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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

Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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Podcasts

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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