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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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro
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?
The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?
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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