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The Wedge Guy: Dissecting “the short game”

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In follow up to my article week before last about your “Short Game Handicap”, I thought might add a bit of clarity and expand on the topic. To start, I probably shouldn’t have used the term “short game”, as it appears there are many different definitions (and no consensus) as to exactly what that means. Is it wedge play only? Does it include putting? And just how far out from the hole does “the short game” begin?

So, I’m going to ask for a bit of a “do-over” and offer a new term to define what I mean. Let’s talk, then, about “scoring-range performance”. Hopefully, we all can agree that this means the entire game inside 8- or 9-iron range, so it is different for every golfer. That could be inside 150-160 yards for a strong player, or as close as 100-120 yards for one with a lesser distance profile. Regardless of the distance, however, I think it is fair to say that once inside that “short range performance” zone, you should be able to take on the golf course more aggressively.

So, to start, I would like to suggest we can break down “short range performance” into five distinct categories:

1. Full swing or mostly full swing short iron and wedge shots. These are the shots you hit from the outermost ranges in what you define as your own “short range”. But when I say “full swing” with a short iron or wedge, please understand this doesn’t mean going at it like you would with a driver or even mid-iron. Shorter clubs call for more controlled swing pace and power, so that you can build a distance chart that is repeatable and reliable. From those “full” swings, you can grip down up to 1-1/2” to 2” to change distance and trajectory with each club, which will also reduce the length of your swing naturally. If you want, you can also experiment with opening the face a bit as well in order to achieve different ball flights and distances. These shots take us into the range of…

2. Pitch shots. I consider this term to define all those wedge shots that are hit with much less than a “full” swing. This is an area where you just have to spend time practicing in order to learn what kind of swing produces what yardage and ball flight with each wedge you carry. From there we go to…

3. Chipping. This is a very different technique than pitch shots, but good chipping is the key to greenside scoring. Regardless of your age or strength profile, you can learn to be a good chipper of the ball. And after any of these shots that has been well executed, we get to…

4. Putting. I believe all of us would agree that putting is an art in itself and calls upon a different set of motor skills. A putting stroke is not a “little golf swing”, in that it does not have the dynamic movements of the lower and upper body, etc. And finally…

5. Trouble shots. I will consider this category to include any shots in scoring range that don’t fall into the routine. This would include bunker shots, sidehill/uphill/downhill lies, deep rough, other tough lies such as hardpan, and low runners from under trees. Very few of us practice these, maybe other than bunker shots, so we get anxious and nervy when faced with one. Ben Hogan used to say that you should never try a shot on the course that you haven’t practiced. Pretty darn good advice.

So, there you have my take on the five parts of “scoring-range performance”. Over the next few weeks, I’ll take us into a deeper dive on each one of these aspects to see if I can’t give you some tips and advice on how to make that part of your game better. Understand of course, I’m offering general advice and counsel to a large audience, so I certainly expect some of you to find my suggestions too elementary, while others may find it too advanced. But I’m going to do my best to give each of you at least a few takeaways that you may find helpful.

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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. ChipNRun

    Jul 9, 2019 at 11:23 pm

    Let me see if I’ve got this right…

    After more than a decade of research, Dave Pelz in 2000 divided the short-game skills into distance wedges, pitches, chips and bumps, and sand shots. He included detailed instructions on each.

    In 2004 Debbie Steinbach sorts out the Venus pitch, chipping, sand sharking and the lob. Deb also included instructions.

    In 2012, tour veteran Dave Stockton and his sons parse the short game into low and high shots, bunkers, and trouble shots. Again, how-to tips abound.

    Further, Dave, Deb and the Other Dave all tell us how putting meshes with the short game.

    So, I’m struggling to find the value-added of our recent “Dissecting…” piece? If the Wedge Guy is having an off-week, it’s OK if he skips writing an article.

  2. Jamho3

    Jul 5, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Especially enjoyed this part.

    ““scoring-range performance”. Hopefully, we all can agree that this means the entire game inside 8- or 9-iron range, so it is different for every golfer. That could be inside 150-160 yards for a strong player, or as close as 100-120 yards for one with a lesser distance profile.”

    Keep going TK.

  3. Dan Coleman

    Jul 3, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    Why do most amateurs hit their wedges mostly on the toes of the face?

    Dan

  4. Jack Nash

    Jul 3, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    The only game I got is a buck’n a quarter in. Learned wedges following my old man around the course when I was a kid. He played with his buddies & I chipped around. Of course you know how long ago that was when you could do stuff like that. I’ve found the better you get the more aggressive you tend to be. Being avg. at best off the tee means you have to make up for your game closer to the hole. Very good article and totally agree with Utley’s approach.

  5. PSG

    Jul 3, 2019 at 10:15 am

    If anybody wants to read something with some actual thought behind it (“you just have to hit a bunch and see what you can do”… seriously?!) you should read Stan Utley’s “The Short Game Building Blocks of the Six Basic Pars”. Its really good. He defines them as tight lie long, tight lie short, fluffy sand short, fluffy sand long, tight sand long, deep rough long. he further theorizes that hard sand short and deep rough short are so hard they are not basic.

    I want to like “The Wedge Guy”‘s stuff, I post about wedges a lot on the forums, but come on dude. “Full Swing, Pitch, Chip, Putt, Other”. Forty years of experience and that’s the insight you can give us?

  6. Ugh

    Jul 2, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Once again, I wasted my time clicking on this article.

    • Scotty B

      Jul 2, 2019 at 9:51 pm

      You wasted everyone’s time who read your comment.

    • Terry Koehler

      Jul 3, 2019 at 10:16 am

      Hello “Ugh”,

      I am sorry you did not find this article interesting. Would you mind sending me an email — Terry@TheWedgeGuy.com — and sharing your thoughts about why, and your ideas for what I could write about that you would find more interesting? As I’ve said, I’m writing for a very broad audience, and not everyone will find every article interesting. I get that. But it would help me if you and others would send me ideas for topics you would like me to address down the road.
      Thanks.

      Wedge Guy

  7. BigD

    Jul 2, 2019 at 11:48 am

    Matt Kuchar is a big donkey.

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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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