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The Wedge Guy: Scoring-range performance

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Editor’s note: Regarding the featured image, Kevin Na was the Tour leader in proximity last season on approaches of 150-175 yards. Jordan Spieth led in proximity from 125-150 yards.

This is the first of a series that will expand on the concept I proposed last week that you should break down your “scoring-range performance” into five distinct segments. If we can agree that there is a lot of difference between a textbook 9-iron shot and a chip, between the dreaded “half-wedge” and a putt, then let’s dissect the last 100-150 yards of golf on each hole into these five pieces.

We all know those players who seem to shine at one or more aspects of the scoring range but struggle with others. That guy who is dreadful with a pitch shot but is a deadly putter. Or the one who hits crisp and accurate short irons and wedges but is awful on his or her chip shots. So, let’s not lump all these into one bucket called “the short game”, but rather give them each some focused attention. I hope you all can glean a tip or idea from each of these articles to help you score better.

Part 1: Short iron and wedge shots

On the PGA Tour, the vast majority of birdies are made when the player has a short iron or wedge into the green (discounting the almost automatic birdies they make by hitting irons to par-5 holes). Even these guys don’t knock flags down from long range all that often. And the very low scoring that has become common to PGA Tour events comes from the fact that these guys hit the majority of their approach shots with an 8-iron or less.

Think about that when you review your last round of golf: on how many holes did you have an approach shot with an 8-iron or less in your hands? If the number is less than 8-10, then you are playing a much longer and harder course than the pros play (proportionate to your strength profile).

But regardless of strength, when you do have those short-range approach shots, this is your chance to score. It doesn’t matter if you consider a “textbook” 8-iron shot to be 160 yards or 120 yards, this is the time to increase your chances for par or better. So, I would like to offer a few fundamental ideas that can hopefully help you improve that part of your game.

First of all, let’s define what a “full swing” means. With a driver, ball sitting on a tee, it means really getting after it. But with a short iron or wedge in your hands, a “full” swing is something of much less force and power. The key to consistent short iron and wedge play is to make consistent contact with a consistent swing path. That’s the only way to achieve repeatable trajectories and therefore distance control. And the best way to ensure more consistency is to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.

In addition, I believe the left side must become a more dominant leader in the swing with these shots, so that your hands always get to the ball before the clubhead. This sets up a slightly downward strike to optimize spin and trajectory. I also believe we should all work a bit harder to make these swings a slight bit flatter, which path imparts a more direct blow to the ball. That will make these swings a bit shorter and more controlled and should result in more penetrating trajectories. [NOTE: My analysis of over 50,000 golfer profiles indicates the vast majority of players, of all handicaps, say they hit their short irons and wedges too high.]

As you improve your “full swing” shotmaking with the short irons and wedges, it really is not that hard to dissect the distance gaps between clubs. The physics of golf club engineering makes the distance gap between the short clubs typically wider than between the long clubs; this is aggravated by the recent trend by manufacturers to put five degrees between the 8- and 9-iron, while reducing the loft difference to three degrees at the long end of the set. The typical golfer of moderate strength will experience a 12-15-yard differential at the short end of his or her set. That is too large for precision play, so you simply must learn how to cut that into pieces.

Given that it is difficult for the recreational player to devote enough time to master multiple swing speeds, the simplest way to do that is to learn to grip down precisely to shorten the club and therefore reduce the distance the ball will fly. It takes a little experimentation, as each golfer is different, but gripping down about half an inch should take 3-5 yards off a short-iron or wedge shot. Another half-inch will cut off another 3-5 yards.

Once you kind of figure that out, you can add a measure of precision by opening the face a slight amount (and aim left of the target when you do). Just a few degrees open will give a 9-iron the loft of a pitching wedge, but a bit more distance than the pitching wedge would deliver.

Referring back to my earlier article on your “short game handicap,” I believe any golfer can learn to keep the majority of their full swing short iron and wedge shots within reliable two-putt distance, with the occasions of getting a more makeable putt outnumbering those times when you miss the green entirely. The more skilled you get with these shots, the higher you can set the bar for your own level of performance.

Obviously, a whole book could be written on this subject, but I hope this gives you something new to think about when you are working on your scoring range performance.

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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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Arnie Segura

    Jul 16, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Thanks for your insight…

  2. JM

    Jul 10, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    Try rolling your left wrist so you have knuckles down at impact with your wedges. You will make solid contact every time.
    I even do it with my irons and woods and hit a controlled draw. Takes some practice but the ball will sound different and you will get that big lazy swing that goes a mile.

  3. David Herring

    Jul 10, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve been playing for almost 60 years, still a mid single digit handicap. I have always thought that better wedge play would help shave even more off my scores. Thanks for the insight!

  4. Prime21

    Jul 10, 2019 at 2:04 am

    Great article!

  5. Mark M

    Jul 9, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Hi Terry, I like what you said regarding not going after “full swing” short iron shots like driver. I have found that if I just think 3/4 swing I usually have a better tempo and the swing is not really shortened that much, I just don’t over-swing.

    Also, I finally figured out years ago that choking down and making a NORMAL swing to reduce an iron’s distance is SO much easier than trying to make a shorter swing or “feather in” a fade, etc. It takes some practice with the choke down to find out what works best for you but is well worth it.

  6. LionForrest

    Jul 9, 2019 at 10:26 am

    I like chocolate cake.

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Opinion & Analysis

Chat with a (soon-to-be) PGA Tour champion: Sam Ryder

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From 2003 through 2008, I had a side job as a high school golf coach for Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Florida. One of the kids to come up through the ranks during my tenure at Bishop Moore was a young man named Sam Ryder. Now, at 29 years of age, Sam is in his sophomore season on the PGA Tour, qualifying by way of his second-place finish in the standings on the 2017 (then) Web.com Tour.

Ryder played on the PGA Tour Canada in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, he finished fourth in the PGA Tour Canada Order of Merit earning a place on the Web.com Tour for 2016.

In July 2017, Ryder had his first Web.com win, at the Pinnacle Bank Championship, finishing eight strokes ahead of the field. He finished second in the 2017 Web.com Tour regular season rankings to gain a place on the PGA Tour for 2018.

In his rookie campaign on the PGA Tour, Sam had a T2 finish at the John Deere, a fifth-place finish at the Houston Open and a T7 at the Barbasol Championship. He finished the year ranked 101 in the FedEx Cup Race.
This year, despite battling an injury, Sam has a third at the Shriners, a T4 at the Safeway and just last week, a T18 at the John Deere. He is currently ranked 92nd in the FedEx Cup standings and 190th in the World Golf Rankings.

I recently caught up with Sam to chat about his run-up to the PGA Tour and all the various experiences that go along with that.

So, let’s go back to your Bishop Moore days…when I was coaching my last year of vrsity, I think you were a junior. Sean took over your senior year. Curious, if back then, did you aspire of playing professionally?

SR: Generally, yes, I think I always saw myself playing baseball growing up. I wanted to be a professional in Major Leagues. When I turned to golf, I continued the path. I have always thought, “Why put in the effort if you don’t have a means to an end?” Without putting the goal on paper, it was always the end goal: to see how far I can go.

How about your years at Stetson? How did that play into your development as a future PGA Tour star?

SR: Stetson was my only Division 1 scholarship offer, and actually the only school I applied to. I knew I wanted to give golf a shot. Playing Division 1 in Florida was going to give me my best opportunity to get better.

At what point during your rise through the Canadian and Web.com did you really feel like you had what it took to play full time on the PGA Tour?

SR: I’ve always just wanted to see how good I can get. I love the game of golf, so it’s easy for me to work hard. I never knew if I was going to be a failed pro who never made it on tour or make it to number one in the world. But I’ve always been driven by the competitive nature of the sport and wanting to see where I “stack up” so to speak.

What was the most eye-opening part of playing full time on the PGA Tour for you?

SR: I think the biggest challenge of being a PGA Tour rookie is trying to learn all of the new golf courses. Everything about being a rookie on Tour is setting you up to be uncomfortable. Rookies are really behind the eight-ball when they get out there. Until you’re able to get into a routine and develop a level of comfort it’s hard to expect good results. I wanted to stay true to my approach for the most part. I earned my way on the PGA Tour and knew I was good enough based on the success I had on the Web.com Tour. I’m always trying to get better, but I wanted to do it my way, the way that got me there. It’s really easy to try to be someone you’re not when you get on Tour.

You have been in contention multiple times on the weekend and deep into a Sunday, what have you taken as the biggest positive from those experiences and what do you feel you still need to work on in regard to notching that first win?

SR: Biggest positive: playing well in big-time pressure moments. I haven’t really “lost” an event, so to speak. I have come from behind to make a good push. Knowing that when I am in these situations, and the adrenaline is going, I am able to hit the shots and make the putts. It gives me confidence that I am not going to fold in a pressure situation.

Something that everyone is always working on, including Tiger Woods, is to stay in the moment. As cliche as that is, it is a constant struggle to focus on the task at hand. Don’t get too high or low- treat each shot for what it is…

As a PGA Staff Professional with Cleveland/Srixon for several years, I know how great the equipment is with them. What had you join their team as a staff Tour Professional?

SR: I’ve been with Cleveland since I turned pro in 2012-13, they were the first manufacturer to approach me, and I love their equipment from the ball to the wedges and now the irons and driver.

What currently are you and your coach working on?

SR: Having missed significant time due to injury recently, we are just working on a lot of the same things I have been working on, my swing doesn’t change much. Right now, distance control with the irons and wedges is a focus.

Any veteran Tour members welcome you as a new member when you first came out? Kind of show you the ropes.

SR: Former player, Fulton Allem, gave me advice about managing strengths and weaknesses. Some players get so consumed with their weakness that they lose their strengths. Other players maximize their strengths and have awareness and the ability to monitor and play around their weaknesses. That goes along with the importance of staying true to your identity as a player as opposed to trying to be someone you’re not.

Chris DiMarco has been a mentor to me, growing up in the Orlando area. He has been able to provide guidance and support over the past few years, as I navigate my first years on TOUR.

For the most part veteran players as a whole have been accommodating and welcoming and are happy to share knowledge along the way.

So, what’s a typical work week look like for you? Tournament week and non?

SR: Tournament Weeks are pretty consistent…

Monday- is usually a travel day and I make a point to good work out in that day, as it’s a day off from golf Tuesday- I play nine holes
Wed- Pro-am
I go to the gym every day before I go to the course, just to get my body warmed up. Thursday and Friday rounds alternate AM/ PM tee times. I get up three hours before regardless of the time of the round, just to get body ready.

Non-Tournament Weeks…
When I am home, I go to the gym with my trainer, Alex Bennet @ TPC Sawgrass performance center 5/6 times per week. Usually, Monday and Tuesday are days off from golf, to give my body a rest.

I practice on Wed/ Thursday and play money games with other TOUR players on the weekend, to keep my game sharp and prepare for the high stakes the next week. I live less than a mile from the beach, and I enjoy going there to relax. I spend time visiting friends too.

You’ve become somewhat of a fashion icon on tour…what is your take on style and dress on Tour? It seems like a big thing for an observer from this side of the ropes…a way of self-marketing perhaps or standing out from the pack?

SR: I definitely care about my style on the golf course. I’m certainly not afraid to make a little bit of a fashion statement and wear things other players may not be willing to wear. The clothes I wear can definitely contribute to some added confidence, and confidence is one of the most important components to playing good golf.

Curious on your take of the health of golf in general?

SR: I think it’s great. The game of golf is in a good spot. I think Tiger Woods being relevant is massively important to the game, it brings sponsors and more viewers to the game. There is a great crop of young players right now. It is in a healthy, sustainable spot. Jay Monahan really has the TOUR moving in a good direction.

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The 19th Hole: Gary Player, Irish ambassadors talk Open in Northern Ireland

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Hall of Famer Gary Player returns to the 19th Hole to talk about the Championship, his record and his favorites to win this year. Also features Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall and Northern Ireland Consul Director Norman Houston.

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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TG2: Up early watching The Open Live! SPOILER ALERT!

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Rob talks Knudson into getting up WAY early to watch The Open Championship. Talking about live play, Darren Clarke’s hair, and how Rory started his day. Definitely spoilers, so don’t listen if you are recording!

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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