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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. 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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The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

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

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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

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

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?

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Well, that was a U.S. Open for the ages, in my book. Hallowed Pebble Beach held its own against the best players in the world and proved that small greens can really give these guys fits. Kudos and congratulations to Gary Woodland for putting on quite a show and outlasting all the others. And to Brooks Koepka for giving us reason to believe a three-peat could really happen.

To me, of course, what stands out is how Woodland elevated his short game for this event. Coming in he was ranked something like 165th on tour in greenside saves but went 16-for-20 last week. Of course, that also means he hit 52 of those small greens in regulation, which certainly outdistanced most of the field. Justin Rose was putting on a scrambling clinic for three days, but his inability to hit fairways and greens finally did him in. So that brings me to today’s topic – an honest assessment of your own “short game handicap.” Regardless of skill level, I have long believed that the key to better scoring is the same for us as for these tour-elite players – improving your ability to get up-and-down.

Almost all reasonably serious golfers have a handicap, just to allow us to keep track of our overall improvement with our golf games. But wouldn’t it be more useful if that handicap was such that it told us where we could improve the most? Unfortunately, that’s not the purpose of the USGA handicap program, so I’ve devised my own “Short Game Handicap” calculation to help golfers understand that this is where they are most likely going to improve their scoring.

The premise of my short game handicapping formula is the notion that once we get inside short iron range, the physical differences between golfers is increasingly neutralized. For most of us, our physical skills and abilities will never let us hit drives and longer approach shots like the best players. But I believe anyone can learn to execute good quality chips and pitches, and even full swing wedge and short iron shots. It really doesn’t matter whether your full-swing 9-iron goes 140 or 105, if you can execute shots from there on into the green, you can score better than you do now.

So, the starting point is to know exactly where you stand in relation to “par” when you are inside scoring range…regardless of how many strokes it took you to get there. Once your ball is inside that range where you can reach the flag with a comfortable full-swing 9-iron or less, you should be able to get up and down in 3 strokes or fewer almost all the time. In fact, I think it is a realistic goal for any golfer to get down in two strokes more often than it takes more than three, regardless of your skill level.

So, let’s start with understanding what this kind of scoring range skill set can do for your average score. I created this exercise as a starting point, so I’m encouraging you guys and ladies to chime in with your feedback.

What was your last (or typical) 18 hole score? ______

_____ Number of times you missed a green with a 9-iron or less
_____ Number of times you got up and down afterward
_____ Number of other holes where you hit a chip or pitch that ended up more than 10’ from the cup

Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. That total ______ is your short game handicap under this formula. [NOTE: The logic of #3 is that you can learn to make roughly 1/2 of your putts under 10 feet, so improving your ability to hit chips and pitches inside that range will also translate to lower scores.]

I believe this notion of a short game handicap is an indication of how many shots can potentially come off your average scores if you give your short game and scoring clubs the attention they deserve.

I would like to ask all of you readers to do this simple calculation and share with the rest of us what you find out.

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