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The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?

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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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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.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Ron

    Jun 20, 2019 at 8:55 am

    You hit the nail on the head here. This is one area of the game where physical strength requirement becomes negligible.

  2. Mike

    Jun 19, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    3,3,0. best part of my game.

  3. Harry Steele

    Jun 19, 2019 at 6:08 am

    I will start today 6/19/19

  4. Jason W

    Jun 19, 2019 at 5:30 am

    This note actually had nothing to do with the post… which is a good post by the way.

    It’s just a personal thanks to Terry Koehler for reviving the Ben Hogan brand. I have Scor, Ft Worth 15s (the first in Australia I believe) and now Ptx. All are ground breaking in their own right….. especially the Ft. Worth 15s. Which I love the most even if they are a little better than I am… hence the PTX in the bag now.

    But thanks Terry. No other manufacturers clubs have given me so much enjoyment.

  5. VF

    Jun 19, 2019 at 4:32 am

    “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.”

    This part is super misleading and also uninformed. From 100 yards a tour pro averages approximately 2.8 shots. You are saying that everyone REGARDLESS of skill level should expect to perform to basically that level – with even further out with a 9-iron as well!

    Knowledge is power, and realizing what a realistic expectation is can help a lot on the course with the mental side – pressuring everyone to expect playing like a tour pro is a bit extreme for my taste and also why I despise articles like these because you are only further misinforming the masses.

    • Terry Koehler

      Jun 24, 2019 at 3:54 pm

      Sorry for taking so long to reply to this, VF, but I apparently did not make my point very clear — my apologies. What I was trying to communicate is that from 100 yards and in, physical strength is pretty much neutralized, and most golfers can improve in that area with some instruction and practice. And that is where scores can really be improved. I don’t expect any recreational golfer to achieve tour pro stats, but I do believe it is realistic to not average much over 3 shots, regardless of handicap . . . again, with some instruction and practice. Realize that to average 2.8 strokes requires a pro to get down in two one out of five times (allowing never taking more than 3). For a recreational golfer to average 3.1, he could rarely get down in 2, but take more than three shots from that range not more often than 1 out of ten. I think that is attainable for most . . . again, with some instruction and practice.

  6. Conor

    Jun 19, 2019 at 1:13 am

    Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. What is #1, your Score on 18 holes? I shot 89, my other numbers were 3, 1 and 2. So my shortgame hcp is 87?

    • Terry Koehler

      Jun 19, 2019 at 11:49 am

      That score question is just for reference. Based on your numbers, your short game handicap would be 3-1+1=3. Just a guide . . .

      • Conor

        Jun 21, 2019 at 3:41 am

        My short game is terrible, no way I have a 3 Hcp

    • Sahil

      Jun 20, 2019 at 5:49 am

      ja, its unclear. @wedgeguy give us an example please. my math ain’t so good.

  7. Michael R Lederle

    Jun 18, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    Use strokes gained greenside and putting, there are spreadsheets and apps. It is a pain to measure every shot but is exactly comparable to the average tour pro.

  8. Bond

    Jun 18, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Pros make 50% from 8 feet. 50% Mkes drop to 6-7 feet for good amateurs. So I would revise factor #3.

  9. Kool-Aid Man

    Jun 18, 2019 at 11:14 am

    My short game handicap no matter how you calculate it is most assuredly higher than my USGA HC. I know I need to work on the short game as probably most of us do. Knowing something and actually doing it are two vastly different things. However, TakeMyMoney club manufacturer just came out with a new XCFDGHE grind with a variable bounce wedge in a murdered color scheme that is going to cure all my ills!

  10. Alex

    Jun 18, 2019 at 11:04 am

    Handicap right around 0 short game handicap of 2 which is dead on because I make up the difference on par 5s. Only thing that throws it off is I play on big greens with pretty severe breaks so I’d like to see how the 3 Jack impacts it. Probably brings it up another half stroke. Hitting greens is really important on small greens…hitting the right spot on greens or missing in an ok spot it’s more important on big greens.

  11. Scooter

    Jun 18, 2019 at 10:17 am

    2 handicap according to my GHIN. And according to the formula above and averaging the calculation over my last 6 rounds, I have a short game handicap of 4. Which I actually think is spot on. Just further solidifying I need to get to the chipping and putting green more often.

    Next step; how to practice most efficiently?

    • Dave Lawrence

      Jun 18, 2019 at 1:41 pm

      I think your situation might be similar to someone that needs to elevate their putting-from-distance numbers: learning to read the greens and the breaks, figuring out your target (where to land the ball), and learning to execute that shot. Knowing when to flop the ball to the hole, vs. bumping and running and using the green and speed to get next to the hole is where I’m figuring out my game. I’ve been making “landing zone” hoops on the practice green with neon tees. I’ll survey the green, figure out where the ball needs to land in order to get to the hole, and then try to land all my chips in that target zone. If you’re nailing the zone, but missing the hole, then the read/assessment of the green is off. If you’re consistently missing the zone and rolling out/staying short, then it’s the execution, not the analysis that needs work. Just my two cents on how I’m trying to get better here.

    • Jimmy

      Jun 18, 2019 at 11:33 pm

      Play by yourself when it’s not busy. Any pitch or chip that’s not inside three feet, hit it two or three more times. Consider different approaches/clubs, type of strike, etc. Then move on. By the fourth or fifth try, your brain has turned off and you’re just banging balls. Do this for the whole round. Breeze through putting – keep your focus on the short game. Do this just a handful of rounds and you’ll find you magically get much better.

      I’m a 2 who is a generally poor ball-striker and wild driver for my handicap. 100mph swing speed with driver, 7-iron only 150 because I play older forged clubs with shafts that are “too stiff” for my swing speed because my top priority is distance control. The best way to gain strokes in the short game is to not miss in the spot that screws you. As you gain confidence with short pitches, you’ll find yourself favoring the “good side” of the hole more & shooting lower scores even if you miss the green more often. Short up-and-downs from the short side are often easier than 60-foot two-putts.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Steve recaps his match with the 2nd assistant and Knudson’s golf weekend

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Steve recaps his match against the 2nd assistant and if he won or lost. Knudson gets asked about a guys golf weekend and if his back will hold up. Knudson tosses his brother under the bus.

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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5 men who need to win this week’s Open Championship for their season to be viewed as a success

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The year’s final major championship is upon us, with 156 players ready to battle it out at Royal Portrush for the Claret Jug. The oldest tournament in the sport presents the last opportunity for players to achieve major glory for nine months, and while some players will look back at this year’s majors and view them as a success, others will see them as a missed opportunity.

Here are five players who will tee it up at The Open, needing a win to transform their season, and in doing so, their career.

Adam Scott

Adam Scott has looked revived in 2019 with four top-10 finishes, including a T7 at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the PGA Championship. The Australian hasn’t won since 2016, and at 39-years-old, Scott knows better than anyone that the final narrative over his career comes down to whether or not he can add to his lone major championship victory he achieved at the 2013 Masters.

Speaking following his final round at Pebble Beach last month, Scott stated

“I’m angry; I want to win one of these so badly. I play so much consistent golf. But that’s kind of annoying; I’d almost rather miss every cut and win one tournament for the year if that win was a major.” 

A gut-wrenching finish cost Scott the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St. Annes seven years ago, and the 39-year-old has held at least a share of the back-nine lead on Sunday on three occasions at the event since 2012. The Australian’s statement following the U.S. Open says it all; a successful 2019 depends on whether or not he can finally put his Open Championship demons to bed.

Dustin Johnson

With a win in Mexico earlier this year, Dustin Johnson has now made it 11 straight seasons with at least one victory on the PGA Tour. However, Johnson continues to be judged, rightly or wrongly, on his struggles to capture major championships. The 35-year-old remains on one major victory for his career, which is a hugely disappointing total for a player of his talent.

Should the American remain stuck on one major for another nine months following this week’s event, it’s hard to imagine the 35-year-old feeling satisfied. Johnson came to Pebble Beach last month as the prohibitive favorite and failed to fire, but it’s what occurred at the PGA Championship which will leave a sour taste. With Brooks Koepka feeling the heat, Johnson had the opportunity to step up and reverse his major championship fortune, but two bogeys in his final three holes just added to his ‘nearly man’ tag at the most significant events.

A win in Northern Ireland removes both the ‘nearly man’ and ‘one major wonder’ tags, and turns his least successful season, victory wise, into one of his best.

Rory McIlroy

Whatever happens this week at Royal Portrush, Rory McIlroy’s season has been impressive, but it’s missing something big. That something is a win at a major championship, and it’s been missing since 2014. To avoid a five-year drought at the majors, McIlroy must win the 148th Open Championship at home, and with it, claim the greatest victory of his career.

Speaking prior to this week’s tournament, McIlroy stated

“I want to win for me. It’s not about trying to do something in front of friends and family.”

The home-town hero is currently in the midst of one of the greatest ball-striking seasons of all time. But without a win at a major to show for it, there’s undoubtedly going to be frustration and regret in the aftermath. On the flip side, should the Ulsterman triumph this week then it would likely eclipse his double major season success of 2014, and according to the man himself, it would also eclipse anything that he could ever go on to achieve in the game thereafter.

Rickie Fowler

Without getting his hands on a major, the narrative behind Rickie Fowler is not going to change. ‘The best player without a major’ tag has been there for a while now with Fowler – who hasn’t been close to shaking it off in 2019. Victory at the Phoenix Open back in February snapped a 24-month streak without a win on the PGA Tour, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone considering the 30-year-old’s season a success without him finally getting the monkey off his back and entering the winner’s circle at a major.

Justin Rose

Justin Rose turns 39-years-old this year, and each season from now to the house, he will be judged on his success at the majors. With  wins at the U.S. Open and Olympics already achieved in his career, a successful season for the Englishman now depends on whether he can become a multiple major champion.

Talking ahead of his bid to win his first Open Championship, Rose said

“People don’t come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you won the FedEx!’. It’s the US Open, the Olympic gold, the Ryder Cup. I’m 40 next year and yes, the clock is ticking.

I’ve had three top threes in the majors in the last three seasons, with two seconds, so I know I’m right there doing the right things. It’s just a case of making it happen again, because the chances won’t keep coming forever.”

Rose’s sense of urgency may stem from tough losses at the 2017 Masters, 2018 Open Championship and more recently at the 2019 U.S. Open. In Rose’s favor is that the average age of winners of The Open since 2011 is almost five years higher than the average age of those who won the Masters, and over eight years older than those who won the U.S. Open. To elevate his 2019 to elite levels, Rose is relying on victory at Royal Portrush.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 2: Pitching

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As I wrote two weeks ago, I consider there to be five basic elements to “scoring range performance”, and I dove into the full swing shorts irons and wedges last week. This week I’m going to address “pitching,” which I define as those shots with your wedges that require much less than a full swing. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part of golf to master, but the good news is that it is within reach of every golfer, as physical strength is pretty much neutralized in this aspect of the game.

Before I get into this, however, please understand that I am writing a weekly article here, and do not for a minute think that I can deliver to you the same level of insight and depth that you can get from any of the great books on the short game that are available. There are some genuine “gurus” out there who have made a living out of writing books and sharing their expertise—Dave Pelz, Stan Utley, et al. One of my favorites from a long time ago is Tom Watson’s “Getting Up and Down.” The point is, if you are committed to improving this part of your game, it will take much more than a few hundred words from a post of mine to get you there.

I will also suggest that there are no short cuts to an effective short game. I know of no other way to become a deadly chipper and pitcher of the ball than to invest the time to learn a sound technique and develop the touch skills that allow you to hits an endless variety of shots of different trajectories, distances and spin rates. As the old saying goes: “If it were easy everyone would do it.” In my opinion, it is mostly short game skills that separate good players from average, and great ones from good. Those greenside magicians we see on TV every week didn’t get there by spending minimal time learning and practicing these shots.

So, with that “disclaimer” set forth, I will share my thoughts on the basic elements of good pitching technique, as I see it.

As with any golf shot, a sound and proper set up is crucial to hitting great pitch shots
consistently. I believe great pitch shots are initiated by a slightly open stance, which allows you
to clear your body through impact and sets up the proper swing path, as I’ll explain later.

Your weight distribution should be favored to your lead foot, the ball should be positioned for the shot you want to hit (low, medium or high) and maybe most importantly, your hands must be positioned so that they are hanging naturally from your shoulders. I firmly believe that great pitch shots cannot be hit if the hands are too close or too far from your body.

The easy way to check this is to release your left hand from the grip, and let it hang naturally, then move the club so that the left hand can take its hold. The clubhead will then determine how far from the ball you should be. To me, that is the ideal position from which to make a good pitch shot.

Second is the club/swing path. I believe the proper path for good pitch shots has the hands moving straight back along a path that is nearly parallel to the target line, and the through swing moving left after impact. This path is set up by the more open stance at address. The gurus write extensively about swing path, and they all seem to pretty much agree on this as a fundamental. Taking the club back too far inside the line is probably more damaging than too far outside, as the latter is really pretty hard to do actually. My observations of recreational golfers indicate that the inside backswing path is “set up” by the ball being too close or too far from their feet at address, as I explained earlier.

I also believe (from observation and experience) that many recreational golfers do not engage their torso enough in routine pitch shots. This is NOT an arm swing; a rotation of the shoulders is tantamount to good pitch shots, and the shoulders must keep rotating through impact. Stopping the rotation at impact is, in my observation, the main cause of chunks and bladed shots, as that causes the clubhead to move past the hands and get out of plane.

Finally, I’ll address swing speed. Again, in my observation, most recreational golfers get too quick with this part of the game. The swing is shorter for these shots, but that should not make it quicker. One of my favorite analogies is to compare golf to a house painter. In the wide-open areas, he uses a sprayer or big roller for power, and works pretty darn quickly. As he begins to cut in for the windows and doors, he chooses a smaller brush and works much more slowly and carefully. Finally, he chooses very specialized trim brushes to paint the window and door trim, baseboards, etc. I like to compare our wedges to the painter’s trim brushes. Slow and careful wins.

I think learning distance control is the hardest part of becoming a good pitcher of the ball. And there are many approaches to this part of the equation. My opinion is that your expectations and therefore your approach to this aspect of it should be commensurate with your willingness to spend the time on the range or course. And I just do not know of a short cut, I’m sorry to say. But I will share something that I’ve learned works pretty well and is reasonably easy to learn.

First, find a “half swing” length that feels comfortable to you, and by that I mean repeatable. For most, it seems to be where the lead arm is about parallel to the ground. From that position, I like to think of three different downswing speeds – country road (i.e. 50 mph), neighborhood driving (30 mph) and school zone (15 mph). We’ll leave freeway speed for the driver, and regular highway speed for our fairways, hybrids and irons.

If you can internalize what these three speeds feel like for you, it only takes a little time to figure out how far each wedge goes at these three speeds, and then you can further dissect this by gripping down on each wedge to cut those gaps even tighter.

Again, I’m limited by space in this blog, but these ideas will hopefully get you thinking about meaningful practice and implementation. And in no way, are these few words intended to cover the subject as thoroughly as Pelz, Utley and others have done in series of books and videos. The more you learn and practice, the better you will get. That’s just the facts.

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