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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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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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