Dialing in Your Distance Wedges

golf tip of the month
The best wedge players do not send the ball to the moon with a high trajectory, although they can when it is required. The trajectory much flatter, like throwing a dart. The loft of the club, the sharpness of the grooves, and a good golf ball provide all the stopping power that is needed even with a lower flight.

July’s Tip of the Month

Watching the Par 3 Contest at the Masters is annual reminder of how very, very good the best players in the world are with their wedges. With a perfect lie off of tight turf, they are not simply trying to hit it close, but are honestly trying to hole the shot. Need proof? In the 2013 Chevron World Challenge hosted by Tiger Woods, then at Sherwood Country Club, Zach Johnson and Tiger came to the last hole tied. Tiger hit his second into a greenside bunker while Zach Johnson hit his shot off the holes into the lake just short of the green. Rather than be discouraged, Johnson preceded to take a drop from a preferred yardage (60-something yards) and promptly holed the shot for par. The shot needed to be holed, and he pulled it off; such is a world-class player’s skill with a wedge.

So, how do they do it? Part of it is technique, part of it is how you approach it, part of it is how you practice it. Let’s start with the technique:

The best wedge players do not send the ball to the moon with a high trajectory, although they can when it is required. The trajectory much flatter, like throwing a dart. The loft of the club, the sharpness of the grooves, and a good golf ball provide all the stopping power that is needed even with a lower flight. This achieved by:

  • A stance slightly narrower than shoulder width
  • Body tilted toward the target with weight on the front foot
  • Shaft leaned toward the target slightly
  • Ball position back of center
  • Golf Digest: Zach Johnson shares his tips for cashing in on Par 5s

Now, because the ball position is back of center with a shorter club that sits more upright, the angle of attack tends to get steeper or more downward. Because the angle of attack is more down, the swing path also goes more to the right for a right-handed player. This is why it is most common the great wedge players hit draws with wedges. Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker both prefer the ball to start right of the target, curve toward the target, land right of the target, and then spin toward the target. Randy Smith, Scottie Scheffler’s coach, describes his preferred wedge flight as a “snap hook,” at least in terms of the feel of the motion.

The Approach:

Once the strike and trajectory are ideal and repeatable, controlling distance becomes the main focus. This can be accomplished a number of ways, with regulating the length of the backswing being the most commonly taught way. I prefer students to discover two things:

  • How far do each of your wedges go with a comfortable full swing? (Approximately a 6 out of 10 effort level)
  • Find a favorite “less-than-full” motion to use with your wedges and get really good at repeating it. Then, discover how far each of your wedges go with that motion.

The above table is a sample “Wedge Matrix,” as coach James Sieckmann would call it. This will give a player a number of advantages. First, the player will know how far their wedges go. Second, the player will become aware of the size of their backswing, an important skill. Third, it will give the player a number of ways to attack pins. The “less-than-full” motion will produce a lower flight so it can be used to attack back pins while a fuller motion with a higher flight can be used when playing to front and middle pins.

Practicing:

There are a number of ways to practice your wedge play. I would divide it into two categories: Establishing and Adapting.

Establishing would be making sure that you can hit your numbers on command. You may pick several during a range session and hit shots until you hit a goal amount before moving onto the next number. Another way would be to hit 10 shots toward one of your numbers and see how many you can hit inside of a target distance (15 feet for example).

Adapting could also be referred to as random practice. This is where a player would put balls at random yardages, pins, and lies and discover which one of their numbers would most closely fit. All of those factors will lead they player to their decision. For example, a front pin at 85 yards for the player above should be attacked with a 60-degree while a back pin at 85 could be attacked with a 55 or 50 degree in which the player would land the ball in the middle of the green and allow the ball to bounce back toward the pin. Like anything else, the more situations the player confronts, the more refined the decision-making process becomes.

Wedges are meant to be scoring weapons. Put some of these habits in place and perhaps you too could be picking your ball out of the hole soon!

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