When we are left with 40, 50, 60, and 70 yard wedge shots things can get a little bit awkward. Our wedge game can turn into the pimply teenager who is stumbling over his words trying to ask out the girl he likes for the first time.
If I had to point to the type of shot that absolutely sends shivers down my spine, it would be from these distances. It was an enormous mental stumbling block for me, and many of my rounds had been ruined because my fear was so great that it lead to a few shanks.
I have to credit one man for helping me solve this part of my game, and turning it into one of my strengths. His name is Dave Pelz. All of you reading this article should read his book the Short Game Bible. It changed golf in a big way for me because it gave me a plan, and something to rally behind mentally.
I hope Practical Golf will become that way for some of my readers in a small way too!
If you are struggling from these distances let me give you a few key techniques, and mental pointers that can help you out. As always, I will try to keep it as simple as possible.
Relax your body, and use “dead hands"
Playing wedge shots from these distances requires a great deal of feel and precision. In order to do this your body needs to be completely relaxed. Dave Pelz advocated his “dead hands” approach, and it has worked wonders for me.
What he is trying to do is completely disengage the small muscles in your hands from these shots. You should feel like you are gripping the club very lightly, and just guiding it, rather than hitting the ball with your hand and arm muscles. Allowing the rotation of your body to guide the club will help you strike the ball more consistently because all of these muscles have been disengaged.
My advice is to hold the club as lightly as possible on the range and really start to feel the weight of the club doing the work for you as you swing. If you can’t feel the club throughout your whole wedge swing then you are most likely too tense with muscles that shouldn’t be engaged.
The Clock System
Dave Pelz believes that you could use a clock system to arrive at every distance with each of your wedges. For example, if you use your sand wedge and swing to a 7 o’clock hand position, you know that would be roughly 40 yards.
If you knew your distances for each clock position on all of your wedges you could arrive at a mental system that would allow you to walk up to a 60 yard shot and know that you could use your lob wedge at a 9 o’clock swing position.
I love this approach for two reasons.
- It prevents deceleration because you are using a shorter backswing, which will make you accelerate through the ball at impact naturally.
- It gives you a mental cue before a shot, so you can focus your mind on one thing.
Start experimenting with your different wedges and see what kind of distances these hand positions will result in. It will be a little difficult at first, but if you put the time in you will approach these shots on the golf course with so much more confidence.
Rotate your body
Rotation is one of the most important parts of any golf swing. I believe it is one of the absolute keys to success for these awkward wedge distances. I think our natural tendency on these shots is to get a little nervous and stiff. Our body will tense up and prevent us from rotating. This produces a swing that is all arms.
If you swing your wedges with zero rotation, and just your arms, shanks and inconsistent distances can occur. It’s the exact reason why I failed at this shot for so long. I would get so nervous that my body would just stop moving and my arms would completely take over.
I always used the center of my chest as a mental cue for whether or not I was rotating my body when I swing. If your arms move back on your swing, and your chest does not turn with them, then you are not rotating at your hips properly. Everything should move back as one unit in sync (easier said that done).
Putting it together
If I had to put these three concepts together into one thought, this is what it would look like:
When I am playing my lob wedge from 50 yards I feel that the rotation of my body is what propels the club, not my arms and hands, they are just simply along for the ride. My hands will go back to roughly a 9 o’clock position, and I will swing with a smooth, controlled tempo. I am at my best when I can feel the weight of the club throughout the whole swing because it means I am completely relaxed in my hands and arms.
There are certainly more elements that go into a successful wedge shot than the three I just listed. However, I think simplifying the process and working on these three main objectives will lead you to more consistent results, and ultimately more confidence in the shot when it comes up on the golf course.
Start experimenting on the range with these concepts, and when you gain some confidence introduce this approach on the course. At first it might feel a bit strange, but I think these are three key techniques that you must achieve to consistently conquer the awkward wedge shot.
Make no mistake that these are some of the hardest shots in golf, and the only way to execute them on the course is to keep practicing them all of the time. Just because you figure it out for a couple of weeks does not mean you solved the issue forever! I believe if you can hit these kinds of shots successfully it will improve all parts of your game because your overall feel will improve.
Never stop trying to master the awkward wedge!