Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wedge Work

Hey junior golfers, it's summer and time to build those calluses.  After watching a lot of golf this spring, my suggestion is, work on your wedges.  It's the key to your scoring.  Why?  It allows you to get it close to the hole when you're close to the green.  It allows you to recover if you have to knock it out of trouble.  In other words, when you're playing great, wedges help you score and when you're struggling, wedges help you score.  They are the great equalizers in your bag.

Frank Hartwick did this stamping on one of our player's wedges. He's an artist!  We want our players to be artists with the other side of the club, too.  

Here are the problems I see with young player's wedge games.  (This is based on many years of observation while recruiting and coaching).
  1. You swing your wedge the same way you swing your driver.
  2. You hit all of your wedges sky high.
  3. You aren't very good at controlling your distance, spin or trajectory (see #2).
If any of the three problems listed fit your game, you probably have a lot of motion and leg drive on your wedge swing.  STOP!  Think of the difference between a big league pitcher throwing a fast ball and a champion darts player.  When you hit wedges, you want to throw darts.  Here's a link to Phil Taylor, one of the best ever.  If you check it out, you'll see a quiet body with a lot more weight on his left side, a nice hinge and a release.  You'll also see him take dead aim and focus.  Now, here's a link to Jake Arrieta's form.  He's one of the best pitchers in the game today.  Here, you'll see more motion, more leg drive, more rotation, more hinge and more speed.  

Hitting the inner bullseye in darts means hitting a target 1/2" in diameter.  It takes precision.  Hitting the strike zone means hitting a space roughly 2 feet tall and 1 1/2 feet wide.  You get the idea?  That target is a lot bigger.  Hitting a wedge at the hole for a reliable shot at birdie means hitting it within a 6 feet radius.

Hitting a driver usually means hitting a fairway that is often 30-40 yards wide.  Here's a link to a shot of Jordan Spieth hitting a wedge within 6 feet in competition.  Now, check out this link to a driver swing from Jordan Spieth.  Study these two swings and you'll see big differences in length of swing, footwork, head movement and follow through.  The first swing is for precision, the second is for power.  Jordan is a lot like Phil Taylor in the wedge shot in that he puts a lot more weight left and has a quieter body.  

In order to control your golf ball, you must be in control of your entire club.  Too many juniors focus on what the club head is doing, but you need to be in complete control of the handle, the shaft, the head and the face.   Here's a link to Jason Day hitting a low wedge.  You can see that he's clearly in control of the entire club.  His finish position shows his hands lead the club head through and the face of the club looks at the sky.  He didn't allow it to release or turn over.  Here's a link to a montage of his good shots at the 2015 provided by the same youtube channel (1 Step to Better Golf).  Again, you will see many different lengths of swing, many different speeds and differing control of the shaft through the shot.  It's a clinic!

When I watch most junior golfers, I don't see much difference in their wedge swings, which means they aren't able to control their swing speed, swing length or club through the shot.  These are all skills that are needed to be able to hit any shot in golf, not just wedges.  The best in the world hit very few short irons or wedges using a full swing and full effort.  If you want some inspiration, check out this link to a great montage of Jordan's shots at the 2015 RBC.  He hits a lot of wedges and you'll see many different lengths of swings, different ball positions and great club control.  This allows him to control the trajectory, distance and spin of each shot.  

So, what to do with your time?  Here's a practice regime you can do as often as you can.  Remember, blisters can be covered with tape!  Great players have calluses for a reason; they work hard until they get it and then they work hard to keep it.

Daily Wedges:
9 Ball Game - Use only 9 balls for this drill.  If possible, use a practice green to judge ball's reaction and spin.  Goal:  Hit 3 balls high, 3 balls medium and 3 balls low.  Each shot is worth 2 points. You get a point if you match your shot with the desired trajectory and a second point if the ball ends up within a flagstick of the hole.  Perfect score:  18.  Pro score:  15+  Top Am:  12-14  Top Junior 10-12.

Do this with each wedge in your bag and choose a different yardage each time.  Work from short swings to just short of a full swing with each wedge.  Sometimes on the course, you can hit low spinners to get close to the hole and sometimes you need to use high trajectory to get close.  You need all shots to be a complete player.

The 9 Ball Game will make you a better player.  You can track how you do and go back to yardages that weren't very good and figure out how to make them better.  When you consistently get to 13 or 14 from a distance, start adding variables such as uneven lies, rough and elevated greens.  When you learn to control your golf ball from anywhere, you will have a competitive advantage.  

You might be tempted to dump a bigger pile of balls instead of using just nine.  Fewer balls increase your focus.  Picking them up right after hitting them gives you good feedback.   Fixing 9 ball marks is a lot easier than 40.  You will tend to move to new yardages and hit different wedges if you use small sets.  More is not always better in golf.  Learn to control your ball with any wedge from any distance.  The way to do that is to keep your sets small, pay attention and work, work, work.

If it's raining outside, here's some homework you can do.  Watch the youtube series from Titleist called Exploring the Short Game.  Here's a link. You get to hear how the best in the world hit shots around the green with their wedges.  It's a great tutorial.  Notice the lengths of their swings!  You can also check out some of the Trackman videos that outline ways to control the swing to create spin and trajectory control.  Here's a link to Andrew Rice.  Here's a link to Chuck Cook. (Great line in this video of keeping the top of the club over the ball through impact.)  Here's a link to Nick Faldo. (This is basically Nick doing the 9 Ball Game with a Trackman for feedback.)

Keep it simple and have the goal of greatness from any yardage with a wedge in your hand.  If you want to win, this is a key component of getting it done!

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