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One of the most common “flaws” I see in amateur golfers is that they hit their high lofted scoring clubs – short irons and wedges – too high. This prevents consistent distance control and doesn’t do much for your accuracy, either. I spent Sunday afternoon watching the LPGA ladies play the Evian in France, and was wow’-ed by how accurate they hit their approach shots – at least those in the final few groups. But to a lady, none of them were trying to “pound” their approach shots with lots of power. All they did was knock flags down hole after hole.
This topic is inspired today by a question I received from a reader, who asked:
If I ever need a full wedge shot, it seems that the ball just balloons. I hit it further with a hold-off shot. Is this due to poor technique or the fact that the wedges are S-300s, when all my other clubs are X-flex?
Well, you hit the nail on the head when you realized that you hit the ball further with a “hold-off” shot. The fact is that we are fed a constant stream of drivel from the golf magazines, television announcers, etc. that pound us with the idea that the key is to hit it further. Well, I contend that they are completely wrong, at least when it comes to your irons, specifically your high loft scoring clubs – those from the 8-iron on down to the wedges. Please hear me out and think about this.
When you are in scoring range, it really doesn’t matter what iron you hit . . . only where you hit it. But because we are all being pounded with this distance talk, almost every golfer I meet is trying to hit their irons and wedges further than they should. Besides reducing your consistency of solid contact, a harder swing makes it more difficult to stay “ahead of the club” through impact, so the clubhead passes the hands, adding loft to the face. Even though it’s traveling faster, this launches the ball much higher and your distance consistency just isn’t there. Does that sound familiar?
But think about all those occasions when you’ve tried to “just hit it smooth” with a short iron or wedge? You will often find that you make very solid contact, the ball leaves the club on a great (re: lower) trajectory and possibly even flies longer than you expected. Well, that “easy” swing is really what your “full” swings should be like with your scoring clubs!
When you put a wedge or short iron in your hand, your singular goal is to hit the ball the very precise distance it needs to travel to get close to the flag. These four or five clubs are for accuracy and scoring – you have a whole bag full of clubs for distance. So, the real secret to a good short iron and wedge game is the ability to hit each of these clubs a certain distance reliably – every time! And a big part of that process is learning to hit the ball on the same trajectory each time with these scoring clubs. The more fluid and controlled swing you make, the easier it becomes to do just that.
Next time you go to the range or play a round of golf, try hitting “one more club” on all your approach shots. If you are 125 yards and you would normally reach for a 9-iron, pull the 8. Don’t think about distance, but focus on making a nice smooth move down and through impact, with the left side leading all the way. Because you are not trying to hit it hard, you will naturally lighten your grip, your muscles will be more relaxed, and your consistency of impact will be much improved. I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that you’ll see a lower ball flight, and much more consistent distance control.
Once you see that better shotmaking with your scoring clubs comes from this controlled shorter swing, you can re-adjust your thinking about what a “full” swing is with the scoring clubs, and you will hit many more greens with your wedges and short irons . . . and your scores will improve dramatically.
Over the past three decades or so, modern golf club technology has changed the way we play the game. Drivers are bigger, more forgiving, and launch the ball prodigious distances. Metal woods are hotter and easier to hit than ever. Irons are getting stronger and more forgiving of mis-hits. And these things called ‘hybrids’ are so easy to hit they are scary.
But all this technology has done absolutely nothing for your short range performance. And your failure to significantly lower your handicap in the face of all this technology is proof.
Here are five ways that modern technology has prevented you from getting better inside 125-150 yards from the flag:
The wonderful thing about our sets of golf clubs is we can put them together any way we want. And I suggest you start with a club of 58-61 degrees and work backward from there, building reliable distance gaps that get increasingly wider as you go away from the flag. You’ve got nothing to lose but some strokes off your handicap.
I got stuck in a place without a television Sunday, so I didn’t see the end of The Open Championship, but I really feel for Adam Scott. To be so close to your first major . . . or any win, and have your nerves fail you is frustrating and disappointing. But that’s one of the things that make golf a most fascinating game to play. You never get so good, so trained, that all those little “demons” in your head can’t mess it up.
It happens to all of us, at every skill level. We never quite get that driving range swing to the course with complete authority. On the range, it’s only about the swing and the ball. No penalty for a bad shot, or reward for a good one. But on the course, we introduce all kinds of new outside influences. Trouble catches our eye and attention and we begin thinking what “not” to do, instead of only focusing on what “to” do like on the range. Every swing is influenced by the one before, what your opponent and/or partner just did, your history on that particular hole or shot . . . the list of interference factors is practically endless.
And then you can add to that our own self-imposed penalties for failure. Losing the hole means disappointment and possibly financial loss. Hitting a bad shot means muffled chuckles from your buddies, or worse. There’s no telling how many thoughts go swirling around in your head, whether conscious or not.
My father used to tell this story about pressure. A guy decided to be a circus tight wire act. So he strung a wire across his backyard a foot off the ground. He practiced day and night, first just standing on the wire, then walking. He advanced to skipping, turning flips. After a few years there wasn’t anything he couldn’t on that wire, so he went to the circus an applied for a job. The boss sent him up on the platform to show his stuff, and when he got there . . . and looked down . . . he couldn’t take the first step out onto the wire. That, my boy, he’d say . . . is pressure.
The point of this is that you just have to be there and be there often to learn to handle it. And sometimes you’ll fall victim anyway. Every great that ever was had a collapse sometime in their career. Most more than one.
Learning the swing and the shots is just one part of this fascinating, confounding game we love. The other part is learning how to silence all the inner demons that get in the way of performing our best.
I’d like to ask all of you to chime in with your own stories about pressure and your favorite ways to deal with it, OK?
Sound off, guys (and ladies, if we have any here).
As you know, I’m consistently writing about using your head and short range skills to play golf, rather than always relying on seeing how far you can hit it off the tee. Any golfer can learn to hit accurate short range shots. Solid shots from inside 100-130 yards are within anyone’s grasp, but few will ever learn how to hit massive drives in the fairway. Playing courses smart, leaving yourself quality scoring shots from the fairway, makes this game much, much easier to master. So does Zach Johnson read “The Wedge Guy”?
In this morning’s golf news I read a short story on Zach’s good first day at Royal Lytham yesterday. I really like the way Zach plays golf, relying on his skills and accuracy to take golf courses apart. He has to, because he’s 158th in driving distance. By the way, world #1 Luke Donald is even further back at 183rd.
The story pointed out that he seemed to be applying his strategy from the 2007 Masters, where he decided going in that he wasn’t going to try to hit any of the par 5 holes in two, rather choosing to lay up to wedge range and taking his chances at birdies from there. The result of his tactic? He played the par fives better than anyone in the field and on that Sunday afternoon was wearing the famed green jacket.
Back to yesterday at The Open Championship (we Americans are the only ones who seem to call it the “British Open”), Zach opened with a 65. What the story in Golf World’s online edition pointed out is that he chose to lay up on the short 336-yard 16th hole, while playing companions Ernie Els and Darren Clarke tried to drive the green. Zach then hits a wedge to three feet and makes birdie. That kind of smart play might just get him a Claret Jug to go along with his green jacket.
What I can find are two statistics that I think are rather meaningful. On par-5 scoring average, the tour leader is Bubba Watson at 4.46 strokes. But in third place is Zach Johnson at 4.53. In other words, he gives up almost nothing in scoring on par fives to a guy that is on average outdriving him by 35 yards!
I’m just sayin’ . . . .
On Friday I describe the elements of what most golfers are talking about when the subject of “feel” is brought up. The sensation of impact . . . the feeling in your hands of the ball coming off the clubhead . . . is what most golfers are thinking about when they are asked how a club feels. But there’s a much more important aspect of feel that no one really talks about at all. It’s the overall feel and balance of the club in your hands, and a property called “motion feedback.”
In a golf club, what “motion feedback” means is the sensory feedback to your nervous system when the club is put into motion. In other words, the quality of input you have as to exactly what the clubhead is doing – how fast its moving, how far back you took it, the path of the motion of the clubhead, the face angle that is resulting, etc.
When you are over a short pitch, chip or any putt, you make practice strokes to “rehearse” the swing or stroke you envision making to execute the shot you are planning. You feel the club going back and through at a given pace and path that will produce the results you have in mind for this particular shot. And they are all different. The club’s qualities that allow you to really feel those practice swings or strokes with the intent of reproducing it for the shot are crucial to your short range performance.
So, what makes for improved motion feedback qualities in a golf club? First is the overall weight of the club. Generally speaking, an increase in overall weight will increase the quantity of motion feedback, but that needs to be tempered to each golfer. If some of your clubs are dramatically different from the others, you will have inconsistent feel in this area, and it will be difficult for you to develop consistent touch.
The second factor is the swingweight of the golf club. Historically, wedges and putters have heavier swingweights than the irons and woods, because they are used at slower swing speeds and more often with partial shots that require improved motion feedback to the hands to gauge those shots. Scoring clubs that are too light overall, or too light in the head, will compromise your experience measurably.
The final element in the equation are the shaft’s physical qualities. A softer shaft will flex more when put into motion than a stiffer shaft. But in the scoring clubs, that softness needs to be in the upper section of the shaft as opposed to the lower section, so that full-swing trajectories are not adversely affected. The shaft flex in the scoring clubs is not talked about by many, but I’ve always been a huge believer that it is critical to a good fit. And it’s not just about swing speed. A golfer with slower swing speed, but quicker short game tempo might need a little firmer shaft than a stronger player with a very slow tempo. Only trial and error will tell you what feels best.
The other side of the shaft equation is the material of the shaft itself. I’m a fan of graphite shafts in wedges, simply because carbon fiber has improved transmission properties than tubular steel. If you get the weight right, a good quality carbon fiber shaft is amazing. We’ve been out on the Champions Tour with SCOR clubs a few times this year, and even some of these guys are opting for our new GENIUS 9 graphite shaft in their wedges because of the improved motion feedback.
So, there you have the other half of the “feel” equation. Give that attention next time you are choosing scoring clubs and you’ll see immediate improvement in your short range performance.
The Wedge Guy, Terry Koehler talks all things golf in this exclusive one-on-one interview and shares his opinions on:
One of the most elusive qualities of a golf club is what we call “feel”. That’s because everyone has a different idea of just what “feel” is, and what feels best to them and it can’t be measured or quantified. In my discussions with golfers, I find that most relate “feel” to the sensation of impact, and that typically leads to the old forged vs. cast discussion.
But when we talk about the sensation of impact, there are many variables involved, not to mention the individual differences between golfers. So let’s dissect this first part of the feel equation down to its basics, and focus on irons and wedges only for this discussion:
Clubhead material: This ranges from very hard stainless steels to soft carbon steels primarily. Generally speaking, the carbon steels offer an improved feel of impact, all other variables being equal. That said, however, there are some stainless steels used in putters that are so soft they are not functional in irons or wedges, as you couldn’t hold loft and lie angles through impact force.
Fabrication method: This is where we get to the cast vs. forged discussion, of which I’ve written about many times. Yes, it is agreed that the process has an effect on the sensation, but this is likely one of the least important factors, in my opinion. Remember, Jell-O is always cast!
Head design: Very simple. The amount of mass directly behind the impact point, where the ball was struck, has a huge influence on the sensation that is delivered through the shaft and to your hands. Thicker mass, as typically found in blades, delivers a more “solid” sensation than thinner mass. For a simple example of this, drive a large nail into a board with a hammer, hitting the nail alternatively with the end of the hammer and the side of the hammer. You will notice a different sensation of impact based on the distribution of mass in relation to the impact point.
Shaft material and flex: This is a very important element of the sensation of impact you will experience. Graphite deadens vibration better than steel, and standard weight steel will deaden more than light steel. Softer flexes generally provide a “softer” feel than firmer flexes in any given shaft.
The grip: There are hundreds of variables in this piece of the puzzle alone, and changing grips can make a significant impact on what you feel from impact.
Tricks and techniques: Clubbuilders have many little “secrets” they can use to alter the sensation of impact and mitigate vibration. Wood dowels or corks have been inserted into the shaft tip for decades. We’ve seen inserts into the shaft below or under the grip. Many clubhead designs use plastic or other material appliqués on the back of the face to deaden vibration at the source. Remove those and you’ll see dramatic changes in your feedback.
The whole enchilada: That’s a South Texas saying, but the final “feel” sensation that you experience from any golf club is the way all these elements come together. A hard stainless head with a thick face, graphite shaft and soft grip might well deliver a softer sensation of impact than a forged head with stiff light steel shaft and hard grip material. As always, the key is to hit clubs until you find the ones that deliver the feel you are seeking.
Next Tuesday: The “other” feel that no one is talking about.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you probably have taken advantage of modern technology and are hitting the ball much further than ever. In my own estimation, looking back at a lifetime of golf from the “other side of 60” now, I’m hitting my driver 20-30 yard longer than I hit the old persimmon driver in my 30s. Well, I’ll tell you something, it’s not because I’m stronger now, that’s for sure. It’s all about the ball and the driver technology.
When I was younger, I played a local municipal course that was a nice layout. Being a scratch player of reasonable length, my typical approach shots were in the 5-8 iron range on most holes, with a few longer ones and a few shorter ones. Now, on that same course, those 5-iron holes have become 9-iron shots, and the wedge lofts get a thorough workout. And I still play Reid Lockhart blade irons with traditional lofts, so I actually hit them a little shorter than I did back then. The difference is all in the driver and ball.
I’m sure the same has happened to all of you, but is being that much closer to the green lowered your handicap significantly? According to the industry statistics . . . NO. Not at all. So why not?
You’re hitting approach shots with less club than ever before – which is the whole idea behind trying to hit it further off the tee, right? But you are not scoring better. Why not?
Well, my answer is that while technology has totally changed how far you hit your driver, fairways, hybrids and irons, it has also given you fewer true scoring clubs by jacking up the lofts. The wedges you are playing look and play just like those you had in your bag 20-30 years ago (in what other category could that fly?). And you probably have not done a careful review of your wedge lofts in years, still playing the same lofts you did 2-3 sets of irons ago, even though your new “P-club” is a stronger club than your old 9-iron or even 8-iron used to be.
I was amazed to read that this week’s winner, Ted Potter, Jr. carries only wedges of 54 and 60 degrees of loft, but selected a 9-iron for his 164 yard approach on 18. So, that would lead me to believe he can hit 6-iron about 200. So, he at least 6 clubs that go over 200 and only 3 that go less than 165. That’s just crazy and totally illogical. Yes, he won, but that just makes no sense. Inside prime scoring range, he has to continuously manufacture shots to get close to the hole. Readers, that just cannot work with consistency.
Forget the notion of carrying “4-5 wedges”. Think of it as having the right selection of clubs available so that you can dial in shots of any distance by making the same swing, and only varying your hand position on the grip and maybe the face angle slightly. You can’t get there if you have 20-25 yard gaps between your scoring range clubs. If “the other guy” would have had the confidence in his wedge play that a tour player should, he would have laid back on the second play-off hole, given himself a clean fairway wedge shot, and known that he could stick it close to the hole and make Potter look at that while he was facing that little pitch. The outcome might have been totally different.
My whole point is that technology has compressed your clubs to the long distances, and left you fewer options when you are in scoring range.
You should really fix that.
You guys had lots to say in response to Tuesday’s post, so thank you for chiming in. That makes this blog more fun to write and more fun for all to read I’m certain.
Today I’m going to address the question that Anti-Mulligan asked about learning to hit wedges close to the hole. Developing the ability to hit accurate scoring shots– and dial in your distance within 2-3 yards most of the time – will make anyone’s scoring much better in a hurry. And I call the ‘scoring shots’ all those made with your clubs over 40* of loft, which will include your 9-iron. I see three very common errors in golfers in this part of their game, so see if any of these might describe you, A-M:
And the BONUS tip? P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E. You have to spend time on the range perfecting your scoring club technique. You have to hit hundreds . . . no, thousands . . . of shots with your scoring clubs to get good with them. And don’t just mindlessly pound balls into oblivion. Pick targets . . . different targets . . . and hit shots to them. Build little groupings of golf balls at various distances. This is the precise part of the game, and you’ll get out of it what you put into it.
One final note on getting great with your scoring clubs. If it’s important to you that you can hit a pitching wedge over about 125-130, then you’ll not likely ever get that good with these short clubs.
They are not meant to be hit that hard.
In talking with golfers, I often ask questions about what is the best part of their game, and what is the worst. The answers I get are all over the place, as you might imagine. How would you answer the questions? And how confident are you that your answers are really correct?
So, while driving last evening, I got to thinking about this notion of how much would you improve if you “fixed” the worst part of your game? What kind of scores would you shoot if you could effectively address that part of the game that you think troubles you the most.
So, here’s an idea of you can find out just what the impact would be on your game if you did just that. Here are a few common answers to my question about the weakest part of “your” game, and how I would suggest you determine the real impact of that on your scoring:
You can reduce these distances a little if you think that is more reflective of your skill level. See how this second score improves over your real score and that will tell you something about hitting greens, playing to the safe side, and learning to throttle back your power until you can make those irons go where you want them to, within these allowable distance tolerances.
It’s fun to dream about how our scoring would be impacted “If only . . .” and this is a great way to find out just what that impact would be. Then that provides you the proof to know where you should be spending your investments in lessons, practice and equipment.