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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 101

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GolfWRX.com welcomes back instructional writer Tom Stickney, whose articles here have garnered over 15 million views. Tom has written from GolfWRX for almost five years with articles that feature technology for the average player using a TrackMan focus on all parts of the game. We’re happy to announce he’s beginning his writing once again, and we look forward to what he has in store for our readers.

Tom has been the Director of Instruction at such prestigious Clubs at BIGHORN Golf Club in Palm Desert, California, The Club at Cordillera in Vail, Colorado, Promontory Golf Club in Park City, Utah, and most recently The Four Seasons Punta Mita Golf Club in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. You have seen him ranked as a Top 100 Teacher by Golf Magazine, a Top 50 International Teacher by Golf Digest, and a Top 25 Teacher by Golf Tips Magazine.


As with any level of player the ability to hit wedges solid, online, and control the distance is paramount to lower scores. It can help you when you hit the ball into trouble on par fours and you pitch out, on par 5s when you lay up, and to take advantage of a good drive when you have that perfect yardage as well.

Sadly, I believe that this and fairway bunkers are the most under-practiced aspects in all of golf, so in this article, I’d like to help you become better with your wedge shots.

In my opinion, there are three wedge keys at the BASIC level…

  1. The pivot: How you twist and turn
  2. The low point: Where the club hits the ground
  3. Your face to path: Controlling the ball

Now, before you say anything, of course, you need to control the distance you hit the ball and your trajectory as well, but if you cannot at least “hit” the shot then you cannot control the other two I just listed.

In another article (after you master this one) we’ll cover how to better control your distances and your trajectory.

The pivot

The pivot is simply defined as how your body twists and turns during the swing and how you displace weight. Your pivot controls things like rhythm, balance, a steady head, and influences your low point etc.
When hitting wedges the weight should stay mostly centered within your feet (as shown below) and on the inside of your rear foot. If the weight moves side to side too much while hitting these type of shots you will tend to hit the ball unsolid.

Some players tend to put more weight on their forward foot and leave it there during the wedge shots while others tend to keep it more like their full-swing. Personally, I like the idea of a touch more weight forward but as long as you can control where you impact the ground then you are fine.

In order to understand and feel the pivot, cross your arms and turn your shoulders to the “top” of your backswing while keeping the weight on the inside of you rear foot. Now reverse the process into your “finish” position keeping the weight on the inside of your forward foot.

As you move back and forth everything should work together- back and through- so the club, arms and hands, sternum, and zipper all reach the top, impact, and the finish together. The reason why you pivot in this way is to reduce hand action. The better the pivot the less you will rely on your arms and hands to drive the club thus making your low point and release point more reliable under pressure.

And remember the less hand action you have the easier it will be to begin the golf ball where you want. Since the pivot also controls the transition of the club, if you have a solid and correct pivot motion, the club will always be delivered in the way it was designed to move and good shots will be the result!

Low point control

One of the most important things in order to facilitate solid wedge shots is the ability for you to control where the club impacts the ground. The club’s low point must be in front of the golf ball for all shots hit off the ground, if not, you will instantly lose power and consistency.

The easiest way to visualize your low point is to draw a line on the ground perpendicular to your target, place a ball just on the forward (target) side of the line and hit a shot. Now note where the divot begins. It should always start “on the line and forward” never behind it and this will help you to understand the importance of your low point.

Face to path

TrackMan has also shown us that curvature is mostly created when the face and path diverge thus your face to path relationship is very important when hitting wedges.

Studies have also shown that the ball begins mostly in the direction of the face and curves away from the path (with a centered hit) as shown above.

The face (at impact) is shown by the red arrow (11.8 degrees right of the target) and the path is represented by the blue line (-1.2 degrees left of the target) so the face to path relationship in the example above is 13 degrees and the ball curves to the right. Obviously, the more loft you use coupled with less clubhead speed causes the ball not to curve as much, but it still is a matter of the face to path relationship. So, the shorter the wedge shot the more important the starting direction becomes because the ball won’t have the time nor the speed to be able to curve “back” to your target.

If you want to hit your wedges as straight as possible, I would suggest you put the following image in your mind…imagine the path and the face moving in the same “down the line” direction at impact. If you diminish the amount of face to path dispersion you WILL hit the ball straighter than you ever have with the wedge. Now, obviously we know that doing what you see in this image is not the easiest thing to do nor the best way for all players to hit the ball but it’s a good visual to say the least.

Hopefully, by now you have a better idea how to control your wedge swing and its three major keys. Remember, the first idea is to learn how to “hit” the shot with some type of reliability then we’ll add in different factors as time goes on!

 

 

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: [email protected]

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Instruction

Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive

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Drop the mic on how the wrists should load and be positioned for compressive power, accuracy, and longevity! There is a better way, and this is it!

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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301

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In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.

Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.

Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.

Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”

“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”

“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”

Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?

  1. Make sure the face is clean and dry
  2. Open the blade slightly, but not too much
  3. Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
  4. Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

Make sure the face is clean and dry

If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.

Open the blade slightly, but not too much

Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.

Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.

My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.

Opened slightly

Opened too much

One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.

Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack

As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.

So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.

Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!

Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going

The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.

Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.

Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!

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Instruction

An awesome drill for lag that works with the ball!

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Many lag drills have come and gone in this game because they have a hard time working when the ball is there! How many times do you hear about someone having a great practice swing and then having it all go away when the ball is there? This one is a keeper!

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