Monday, July 1, 2002
Drop 5 Strokes
Add to your arsenal of short-game shots and hit to tap-in range every time
Players struggle on less than full-wedge shots for two basic reasons. First, they lack an understanding of the correct technique and, second, they fail to practice from different distances. Understanding the correct technique begins with understanding loft. In the 1970s, the standard loft on a pitching wedge was 50 degrees. On the sand wedge, it was 56 degrees, effectively creating a six-degree gap between the two. Today’s standard for most pitching wedges is 47 to 48 degrees. The stronger pitching wedge lofts have created a larger gap between modern pitching wedges and the standard 56-degree sand wedge. My advice to players is to add a lob wedge with 60 degrees of loft and a sand wedge with 54 degrees of loft. This switch creates the desired six-degree gap among your highest-lofted clubs.
The technique to hit less than full-wedges begins with the setup. The first adjustment is to grip down on the golf club. Specifically, a player should grip down one-half inch for every 25 percent they would like to reduce the distance of their shot (measure the amount you grip down on the club from your palm, not your pinkie). The reason behind gripping down on the golf club is that it decreases clubhead speed without your having to swing the club any slower. Usually, when a golfer tries to hit the ball “soft,” he or she will decelerate and hit the shot fat. Gripping down also allows the player to stand closer to the ball while maintaining the same posture, thus making it easier to contact the ball with a descending blow.
The next adjustment the player should make is to narrow his or her stance. The percentage of stance width that should be narrowed should be equal to the percentage you wish to reduce the length of your shot. For instance, if you’re hitting a half wedge, then you should stand with half the width of your normal stance. Narrowing the stance is important because doing so facilitates a proper weight shift when shortening the backswing. Think about it this way: With a shorter swing, it takes less time to swing the club to the top. Consequently, you have less time to coil onto your back leg. The only way to complete this coil with shorter backswing lengths, yet maintain proper tempo, is to narrow the width of your stance.
Once you’ve made the setup adjustments of gripping down and narrowing the stance in proportion to the length of the desired shot, the only thing left to do is to shorten the backswing. The key to shortening the swing is to focus on the left arm. For instance, to hit a half wedge, the left arm should be halfway back, or parallel to the ground. (Same goes for quarter- and three-quarter-length shots). Since many players haven’t practiced shortened swings, they lack the awareness of where the backswing stopping point lies. Those players need to rehearse and feel these positions until they’re aware of where they are in the backswing.
Once you complete your backswing, regardless of length, there’s only one thing left to do: accelerate. The most common mistake in mid-wedge play is deceleration. Most players have too wide a stance, too much club and too long a backswing to hit their shortened wedge shots. When one or any combination of these mistakes exist, the natural reaction is to slow down, since you instinctually know you have too much club or completed too big a backswing. The typical results are fat and thin shots.
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