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Technique for a low, checking wedge shot

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There’s two simple ways that golfers can get their ball to stop quickly around the green. One is through loft, the other is through spin. Both types of shots have their pros and cons, but the sexier of the two options, and arguably the option that takes the least amount of timing and athleticism (due to the smaller range of motion) is the shot that checks up with backspin.

The challenge to this shot is to be able to contact the golf ball with enough of a descending strike to create friction, but to do so without exposing too much of the club’s leading edge, which leads to golfers sticking it in the ground. There aren’t many more embarrassing escapades in a golfer’s life than hitting the turf farther than the golf ball, right? To eliminate that recurring embarrassment, let’s try to understand how the golf club needs to be used to execute this shot. We’ll then add the dynamics of the movement to make this shot an added weapon to your short game arsenal.

The first step in executing this shot is understanding how to use the bounce of your sand wedge. Let’s discuss how the bounce of your sand wedge works statically, or without motion. To start, address a golf ball with your club face in a completely square position. For a simple reference point, let’s say the leading edge of your club face is square at 12 o’clock.

Note the Square Club Face and Slightly Open Stance.

Note the square club face and slightly open stance.

To pronounce or add bounce to your sand wedge, the club face needs to be more open, or pointing to the right (all directional characteristics in this article will be for a right handed golfer). It’s important for us to create more bounce, because bounce will encourage the club to skip through the turf instead of digging too much and causing golfers to take huge divots. For the purpose of this exercise, I want you to open the club face without changing your grip. We’ll make our goal 1 o’clock.

To add/pronounce bounce, note how the club face is now pointing to 1pm.  Also note the forward shaft lean.

To add/pronounce bounce, note how the club face is now pointing to 1 o’clock. Also note the forward shaft lean.

To attain the 1 o’clock position, take note of how the shaft of your golf club has to lean more left, or towards the target. This is a good thing! The more the shaft leans left, the more the golf club is still descending, or traveling down when we add motion. That variable equates to one of the big dynamic keys to achieve the necessary friction needed to execute this low, spinning shot.

Because the club face is pointing well right of the target now, an important problem for us to solve is: How do we hit the golf ball straight? It’s simple, just aim left… either statically (with your setup) or dynamically, by swinging more left on the downswing.

OK, so now we understand how the golf club needs to be used to accommodate the more descending strike required to execute this shot. The second step is to maximize the setup to help us execute this golf shot. Let’s start off with our ball being positioned slightly back of center, and our “target foot” pulled one ball back of square compared to our “backswing foot.” The club face should be square, or be perpendicular to the target. Favor more weight to your target foot. Keep your head even with the golf ball (never behind like the driver) throughout the entire motion.

Note the open stance, square club face, and head position forward of the golf ball.

Note the open stance, square club face, and head position forward of the golf ball.

Note the Square Club Face, but Open Stance.

Note the square club face, but open stance.

Finally! We’re ready for the third step. We need to tie in all the static elements of this golf shot with dynamic motion. There are two keys to the backswing. We want to keep the motion short and hinged. Do not allow the handle of your golf club to travel farther than a couple of hands widths outside of your backswing leg. You can hinge the golf club (the club head should be closer to the sky compared to the handle) as much as you want. The more the golf club is hinged, the better chance you have of delivering the golf club on a descending blow during the downswing.

Note the Short Arm Swing, as well as the higher club head/ lower handle relationship.

Note the short arm swing, as well as the higher club head/lower handle relationship.

Note how the hands and handle are at thigh level while the golf club is at shoulder level.

Note how the hands and handle are at thigh level while the golf club is at shoulder level.

On the downswing, there are two important elements that need to be achieved simultaneously.

  1. You must rotate the club face into an open faced position, so that by the time that your club face reaches impact, the club face is at the 1 o’clock position that you trained statically. The more you rotate the face open, the easier it is to have the golf club travel on the proper path to execute this shot.
  2. You will also need to turn your body more left on the down swing. Two important elements will be achieved with this body turn. The handle should be well forward of the club head at impact when you turn your body more left, which encourages the descending strike that is so important to achieve the shaft lean and friction needed to create added backspin. Also, the more you turn left the straighter your shots should travel. Remember, you are striking the golf ball with an open club face. The more your club face is open at impact, the more you must match up your golf club by traveling left with static alignment and body turn to hit the golf ball straight.
Note the forward handle, open club face and open shoulders parallel to the feet line.

Note the forward handle, open club face and open shoulders parallel to the feet line.

Note how much the body is turning left to help match up the path of the club to an open club face.

Note how much the body is turning left to help match up the path of the club to an open club face.

So give this shot a go! Experiment with all the variables to find the right combinations that work for you. The more you experiment with these variables, the more you should be able to execute a larger array of spinning shots on the golf course. Finally, always use the ball flight and ball contact to help you problem solve your misses. Good luck!

Note the lack of divot. The bounce was used correctly!

Note the lack of divot. The bounce was used correctly!

Note how much the Body has turned, as well as how open the club face still is!

Note how much the body has turned, as well as how open the club face still is!

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Certified Teaching Professional at the Pelican Hill Golf Club, Newport Coast, CA. Ranked as one of the best teachers in California & Hawaii by Golf Digest Titleist Performance Institute Certified www.youtube.com/uranser

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Chunker

    Apr 11, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Gotta try this because I chilli dip too many chips for my handicap.

  2. tinytim

    Feb 13, 2014 at 9:46 am

    no way thats a highspinner with that deep attackangle!

  3. Abman

    Feb 13, 2014 at 9:15 am

    The descending strike you prescribe is the opposite of the Trackman pitching research that Andrew Rice has done where he has found that a shallow angle of attack is better for a low, checking wedge shot.

    • Tim

      Mar 13, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      Abman…that’s great feedback. I would respond by saying ANYTHING with your technique can be overdone. Tiger has spent most of his career playing from too shallow of a down swing path, something 90% of all golfers would love more of. While I do recommend a descending strike, I also recommend not taking a divot. My research shows that the ideal amount of shaft lean towards the target at impact for this shot is approximately 10 degrees…enough to create the friction, but not so much to expose the leading edge and take big divots. I’m using different verbiage to communicate similar technical needs for this shot. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Evan

    Feb 7, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Good technique and shot to have for a low handicap. Not the easiest and most repeatable stroke for a mid- high handicap.

  5. antonio

    Feb 6, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Excellent article! Thanks.
    I am only missing one thing, acceleration through impact. I think that provided that your technique is correct you need speed (amount relative to the swing or shot you are triying to make of course) through impact to maximize ball spin.

    • Tyler

      Feb 6, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      Accelerating through all your shots is crucial.

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Instruction

Learn to play like the pros by mastering course management basics

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The line that is drawn between amateurs and professionals certainly covers more than one aspect. However, there are some things that anyone can do in order play like the pros and shoot better scores. Knowing how to plot your way around the course from tee to green is something that not many amateurs take into consideration, though it is something that professionals do so well. Learning how to play to your strengths and learning to take what the course gives you will ultimately lower your scores, no matter what your handicap.

From the tee

-Use sound judgment when setting up on the tee box by knowing what your miss is and playing for it. For example, for those that fade that ball, teeing the ball on the right side of the box allows you to play for your shot shape with more room for the ball to work. This is also the case for playing away from trouble, in being that lining up on the side of trouble allows you to play away from it.

-In some cases on short holes, make a note to hit your tee ball to where you leave yourself with a comfortable yardage for your approach. You don’t gain anything from hitting a driver if it leaves you with a feel shot from 30 yards when you could hit a wood or hybrid and leave yourself with a full club in. (This is also the case when hitting your second shot on a par 5)

Hitting into the green

-Know which pins you should attack and which ones you shouldn’t. The biggest mistake that many amateurs make is trying to hit the ball at a tucked pin. Even the professionals choose which flags to go at and which holes to play safe, making sure they leave themselves a putt rather than short siding themselves.

Chipping/Putting

-The biggest thing that gets us in trouble around the greens or on them is trying to make the ball go in the hole. It’s easy to get greedy with your shot and create the mindset that you have to make it when, in reality, it’s much more feasible to play for a three-foot circle around the hole. Leaving you an easy tap in. There is nothing more infuriating than a 3-putt.

I hope these tips will benefit your golf game by allowing you to manage your way around the golf course. The pros use these same approaches when they step on each hole, and it is imperative that you do also. We all may not have the ability that professionals do, but we can certainly learn things from them that will lower our scores.

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Instruction

Lesson of the Day: Improve right arm connection for a more consistent golf swing

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In our “Lesson of the Day” video series with V1 Sports, we match a different GolfWRX member with a different V1 Sports instructor. It’s extremely important to both V1 Sports and GolfWRX to help golfers improve their games and shoot lower scores, and there’s no better way to do that than getting lessons. While we not only want to provide free lessons to select GolfWRX members, we want to encourage and inspire golfers to seek professional instruction. For instructions on how to submit your own video for a chance at getting a free lesson from a V1 Sports instructor as part of our Lesson of the Day series, CLICK HERE.

About the pro

Clinton Whitelaw is the Head Teaching Professional at University Park Country Club in Sarasota, Florida. Clinton was a prolific junior player in South Africa before he attended UCLA on a full scholarship. He turned pro at age 21 and has recorded more than 55 top-10 finishes around the world, including winning the 1993 South African Open and the 1997 Moroccan Open on the European Tour.

Lesson synopsis

There are two main swing flaws identified in this GolfWRX member’s swing that can be improved. The first is a disconnected right arm in the body that causes the arms to be out of sync with the body. The second is a bent left arm in the follow through, which causes a loss in power. Two easy drills can be practiced to create a simple, repeatable, and consistent golf swing.

Student’s action plan

  1. Practice with a glove under the right right armpit to improve connection with the body
  2. Practice the “9 o’clock to 3 o’clock” drill demonstrated at the end of the video lesson

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Instruction

Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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