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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, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. 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.

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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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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