Monday, October 5, 2015

Control the Handle to be a Great Wedge Player

The most needed skill in most junior and college female players is good wedge play.  It seems odd that the easiest club to control would be the last one mastered, but if you understand the golf swing, it makes perfect sense.

Young players learn to create speed with lag and release, but generally lack the strength to control the release point.  They rely on timing to hit good shots.  As they mature and gain strength and technique, they become better at controlling the release point, but still fail to control the entire club through all shots.  They learn to hit good shots by controlling the club head, which makes perfect sense, but to become a master of the wedge, you also need to control the handle of the club.  If you understand what your handle is doing and how that controls the shaft and the club head, you can create any shot you need to score.  

Here is a quick video that introduces the idea of swinging the handle of the club from Eddie Merrins, a great instructor of the game.  He uses the visual of controlling a tennis racket to relate the move you need.

The first time I learned to truly control my wedges was after a PGA short game clinic I attended in Houston.  Those were the days when they would host these small, regional clinics and I went to all I could.  This one was taught by Dick Harmon, Butch Harmon and Phil Rodgers.  What a great opportunity to learn from the best!  I walked away with clear understanding of how to use my club as a tool for the first time.  Dick taught me how to use the shaft lean to control trajectory.  Phil taught me to use the bounce of the club.  Butch taught me to use both of these skills in the bunker.  In turn, I pass along these lessons to young players who have the same aha moment I had back then.

Dick started out by telling us that to be great around the green, you need to be able to deliver the club with control of your hands and the handle of the club.  He gave me the challenge of hitting great wedge shots with only my right hand on the club.  If you hit wedges by controlling only the club head and timing its release, you will be one-dimensional and have just one shot.  If you learn to control the handle, you can lean the shaft and hit low shots or tip the shaft back and hit high, soft shots.  By hitting with only your right hand on the club, you get instant feedback if you have an early release.  You will hit behind the ball and will feel the scoop.  When you start to get the feel of swinging with only the right hand, you will begin to feel how momentum controls your wedges.  Your swing will get a bit bigger to create the same speed you had previously by throwing the club at the ball by releasing your right hand.

Here is a video with a little drill to help you with that feel.  It is by Shawn Clement, a Canadian teaching pro.  He gives props to Eddie Merrins as he explains the drill.

Now, move past the drill and into the shoes of a good player through Butch Harmon's instruction.  He wants you to get your hands past the ball.  He doesn't want scoopy and he doesn't want you to drag the club.

One thing Dick taught in conjunction with controlling the handle was to have a shallow approach.  He had me hit wedges as though I was hitting low hooks.  This went against what I had learned in my PGA training, but after studying tour players as much as I could after leaving the clinic, I realized that this is how they all hit their wedges.  Shallow swings create spin and a missed shot will be a bit thin.  Steep swings don't spin and create fat shots when missed.  Fat shots won't earn any money on tour.

Here is a nice video of Steve Stricker talking through a chip shot.  What I want you to notice here is the width of this chip shot.  By width, I mean the distance that his hands or the handle travel back and through the shot.  He is shallow and wide, which means that his handle moves through the shot.

When you get good at hitting the stock pitch shot and you are in control of your handle and therefor the speed of your swing, you can now start to work on variations.  These will happen by opening the face of the club, changing the ball position in your stance and changing clubs.  All of these factors will control what your club does at impact.  If you need to hit a high, soft shot, you can move the ball forward and open the club face.  By moving the ball forward, the shaft will be more up and down instead of leaned forward at impact.  Your hands will still lead the club through.  You don't have to throw the club head to hit it high.  If you want to hit a low shot that spins, move the ball back in your stance and have a wide take away so you stay shallow to create spin.  You can make the same basic swing in both shots and control most of what you want the club to do through your setup.  Here is a fun video of Lee Trevino teaching the same thing.  He obviously watched the same video that we just did of Steve Striker.  

Your first goal to become a great short game and wedge player is to get control of the handle of your club and learn to swing it back and through your shots with width.  Good luck and get to work!  I'll end with some video of a bunch of good players hitting pitches and chips.  You can watch all of them and see that they are in full control of their entire club, not just tossing the club head at the ball.  This will give you some great visualization to get started.  Thanks to RollYourRock for providing so many great short game videos!

Here is Graeme McDowell hitting a nice pitch off a tight lie.

Here is Tiger doing the right hand only pitching drill mentioned above.

Henrik Stenson controls a shot with his set up and speed.

Another of a pro, Martin Kaymer, working on controlling his club with his right hand only.

And another shot of Martin practicing a 50 yard pitch.  Once again, notice the width his hands and the handle move back and through the swing.  His wrists are very quiet.  He allows the loft of the club to work by returning the club to the ball with the same loft as set up as Lee Trevino talks about above.  Beautiful pitching motion.  

Here is a great shot of Dufner hitting the low spinner.  Notice, to hit the low shot, he moves the ball back to his right foot at set up.  However, to get the spin, he keeps the swing wide and shallow.  He has great control of the handle through the shot and you can really see it in the slow motion video.  Learn from the best in the world!

If you have access to a Trackman, this will help you see your numbers and relate them to hitting low, spinning wedges.  Chuck Cook has always been a leader in instruction and I love that he evolved his teaching with technology every step of the way.

If you have time, also go to youtube and check out Secret in the Dirt's lessons with Phil Rodgers.  Those are also some great illustrations of how to teach and learn great wedge play.  Enjoy!

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