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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 201



In the previous article of Short Game University, we discussed how to hit a basic wedge shot covering three very important fundamentals

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

I promised you in the next article we’d discuss the second steps of how to hit wedges, which involves controlling your distances and how to control your trajectory. We’ll assume that you have the first part down and you can hit solid, straight, consistent wedges so now it’s time to move on. But if you cannot hit the ball solid each time then you will find that the next two items will be much harder to master. Lastly, we’ll also assume for the sake of our article that each time you hit a wedge shot, the face is clean, dry, and the grooves are not filled with hardened dirt or sand.

How to hit wedges 201

Controlling your distance

Obviously, after hitting the ball solidly and online, the next factor is to hit the ball the distance you want it to go. Now, remember we are focused on carry distance when it comes to wedges, not the total distance. The only thing you can control is how far it goes — what it does when it hits the ground can only be estimated at best.

There are many techniques for controlling the distance that have been discussed and written about, but I’d like to focus on what I’ve found to be the easiest for people to adopt with very little practice — I’m not saying it’s the only way or the best way — but it’s the quickest.

1. Adopt 3 swing stages

The last thing we want to do when it comes to controlling distance is change our swing. That is much harder to do than simply altering our backswing length. I simply suggest three positions for you to “remember,” and from there you will see the ball traveling different distances.

The first position is when the club shaft is belt-high in the backswing, the second is when the forward arm is parallel to the ground in the backswing, and the final is when the hands are shoulder-high at the top.

These three positions will give you stopping points to focus on, thus altering your backswing length and overall distance production. Don’t forget you can use any club to do this, and sometimes club distances can overlap.

2. Using the same tempo and swinging shorter to longer

Now that we have identified the three swing length stages, the hard part is making sure you use these backswing lengths all with the same tempo. It does no good if you take it back to chest high but then swing down at Mach 1. The only way this is going to take distance off the ball is if you move back and through at the same tempo regardless of the backswing length used. Remember, our goal is to make the same swing each time so that we can produce the same distances consistently from each position!

Now that we have found our three positions, swung with the same tempo, the final key for distance control in this example is to make sure you are swinging “shorter to longer” meaning you always move into a full-finish for each of these positions. We never want you to cut off your finish or slow down through impact because these factors will cause you to hit the ball unsolid, not be able to control your distances, and will bring into play the potential for the super-fat shot that only goes 15 yards — which stinks!

Controlling your trajectory

On the professional side, they have no problem hitting the ball solidly or controlling their swings producing different distances, but they can also do this using any trajectory they want. Think about a back pin into the wind- a low, driving shot is better. What about a tucked pin over a bunker to a narrow green, a high shot is the only way.
So how do you simply go about changing your trajectory? Most people would answer put the ball closer to your front foot to hit the ball higher and closer to your back foot to hit the ball lower. And they would be right, except for one thing…

Most people fail to understand what this is actually trying to accomplish: altering your dynamic loft at impact.

Let’s take for example a 56-degree sand wedge, the static loft is 56. But when you put the ball back in your stance and lean the shaft forward trying to hit the ball lower it is reduced to 54 degrees (or whatever.) When you put the ball forward in your stance and hit the ball higher the shaft “backs up” (very slightly) and the dynamic loft could be increased a touch and the ball goes higher. Now obviously there are other factors that can play into trajectory control, but this oversimplified example is basically all you need to know at this point.

The best way to control dynamic loft is to practice hitting slow-motion shots from 50-yard shots (using your normal ball position) higher and lower, and you will feel how you have to manipulate the shaft in order to do so. If you want to become a great wedge player, then you must understand how to control your distances and trajectories.

So, how do we put this together?

The easiest way to put this all into motion is to start with a distance of 30 yards, lay out towels at 25, 30, and 35 yards. You would begin with the club and swing length that you would use to hit the ball this distance (30 yards) normally. Next with the ball in your normal wedge position try to hit the ball higher and lower to the same 30 yard distance marker. If you can do so, then you have now learned how to control your dynamic loft!

Next, see what it takes to do the same thing (low, normal, and high shots) to the shorter distance and next to the longer distance towel. Did you alter your tempo or move the ball around in order to do so? How did you feel it?

Once you have figured out this, you now have a better feeling of what you need to do in order to hit wedges different distances and with different trajectories. From there, you can expand this drill to cover shots from 30 yards all the way up to a full wedge swing. I will promise you that if you work on your wedges in this way, you will lower your handicap and become a much better player than ever before!


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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico ( 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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Clement: This wrist position can add 30 yards to your drive



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



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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An awesome drill for lag that works with the ball!



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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