with passion.
Enjoy the read and the process.
TOM PERNICE JR.
April 25, 2014
THE DAWNING OF A NEW WEDGE ERA
Most weekend players—and a surprisingly large number of Tour professionals—are working hard but failing to develop the simple short-game skills required to reach their true scoring potential. It’s not their fault, because what most instructors have taught about the short game for decades is, in a word, wrong.
It’s an exciting time in golf instruction. Old-school coaching—and its reliance on hunches and guesswork—is evolving into a modern, fact-based discipline. Credit goes to the massive and recent influx of science and scientific study in every area of the game, including the full swing, short game, putting, motor learning, and biomechanics. Many undeniable truths have been discovered, and just as many myths have been dispelled. Coaches are seeking and sharing knowledge based on research and testing instead of blindly accepting tradition, cutting the emotional ties that allow faulty theories to live beyond their time. We’ve come to that point in the short game. The earth is no longer flat.
This research revolution has been a long time coming. In 1994, when I first started teaching the methods that you’ll read about in this book, they were often met with a sideways stare from the golf establishment. I swam upstream for years, but remained steadfast as I continued to learn and grow in my beliefs. It has taken more than two decades, but the tide has turned. A new generation of research-savvy coaches, as well as many of the old guard that once balked at my techniques, have come to embrace my Finesse and Distance Wedge Systems, which you’ll become familiar with in this book as the “how to” short-game methods. Truth be told, I didn’t invent these techniques—great players have used them since the dawn of the sand wedge. But they were closely guarded secrets known and shared by an elite few. I was just lucky enough to come across some of these individuals and, through four serendipitous events and a lot of hard work, systematically unlock them.
In Your Short Game Solution, I describe with simplicity and clarity what you need to do to make these methods your own and develop a world-class short game. In addition, I’ve created a practice plan for you to follow so that you’ll not only make a quantum leap in performance, but sustain it over time. With just a little discipline and focus, you’ll develop the confidence, swagger, and shotmaking flair that all great short-game players share.
ORIGIN OF THE SYSTEM
To truly absorb what lies ahead, I think it’s important to understand the roots of my beliefs. How did the shortcomings of a failed mini-tour player come to figure into your improvement plan? Why is discipline more important to succeeding than a huge investment in time? How did a little-known coach from a flyover state steadily become one of the most sought-after short-game experts in professional golf, with a client list that now includes more than eighty PGA and LPGA Tour players? The answers lie in the tangled history of my wedge systems, a must-read tale that will help ignite your quest for your lowest scores.
Part 1: Meet the Sieckmanns
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, as one of three sons in a golf-crazed family. My oldest brother, Tom, was nearly ten years my senior and played golf at Oklahoma State University. I was seven when he went off to college and not that much older when he left O.S.U. early to compete on the Asian and South American tours, beginning in 1977. Tom was sort of the “shining light” in our clan. His professional career would eventually span seventeen years, and he notched nine victories worldwide, including the 1988 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic on the PGA Tour.
I was proud of Tom, and some of his skills must have rubbed off on me, because I shot 76 as a ten-year-old and won quite a few tournaments as a junior with minimal formal coaching. As such, I did what felt natural. I had very few swing thoughts and played with a lot of confidence. Golf was fun then—zero fear, all dreams. I parlayed my instincts into several good showings and an athletic scholarship to the University of Nebraska. As my journey in golf continued, Tom and I reconnected both as brothers and competitive golfers. There was a lot I could learn from him. Little did I know what was in store.
Part 2: Meet Seve Ballesteros
In addition to being a great golfer, Tom is smart and introspective. An avid reader of history with a keen mind for finance, he was anything but your typical pro athlete. Among other things, he taught himself Spanish. I’m sure it was more like “Spanglish,” but that didn’t stop him from speaking it during playing stints in South America and Europe. Serendipity struck for the first time when Tom’s blind disregard for proper linguistics caught the ear of a young Spaniard at the 1977 Colombian Open in Medellín. Barely nineteen years old, Seve Ballesteros heard Tom’s broken Spanish and felt comforted. After all, he was five thousand miles away from home and Spanish was the only language he knew.
“Seve and I just kind of hit it off,” remembers Tom. “He appreciated that I was trying to speak Spanish and that I was interested in the short game. Even then he was already the best. The world just didn’t know it yet.” Ballesteros would forever cement his place in the public consciousness with his victory at the 1979 British Open at the age of twenty-two. By then, my brother and the young Spaniard were already good friends, working on their short games together and playing practice rounds whenever they could.
In 1984, Tom qualified for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. I remember the phone call from him like it was yesterday: “Come meet me at the Open. You have to see Seve Ballesteros in person.”
I was nineteen years old. It was my first trip to New York, my first time at a major, and I was inside the ropes, caddying no less. I felt a bit out of my league, so I kept my head down and focused on being the best caddy I could. Tom played nine holes by himself on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, we paired up with two of his friends. One was Seve, who oozed confidence and competence. As the saying goes, men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him—and you could tell that from a hundred yards away. The other friend was second-year pro Tom Pernice Jr., whom Tom had befriended on the Asian Tour. Like my brother, Pernice loved to practice short-game shots and hung around Seve every chance he could.
“When I first met Seve, he was only twenty years old and he’s hitting shots like I’ve never seen,” Pernice recalls today. “He hit softer shots with his 3-iron out of the bunker than we could with a sand wedge. During practice rounds, we’d put him in situations he had never seen and he’d pull off a ridiculous shot on the first attempt.”
That day at Winged Foot, the two Toms played Seve and Wayne Grady in a $20 Nassau. “Tom and Tom have no chance,” I thought, but they managed to win the total and several presses. Seve was not amused. After the round, I accompanied my brother into the players’ locker room. We sat down to eat lunch and were joined a few minutes later by Seve. He was a gentleman and made a point to include me in the conversation, at one point lecturing me not to use “being young” as an excuse for failing. (I had missed the cut at the second stage of U.S. Open qualifying just two weeks earlier.) Needless to say, I became a Ballesteros fan for life on the spot.
My brother, Tom (second from right) playing his Tuesday practice round at the 1991 Masters with Seve Ballesteros (far right) and José María Olazábal (center). Tom’s friendship with Seve lasted thirty-four years, and much of my Finesse and Distance Wedge Systems are based on my brother’s and Ballesteros’s techniques. (I’m in the caddy uniform, far left.)Part 3: On My Own
I played well for the Cornhuskers in spurts, especially during my freshman and sophomore seasons, but it was obvious, even then, that I would need to improve my short game to realize my dreams. In hindsight, it was the beginning of the end. Why I didn’t recognize or pay particular attention to what Seve and my brother were doing technique-wise at Winged Foot, and during several encounters thereafter, I’ll never know. I had the best short-game player in history standing right in front of my face, and I learned nothing. Instead, I bought and read books and magazines, falling victim to the blind hunches, guesswork, and accepted myths of the teaching establishment:
A chip is just a miniature full swing.
Keep your head still.
Keep your lead arm straight and don’t ever let the clubhead pass your hands.
The tips looked good on paper, but they certainly didn’t help. My response when they failed was to practice even harder and longer—surely the problem was with me and not the establishment. I was twenty years old and, suddenly, my growth as a golfer had flatlined. Even worse, I was studying myself out of my natural gifts.
Nevertheless, I followed in my brother’s footsteps after graduating and set out to compete on the South American Tour. It was 1989; five years had passed since my lunch with Seve at Winged Foot. After competing in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile and failing to qualify for the 1990 PGA Tour season (my first of three Q-School busts), I flew to the Philippines for the first of eleven tournaments over the span of eleven weeks on the Asian Tour. I knew I was struggling, but I was confident that if I worked hard, something would eventually click and take my game to the next level. The click turned out to be a “clank.” I labored in Asia for nearly three months. My poor performance around the greens persisted like a bad houseguest. At some point, I stopped feeling comfortable over the ball. Shots I had hit day in and day out since I was a little boy suddenly felt foreign. I started to fear little shots, and as a golfer there’s nothing worse than fear. So I did the only thing I knew how to do: work harder. While the rest of the players went sightseeing, I emptied shag bags hitting pitches and chips under the hot Asian sun. I practiced nonstop—no deviation, no routine, all technique.
Starting to feel it all go wrong at the 1989 Chile Open in Santiago.
Apparently, working hard on the wrong things the wrong way isn’t much of a strategy. The doubts I had about my game increased with every missed cut and 50th-place finish. I’d replay poor chips and pitches in my head at night and wonder what was wrong with me. Despite my sincere efforts, I was getting worse, not better.
In hindsight, I had hit the perfect trifecta of failure: I was working with faulty information, I was training ineffectively, and I was a malicious self-critic. What I’d give to know then what I do now, but obviously that’s not the way life works.
The life of a traveling Tour player can be a difficult one, especially when you’re filling up passports in the process. Add in poor results and stretching every dollar so you can play the next event, and it’s a life you don’t want, dreams be damned. I hung in there for four years. In 1992, in a hotel room in New Delhi after posting yet another 50-something finish, I quit. Enough was enough. I was ready for a new chapter in my life. I flew home to Nebraska.
Part 4: The Pelz Experience
Not long after my plane hit the tarmac at Eppley Airfield in Omaha in the late spring of 1992, I proposed to my girlfriend, Michele Neal, and took a full-time coaching job at the Dave Pelz Short Game School in Austin, Texas. It was a reunion of sorts; my brother saw Dave a lot over the years, and I’d often tag along to Austin to watch them work, or go by myself to practice when it got too cold in Omaha. I knew Dave well, and was lucky and thankful that he thought enough of me to give me a new beginning.
I worked for a couple of years in Austin and another at the Pelz School in Boca Raton, Florida. I matured quickly as a coach, and I owe much of my growth to Dave. Although today we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things about the short game, he was the first person to challenge me to think critically about mechanics and to understand how people learn and train most effectively. He’s a great coach and an outstanding person, and I owe him an awful lot.
Part 5: The Ponte Vedra Experience
I worked for Dave through March of 1994, until one of my closest friends and former sponsors, Steve Shanahan, established a partnership with my brother in the development of a new course in Omaha and asked me to direct the golf academy. Working for Pelz had been great, but this was too prime an opportunity to pass up: I’d get to be my own boss to some extent, teach my own methods, and raise a family in my hometown. Between farewells to Dave and the late-spring grand opening of my new academy at Shadow Ridge Country Club, I had two months of downtime. With nothing to do but go to the beach, I accepted an invitation to caddy for my brother at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Serendipity had struck again.
—BRAD FAXON, eight-time PGA Tour Player
“Improving your short game is the fastest way to improve your score. Understanding what to work on and how to work on it is essential. James is trusted by the best players in the world because he makes a complex subject simple and he knows how to evaluate what is really affecting your short game. This book will help lower your scores, period.”
—DAVE PHILLIPS, cofounder of the Titleist Performance Institute, GOLF Magazine Top 100 teacher, and Golf Digest Top 50 teacher