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What Tiger taught us about hitting pitch shots

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Watching Tiger struggle around the greens at the Hero World Challenge was both astonishing and enlightening. It was astonishing because it was Tiger Woods, and enlightening because it was more proof that feel and technique are equally important in golf.

Touring professionals make the game look ridiculously simple at times. They make it look so easy that we often take their technique for granted. We assume that their form is so grooved that all they concern themselves with is feel. But when we see a player of Tiger’s caliber completely flub no less than seven greenside pitches in four rounds — a few of them flying 5 feet or less — it reminds us that technique is a big part of short shots, and that even the world’s best struggle when they lose form. Granted, Tiger was not the only player to struggle with the grainy lies on the greenside slopes around Isleworth Country Club during the event, but he did seem to have a serious case of the chipping yips, a rare occurrence for a player of his caliber.

Greenside pitches and chips are played from a variety of lies and slopes from a wide assortment of different grasses. That’s why the very first thing a player needs to do before they hit a pitch or chip is assess the lie of the golf ball. Golf club selection, setup and stroke are all based on the lie. My students often ask “what shot should I play from 35 yards,” or some other distance. The answer is based completely on what the course will allow — the lie, needed carry, room for the ball to roll out, etc.

Pitching over a hazard or to an elevated green from a tight lie is a completely different shot than one from deep grass. To complicate matters, a shot from the rough into the grain is a drastically different than a shot that is downgrain.

Let’s take a look at some things that might help make us more comfortable around the greens in sticky situations.

A pitch, which is a short, lofted shot played near the green, is all about attack angle and loft. When you’re in the rough and the golf ball is sitting DOWN, the attack angle needs to be sufficiently steep. To play the shot, you want to flex at the knees a bit more than usual, play the ball slightly forward-of-center in your stance and emphasize the weight on the lead foot with a slightly open face. I would be careful of placing the hands too much in front of the ball from deep rough, as it tends to take too much loft off the shot. Hands in front is a steepening technique, but in the rough the ball may not pop out sufficiently, so be careful.

The swing for a pitch should be wristy, elevating the club abruptly and being fairly aggressive through the hitting area. Deceleration is a killer on this shot, because it is played very similar to the blast shot from a greenside bunker. Once you’ve decided to go with this shot, HIT IT! Expect the ball to roll out a bit when it lands.

Conversely, if the ball is sitting UP in the rough consider not grounding the club at address. This will help guard from going under the ball and hitting it high on the face — it will also help avoid incurring a penalty stroke for moving the ball. Depending upon how high the ball is sitting and how far you have to carry the shot, a firm-wristed chipping motion is not a bad method here, but the ball needs to be hit with a very LEVEL attack angle for a clean, center-struck shot. Shots off the top of the face have reverse vertical gear effect, which makes them fly shorter. You can generate a little spin on this shot if it’s hit perfectly.

Pitching from tight lies is a bit different than shots from the rough, but again, attack angle is critical. Depending on the bounce of your wedge, which is the angle of the sole from the leading edge to the trail edge, you might need to employ a different entry into impact. If you have a wedge with a good amount of bounce, say 12 degrees or more, you will need a steep attack angle. A shallow, wide-bottom swing can cause the leading edge of the club to hit the belly of the ball instead of the bottom and the dreaded skull shot is predictable.

To ensure a steep angle of attack, narrow the stance, keep your weight on your lead leg with the ball slightly back in the stance and set your hands ahead of the ball. The setup here is similar to chipping, but you’re using a club with a lot of loft. Where the shot differs from a standard chip is the swing — it’s more UP, so set the wrists a little in the backswing. I also recommend a little turn though the ball with the body into impact. I see too many pitch shots hit fat from tight lies because players try to remain stationary with the body.

With a low-bounce wedge, say 10 degrees or less, it’s best to keep the attack angle more shallow. The leading edge can dig into the turf behind the ball if the attack angle gets too steep. I’d recommend a little wider stance (never too wide with a pitch), your weight fairly evenly distributed and the hands above, not in front, of the golf ball. The swing secret with a low bounce wedge is to use little-to-NO wrists. Push the arms away on the backswing to ensure a wider swing bottom and a more shallow attack angle. Use little-to-no wrists on your takeaway to avoid having the leading edge stubbing the ground behind the golf ball.

This may sound overwhelming, but all I’m really suggesting here is a setup and swing technique to complement the shot at hand. Avoiding skulls or chili-dips can be simply a matter mental preparation. And remember to never fight the slope! The same spine angle you’d set for uphill and downhill shots from the fairway apply around the greens (shoulders parallel to slope, spine perpendicular).

Finally, if you play in Bermuda grass, be careful of the grain. An into-the-grain pitch is a really tough shot. Any slight miscue is magnified greatly. Again, do NOT set the hands too far ahead for fear that the leading edge will dig into the grain, which will cause you to hit the shot fat.  The ball can be back, but leaning too forward or de-lofting too much also runs the risk of hitting it fat. Set up over the ball with the hands above it, not in front, and weight fairly evenly distributed. I’d recommend more of an arm swing than a wristy one.

Remember my tips the next time you set up to a pitch shot that makes you uncomfortable, and remember to always read the slope and lie before you choose on your shot.

If you’d like me to analyze your swing, go to my Facebook page and send me a message, or contact me (dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com) about my online swing analysis program.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Josh

    Dec 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm

  2. sixty7

    Dec 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I laughed when I saw this title. You’re reading way too much into fatting a couple chips. What did Tiger teach us about hitting pitch shots? He taught us the hitting pitch shots off grainy thin lies are hard when you’re rusty.

  3. Alan

    Dec 11, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    I practice short shots with the Floppy ball in my living room. Its really, really great for getting over the yips and learning to strike down on the ball.

    Try them if you can find them. They are really good.

    • Pure

      Dec 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      My sons learned how to hit that shot using plastic balls in the basement and hitting them off carpet onto the pool table. You either have to clip it really well or open the face a bit and let the bounce take care of the shot.

  4. Billabong

    Dec 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Jeff, please!! We will not worry about you threatening to win a spelling bee. Looser? Really? Loser.

  5. Harvey Lonn

    Dec 11, 2014 at 6:33 am

    I wish that I could have read this article when I first started playing out of Bermuda rough! It would have saved me many years of frustration and lost opportunities.
    Better late than never.
    Thank you Mr. Clark!

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      you’re welcome harvey, hope it helps

  6. Happyday_J

    Dec 11, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Love your articls Dennis, very well written as well as insightful. I just finished college golf and will be hitting the mini tour circuit next season. CANT WAIT!!!

    I found, for myself the most difficult shot was into the grain and trying to hit it on a lower trajectory. Mid to high wasn’t a problem b.c I was able to open the face to expose more of the bounce to have more room for error, along with the ball more forward to further aid in solid contact.

    I finally had a UREKA moment. Maybe this might help others. What I started to do to bring the trajectory down was use less loft. Pitching wedge, 9 iron, but still open the club a fraction with the ball center to forward in my stance. The less loft helps bring down the flight and with the ball position and slightly open keeps the leading edge exposed.

    Hopes that helps….

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:14 am

      Very true. Less loft when possible from Bermuda rough is never a bad idea. Risky over hazards at times.

      • Happyday_J

        Dec 12, 2014 at 12:45 am

        Yes absolutely, risky over hazards. Thats why I resort to that when I am attempting to hit a lower trajectory shot. Over a hazard, you almost always need some sort of elevation.

        I just found using less loft, while still opening the face to expose the bounce is easier to hit it more solid when hitting a lower trajectory shot, rather than taking a wedge and delofting it, which exposes more of the leading edge.

  7. Pure

    Dec 10, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Tiger does not have enough bounce on his wedges.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:19 am

      I believe it’s the same bounce that won 100+ events around the world, no?

  8. RG

    Dec 10, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    If it happens once, it’s a fluke. Twice and its an issue, seven times and there’s a bona fide problem. Tiger is dealing with mental issues and its not pretty. Four coaches? back to my old swing? So you admit it was a mistake to change in the first place, and you’ve wasted the last 12 yrs. doing the wrong thing. So you can make mistakes, you are fallable. I nwas at Isleworh this weekend and I believe Tiger has lost his nerve. Old Tiger was infalable and fearless. This Tiger knows what can go wrong and plays with that fear. SEVEN (7)! greensiode chunks!he’s scared.

    • Kyle

      Dec 10, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      He is not scared. He could fix it in a week’s work, maybe less. It’s not yips. It’s bad form.

      • RG

        Dec 11, 2014 at 7:27 pm

        You mean he doesn’t know how to hit a chip and needs to take a lesson?
        You’re saying that the 37 years he’s been playing is not enough, he just needs 1 more week to learn how to properly hit a chip of of Bermuda?
        Isleworth used to be Tiger’s home course, he’s literally, and I mean literally, played thousands of rounds there. He shot 59 on that course in a practice round. He hit 7 chunks in competition because he accelerated and was totally calm. Or not.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 11, 2014 at 5:17 am

      Interesting. He was fearless once; not so now. But he’s still Tiger…don’t count him out quite yet. It was strange though! Thx

      • RG

        Dec 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm

        When Tiger hit bad shots he knew they were a fluke. He knew his talent and that he could pull off anything. Think about it, it wasn’t the shots he would hit, it was that he was brave enough to even try it. Now he has spent 12 years of what he now admits was a futile effort to change his swing. Now he knows failure, now he’s tasted fear, now if he hits a bad shot it’s not a fluke, it’s and issue.
        I was there and he decelerated on all those chips. He was scared, he hesitated and he chunked them. I’ve played Isleworth and those shots and that turf isn’t as difficult as it has been made out to be. Seven times he did this in competition Dennis, Seven times. He’s eyes and his body language told me everything, he’s bound up inside. His make-up is centered around being the best, and he’s not. He’s experiencing emotions he’s never felt before and he has no frame of reference to cope.
        The game is better when he’s in it.No one moves the meter like he does, but if he keeps fighting himself all the swing coaching in the world isn’t going to help.

        • Dennis Clark

          Dec 11, 2014 at 9:56 pm

          Again, this was not meant to be a Tiger debate, simply using him as an example. But since that’s what it us…I agree. His inner self belief was the very pillar of his monumental athletic accomplishments. He never allowed doubt to enter his consciousness before, during, or after a round. But it seems to more present at this point in his career. And doubt in golf is every players worst nightmare. I also believe it’s why great champions in our game have such a shirt time at the top. They sit on a powder keg day in and day out, and the smallest explosion can shake them to the point of no return. I DO NOT think TW is there but he’s certainly closer to there than ever he has been. Thx RG

  9. Dennis Clark

    Dec 10, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Let’s remember I only used Tiger as an example of someone who had a tough weekend. This is not by any means an anti-Tiger piece. He’s the best. Period. And I do think he’ll have a great 2015 including a major.

  10. Putt

    Dec 10, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    There’s a reason why all great players say that you should putt whenever you can around the greens.

    Of course, coming out of the thicker stuff you would chip – but it’s also slightly easier to chip from the rough. When it’s tight, it’s easy to blade it or chunk it, so why not just putt it and get it rolling, eh Eldrick??? Would have save half of the shots then.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Putt whenever you can, chip if you can’t putt and pitch only when you must. Thx

  11. Al385

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Very useful article. I appreciate it came at the right time after chipping like Tiger Woods on the last weekend.

  12. DG Jei

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Thank Mr. Clark for this timely, thoughtful article.

  13. Ian

    Dec 10, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    TW shows no sign of the yips. Unless you have a different definition of yips than I’ve ever heard. I do appreciate the article I think it’s excellent. I think it’ll be a short term correction for TW to shore up the short game. As you know he’s considered the best “small ball” player ever. From the looks of the now Haney like swing…I expect him to win many more times.

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      He’s the best. Period. That was a temporary bump in the road. That’s it.

  14. tom stickney

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Wonder if the “chunks” will get in his mind as it would if he shanked nine shots over two days? Be interesting to watch…

    • Dennis Clark

      Dec 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      It will. He has the strongest mind of any player I’ve ever seen but that many HAS to bother him a bit.

      • M.

        Dec 11, 2014 at 1:29 am

        …all it takes is one good one under pressure to get that confidence flowing again;)

  15. BamBam

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    The game is much more simple if you just KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL until after you hit it, which Tiger was not doing. Most bad shots are simply that.

    • Steve

      Dec 10, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Rubbish… You can hit it with your eyes closed if your set up and technique are good… Eyes on the ball stops the body motion at impact for most Amateurs…

  16. Greg

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Most golfers coming back after an injury tend to “ease ”
    their way back with chipping and putting while paying attention to what their body is telling them. I would have thought Tiger would have put in many “reps” this very same way and would have been sharp. Time will certainly dictate the future. As for Spieth, the freight train has left the station. Wonder if the kid was in HIS head.

  17. lef

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    commit to the shot! tiger looks like he bailed on the flubs. i won’t get down on myself for an overly aggressive chip. at least it means I went for it, fully committed, and I accelerated thru the ball

  18. tom

    Dec 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Good article as usual, Dennis. Thanks!

  19. Pat

    Dec 10, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Tiger is obviously rusty and his putting still sucks. He’s not winning another major until his putting improves dramatically. Don’t care what you slurpers think.

  20. Daniel Bailey

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

    *I think you meant loser?…. What a looser doesn’t make much sense

  21. Bill

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:37 am

    What an insightful and well thought out point Jeff! If Tiger is a “loser”, what would that make someone with a small fraction of his skill and accomplishments such as yourself?

  22. Double Mocha Man

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I will email this to Tiger, directly. That was painful to watch.

  23. JEFF

    Dec 10, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Who cares about the scum bag! What a looser!!!!

    • Jason

      Dec 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

      Why did you read it then?

    • louis

      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      yeah…why did you read it? I mean you obviously care enough to read it, AND THEN COMMENT!!! Must have had too many double mochas. And Tiger is not a “looser” he’s a winner, 2nd most of all time. Your turn buddy.

      • Double Mocha Man

        Dec 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

        Louis… I was commiserating with him. We have all done this before…

        • Forsbrand

          Dec 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm

          Absolutely let’s not get branded TIGER haters for goodness sakes…….but there is no way he’s winning another major until he sorts his short game out.meanwhile planet mcilroy is still turning. Rory May just win all four next year!

    • OzoneRaiders

      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks Jeff for your self evaluation. Tiger should have been a littler looser when he played but he had not played competitively in a couple months.

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Instruction

Golf 101: How to chip (AKA “bump and run”)

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Although golf for a beginner can be an intimidating endeavor, and learning how to chip is part of that intimidation, this is one part of the game that if you can nail down the fundamentals, not only can you add some confidence to your experience but also you lay down a basic foundation you can build on.

How to chip

The chip shot, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-golf swing. To the beginner, it may seem like a nothing burger but if you look closely, it’s your first real way to understand contact, launch, spin, compression, and most importantly the fundamentals of impact.

What is a chip shot? A pitch shot?

Chip: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a 3-iron to a lob wedge that launches low, gets on the ground quickly, and rolls along the surface (like a putt) to the desired location.

Pitch: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a PW to a lob wedge that launches low- to mid-trajectory that carries a good portion of the way to your desired location and relies on spin to regulate distance.

Now that we have separated the two, the question is: How do I chip?

Since we are trying to keep this as simple as possible, let’s just do this as a quick checklist and leave it at that. Dealing with different lies, grass types, etc? Not the purpose here. We’re just concerned with how to make the motion and chip a ball on your carpet or at the golf course.

Think “rock the triangle”

  1. Pick a spot you want the ball to land. This is for visualization, direction and like any game you play, billiards, Darts, pin the tail on the donkey, having a target is helpful
  2. For today, use an 8-iron. It’s got just enough loft and bounce to make this endeavor fun.
  3. Grip the club in your palms and into the lifelines of your hands. This will lift the heel of the club of the ground for better contact and will take your wrists out of the shot.
  4. Open your stance
  5. Put most of your weight into your lead leg. 80/20 is a good ratio
  6. Ball is positioned off your right heel
  7. Lean the shaft handle to your left thigh
  8. Rock the shoulders like a putt
  9. ENJOY!

Check out this vid from @jakehuttgolf to give you some visuals.

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Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Instruction

Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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