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The Wedge Guy: Hitting better wedge and short iron shots

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The past two weeks, I have written about “power leaks” with a focus on the long game. So, this week, I’m getting back to helping you improve your performance inside prime scoring range, which I consider to be 8-iron range and in. If you study PGA Tour statistics, this is where the vast majority of birdies are made, so it should also be your opportunity to put lower numbers on the card.

As I observe golfers of all skill levels, among the shots that I think give golfers the most difficulty are the full-swings with the wedges and short irons. The most common problem I see are trajectories that are way too high, leading to distance control that…well, is not controlled.

The key to consistent distance control with the higher-lofted short-range clubs is to control the trajectory of the shot, which in turn controls the distance the ball will travel in the air. If your short iron and wedge shots are high sometimes and lower sometimes, then your carry distance is most likely to also be all over the place.

The other part of the equation is that golfers haven’t spent the time necessary to learn how to properly swing the short, high-lofted clubs to effect those “tour-like” trajectories and pinpoint distance control. But you can learn to hit better full swing shots with your wedges and short irons if you’ll just follow a few basic thoughts.

  • Don’t try to hit them as hard. When you have a long club in your hand, you’re thinking distance, but when you have a club over 40 degrees of loft, your singular thought should be control. And you’ll get better control if you throttle back about 10-15 percent from what you think full swing speed really is. That will bring your trajectories down and make your carry distance more consistent. It really doesn’t matter if you hit that pitching wedge 115 or 135–can you do it every time?
  • Get your hands lower. In the coffee table book, “The Hogan Mystique,” Ken Venturi offers commentary on a number of photos of Ben Hogan. One that has always stuck with me is a shot of Hogan hitting a wedge shot into a green, and Venturi commented that “Hogan was an excellent ‘pitcher’ of the golf ball. Almost all good low hands players are. In his full swing, Hogan didn’t have the high looping hands of a Jones, his hands were much lower at the top of his swing.” If you will think of getting your hands and the club more around your body, rather than up high at the top of the backswing, you will find your trajectories will come down and your distance control get much better.
  • Soften your right hand. In our putting, we keep the left hand dominant, and the right hand is softer on the putter for touch. At the opposite end of the spectrum, with a driver we can hit hard with our right, as long as we also hit equally hard with our left side. As you get into the wedges and short irons, think of softening the right hand so that the left side can lead the club all the way through impact. This helps prevent the clubhead from passing the hands before impact, which adds loft to the club and causes a higher ball flight.

So, there are three keys to hitting better shots with your scoring clubs. I’d like to hear what you guys have to say, and how this works out for you if you’ll give these tips a try.

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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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. ChipNRun

    Apr 22, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Point 3. Softer right hand is interesting. Especially on partial wedges, I need to pull through with the left hand to make sure I get desired distance. Otherwise, I can flip slightly and come up short.

    Steffen: I see your concerns on the 70% swing speed. I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work for me either. Rather, I vary the length of your backswing. I would say my wedge swing is more of a tempo swing than say pressing a driver, but I don’t consciously try to slow down the swing.

    Other advice says deceleration (slowing down once in motion) is hard for many to control.

  2. rick

    Apr 22, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    I’m the poster child for the 135 yard wedge–“yeah I can hit it 135 yards!” that your article targets. So yesterday from 100 yards where I would ordinarily try to smash my 57 degree wedge that distance I took out a GW (ordinarily 115) and swung about 80%. Bingo! I’m sold on this, no more trying to hit these wedges at full velocity. Thank you.

    One question lingers for me, the low hands idea. Yes, I do understand it’s about the height of the hands on the backswing and you advise turning around your body more to keep the hands lower at the top. But that encourages quite an inside takeaway don’t you think? How to overcome that?

    • ChipNRun

      Apr 22, 2020 at 5:25 pm

      Rick noted: “One question lingers for me, the low hands idea…”

      This shakes out best as a general swing observation, not just for wedges. Too upright a swing can lead to high trajectories. I once had a Nicklaus-style high reach swing, but couldn’t handle it physically once I got near 50 years old.

      A golf pro – along with tips from Hogan’s Five Lessons – helped me flatten my swing somewhat. A few years later, I was working with another pro, and asked if my swing was flat enough. He said not to worry, my resultant swing was very balanced – neither flat nor upright.

      Also, I question the idea that we can reliably “switch to flat” just for 8i and wedge shots.

  3. Ray Rise

    Apr 22, 2020 at 9:59 am

    Terry Koehler is spot-on here – if Hogan was a fine controller of spin loft and subtle compression on shorter clubs then another Texan named Trevino was simply the best. His ‘burning’ wedge was for him (and can be others) brilliantly executed.

  4. Rick

    Apr 21, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Great advice!!!! But I lower my hands to hit flop shots (5 hcp) so I don’t quite get it about lower hands = lower flight? Pls re-explain

    • AZ

      Apr 21, 2020 at 9:30 pm

      My guess is you’re talking about lowering the hands at address? He’s talking about lowering his hands at the top of the backswing.

  5. Steffen menges

    Apr 21, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Many thanks in advance for the informative explanations. Point 1 works quite well for me so far (hcp16) if I have no obstacle in front of the short flag or a false front. Then my mind goes to power up and the result is mostly thinly hit balls running over the green. One or two more club lengths don’t help here because I can’t hit shots with 70% swing speed ????

    Greetings from germany

    Steffen

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