Know When To Fold 'Em
Add closed and open-faced shots to your short-game arsenal
The plethora of multiple wedge offerings is fantastic. They’ve made extinct the old saying “a sand wedge is the only wedge a good player needs.” That adage came from Greg Norman, who I bet has added a lob wedge to his set since. Nevertheless, despite owning the tools for hitting any number of specific yardages from 125 yards and in, most short shots you’ll face will require something much different than a full swing from one of the two or three wedges in your bag.
Say you have a 45-yard shot to the green. They don’t make a 70-degree utility wedge for that scenario. Instead, you’ll have to choke down and make partial swings with either your pitching wedge, sand wedge, gap wedge or lob wedge. Now, throw a bunker between you and the pin. Your shot options narrow a bit. But do you make a 75-percent swing with your lob wedge or a 50-percent swing with your sand wedge? Confusing, huh? Not only are you torn between two clubs, but you’re also stuck between two swings.
What if I was to tell you that it’s possible to handle any short yardage situation from 85 yards and in with a single swing? Wouldn’t that be nice? Well, that’s certainly a reality. You can create different trajectories and distances from a single swing by simply learning to open and close the face of your sand wedge. Maybe The Shark was right; a sand wedge is the only wedge a good player really needs. The key is to control the face. Here’s how.
First Things First
Most recreational players have a difficult time with short shots when, in fact, those should be the easiest to execute. Wedge shots feature less speed with a shorter shaft and don’t require the turn, coil and weight shift as do full-swing shots. The number-one mistake amateurs make with a short shot is failing to set the club. By that I mean they rush it from the top, using way too much lower body action and creating sudden bursts of power that either destroy contact or make consistently hitting specific distances next to impossible.
The setup is key. For starters, create an open stance. The short-game swing is too short to effectively transfer weight from the rear foot to the front foot. So, preset it. Flare your front foot open and plant your weight on your left side (for right-handed golfers). Since you’re not looking for power, go ahead and pin your right elbow to your right side—this will help keep your club on plane. As for the takeaway, move the club away with your hands and maintain a steady head. Shoulder high is about as far back you’d want to take your hands.
If you can get to this position, you’re set. From here, the worst thing you can do is panic. With a short swing, many golfers feel they don’t have enough energy stored to hit the ball the desired distance. Trust me, you do. With a wedge shot, centered contact is more important than speed. So, at the top, be patient. Don’t rush the downswing. In fact, during your practice, take the club to the end of the backswing and pause. Then begin your downswing, which, like the backswing, is fueled by the arms and hands. Remember, your lower body and left side are already turned out of the way. If you’d like, focus on moving your hands along the same route they took away from the ball. Once you reach impact, fight the urge to raise the hands into a high finish. I’m sure you’ve heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: “In golf, you shake hands like a gentleman; you don’t high-five.” In other words, postimpact, extend your right hand as if you were going to shake with a person standing immediately to your left along your target line. See how your right shoulder turns underneath your chin as you do so? That’s a forgotten key that pays big dividends.
Notice how I’ve failed to mention the head. That’s done purposefully, for in a good wedge swing, the head remains back and relatively still and always remains between your two shoulders. If you’re prone to shanking your short shots, the culprit might be your head. In a shank, the club at impact is closer to the ball than it was at address. If you move your head down, your body, arms and shaft will follow. Now, the hosel is in the way. Same goes if you typically strike short shots thinly. This time, your head is moving up. Keep your head steady and allow your right shoulder to move fluidly underneath it.