Saturday, July 16, 2011

How to improve your wedge game

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Hello again, fellow golfers. This week I would like to talk about your wedge game. This article will include tips on how to hit different and more accurate shots with your pitching wedge, sand wedge, gap wedge, and lob wedge. Now, not everyone carries all four of those wedges in their bag. I carry a pitching wedge, gap wedge and sand wedge in my set of clubs. They are lofted at 47 degrees, 52 degrees, and 58 degrees respectively.

Golf industry standards describe a pitching wedge’s loft at 48 degrees, a gap wedge’s at 52 degrees, sand wedge at 56 degrees, and lob wedge at 60 degrees. Although, in recent years golf companies are making their sets of irons with less loft than these previously stated standard lofts. In most 3-PW iron sets the pitching wedge will be lofted at 46 or 47 degrees. This is important to find out because the pitching wedge is the start to how you determine what wedges you should get to complete your set of clubs. You want to have the same amount of gaps in loft between each of your clubs. This way you will decrease the chances of finding yourself between clubs.

I used to only play with a pitching wedge, sand wedge, and lob wedge but I kept finding myself with 105 yards to 115 yards left into a lot of par-4 holes that I played. That distance is too far for my sand wedge and I would have to take a real small swing if I used my pitching wedge which would cause me to not be very accurate.

So I made the decision to carry a 52-degree wedge and change the loft on my lob wedge from 60 degrees to 58 degrees. I dropped the 56-degree wedge out of my bag and it allowed be to carry a 2-hybrid which I had always wanted to do. You can decide which clubs and lofts are right for you by analyzing your own game and finding out what frequent situations you find yourself in on the course. Generally a low handicap player will have three or four of these wedges and a higher handicap player will just carry a pitching wedge and a sand wedge.

The next characteristic of wedges that I want to discuss is the bounce of a wedge. The bounce angle is the measurement in degrees of the angle from the front edge of a club's sole to the point that actually rests on the ground at address. The middle or rear of many soles is lower than the front edge. More bounce will keep the club from digging too deeply into turf or sand.

The amount of bounce needed depends on conditions. If you play courses with soft, fluffy sand, you'll need more bounce. If the courses you play typically have harder sand, you'll need less bounce. The type of swing can influence the amount of bounce needed too. Players who swing their wedges steeply into impact need more bounce. Players who sweep through and undercut need less bounce. When a golf company develops a line of wedges, they normally offer each wedge in three different bounce options (low, mid, or high) so that you can purchase the bounce option you prefer the most.

For the weekend golfer, bounce is not something that you should worry about too much. I normally recommend the mid bounce angle option to amateurs, but if they want to know the best bounce option for Rio Hondo I would say to go with the low bounce due to our firm fairway conditions most of the year.

So now that we have an idea on how to set up your scoring system of wedges, we need to learn how to hit some creative shots around the greens. The one everyone loves to try but rarely executes would be the flop shot. Everyone sees pros like Phil Mickelson hit these towering wedge shots in the air that only go a few yards onto the green. A good situation to try this shot is when you have a putting green that slopes away from you and towards the flagstick and a lie that is a little on the fluffy side to make it easier for the club to slide under the ball. You need to get a shot to land on the green with little speed so that it doesn’t race down the slope and too far past the pin. You will want to hit this shot with the most lofted club in your bag. Next, open the clubface while the club rest on the ground then take your grip. This helps keep the face open during your swing. Now your set up is going to be similar to a bunker shot. Aim your feet left of the target so that the open clubface points where you want the ball to land. Swing the club out along your feet line with an early hinge of the wrists. Your swing will need to be a little longer to get the ball the correct distance. The length of the swing will be something you have to learn through practice and repetition. As you swing through you should keep your wrists and hands from rolling over as that would close the clubface and not allow you to launch the ball high. Think of it as you want to keep the clubface pointed to the sky well after contact with the ball. If it all works you will launch the ball high in the air, land soft, and stop on a dime or roll down the slope to the hole.

Another cool short game shot is the one hop and stop, or spinner wedge shot. As the name kind of gives away, this a shot that bounces once or twice on the green then puts on the brakes due to a large amount of spin on the small. You can hit this shot from a few yards off the green, or out to as far as 75 yards. The key to this shot is bringing the ball in a lower trajectory and taking a little of the guesswork out of how far you need to fly the ball into the green.

To hit this, you need to do a half or three-quarter swing instead of a full swing and try to hit the golf ball first and not so much grass. Put the ball in the center of your stance or just slightly back. When you do a half-swing on a wedge, you will get a lower trajectory and won’t spin out of control, but will simply hop once and stop. If you still find yourself wanting to get a bit lower trajectory, you can play around by putting the golf ball slightly back in your stance and moving your weight slightly over to the left in your setup.

Also, you don’t hit this shot hard. You want soft hands and a lazy rhythm. It’s a touch shot. If you force it, your ball will shoot up in the air and you won’t get the same stop and hop effect. I believe anyone can hit this shot with a clean wedge, soft ball, and a half swing provided the ball is hit squarely on the center of the clubface.

Your wedge shots set up your putts for birdies and pars, so I hope everyone takes a good chunk of their practice time to work on their wedge shots. Try some of these tips and I’m sure you will be getting the ball closer to the hole in no time.

Until next time, keep it in the short grass.

Greg Lake is a PGA Apprentice at Rio Hondo Golf Course and a former Warren golf MVP. For lessons from Lake, contact the Rio Hondo Golf Course pro shop.

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