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The Wedge Guy: Improve your transition for better wedge play

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In my opinion, one of the most misunderstood areas of the golf swing is the transition from backswing to downswing, but I don’t read much on this in the golf publications. So, here’s my take on the subject.

Whether it’s a short putt, chip or pitch, half wedge, full iron or driver swing, there is a point where the club’s motion in the backswing has to come to a complete stop–even if for just a nano-second–and reverse direction into the forward swing. What makes this even more difficult is that it is not just the club that is stopping and reversing direction, but on all but putts, the entire body from the feet up through the body core, shoulders, arms and hands.

In my observation, most golfers have a transition that is much too quick and jerky, as they are apparently in a hurry to generate clubhead speed into the downswing and through impact. But, just as you (hopefully) begin your backswing with a slow take-away from the ball, a proper start to the downswing is also a slower move, starting from this complete stop and building to maximum clubhead speed just past impact. If you will work on your transition, your ball striking and distance will improve, as will your accuracy on your short shots and putts. Let’s start there.

In your wedge play, your primary objective is to apply just the exact amount of force to propel the ball the desired distance. In order to do that, it makes sense to move the club slower, as that allows more precision. I like to think of the pendulum on a grandfather clock as a great guide to tempo and transition. As the weight goes back and forth, it comes to a complete stop at each end, and achieves maximum speed at the exact bottom of the arc. If you put that picture in your head when you chip and putt, you will develop a tempo that encourages a smooth transition at the end of the backswing.

The idea is to achieve a gradual acceleration from the end of the backswing to the point of impact, but for most golfers, this type of swing is likely much slower than yours is currently. I encourage you to not be in a hurry to force this acceleration, as that causes a quick jab with the hands, because the shoulder rotation and slight body rotation cannot move that quickly from its end-of-backswing rotation.

Here’s a drill to help you picture this kind of swing pace. Drawing on that grandfather clock visual, hold your wedge at the very end of the grip with two fingers, and get it moving like the clock pendulum–back and through. Watch the tempo and transition for a few moments, and then try to mimic that with your short or half swing tempo. No faster, no slower. You can even change how far you pull the club up to start this motion to see what happens to the pendulum tempo on longer swings.

An even better exercise is to have a friend hold a club in this manner right in front of you while you are practicing your chipping or pitching swing and try to “shadow” that motion with your swings. You will likely find that your transition is much too fast and jerky to give you the results you are after.

If you will practice this, I can practically guarantee your short-range transition will become really solid and repeatable. From there, it’s just a matter of extending the length of the swing to mid-range pitches, full short irons, mid-irons, fairway woods, and driver–all while feeling for that gradual transition that makes for great timing, sequencing, and tempo.

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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.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Bob Jones

    Aug 14, 2020 at 9:44 am

    Take a breath in and calmly exhale. There is a gentle transition that is a good model for the transition in the golf swing.

  2. Skeat

    Aug 14, 2020 at 4:15 am

    I’m now wondering if that’s what TW is doing before he hits the ball for each shot? The pendulum swing warm up Hmmmm.

  3. Acemandrake

    Aug 12, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    Best info for me…Thank you:

    “I encourage you to not be in a hurry to force this acceleration, as that causes a quick jab with the hands, because the shoulder rotation and slight body rotation cannot move that quickly from its end-of-backswing rotation.”

  4. Tom Higgins

    Aug 12, 2020 at 11:47 am

    Just re-read Fred Shoemaker’s Extraordinary Golf. The concept of the “Club throwing swing” centers around replacing the focus from the golf ball to the target. Backswing ratio from 2:1 to 3:1. Great read.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Responsible speed training for sustainable personal bests

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It is truly awesome what is happening with Bryson DeChambeau and Kyle Berkshire and more of their young friends who are in shape are joining the bandwagon. But at an all-out slash fest trying to get 160mph ball speed with a 7-iron for a two-hour session would send 90% of us to the hospital. It’s safe to say it is not for everyone. To increase your clubhead speed responsibly long term really starts with us.

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Opinion & Analysis

The 23 players who can win the Masters

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Each year for the Masters, I create a filtering process to help determine the players who are most likely to win the green jacket based on criteria that have strongly predicted outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 20-25 players.

Last year, Dustin Johnson was one of my 21 players who could win the Masters. Dustin was at 9/1 odds. The other top finishers, like Cameron Smith and Sung Jae Im, were filtered out unlike previous years where players that were in contention were typically shortlisted. My theory on that is that due to the tournament being played in November, the course was not playing as firm and as fast as it normally does, and that allowed players who typically do not get through my filter to get into contention.

Before I discuss my picks for this year’s Masters, I want to go over what I call the “critical holes” for Augusta National. The critical holes in any tournament are the ones where the top finishers typically gain the most strokes on the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in scores exist. One of the interesting aspects about critical holes is that they often change over time due to changes in the course conditions, course design or a change in player strategy, which can create a smaller deviation in scores.

This year, the projected critical holes are No. 8, 13, 14, and 15.

The 15th hole, Firethorn, should be considered the most pivotal hole on the course as over the last five Masters the top finishers in the event have gained 0.391 strokes per round on the hole.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in the inaugural event

  • Joe Long (a)
  • Robert MacIntyre
  • Carlos Ortiz
  • Charles Osborne (a)
  • Tyler Strafaci (a)
  • Will Zalatoris

Despite being first-time invitees, the data likes both Ortiz and Zalatoris as they would have gotten through all of the other filters to be selected as players that could win the Masters.

I also filtered out eight past champions I do not believe can contend at Augusta National anymore

  • Fred Couples
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Larry Mize
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Vijay Singh
  • Mike Weir
  • Ian Woosnam

The Zach Johnson debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always pointed out that I do not pick former Masters Champion Zach Johnson due to his lack of length off the tee. Augusta National greatly favors long-ball hitters. They can play the par 5s more like par 4s, and typically the longer hitters can also hit the ball higher so they can get their long approach shots to hold the green more easily.

When Johnson won the Masters in 2007, the event featured record-low temperatures in the mid-40s and wind gusts of 33 mph. This made it very hard for any player to reach the par 5s in two shots and allowed Johnson to get into a wedge contest on the par 5s, his strength.

This week the forecast is calling for high 70’s to low 80’s with winds topping out at only 10 mph. There are some scattered showers in the forecast that may soften up the greens and give shorter hitters more of a chance to win.

But I believe that it will not be enough to take the advantage away from the longer hitters.

Therefore I filtered out the following players.

  • Abraham Ancer
  • Brian Gay
  • Brian Harman
  • Mackenzie Hughes
  • Zach Johnson
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Kevin Na
  • C.T. Pan
  • Ian Poulter
  • Patrick Reed
  • Webb Simpson
  • Henrik Stenson
  • Robert Streb
  • Michael Thompson
  • Brendon Todd

A part of the game that is just as critical as distance is the trajectory height a player can create. Last year, I filtered out four players for hitting the ball too low. Out of those four players, the best finish was Patrick Reed at T10. I use a combination of max height, carry distance, and launch angle to determine if the following players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta.

  • Daniel Berger
  • Christian Bezuidenhout
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Cameron Champ
  • Harris English
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Lanto Griffin
  • Jim Herman
  • Matt Jones
  • Sebastian Munoz
  • Victor Perez
  • Xander Schauffele
  • Bernd Wiesberger
  • Lee Westwood

Since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters that have previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s filter them out as well.

  • Max Homa
  • Jason Kokrak
  • Joaquin Niemann
  • Hudson Swafford
  • Matthew Wolff

I will also filter out the players who missed the cut at San Antonio. Historically, players that miss the cut the week prior have a substantially lower likelihood of winning the following week compared to the players that made the cut in the previous week or did not play at all.

  • Tony Finau
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Danny Willett

Lastly, I have filtered out the weak performers from the “Red Zone,” approach shots from 175-225 yards. While Augusta is known for its greens, the winners are determined mostly by the quality of their approach shots throughout the event. In fact, 11 of the last 12 champions have hit at least 49 greens in regulation during the week.

  • Jason Day
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Dylan Frittelli
  • Billy Horschel
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Martin Laird
  • Scottie Scheffler
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Adam Scott
  • Cameron Smith
  • Jimmy Walker
  • Matt Wallace

That leaves the following 23 players who can win the Masters:

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Stewart Cink (450/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson DeChambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Tyrrell Hatton (45/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Sungjae Im (40/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Si Woo Kim (125/1)
  • Marc Leishman (110/1)
  • Shane Lowry (110/1)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (45/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (75/1)
  • Ryan Palmer (150/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Justin Rose (80/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
  • Justin Thomas (12/1)
  • Bubba Watson (55/1)
  • Gary Woodland (150/1)

Here are my personal top-10 picks

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson Dechambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
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On Spec

On Spec: The unexpected lesson from Jordan Spieth’s win | Plus ANWA & ANA Inspiration coverage

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In what can only be called the busiest week in golf so far in 2021, host Ryan breaks down the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the ANA Inspiration on the LPGA Tour, the Drive, Chip, and Putt, and of course Jordan Spieth’s comeback win in Texas.

All of this is leading into the Masters, and Jordan’s win comes with a very important lesson for those golfers who might be struggling with their own game.

 

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