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The Wedge Guy: Distance control is the key to iron play

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You can watch nearly every PGA Tour event and quickly appreciate the vital importance of distance control with your iron shots. For the most part, these elite players are masterful at “dissecting” their distances into very manageable “bites,” because a “textbook” 7-iron or gap wedge is a rarity in this game.

As I was reviewing old Wedge Guy articles I’ve written, I came across an interesting anecdote from a reader who shared his story:

“Recently, I wanted to work on my GIR, so I decided to adjust my club selection based on distance. Instead of picking the club that would reach the desired distance with a full shot, I went up a club and played roughly a 75% shot with a slow smooth swing.

“In the first round with my new approach, I shot a 77 (on a par 70), and in the second round I shot a 77 (par 72). I hit a ton of greens, and both are all-time low scores for me.

“My question is….Is this the approach I should always use? Should I always try to use a 75% swing for 5 – 9 iron approach shots? Should the 75% shot be my normal swing?”

My advice to this reader was to let the results speak for themselves. It was pretty obvious what he perceived to be his “75% swing” was producing much more reliable distances for him.

While it might not have actually been a measured “75 percent,” I’m personally a big fan of this “throttled back” approach to iron play. I interact with many golfers who tell me their iron distances and I’m often amazed at what they claim. We often hear of tour players hitting an 8-iron from 175 or a 5-iron from 230, but that’s not the norm by any means, even for them. And it certainly shouldn’t be for the rest of us.

As I often do, I would like to share some wisdom from Ben Hogan, who, in his 1949 book, “Power Golf,” listed his yardages with each iron. In this chart, he showed a normal/minimum/maximum yardage with each iron. While you can discount the actual numbers because of technology, what you should focus on is that with each iron he had 20 yards “in reserve” for when he really needed it. Do you? I mean do you have what you consider your normal range with a 7-iron, and another 20 yards when you want? Or are your “maximum” and “normal” distances about the same?

What this golfer I mentioned earlier discovered is that when he throttles back with his irons, his accuracy and distance control improved dramatically, and I would bet it would be the same for 95 percent of us. Your iron play will improve dramatically if you relearn a more relaxed “normal” swing with your irons, and let the distances be what they are. My favorite analogy to swing speed is to relate it to driving. Drivers get freeway speed—as fast as you can drive safely.

Fairway woods and hybrids are a notch below that, as you don’t have the ball sitting on the tee. But when an iron is in my hands, I think “drive 55”, the old country road speed limit. Fast enough to get where you’re going, but slow enough to stay between the lines on a two-lane road with no shoulder.

And I’m a big fan of gripping down on my irons most of the time to gain even a little more control. Even a half-inch or so down on an iron gives you more control than when you grip it to the end. And most golfers will be more accurate and consistent with a 7-iron gripped down and swung easy than with an 8-iron “ripped.”

There is no room in those little boxes on the scorecard for explanations, only for the numbers. A shot to 10 feet with a throttled-back 7-iron is always better than a nuked 8 that’s wide left or right, long or short.

It can even be fun to jack with your testosterone-pumped buddies who are standing on the par-3 tee deciding between and 8- and 9-iron, when you hit it close and answer their inquiry, “What’d you hit?” with “a little 7-iron.”
It makes their head spin, and it’s fun.

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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.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. iutodd

    Aug 20, 2020 at 9:57 pm

    It’s a fine line though I think. Because “swing easy/throttle back” can turn into giving up on the swing. Like – it makes sense that this makes sense…but you still have to execute and focus.

    I tell myself to “swing with purpose”. And then I ignore the pin and take whatever the middle of the green yardage is with anything that isn’t a wedge. It’s why I don’t like laser rangefinders and use GPS which gives me front/middle/back. If I’ve got less than 115 I’ll pay more attention to where the pin is.

    • Acemandrake

      Aug 21, 2020 at 2:08 pm

      A rangefinder helps me most with short shots.

      “Aggressive (not hard, not decelerating either) swings to conservative targets”

  2. Mike R

    Aug 20, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Ego-less golf for the win!

  3. Mike

    Aug 20, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    I like much of want you present. A player needs to recognized that it good shots that go over a green. Club selection is always paramount. The merit of taking more and swinging less than full results in too many bad shots. Due in part of the player being indecisive. I took a simple approach: In between two clubs?…take you 7 iron and your 8 iron and put them side by side and grip your 8 iron. Then place your hands on the 7 at the same length it was on the 8.

    Now swing like you would your 8 iron….all you have done is created an 8 iron with less loft, but you are not gusiessing on what 75% power is….worse thing a player can do is, think that they have to ” take something off”

  4. Acemandrake

    Aug 20, 2020 at 11:47 am

    Hogan said he always used more club on his approach shots.

    That way his swing never changed.

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Flatstick Focus

Flatstick Focus: Interview with Joe Legendre – Legend Golf Company

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In Episode 26 Glenn is back and we interview the owner of Legend Golf Company, Joe Legendre.

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole Episode 141: The (golf) show must go on!

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Host Michael Williams has breaking news on The PGA Merchandise Show going virtual in 2021 from Marc Simon of PGA Golf Exhibitions. Also features John Buboltz with the latest putters and irons from Argolf.

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Ball rollback isn’t the right move to combat “The Golfer of Tomorrow”

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The announcing crew at the 2020 U.S. Open seemed obsessed with “the bombers”—players who drove the ball extreme distances with little regard for the occasional tee shot into the rough. TV has selected Bryson DeChambeau as their representative, given his length and victory.

I thought I’d wait a bit to see what the industry sources had to say. I can’t say it’s unanimous, because I haven’t seen everything, but the theme is: “Get Ready for The Golfer of Tomorrow”

  • 350-yard carry
  • Clubhead speed which tears through the rough allowing the ball to launch high and carry to the green
  • The ‘new’ instructor who teaches distance be it ground up or whatever new method is used
  • Gym sessions producing athletes who look more like football players
  • And last, a whole new shelf of steroids for golf

At the same time the USGA and its organizational allies are planning meetings focusing on not if the ball will be rolled back, but when—clearly, influenced by visual evidence from a great Winged Foot course in our national championship.

Let’s look deeper!

A hypothetical: go back a few months. You are on the planning committee for the U.S. Open to be held at Winged Foot, one of America’s great venues. This year because of COVID-19 there will be no galleries, something never experienced at a USGA major golf event. I repeat, your committee is planning for the U.S. Open. That implies “Open Rough” a term that is significant on its own. You don’t play from Open Rough, you escape…maybe.

The nature of Open Rough is a thick chunky base with long tendrils reaching skyward. These make it very difficult to find your ball in the best of circumstances and when attempting to advance these tendrils wrap themselves around your hosel closing the face, sending your ball deeper into hostile territory. That’s if you can even find it, Open rough has “disappeared” many balls over the years and done so within full view of gallery spectators aiding course marshals. The rule of thumb for competitors has always been to find the most reasonable patch of fairway and get out.

But this is the year of COVID-19. No galleries. Marshals, but relatively few because of no galleries. Now, considering that normal U.S. Open rough will produce many searches where marshals are important, the shortage of them will cause endless searches—which don’t make for great TV viewing. So, a decision is made, cut the rough down so shots can be found. Still in the rough but sitting on the chunky base and very often can be played. A tough call for the purist but an objective economic evaluation leaves no choice.

The announcers regale us with astonishing distances and swing speeds that allow escape from Open Rough that used to be impossible! The golf publications jump on this theme and predict that the Golfer of Tomorrow will be “DeChambeau-like” not sweet swingers but physical hulks rewriting the book on distance strongly influenced by no fear of the rough.

My point here is those publications and instructors, jumping on the “longer and slightly crooked is better” bandwagon have added 2+2 and gotten 5 when using the 2020 U.S. Open as a premise.

DeChambeau is a great and powerful player, however, I don’t think he’s known for his putting. Now I may have dozed off but I don’t remember him being widely praised for his putting. He should have been, it was terrific, probably influenced his score! He is our National Champion, an unsurpassable honor. But his style has me betting that the USGA is working on dates to discuss changing the golf ball, as in making it shorter.

I’m 100% against such a move. Golf is a game where amateurs can go to the same course play the same clubs and given a huge difference in skill achieve some measure of affiliation with the pros. A birdie is a birdie, not a long or short ball birdie. From a business perspective, the overwhelming majority of those golfers financially supporting golf are over 50. And we want them to hit it shorter?

Well, Mr. Adams what would you do? I know zero about golf ball manufacturing, but keeping the distance the same I’d change the dimples to increase curvature—just enough so it doesn’t affect slower swings that much but very high swing speeds so it’s in the player’s head

More thoughts. As an admitted TV viewer, get rid of those yardage books. Fine for practice rounds but when the bell rings it should be player and caddie, not an “on green” conference. What’s next, a staff meeting?

I’ll conclude with a note to the PGA Tour and, importantly, an admonition. To the PGA Tour: The minute a tee goes into the ground on #1 every player is on the clock. Stroke penalties, not fines, will get their attention.

To the rest of the golfing world: Let’s not blindly pursue the Golfer of Tomorrow concept without considerably deeper study.

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