Whether it’s your third shot on a long par-5 or your approach on a short par-4, the full-swing wedge—be it with your gap, sand or pitching iron—is a critical play. All good players accept the short-range shot as a relatively easy opportunity to get up and down for birdies and pars, and do so with the regularity average golfers get up and down from just off the green. The reason: practice. Good players know that the full-swing wedge is a very common play and plan their practice skills accordingly. To better your full-wedge skills, keep the following 10 swing keys in mind during your next range session. You’ll soon be knocking it stiff like the best wedge players in the world.
1 Open It Up
While your driver swing and wedge swing should take the same amount of time to complete (tempo, tempo), don’t fail to understand that a wedge swing is slower and, therefore, doesn’t need a ton of lower-body action to power the club into impact. Watch any good wedge player and you’ll see him or her keep everything below the knees fairly quiet. That being said, you can’t execute a sound wedge swing without opening up your hips to your target on the downswing. So how do you open up if you’re meant to keep the lower body still? At address, gently pull the front foot back so they’re a bit open to the target. With the hips preset in this open position, all that’s left to do is power the club back and through with the arms and shoulders.
2 Hug The Ball
When hitting a full wedge, keep one thing in mind: You’re not hitting your driver or 4-iron. It’s a relatively slow swing that emphasizes control over power. Furthermore, it’s mostly an upper-body-dominated motion requiring little, if any, lower-body movement. Your setup should reflect these truths.
For starters, hug the ball at address. Your wedges are the shortest clubs in your bag, so naturally you should stand closer to the ball. Also, it’s a good idea to keep your right elbow close to your right side, which further emphasizes the need to hug the ball. Allow your arms to dangle from the shoulders and grip the club from there, with your hands just in front of your zipper. At the very least, let the lie of the wedge (the steepest of any club in the bag) dictate the placement of your hands, which naturally will be closer to your body.
3 Hinge At The Ball
If there’s one thing recreational players could do to better their wedge swings, it’d be to hit down and through, taking a nice big divot after the ball just like the pros on TV. Most amateurs tend to sweep, scoop or, worse yet, lift the ball into the air, forgetting the old golf adage You’ve got to hit down to hit up. Yes, your clubhead must descend into the ball, break the turf, then continue into the release and followthrough. While many factors go into correctly hitting down and through, one of the most important is wrist hinge. If you fail to hinge, you’ll sweep the floor. Here’s what I tell my students: hinge at the ball. By that I mean start your wrist bend as you take the club away with your left shoulder and arms working as a single unit. If you wait until the midpoint of your backswing, you may never hinge at all. Get it going immediately and you’ll have a better chance of compressing the ball as you should.
4 Keep The Club Out In Front
This is a big one. When taking away the club, never, ever let it get behind your right hip. If it does become trapped, there’s just not enough time or speed in the wedge swing to reroute the club back on plane, as there sometimes is with a long iron or driver swing. If you whip the club to the inside, it’s likely it will stay there—expect a lot of pushes, fat shots and results short and right of your target.
The key to a successful short-shot takeaway is to use your right elbow as your guide. As mentioned earlier, set up to the ball with your right elbow close to your right side—at the very least, inside your left. As you take away the club, that right elbow shouldn’t move either forward or closer to your hip, just straight back, away from the target until it naturally hinges. The key is to push the club away from the ball with your left shoulder, moving in unison with your arms. It’s an easy move that keeps the club on plane and in position to arrive at the ball on the proper path. You know you’ve done it correctly when the shaft remains in front of your body all the way to the top. If it’s not in front, it likely will be behind, and that’s not what you want.
5 Take Control
If there’s one thing for certain in golf, it’s that you rarely face the same exact shot twice in a round. The full-swing wedge shot we’re discussing here could be 100 yards, or 70, or maybe 77 yards. Furthermore, you should never find yourself adding speed, or applying the brakes, to any swing to dictate how far you hit the golf ball. Shot distance with your short clubs—for all clubs, really—is dictated by the length of your backswing, not speed or tempo. Remember, tempo is a constant in golf; backswing length isn’t. It’s, therefore, critical that you spend time and, for each wedge in your set, know how far you hit with 50%, 75% and 100% backswing lengths. There’s nothing wrong with taking notes. Make an inventory of shot distances with varying backswing lengths. For instance, I hit a 50% sand wedge 60 yards. It’s also the same distance as my 75% lob shot. See? Now I have options and, more important, I have the means to hit the golf ball the exact distance the shot requires.
6 Stay Grounded
Okay, this one’s simple: keep your feet on the ground. Sounds straightforward, but you’d be amazed by how many people actually lift their left foot on the backswing and rise up on the toe of their right on the downswing. Remember, we’re talking about the wedge swing—that smooth, controlled, relatively slow motion where accuracy reigns supreme. Instead of toe dancing, keep your feet grounded and focus on the movement of weight in your feet rather than movement of the feet themselves. Feel your weight move to the right foot on the backswing (toward the heel), evenly to the middle of each foot on the downswing, then toward the heel of the left foot postimpact. Stay grounded! Doing so will also help you hit down and through like you should. Your right foot shouldn’t lose contact with the ground until the force of your swing naturally pulls it up.
7 Let Your Head Ride
One of the major mistakes recreational players commit when hitting wedge shots is lifting the head as the club approaches impact. While lifting the head isn’t that big of a crime, the fact that it brings your left shoulder up and out is. No matter how hard you try, you can’t keep your left shoulder in position if you lift your head.
As your right shoulder swings underneath your chin, allow your head to rotate along with it. This move facilitates shifting weight to the left side, helps keep the spine angle intact and better allows the right shoulder to move toward the target. As the ball sails away, you should be able to track its flight with your right eye looking firmly down the target line.
8 Shake Hands
In golf, you shake hands like a gentleman—you don’t high-five. What this means is that postimpact, your hands remain low and securely above the target line so that you could shake hands with an imaginary person to your left. Notice when you shake hands, how your right shoulder turns under the chin and how the spine maintains its bend. Compare that to high-fiving, where the hands move from impact to above the shoulders almost immediately. This fault tends to negate weight shift and, more damaging, hinders the ability to hit down and through the ball. Keep your hands low!
9 Remember Your Rights
The most important move in the downswing is to move your right shoulder toward the target and under your chin. If you keep it behind the chin (away from the target), you’ll create either an early release or an ugly-looking scoop motion. Be careful not to simply turn your shoulders—this easily can lead to pulls. The right shoulder turns, but it turns down the target line. Guess what’s in the way? Your chin. Now you get the idea.
10 Pose For The Camera
A good finish and a good swing go hand in hand, which is why I suggest you make a few practice swings before each shot with a focus not on mechanics, but on moving your body into a comfortable finish. Make a practice swing, then pose for the camera and recall how nice the picture looked when you start the real thing. Sounds elementary, but thinking finish first can—and will—have a positive effect on your technique.
Fifty-year instruction veteran Marshall Smith teaches out of Peoria Ridge GC in northeastern Oklahoma.