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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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Opinion & Analysis

Here’s who should be the four U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks based on analytics

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After the PGA Championship, the U.S. Ryder Cup team solidified 8 of its 12 players on the team. Now, captain Jim Furyk will have to decide who the other 4 players will be to join the team. In this day and age of advanced data analytics, it is imperative for the U.S. team to utilize an analytical approach. The European team has used advanced analytics in recent Ryder Cups, and they now field one of the best European squads of all time. Any advantage that the Europeans have that the U.S. team can counter would behoove Furyk and his chances of being a winning Ryder Cup captain.

Normally, captains have sought out players that have played well right before the Ryder Cup. This is a sound strategy. My statistical research on the subject is that most players reach peak performance for about four events in a row. Then their performance inevitably dips to a degree before eventually they hit peak performance, again.

The golden rule is that 80 percent of a player’s earnings in a season come in about 20 percent of the events they play in. Thus, if a player earns $2 million and plays 25 events in a season there’s a good likelihood that he earned $1.6 million of that in just 5 events.

These trends show that picking a hot player is fairly important. However, the issue is that Furyk has to make 3 of the picks by September 3rd and the last pick by September 9th and the Ryder Cup starts on September 28th. Thus, it’s very plausible that a player who is picked because they are playing great golf may cool down a bit by the time the Ryder Cup is being played. Therefore, finding a player with a hot hand is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But, I would recommend staying away from players that are playing miserably. History has shown that a hot player that is selected is more likely to perform better at the Ryder Cup than the cold player that gets selected.

There are some simple statistical rules to follow for optimal picks:

  1. Seek out quality performers around the green as it helps most in the Foursome (alternate shot) and individual match play format.
  2. You want birdie makers and quality performers on each of the holes (par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s) for the Fourball (best score) format.
  3. Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.
  4. All things being equal, take the younger player.
  5. Lean towards the player who fits into both Fourball and Foursome formats over the slightly better player that only fits well into one format.

A good way to start to determine what picks you need is to understand your current team. Here are the rankings in key metrics for the top-8 players on the U.S. team (rankings based out of 205 players):

The top-8 players compile a good driving team that drives the ball effectively thru hitting the ball a long ways rather than being deadly accurate off the tee. One of the best attributes the top-8 has is that they are a very good Short Game team (median ranking of 40.5). They are also pretty good from the Red Zon (175-225 yards), but are better from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards).

The top-8 has dominated par-4’s (median ranking of 11.5) and par-5’s (median ranking of 20) while being good on the par-3’s (median ranking of 44.5). They also make a lot of birdies (median ranking 27th).

It should also be noted that Brooks Koepka’s data could probably be thrown out since it was skewed by him coming off an injury and he is clearly a different and much improved player in recent months. Koepka has typically been one of the better putters on Tour and a pretty good Red Zone performer.

The potential issues I see is that they do not hit a lot of fairways and have some players with issues hitting shots from the rough which is a bad combination in the Foursome format. Also, Webb Simpson currently stands as their weakest link on the team as he has not played that well in recent months and they will likely need to figure out a way to work around him if his performance doesn’t improve between now and the Ryder Cup.

Here are the picks I would recommend making at this point:

Tiger Woods

This is clearly the easiest pick to make even though Tiger’s Ryder Cup record has not been exactly stellar. Forget about Tiger being arguably the greatest player of all time, his performance has clearly indicated that he deserves to be on this Ryder Cup team. Furthermore, he’s statistically a quality fit in either the Fourball or Foursome format. The only issue I see is that given his age and his back issues, it would be wise to use him in no more than 3 matches in the first two days and even that may be too much for him. But, I would love to see him paired in the Foursome format with a player who hits fairways and can play well from the rough for those drives that Tiger struggles with.

Tony Finau

Finau has had 8 top-10 finishes and 2 second place finishes this season. He’s a nice looking fit at the Ryder Cup because he’s a great fit in the Fourball format and a pretty good fit in the Foursome format. In fact, my simulations find that he and Tiger would be a good fit together in either format.

Bryson DeChambeau

Again, versatility and youth play a key role in his selection. You never quite know who is going to show up at the Ryder Cup and who may get injured. Thus, there’s always a need for a player that fits both formats and can play in ever match if needed. The simulations I’ve ran really like a Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau pairing.

Patrick Cantlay

This was a difficult choice between Cantlay, Mickelson and Zach Johnson. The pros for Mickelson is that he has played well in recent Ryder Cups and certainly has the experience. He’s also not a bad fit in the Foursome format and a really good fit in the Fourball format if paired with another birdie making machine that avoids bogeys and plays well on par-3’s (i.e. Koepka, Fowler and Tiger). Zach has been a quality Ryder Cup performer as well and is best suited for the Foursome format. However, he’s not such a bad fit in the Fourball format. He doesn’t hit it long, but he does make birdies (43rd in Adjusted Birdie Percentage).

From a pure numbers point of view, my simulations favor Cantlay. I wish he was better from the Red Zone and from the rough, but he’s still a quality candidate in both formats and has youth on his side. For sentimental reasons, I would pick Mickelson because the simulations such as him and Tiger in the Fourball format, and this will likely be the last time that the two can ever be paired together. The numbers don’t care about emotions, though. And that’s why Cantlay is the pick for now. It would just be wise to wait until September 9th to make the final pick.

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Opinion & Analysis

Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing

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In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?

If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:

Be Prepared

Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.

It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.

Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:

  • What is your coaching philosophy?
  • What is your favourite part of coaching?
  • What type of student best fits in at your university?
  • What type of athlete best fits in?
  • What are the goals for the golf program?
  • How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
  • Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
  • What access does the team have to golf courses?
  • Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
  • Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
  • What is your greatest strength as a coach?
  • Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
  • What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
  • How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
  • Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting jobs?
  • What success do people have getting into grad schools?

Know the Numbers

With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.

Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.

For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!

Do your research

Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).

Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.

First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.

Have a Plan

Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!

For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.

As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.

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Podcasts

TG2: Would you rather have Brooks or DJ’s career? 30+ more AMA-style Instagram questions

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Brooks Koepka vs. Dustin Johnson? All-time favorite driver? Poker chips as ball markers? Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment Expert Brian Knudson answer 30+ questions from the @tg2wrx Instagram. They also discuss Joe LaCava (Tiger’s caddie) paying off a heckler to go away.

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

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