If you’re like many amateur golfers, your wedge play could use some improvement. You might even be a player who is willing to practice the short game, but you just can’t seem to get the results you’re looking for. Well, I have good news: It’s probably not your fault your wedges are under performing.
Historically, the instruction community has neglected wedge play due to the fact that most golfers prefer to work on their iron swings or try increase their driving distance. Thus, we (golf instructors) have focused mainly on the full swing, which has been invented and re-invented hundreds of times over the last few decades. I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the great work done by short game specialists Stan Utley, James Sieckmann, Dave Pelz and others, but by and large most books, articles and videos target full-swing instruction in some way.
Because of this lack of information, the wedge game and wedge swing remain mysteries to most golfers and they have been left to themselves to decipher the code of short game. Most golfers try to apply their full swing knowledge to the wedge swing and find it to be ineffective. Some try a half swing while others try slower swings, but that fact of the matter is that a wedge swing is not a regular golf swing.
I recognized this difference in technique my first year coaching players on the PGA Tour. When I observed the professionals chipping and pitching, not only were they in total control of the golf ball but their address positions and wedge swings were completely different from what I had learned as a player and taught as an instructor.
Fundamentally, the stance used by the great wedge players for wedge shots, pitches and chips was only slightly open, probably only 15 or 20 degrees. The ball position was well back in the stance for standard wedge shots and then forward for high, soft shots. I was taught to have a very open stance for all short game shots and the ball was usually positioned in the middle or slightly toward my back foot.
(Backswing on plane with a square club face.)
The wedge swing itself was incredibly different from what I had been taught. In short, they swung the club back with the club face in a semi-closed position.
(Wedge swinging through open, but still square to the plane)
They then kept it open coming through impact. They also swung the club on a much lower circle, or a more inside path than I thought was correct.
(Wedge swinging back on plane with a square/semi-closed face)
This lower swing plane allowed the sole of the wedge to hit the grass before contact, creating a sweeping action where the bounce kept the club from digging into the turf. I could see from this technique that the ball simply rolled up the face of the club and then landed softly on the green. This type of swing also allows the player to control distance and direction because of the face staying square to the plane through impact.
Additionally, they looked incredibly soft in their hands and arms and were actually allowing the wrists to move freely during most of their chips and pitches. My old chipping method was very stiff in the wrists and usually included a great deal of grip pressure.
As you can imagine, I quickly adopted the new technique for my own game and was blown away at the results. For the first time in my life I was able to chip and pitch with control and accuracy. My students also benefitted from learning this wedge swing and their feedback has been incredibly positive.
Examples of great wedge players are Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Steve Stricker and 2015 Open Champion Zach Johnson, to name a few. They all swing the wedge into the ball on a shallow angle, with a club face square or slightly closed on approach. This allows them to make the “closed-to-open” swing and control the ball with ease. They also pull their lead elbow around and behind their body as they turn through the shot; one the secrets of this technique. This elbow motion might also be called a chicken wing on a full swing, but it is an essential ingredient in a wedge swing.
(Left elbow bending through impact, then moving back and around)
Finally, this article would be incomplete without mentioning wedge fitting and how professionals have their wedges adjusted to fit their swings. Wedges built by the big-name manufacturers come in a variety of lofts and bounce numbers, but almost all of them are made with a 64-degree lie angle. This is interesting because most good wedge players have their wedges bent down to a 62-degree lie angle or less. The reason for this adjustment is that if the wedge has a lie angle that is too upright, the heel of the wedge will dig into the turf on impact and cause the face to close down. As the club slams shut on impact, the ball will go low and left or the player might simply hit a chunk shot that comes up far short of the target.
If the wedge is bent to the flatter, 62-degree lie angle, the toe of the club may get caught in the grass, but even if does the club will then open through impact and keep moving with ease. Most avid golfers are aware of the importance of the loft and bounce numbers, but few know about adjusting the lie angle to improve performance.
My hope in writing this post is that you will understand how to adjust the lie angle on your wedges, learn a correct wedge swing and be able to practice effectively. A great wedge game will improve your proximity to the hole on approach shots and allow you to recover from errant shots.
Have a great week,
- Mike Wilson