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Opinion & Analysis

Improve your wedge distance control with Dustin Johnson’s unique drill

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Most amateurs understand how important hitting solid wedge shots are for their score. Many of us fail to practice a major factor of effective wedge play, however, distance control.

I was watching Dustin Johnson on the Augusta National range before his Monday practice round with Gary Woodland. Johnson was hitting his driver, and when Dustin Johnson hits his driver on the range you watch. After he finished hitting about 10 drives, he went back to hitting wedges. For the next 45 minutes, he was using a wedge drill I had never seen before. It threw me off because he was not aiming at any particular flag or worrying about how close he could hit a shot to the hole, which is common when practicing wedge play.

Johnson started the drill by finding the yardage to the back of the first green. He hit his first wedge to that yardage. His next shot landed slightly past his first shot, his third longer than his second and so on until he was outside of his wedge yardage. He repeated this process for 45 minutes working on wedge shots from 4o-100 yards. Once he got to 100 yards, he went back to the 40-yard target and restarted the drill.

This drill can be easily repeated by amateurs, even though their cluster of balls will probably not be as tight as Johnson’s. In order to do this on your own, head to your local range and find the yardage to the shortest pin on the range. Once you have it, aim to the left or right of the green in order to have a clear view of the landing area. Try to land a wedge pin high. After you have hit a shot that yardage and established a good starting point, try to land your next shot slightly past of your target ball. Repeat this process until you are out of your wedge range.

While doing the drill, it’s important to keep in mind an estimate of your target yardage so you can start to develop a feel for a 65-yard shot, a 70-yard shot, etc. You may not have a launch monitor behind you on the range like Johnson and a lot of PGA Tour players do, but you can get the data you need with a laser rangefinder or by walking off distances (provided no other golfers are around). In the process, you’ll develop dozens of stock swings for a variety of distances.

Leave a comment if you have any feedback regarding the drill or variations you have found to be successful!

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Trey is a recent University of Michigan graduate where he studied Information Analysis. He is a Sports and Culture Writer who specializes in Golf. When not writing about golf you can find him on the course, spending time with friends and traveling. If you have any inquiries or questions you can reach him at (treypezzetti@gmail.com).

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Speedy

    Jun 9, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    Too many “don’ters” here. Time to be a “doer”.

  2. Luis Pantin

    May 20, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Buy the Swin Caddie SC200…. this tool is perfect for distance control… and to play games by yourself on the range… and for less than $350 it’s a teacher for life…. this is your 15th club in your bag… you will not regret ever.

    I have it and use it as much as I can… it’s a par maker when you lay up …

    • larrybud

      Jun 7, 2018 at 6:35 pm

      unfortunately, they’re not that accurate since it can’t measure spin rate or launch angle (only ball speed), and the distances are all calculated from “stock” or average values

  3. Greg V

    May 19, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Nick Faldo did this with his 7-iron starting at 100 yards. Good drill.

  4. Sin Nombré

    May 18, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    I asked for a full wedge and the salesman came out with an iceberg salad. It was delicious, but alas, still chili dipping out on the links. Doritos and guacamole anyone?

  5. Mike C

    May 18, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    This drill is specifically designed for someone using Trackman during practice like DJ does so you know exactly how far the ball is flying. He addresses this in the article but his solution isn’t sufficient.

  6. Mike901550

    May 18, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    Yep
    Until my range has 1. Balls with dimples 2. Balls not covered in mud. 3. Premium balls . It’s a waste of time

  7. Mul

    May 18, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Glad I came across this article, I usually just wing it under 100 yards!

  8. TMan

    May 18, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Interesting! Iam
    going to try this drill. thanks for the information.

  9. stacey

    May 18, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Great stuff. I will definitely try this out!

  10. Ty Webb

    May 18, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    Yeah saw Tom Lehman do this about 25 years ago. Yawn.

  11. Gordon Crossman, PGA of Canada

    May 18, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    I am a Class “A” Teaching Professional in Canada and I have a drill I call the “Wave”. You take your the most lofted club, take a few practice swings stretch out a bit hit a few balls to get the feeling to start your practice session then you take a full swing with the club without hitting hard and note the landing area then the next ball must land short of the previous shot then the next shot short of the previous one until you can bring it in as close to you as you can by swinging the club as a mini swing. Once you accomplish this you start hitting a little longer by landing the ball pass the previous ball then the next ball pass the previous until you reach the length for that club then repeat the process back and forth like a “Wave” coming in and then going out, this can be done with any club in particular wedges where you may have to loft a shot over a bunker with a tight pin placement, maybe a 15 yard shot. I feel it helps to develop feel plus you create a number of more shots in your bag and it is a fun practice drill to develop feel.

  12. Curtis Demorest

    May 18, 2018 at 11:53 am

    This is called the ladder drill…can also be used on the putting green. Have a mark at 5 feet then another at 20 feet and see how many balls you can get in the 15 foot area, with each putt going past the previous putt

  13. DB

    May 18, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Sadly, this WON’T work accurately for most amateurs who are hitting distance-limited or just plain crummy range balls.

    It’s good practice for partial wedge swings, but if you think that 65-yard wedge shot you perfected on the range is going to be exactly 65 yards on the course, you might be wrong.

  14. Mower

    May 18, 2018 at 11:20 am

    I’m on it! “Wedge Guerilla!”

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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Opinion & Analysis

What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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Podcasts

TG2: What is this new Callaway iron? A deep investigation…

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Photos of a new Callaway iron popped up in the GolfWRX Forums, and equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what exactly the new iron could be; new Apex pros, new Legacy irons, or maybe even a new X Forged? Also, the guys discuss Phil’s U.S. Open antics and apology, DJ’s driver shaft change, new Srixon drivers and utility irons, and a new Raw iron offering from Wilson. Enjoy the golf equipment packed show!

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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