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The Wedge Guy: Demystifying the ‘half wedge’ shot

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One of the more difficult aspects of golf, in my opinion, is learning the “touch” shots; those less-than-full swings that you need to score. It seems the vast majority of golfers are challenged by these, more than they are by the full swings, in fact. In my research and many sessions with recreational golfers, that shot comes up more often than any as one that people want to learn.

There are two basic camps of instruction on this shot. In one camp you have the people who advocate using the same club all the time and just learn to feel the distance. In the other are the advocates of using three different lengths of swings for all your wedges and then learning the distances of each different swing for each club.

I think either of those are OK…for golfers who are willing to put in lots of hours of practice. But I have always been focused on the typical recreational golfer who is just not (or cannot) going to invest that time. So I’m going to offer a slightly different approach to those “in-between” wedge shots–not quite a full swing, but more than a short pitch.

But it is true that this part of the game takes as much practice, or more, to develop as the full swing shots. In order to have touch and feel, you have to have a “database” of shots you’ve successfully executed to draw from. The more good ones you have in that database, the more likely you are to be able to pull one out of your arsenal with confidence. But that all starts with having a technique you can rely on, so let’s build that.

I’m a believer that the closer you get to the green, the slower you work. I compare the short game to the house painter. Painting walls allows full and powerful strokes with a large brush or roller, but as you get to the trim work, you work slower and more deliberately. Wedge play is a lot like that. I believe you can be more precise with a longer, slower swing, than a short “jabby” one. I’m also a proponent of controlling your swing power and clubhead speed with the rotation speed of your body core. To hit the ball further/harder, you rotate through faster. To hit the soft touch shots, you rotate through a little slower.

The key to that is to keep the hands “quiet”, so that you are not flipping the clubhead, and let the upper body, arms and hands work in perfect unison. If your hand speed (and therefore the clubhead speed) are always coordinated with the pace of your body core rotation, you’ll quickly learn how to manage the pace of that rotation to produce various distances.

One analogy that I like is to think of your less-than-full wedge swings like driving in various speed limit zones. The longer shots are “country road”, somewhat slower than a full “highway speed” swing pace. Beneath that is “city driving”, where the pace of body core rotation is even slower. And the shortest “half wedge” shots put you in “school zone”, which is defined by slower and more attentive.

I suggest you spend time with your gap and sand wedges, and practice this core-driven approach. Learn how the ball will fly the same shortened swing and various speeds of your core rotation. Once you get a good feel for that process, you can further vary the ball flight by gripping down on the club to different points on the grips–the shorter the club, the lower and shorter the ball will fly.

This is a very broad topic for such a short forum, but I hope that this different approach to those ‘half wedge shots’ will help those of you who are still searching for “the secret.”

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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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Acemandrake

    Mar 17, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    I like to think of a less than full swing as an “arm swing”.

    Keep the lower body quiet, use hand/eye coordination to gauge the feel for distance and adjust swing length accordingly.

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The Gear Dive: Discussing the drivers of 2020 with Bryan LaRoche

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with his good buddy Bryan LaRoche. They chat on life and do a deep dive into the drivers of 2020.

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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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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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target

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In this week’s episode: How having a target will improve your direction and contact you have with the ball.

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