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The Wedge Guy: Re-think mid-range wedge shots

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For over 30 years, I have been almost myopically focused on scoring range performance, from the design of wedges to the study of techniques of golfers of all skill levels. I’ve had the good fortune of having reviewed over 50,000 golfers’ wedge-fitting profiles, and countless one-on-one conversations with every-day golfers to tour professionals and teaching pros alike. And I try to continually learn from all those encounters.

From my observations of most recreational golfers and their scoring range performance, the vast majority of players seem to routinely and almost automatically reach for their highest-lofted wedge when they have a less-than-full shot into the green. By that I mean any shot from just under full-swing yardage to greenside chips and short pitches.

I also believe that tendency or habit is costing many golfers in their scoring range success rate. Let me share some insight with you that you can use to improve some of your “red zone” shotmaking.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that shared why wedge “mastery” is so elusive for the recreational golfer, regardless of his or her skill level. You can read that article HERE. The key element to that elusive mastery of shot making with wedges is that the high degree of loft makes all wedge shots somewhat of a glancing blow to the ball, when you compare it to the impact with a 7-iron, let’s say, or even a driver. Those lower lofted clubs deliver a more direct blow to the ball.

In our most recent robotic and live golfer testing of wedge shots at intermediate ranges, we often saw a higher spin rate achieved with a lower lofted wedge . . . say a 54 rather than a 58 or 60. The reason for that is that impact is more direct, and more of the mass of the clubhead is above the strike point on the face. That improves “gear effect”, which is a basic principle of golf clubhead design.

Rather than get into anything super-technical, however, I will share my own experience gained as we have tested and measured the Edison Forged and other wedges in all kinds of shot-making scenarios. At 40-70 yards, as you would expect, shots hit with the 53 to 56 loft range would almost always deliver a lower trajectory than shots with 58 to 61 degree loft wedges. But you are likely surprised that the lower lofts consistently delivered as much or more spin and a tighter long-short dispersion variance.
In my own play, that research has inspired me to hit more of those mid-range shots with my 53 than with my 57, and the results are much more consistent. I still like the 57 for shots around the greens when I need that bit of extra loft, but I also reach for that 53 and even my 49 or 45 when the shot doesn’t call for a high ball flight because there is very little green to work with.

Another area where the lower lofted wedge is to your advantage is when the ball is sitting up in the rough. With the higher lofted wedge, you are much more likely to make impact high on the face, which greatly reduces the smash factor and therefore, how far the shot can travel. If you simply “loft down” one or two clubs – my bet is that you will dramatically improve your performance with these shots.

I encourage all of you to turn yourselves into “mad scientists” as well, and experiment with hitting those mid-range wedge shots with the next lower loft than you might ordinarily turn to. My bet is that you will quickly see your distance control improve, and you’ll be pleased with the launch angles and spin you still get.

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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.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Richard Douglas

    Aug 22, 2021 at 12:24 am

    All other things being equal, my ranges for partial wedges are:

    115-65: SW
    65 and in: LW

    But now I’m going to experiment more with the GW from those distances to see the difference.

  2. Wedgy

    Aug 21, 2021 at 12:38 am

    Also it’s a really good reminder to do a clock-swing chart, even if you generally are a “one-wedge” player.

    Not sure what that is?

    Find your comfortable, repeatable partial swings. Same tempo. Take a few shots with all your wedges, and maybe even your 9-iron, and note the average distance. Do that with either 2 or 3 partial swing tempo/lengths, as well as a full shot. Suddenly you’ll have a chart of a dozen numbers in that middle range. It removes a lot of doubt from what should be an easy shot, but often is not.

  3. ChipNRun

    Aug 18, 2021 at 8:09 pm

    Article triggers “back to the future shots.” Like most Boomers, I was hitting greenside cut shots with a sand wedge for 15 years before the LW actually emerged.

    Today, I have a 48-54-58 mix. The 58* is good for up to half swings – and some days three-quarter – provided I have a fairly smooth lie. This means maybe 3 inches deep and I need a quick up… I’m relying a much on descent angle as spin.

    If it’s a shaggy, uneven lie the best club is the 54*. As Terry suggested, I just get a more solid hit from the lesser loft.

    Another rule: If the wedge shot is uphill, I look to adjust the 48* to the shot. From 50 yards out and uphill, I’ve had too many 58* shots barely make the fringe and set up a 30-foot putt.

  4. Epic Golfer

    Aug 18, 2021 at 4:47 pm

    Great article and advice.

  5. Austin Moorw

    Aug 18, 2021 at 12:19 pm

    What kind of wedge is that

    • Robert

      Aug 18, 2021 at 4:34 pm

      I am guessing it is an Edison – based on his bio. If not, it might be an Edel wedge.

  6. Benny

    Aug 18, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    sooooooooooooooooo well said and stated. one of my buds is a +4 and he ONLY thinks about trajectory over anything else on wedge shots. What trajectory is needed here with the space I have? then if a lot of space is given its use the easiest shot needed of his 3 wedges (pw, gap, lob)

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Instruction

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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Instruction

The Wedge Guy: Building a repeating setup (Part 3)

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I hope I’ve had you thinking more about your own setup and routine for getting into it for each shot. Today I’m wrapping up this subject about getting consistency that can translate to more consistent impact and results.

As I discussed in the first article in this series, the higher handicap you play to, the more likely you are to be inconsistent in putting yourself in the proper ball position each and every time. I shared with you the results from my friend’s testing with 6-irons, but now we add to the equation that we play this crazy game with an assortment of implements, ranging from a 45-inch driver to a 35-inch sand or lob wedge. Sheesh, who figured out this maddening game? (Makes me think of Robin Williams’ bit on the origin of the game. If you haven’t heard that, Google or “YouTube Robin Williams on golf” and spend five minutes listening to the long version – it will have you rolling!)

But to wrap up, what any golfer can do to improve your golf immediately, is to learn how to set yourself up to the ball each and every time in the exact position that will let your learned swing “do its thing.” If the ball is a little closer or further away from your body — a little further back or forward in your stance  — for each shot, you’ll just never achieve any kind of consistency.

Very simply, your best golf can only happen if you build a solid and repeating setup piece by piece.

The basic idea is to put yourself in an athletic position to allow your body to function at its best – knees flexed; feet about shoulder-width apart; upper torso bent over from the hips, not the waist; slight tilt to the shoulders and left arm hanging naturally. And that position of your left hand is the key to setup consistency. I’ll get right back to it.

To build a proper setup, we need to find a point of reference, and that is going to be our golf club. Let’s do this with a 6-iron to start, as that is right in the middle of the iron set. Here are the steps to building a proper setup that you can repeat:

  1. Set the clubhead behind the with the grip just lying in the cradled fingers of your right hand. Make sure the leading edge is square to the target line, and the sole is almost flat on the ground, with the toe just up a little. The shaft should not be leaning toward or away from the target.
  2. With the grip still just lying in your right fingers, square yourself to the club while re-checking your target line visually. Begin to “adjust” yourself into position with regard to the club itself, still holding it only with the right fingers. When you are set square to the target line, the butt of the club should be pointing right about at your belt buckle.
  3. As you adjust into your golf swing stance and posture, you can allow your free-hanging left arm and hand to guide you into position. The club – still resting unmoved behind the ball – should put the upper half of the grip 4-6 inches directly behind and about even with your free-hanging left hand. If you are too far from the ball, you’ll have to move your hand considerably away from your body to get it on the club. If you are too close, the grip will be more toward your body than where your hand is hanging. [This is where everyone has their own little idiosyncrasies. For me, the correct position is one that puts the butt of the grip where I have to move my hand only an inch or so further away from my body to take my hold on the club. We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next article on the subject.]
  4. When you have your left hand in comfortable position, close the gap to bring your hand and the grip together, meeting about in the middle of that space so that your hand can comfortably take its hold on the upper half of the grip. It should be hanging naturally just about even with the inside of your left thigh, and the shaft will take on a slight backward angle toward the ball.
  5. As you place your right hand in its position on the grip, you will have “crafted” a proper set up position.
  6. Now, feel this position for a few seconds. Let your body soak this in for a moment. Get comfortable with it. If you feel a little too close to the ball, you can back away an inch or so to feel better. But you do not want to be more crowded than this at address!

Obviously, we’ve covered a lot of ground these past couple of weeks, but I can practically guarantee all of you that if you will increase your focus on your setup posture, it will immediately yield measurable results in your consistency of shotmaking and ball-striking.

Unless you shoot scores that are already too low …

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Clark: Let fairway bunkers help you learn

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Almost every new player I have ever taught has a misconception of the mechanics of hitting a golf ball into the air. They are victims trying to be intuitive when trying to hit the golf ball-and this part of the game, in fact, most of the game is counterintuitive!

That mentality has slowed more progress in learning the game than any that I know of.  The mentality which I am referring to is this: The golf ball is on the ground; I know it has to be lifted into the air. It would seem all too logical to swing UP to help the golf club launch the ball.  On the other hand, it is quite illogical to hit DOWN to get the ball up-that just makes no sense! I call this the “scoop” habit, AKA club head throwaway, early release, and probably a variety of other names.  I have met very few new players who do not fall victim to this inclination at first. And it is completely wrong,

Every one of them had to be taught the proper ballistics of impact-the golf club strikes the ball and continues downward for several inches before it begins to ascend. The scoop problem is exacerbated if it is not addressed early in one’s playing days. Once the “scoop” method is employed for even a short while, it is very difficult to change it.

There are studies that show “average” golfers (10-19 handicap) actually have a swing bottom (lowest point of the swing arc) that averages two inches behind the golf ball for all shots from the turf, whereas tour pros average is three to five inches in front of the ball (NOTE: “in front of” refers to the target side of the ball).

The only way to accomplish a swing bottom that is consistently in front of the golf ball is first be shown what is required to do it and secondly, develop a sequence that allows YOU to do it.  That is why it is essential for every golfer, when first taking up the game, or for those who are in the very early days of playing, to go no further in their learning until this concept has been internalized. This is not to say that it cannot be learned after some years of doing it incorrectly, but it is very difficult, to say the least. In fact, I spend a lot of my teaching day working around “scooping” because honestly, it is futile to try to affect any real change after 20 years or so of playing golf that way.

For parents introducing their children to golf, I cannot state strongly enough that they get the proper guidance on this issue from the very outset.

Let’s talk about a few things that might help…

After one learns to grip the club, get into a balanced posture, position the golf correctly and aim at a target, I suggest learning very short chips or pitches, perhaps no more than 20-30 yards. Learn that the hands must be positioned in front of the head of the clubhead with the shaft of the club leaning “forward” or toward the target. The palm of the rear hand (right for right-handed players) will be facing the ground, the lead wrist (left for right-handed players) will be flat and, most importantly, the right wrist will be dorsiflexed (bent slightly back) at impact.

I cannot say this next part too strongly: I would not have a junior player move on to full swings until they have fully learned this chipping/pitching position!!!

Secondly, there are a variety of teaching aids that can be quite helpful, but the oldest and I still feel the best way to learn the correct method would be to go into a fairway bunker and hit full irons until you can consistently hit the ball first and the sand after it.

Draw a line in the sand, place the golf ball on the line and do whatever it takes to hit in front of that line after having struck the ball.  What I like about this practice drill is the instant biofeedback one gets from it. Like everything else in golf there is no one way to accomplish this task. If we look at the top players, we see many different swing styles, tempos, planes, grips, backswing, etc but every single one of them will hit the golf ball first and the sand after it.

Why is the fairway bunker shot so simple for the professionals and so hard for average amateurs? Swing bottom! Becoming one’s own teacher is the most effective learning, bar none! Immediate feedback clearly accelerates learning. So if you are struggling with thin or fat shots from the ground, stop right now, find a fairway bunker, and hit balls until your hands bleed!

The first time you can feel the impact compression from a sufficiently steep attack angle, and hit ball then sand — and later, turf, of course — you will realize what a well-struck golf shot feels like! You will love the feeling and will want to repeat it, believe me!

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