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The Wedge Guy: Ball striking vs. Shot making

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We often hear these two terms used to describe a given golfer’s particular skills, and sometimes they are used interchangeably. Today, I would like to discuss the difference and then pose a question to all of you to weigh in on, if you would please.

To get this conversation started, here’s how I would define each and explain the difference:

“Ball striking” refers to a golfer’s ability to make extremely solid contact with the ball shot after shot, club to club, with remarkable consistency. It is the core essence of the game, actually, because until you get reasonably consistent in making solid contact in the center of the face of the club, you really don’t know
what the ball is going to do.

“Shot making” on the other hand, is the golfer’s ability to make the ball do what he or she wants. Shaping shots to move the ball around – fades and draws, high and low, take a little off of it, amp it up a bit, etc. – these are the skills that define the highly accomplished player.

In discussions of “ball striking”, the same names come up time and again for the “legend” tour professionals–Hogan, Nelson, Tommy Bolt, Lee Trevino are maybe the most noted. One of the more common is also the legendary Moe Norman. It was said by those who had the opportunity to see him that he almost never mishit a shot, and every one took off on the same trajectory and flight. It was said that Mr. Norman never achieved financial fame on the golf course, and I have read it was because of his nerves and quirky nature. Nevertheless, he is the subject of countless legends.

In the modern game, I think nearly all the top professionals are great ball strikers, and maybe the LPGA Tour even takes that consistently solid contact to the next level. They simply have to, as they don’t have the physical strength to play their courses with too many unsolid hits.

Moving on to “shot making”, again we see many of the same names from the history books, but I would put Tiger Woods on a completely different level from most of his peers. For over two decades, he has shown us some remarkable imagination and execution of shots most wouldn’t even have the ability to see.

It was said about Ben Hogan that he was one of the very few that combined both skills. Ben Hogan was noted for this insightful piece of advice about how to approach a pin location:

”You work the ball toward the flag. If it is on the right side of the green, you hit a fade, and hit a draw to any left flag location. Pins in the front require a high shot with spin, and those toward the back of the green require a lower shot with less spin. You always work the ball flight from the center of the green toward the edges.”

Now that’s serious insight into how the game can be played…at least if you have complete control over the ball flight. Or at least want to. And that brings me to my question today; I would like for as many of you as possible to chime with your answer to this:

Do you ever try to hit various shots–draws, fades, high, low, “carve it”, etc.– and how often? Only when necessary, frequently, often. Please also indicate your handicap with your answer, OK?

Let’s have some fun with this.

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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.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. ChipNRun

    Apr 7, 2020 at 8:48 am

    I’m now about 20 HDCP (as per initial report under new system).

    For a long time I tried to hit “whatever shot shape was needed,” but a few years back I settled into the draw as my stock shot. I had problems with a recurring overswing + Over The Top move, and the in-to-out of the draw helped prevent this.

    For tee shots, I vary tee height (for the day) based upon turf conditions. It it’s drier, I’ll tee it down so I have a flatter descent angle and can pick up more rollout. If it’s wet, I tee it higher to maximize carry.

    That said, on tee shots I can produce a decent fade when needed. I mean, the tee surface is flat and the ball is on a wooden peg which you can adjust the height of. Anyone who understands the basics of ball flight should be able to hit a basic fade or draw under these conditions.

    And, if I’m in the right first cut (typical miss for draw), I can hit a low slap slice to get the ball up toward the green. (A skill I picked up playing blades in the previous century…)

    For partial wedges, I use a square or ever-so-slightly open set up. With a midspin ball (i.e. Callaway Superhot, TopFlite Gamer Tour), I can generally drop a partial wedge on the green with maybe three yards of rollout.

    For really shaggy shots around the green, I get better control with SW than with a LW.

  2. Roejye

    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:27 am

    I don’t have an official handicap as I didn’t really keep score, and when I did there were quite a few mulligans thrown in. Going by the calculation of score over par, I was about a 13 with my scoring so I’ll say minimum 18. I play a course where there isn’t much reason to shape my shots, and my ability level isn’t there yet, so I focus on ball striking. Closest thing to shot shaping is using a more lofted club to get over a bunker or mound to a tight pin.

  3. Jim

    Mar 25, 2020 at 11:36 am

    Current index 8.8. I consider myself a pretty good ballstriker but not much of a shot maker. My natural ball flight is a draw and I can hook and slice it at will but I find a fade very difficult to hit. High and low shots are a bit easier to hit. Lucky for me, I’m a lefty and most of the courses I play (local green fee courses) have far more dogleg rights than dogleg lefts to accommodate slicing right handlers. When I do have to make a “shot” and pull it off, it’s very satisfying—and surprising!

  4. Tim M.

    Mar 24, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    My index is 3.3. As I’ve gotten older, and the balls spin less than the old balata balls I grew up with, I’ve been more confident in hitting draws/fades. My stock shot is a very slight fade…and I agree with the idea that many times, it’s better to hit the stock shot to middle of green rather than trying hit something I’m not as comfortable with. I pay a lot of attention to my warmup, and how the ball is moving. Some days, I can see that my short irons are being drawn a bit…so I work with that. I think it’s fun to hit shots with various curves, and I always think about on the course. I just try to make good decisions about when to try a shot, and when to “settle” for safe, middle of green shot.

  5. Mark M

    Mar 24, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    One of the main reasons I love golf is exactly what you’re talking about Terry … SHOTMAKING!
    I’m definitely in your OFTEN + category – what’s more than often? When I’m on the course, I look at all the available ways to get the ball to go where I want. Sometimes it’s a stock shot but most of the time I’m trying to create a shot that fits the situation as I see it. Sometimes that can be up to 4 or 5 different shot options. Friends have told me that I might lower my scores more if I limited my options to one or two main shots, but what’s the fun in that?!

  6. 2waymiss

    Mar 24, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Handicap- Hacker! If the toe was the center of the face then I’d be the best ball striker on the planet. I’d love to be able to execute 1 of each shape in the 9 ball flights w/ predictable control. Heck, I’d settle just for a draw (no gear effect) w/ my driver! Lol

    • Dill Pickelson

      Mar 27, 2020 at 11:59 pm

      I tweeted Adam Young and asked him how to not toe it and he had me put the ball inside of the rubber tee and hit both. The body adjusted and I could sense the difference. I immediately went from a 6 to a 2 and have been there for about 3 years now. Crazy simple solution for a life long problem.

  7. Brian Terry

    Mar 24, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    I play to an 8 and only work the ball when I need to. However, I PRACTICE those shots regularly so that I have the confidence to pull them off when needed. I use trajectory manipulation far more than curvature. I like to work the trajectory and spin to control the rollout for front and back pins depending on the firmness of the greens. I usually only use draws and fades if a pin is tucked and I can depend on the release of the shot to get it back to the pin after landing. I plan the ball to land 10-15′ from the pin and roll to it as opposed to landing right on the pin. Nothing is worse than hitting a shot to curve the ball perfectly to the pin, only to have it hop off the edge of the green leaving me short-sided.

    BT

  8. William Terry

    Mar 24, 2020 at 10:25 am

    I’ve gone multiple routes over this in 20 years of playing golf fairly seriously… I’ve ranged from a 12-4 over that time, and currently sit at a 5.5. I’m now 38 and have less time to play and practice… I’ve also decided this season to spend more time on chipping and putting and less time on the range hitting full shots.

    Tiger talks about 9 “windows” High, Low, Middle, Straight, Fade, Draw… and can hit all 9 of them. I can hit about 5 different shots with varying degrees of success… High, Low, Draw, Fade, “straight”. I default to a fade and have tried to eliminate a left miss from my game… This allows me to aim left and worry less about hazards.

    I can hit a draw, but it lacks control… I’ve stopped “going for it” and forcing a draw and it has helped eliminate mistakes from my game… I will rarely flight the ball on a regular shot into a green. I will use trajectory to get around obstacles, including a higher shot to get over a bunker into a tight pin. That’s about as close to shot making as I get right now.

    If I ever succeed in getting my short game to “good”, I will probably spend more time working on a dependable draw, just to add a shot to my bag. It would be nice to have confidence in different shots, but right now I play what I know… Honestly, I don’t think this will shave a significant amount of strokes off my game (other than working on shot making will improve my ball striking). I can’t see how mastering a “second” type of shot would shave more than a half stroke off my cap.

  9. Brian

    Mar 24, 2020 at 10:23 am

    I play to a 6 and my stock shot – and really only shot – is a draw; I can’t hit a [decent] fade to save my life. Trust me, I’ve tried, but it ends poorly. Luckily, I can repeat a pretty similar [draw] ball flight shot after shot, so what I’ll change up is the height based on the conditions: windy – keep it low, wet – keep it high, etc.

  10. Bart

    Mar 24, 2020 at 9:48 am

    I try to put a bit of “english” on every single shot outside of 100 yards. It makes the game more interesting to me and also makes the winds influence more predictable. Also if you know the slope of the green it gives you a better chance of getting it closer since you have an idea of the roll after it lands. 9.9 out of 10 shots will have some sort of bend so might as well have control over it.

    Wasnt it Hogan that said “straight hitters NEVER hit it straight”?

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Podcasts

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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On Spec: Blades vs cavity backs | Classic gear vs. modern equipment

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In this episode, host Ryan talks about a recent experience of playing poor golf and what it took from an equipment perspective to get his game back on track.

The talk is wide-ranging and offers an inside look at what equipment tweaks or experiments might help you play better golf—or get you out of a rut.

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From the GolfWRX Vault: How far should you hit your golf clubs?

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Editor’s note: Jaacob Bowden‘s 2013 piece on how far a club “ought” to carry based on clubhead speed—i.e. how far you should hit your golf clubs–remains one of our most widely read pieces (thanks, Google search). And while seven years have passed since its publication, the data remains the same, and thus the piece remains just as relevant today. 

We’re happy to crack open the GolfWRX Vault for this excellent bit of writing. 


One of the nice things about having all this new fancy technological equipment like Trackman, Flightscope, ShotLink, etc., at various PGA Tour events is that distance data can be gathered for each of the players.

In case you haven’t come across it already, here are the approximate Trackman carry distance averages for men at the professional level.

Average PGA Tour Carry Distances (yards)

Club Carry
Driver (Total) 289
Driver (Carry) 269
3-Wood 243
5-Wood 230
Hybrid 225
3-Iron 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

Pretty cool info. Perhaps they hit it farther than you might have thought…or maybe they hit less than you may have been lead to believe based on what you’ve seen on TV, read on the internet, etc.

Since I deal a lot with swing speed training and helping people in general hit the ball farther, a relatively common question I get is, “How far should I hit my clubs for my swing speed?”

Well, since we also know that the average driver swing speed on Tour typically runs around 112 to 113 mph, using a bit of algebra and the above distances we can approximate a guide for how far you could expect to hit the ball (assuming fairly consistent and solid contact) given your personal driver swing speed.

Here are those carry distances.

Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

 Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

I took the ranges down to 60 and 70 mph because those are swing speeds I’ll encounter when working with some amateur women and seniors. I also went up to 140 mph because numerous long drivers I’ve trained can get their drivers up that high (RE/MAX World Long Drive champions like Joe Miller, Jamie Sadlowski and Ryan Winther can actually reach over 150 mph).

Aside from using the chart as a general reference point, here are a few other things that I think are worth pointing out:

First, these numbers are based off how the average Tour player strikes the ball. Although Tour players are overall good ball strikers with all their clubs, most of them are actually not as efficient (the Tour average is about 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed) as they can be when it comes to distance with their drivers because on average they hit drives that launch too low and with too much spin.

LGPA Tour players (2.65 yards/mph of swing speed) and Professional Long Drivers are actually more distance efficient with their drivers…but that’s a topic for another article. The good news for you is that greater carry and total-driving distances can be achieved at all the range of swing speeds shown above if you are a more efficient driver than the average male tour player at 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed.

With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc, one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!

Second, the club distances are based on the driver swing speeds that you would get from a system like FlightScope and Trackman. So if at all possible, get yourself checked on one of those. Otherwise, if you measure with something like a Speed Stik (which measure higher in my experience), you could get a false sense of how far you might expect to hit the ball.

As another example, Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radars (SSR) also read faster. It should be pointed out that SSRs are still a great personal training aid, and because of their accuracy and relative affordability and portability, they are actually the radar I recommend in my swing speed training programs.

However, the Doppler radar in an SSR measures the fastest moving part of the club head (typically the toe) versus a Trackman or FlightScope, which each have proprietary algorithms to calculate the speed at the center of the club face. For this reason, SSRs will read about 5 to 12 percent faster, depending on how you as an individual move the driver through impact. If you have an SSR, just hit 5 to 10 balls with it and a Trackman or FlightScope at the same time and you’ll find out your personal difference for sake of comparison.

Third, the above numbers can be useful for a good general reference, but like I mentioned in my article about understand distance variance, recognize that carry distances can vary a lot depending on conditions. Slopes, wind, temperature, altitude, etc., are all things that can affect how far the ball flies, so remember to factor that in.

Fourth, keep in mind potential loft differences between your clubs and the ones here. As a general rule of thumb, club manufacturers have made their club lofts (especially in the irons) continually stronger over the years as a way of marketing and selling consumers the new clubs.

Many top Tour players are being paid to play the latest clubs, which could mean they might also be playing irons with stronger lofts than the set you are playing. This isn’t always the case, however, but it’s another thing to be aware of.

Last, once you start approaching less than 80 mph with the driver, notice how the distances start bunching up between clubs.  At this point, you start getting to an area where you really don’t need a full set of 14 clubs. If this is you, perhaps you might also find that you hit a 3-wood or 5-wood further than a normal driver.

My wife is very strong and athletic, however, as a beginner who doesn’t play or practice very much, she hasn’t developed much swing speed. For that reason, we got her fitted for a 9-club set of Wishon 730CLs, a set that is designed specifically for men and women with less than 80 mph of club head speed.

The shafts are very light, the driver is 16 degrees and only 42 inches, the fairway woods are 20 and 26 degrees (versus the commonly used 15- and 19-degree fairway woods), and the remaining hybrids/irons are gapped out in 6-degree loft increments (compared to the normal 3- or 4-degree). Also, since many beginners, lesser skilled players and those with slower swing speeds can struggle with really high lofted wedges, the highest lofted wedge in the set is 54 degrees.

All of these things combine to provide a driver that can actually be hit in the air for distance, clubs that have substantial distance gapping, plus it’s just less clubs in general to lug around and choose from.

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