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The Wedge Guy: Top 7 short game mistakes

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After a couple of weeks in the wilderness, let’s get back to the subject of helping you score better around the greens. In my 25-plus years of specializing in the short game and its tools, I’ve had the opportunity to witness thousands of golfers struggle with their wedge performance. In my experience, here are what I call the “(not-so-magnificent) seven most common short game mistakes by recreational golfers. Some golfers suffer from several of these, others just one.

So here goes (not in any particular order)

Tempo: Maybe the most common error I see is a tempo that is too quick and “jabby.” Comparing golf to painting a room, your short shots are your “trim brushes” — a slower stroke delivers more precision.

Setup & posture: To hit good chips and pitches, you need to flex your knees a bit more than with full shots, so you can get closer to your work for better precision. Too many golfers I see stand tall and grip the club to the end, even on the shortest chips and pitches.

Grip pressure: A very light grip on the club is essential to good touch and proper release through the impact zone. Trust me, you cannot hold a golf club too lightly — your body won’t let you. Concentrate on your forearms; if you can feel any tenseness in the muscles in your forearms, you are holding on too tightly.

Hand position: This is one of what I believe to be the keys to solid wedge play. Watch the tour players hit short shots on TV, and you’ll see that their arms are hanging naturally so that their hands are very close to their upper thighs at address, and they “cover” that position through impact. Copy that and your short game will improve dramatically.

Lack of body/core rotation: When you are hitting short shots, I believe the hands and arms have to begin and stay in front of the torso throughout the swing. If you don’t rotate your chest and shoulders back and through, you won’t develop good consistency in distance or contact.

Club selection: Every pitch or chip is different, so why try to hit them all with the same club? I see two major errors here. Some golfers always grab the sand wedge when they miss a green. If you have lots of green to work with and don’t need that loft, a PW or 9-iron will usually give you much better results. The opposite error is that golfers are afraid of their wedge and are trying to hit tough recoveries with 8- and 9-irons. That doesn’t work either. Go to your practice green and see what happens with different clubs, then take that knowledge to the course.

Clubhead/grip relationship: This error also seems to fall into two categories. The first is those golfers who forward press so much that they dramatically change the loft of the club. At address and impact, the grip should be slightly ahead of the clubhead. I like to focus on the hands, rather than the club, and just think of my left hand leading my right through impact. Which brings me to the other error: allowing the clubhead to pass the hands through impact. If you let the clubhead do that, good shots just cannot happen. In my opinion, that error is caused by trying to “hit” the ball with the clubface, rather than swinging the entire club through impact.

So, there are my seven. Obviously, there are others, but if you figure out these, your short game will get better in a hurry.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Bruce

    Jun 6, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Most of these mistakes fall under “practice makes perfect”. Most days when I go out to work on my game the chipping and bunker area have no activity – no one around.
    Most days when play I hear whining about short game shots and fear of bunkers.
    The above 2 observations are related!!! All strokes count the same and the sum of pitches, chips, and putts far exceeds your long shots. Practice your short game and develop a method that works for YOU .

  2. Helena Stanton

    Jun 5, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks Terry, great tips… taking them out to practice today, your 7 tips in hand:).
    I noticed another comment on ball position, thoughts? I’ve been trying ot lock into several key variables in my wedge play and I’m never really confident on the ball position. Consistant forward press + hand natural and close to body are helping a ton. Thanks! Helena / Rocket Tour Golf

  3. Paul Vicary

    Jun 5, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Terry
    Great article and so very accurate. Hope all is well with you.

    Paul

  4. HDTVMAN

    Jun 5, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Excellent article and suggestions.

  5. Tom Newsted

    Jun 5, 2019 at 9:09 am

    I agree that we see too many people using a 60 degree just to chip on to the green. I will often ask them what danger or hazard are you trying to get over? If the answer is nothing I mention the Nick Faldo idea of using an 8 or 9 iron and just doing a simple bump and run. Its amazing to me how many people never consider this option. My question for Terry is how many rounds to todays wedges last? How long until those grooves dont bite as well as they use to? I know some tour guys change them out every month some go years but I would be interested to get his take.

  6. DB

    Jun 4, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Great article and I completely agree about club selection. I see too many people playing every shot around the green with a 56 or 60. From what I’ve gathered their thinking is “If I can just master this one club around the greens then my short game will be more consistent.”

    I was taught the short game by an old guy and he had me using everything from fairway wood to lob wedge. Even if you don’t use all those shots on the course it’s a great skill to learn and you have ability to play the shot that’s needed.

    • Scotty Pipen

      Jun 5, 2019 at 2:37 am

      worked well for Tom Watson

    • Shallowface

      Jun 5, 2019 at 4:55 pm

      The problem with this approach is that it is nearly impossible to manage if you play all of your golf in a cart.

      Often times you are so far away from your ball you can’t really tell what you need. Of course, you could walk all the way to your ball and then back to your cart, but if you are riding a cart you may not be able to walk all that much and of course there is the constant “pace of play” pressure.

      I don’t know that a 60 degree is the answer. The best short game player I ever got to play a lot of golf with used a 1950s MacGregor “D.S” (for Dual Service) wedge for everything. That club was around 52 degrees. His short game was of PGA Tour quality and I’m not exaggerating when I write that. A shot with that wedge and one putt with an Armour Ironmaster putter and that gentleman was a match for just about anyone.

      • Charlie

        Jun 5, 2019 at 7:05 pm

        Here in New England we are just this week leaving “cart path only” mode so I am quite used to taking between 2-6 clubs so as to also cover the one I will if (when?) I flub my pitch or chip. Good workout.

        • Shallowface

          Jun 6, 2019 at 2:25 pm

          Fine if that works for you. For many it would do nothing but create confusion.

          I notice when I watch golf on TV that if one of those guys flubs a pitch, the next shot is with the putter if it’s at all possible.

  7. Acemandrake

    Jun 4, 2019 at 1:32 pm

    “At address and impact, the grip should be slightly ahead of the clubhead.”

    This where I run into trouble as I tend to scoop at the ball coming through.

    2 things that help this: 1. Practice hitting chip shots with the left hand only
    2. Think “put the shaft on the ball, not the clubhead”…This keeps the hands
    ahead

  8. Jed Barish

    Jun 4, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    I agreed with your list of mistake, and it took me a whole year to focus on short irons and wedges at Wickenburg Ranch’s Lil Wick (9-hole course). It made my worst club in my bag, the driver to the best performance ever since.

    I firmly believe that we need to spend more time around the practice green and focus on chipping and pitching to rediscover their tempo, takeaway and grip also build up the confidence from the green side to the tee box which it helped me last year and won the match play championship and been in top 3 finishes in couple tournaments most recent.

    My putter is becoming the worst club in the bag now 🙁 Time for the putting guru!

  9. Gdaddy

    Jun 4, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Terry – what do you recommend for ball position. Phil Mickelson is famous for saying low shots are back in the stance and high shots are in the front – never have the ball in the middle. Yet I’ve heard plenty of advice on TV and magazines saying you should play the ball more in the middle and use the sole bound to help you strike the ball cleanly. And watching pros, you definitely see a little bit of everything.

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Opinion & Analysis

Top 5 wedges of all time

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Wedges. They are the “trusted old friends” in our golf bags. They inspire confidence inside of 100 yards and help us get back on track when we hit a wayward approach.

There was a time not too long ago when a bunker was considered a true hazard, but over the last 80 years, as agronomy has evolved on the same trajectory as club an ball technology, wedges have changed a great deal along the way—from the first modern prototype wedge built by Gene Sarazen to clubs featuring various plating and coatings to increase spin and performance. There are a lot of wedge designs that have stood the test of time; their sole grinds, profiles from address, and performance bring back memories of great hole outs and recovery shots.

With so many variations of wedges in the history of golf (and so much parity), this is my top five list (in no particular order) of the most iconic wedges in golf history.

Original Gene Sarazen Wedge

An early Gene Sarazen wedge. (Photo: USGA)

Gene is famous for a lot of things: the career grand slam, the longest endorsement deal in professional sports history (75 years as a Wilson ambassador), the “shot heard around the world”, and as mentioned earlier—the creation of the modern sand wedge. Although not credited with the invention of the original  “sand wedge” he 100 percent created the modern wedge with a steel shaft and higher bounce. A creation that developed from soldering mass to the sole and flange of what would be our modern-day pitching wedge. Born from the idea of a plane wing, thanks to a trip taken with Howard Hughes, we can all thank Mr. Sarazen for the help with the short shots around the green.

Wilson R90

The next evolution of the original Sarazen Design, the Wilson R90 was the very first mass-marketed sand wedge. Its design characteristics can still be seen in the profile of some modern wedges. Although many might not be as familiar with the R90, you would almost certainly recognize the shape, since it was very often copied by other manufacturers, in their wedge lines.

The R90 features a very rounded profile, high amount of offset, and a great deal of bounce in the middle of the sole, with very little camber. Although not as versatile as modern wedges because of the reduced curve from heel to toe, the R90 is still a force to be reckoned with in the sand.

Cleveland 588

You know a name and design are classic when a company chooses to use the original notation more than 30 years after its initial release. The 588 was introduced as Cleveland’s fifth wedge design and came to market in 1988—which is how it got its name. Wedges were never the same after.

The brainchild of Roger Cleveland, the 588 was made from 8620 carbon steel—which patinad over time. Not unlike the Wilson before it, the 588 had a very traditional rounded shape with a higher toe and round leading edge. The other part of the design that created such versatility was the V-Sole (No, not the same as the Current Srixon), that offers a lot more heel relief to lower the leading edge as the face was opened up—this was the birth of the modern wedge grind.

Titleist Vokey Spin Milled

The wedge that launched the Vokey brand into the stratosphere. Spin-milled faces changed the way golfers look at face technology in their scoring clubs. From a humble club builder to a wedge guru, Bob Vokey has been around golf and the short game for a long time. The crazy thing about the Bob Vokey story is that it all started with one question: “who wants to lead the wedge team?” That was all it took to get him from shaping Titleist woods to working with the world’s best players to create high-performance short game tools.

Honorable mentions for design goes to the first 200 and 400 series wedge, which caught golfers’ eyes with their teardrop shape—much like the Cleveland 588 before it.

Ping Eye 2 Plus

What can you say? The unique wedge design that other OEMs continue to draw inspiration from it 30 years after its original conception. The Eye 2+ wedge was spawned from what is undoubtedly the most popular iron design of all time, which went through many iterations during its 10 years on the market—a lifecycle that is completely unheard of in today’s world of modern equipment.

A pre-worn sole, huge amount of heel and toe radius, and a face that screams “you can’t miss,” the true beauty comes from the way the hosel transitions into the head, which makes the club one of the most versatile of all time.

Check out my video below for more on why this wedge was so great.

Honorable mention: The Alien wedge

To this day, the Alien wedge is the number-one-selling single golf club of all time! Although I’m sure there aren’t a lot of people willing to admit to owning one, it did help a lot of golfer by simplifying the short game, especially bunker shots.

Its huge profile looked unorthodox, but by golly did it ever work! Designed to be played straight face and essentially slammed into the sand to help elevate the ball, the club did what it set out to do: get you out of the sand on the first try. You could say that it was inspired by the original Hogan “Sure-Out,” but along the way it has also inspired others to take up the baton in helping the regular high-handicap golfer get out of the sand—I’m looking at you XE1.

That’s my list, WRXers. What would you add? Let me know in the comments!

 

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The 19th Hole: Meet the world’s most expensive putter and the man behind it

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Host Michael Williams talks with Steve Sacks of Sacks Parente Golf about the idea and implementation of their revolutionary Series 39 blade putter. Also features PGA Professional Brian Sleeman of Santa Lucia Preserve (CA).

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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