Do you know exactly which club you’ll use and exactly what type of shot you’ll hit when you are 40 yards from the hole in the fairway with a tight lie? What about 65 yards out in light rough? 87 yards out buried in deep rough? If you’re at all unsure of the club and your strategy, your short game is suffering and you’re giving up shots every round!
A couple of weeks ago, I shared my secrets to dialing in your distances with your irons, hybrids, and woods. Today I want to share with you how I dialed in my wedge distances and how it helped me quickly lower my scores. About 3 years ago I started to focus my practice sessions on my short game – particularly pitch shots from 30-100 yards. I immediately noticed an improvement in my scores and that year I went from a 5-handicap to a sub-3-handicap. Coincidence? I think not!
So how do you dial in your wedge distances?
First, figure out your ideal club & shot from each distance:
Grab a pen, a notebook, your clubs, and a bucket of range balls. Head to a practice area where you can hit balls to a green from a variety of lies – fairway, forgiving rough, and deep rough. Start at a distance where you are no longer chipping…a distance where you’re taking closer to a half swing with your wedge. For me, this is at about 30 yards from the pin.
Drop 5-10 balls at your starting distance. Grab the club you like from this distance and hit shots to the hole. Pay attention to the length of your backswing. Are you hitting a 1/2 shot, 2/3, or 3/4 shot? This is how I like to think of it. There are other methods to visualizing the length of your backswing. Hands on a clock or degrees of a circle may also work for you.
If most of your shots land on the green and feel right to you, great! Make notes about the club used and the type of shot (i.e. Lob wedge – 1/2 swing). The goal is to find your preferred club and preferred shot from that distance, so play around with different shots and different clubs until you get it dialed in. Your short game will thank you!
Now that you have your ideal club and shot from a good lie, head to the rough and hit 5-10 balls from a not-so-great lie from the same distance. How does the club and shot selection change with your unfortunate lie?
Most golfers (even low handicappers) don’t practice these tough lies, but it’s critical to good scores. Knowing exactly what you will hit from a poor lie from a given distance will help you stay calm and focused when faced with these tough lies on the course.
A rule of thumb that works for me is picking a club and shot that I would choose from 10-20 yards farther. For example, from 90 yards I might normally hit a 3/4 pitching wedge, but if the ball is in the rough and it’s sitting down, I will change to a full wedge or even a 3/4 9-iron depending on the lie.
Continue moving back in 10-yard increments until you get to a full swing with your pitching wedge. Keep making notes about the preferred shot and club from each distance from both good and bad lies.
It’s important to experiment and try different shots with a variety of clubs so you can find the club and shot combination that feels right to you. The right “feel” is so important to your short game, so have fun with it and try different things!
Next, keep your notes handy on the course:
Transfer your notes to something you can reference on the course. Keep your notes accessible and handy.
Finally, practice & update:
Every time you practice, you should spend time on pitch shots from a variety of distances, but preferably the distances that trouble you. Spend 15 minutes and hit 20 to 30 balls from a variety of spots with your preferred club from each distance. Verify that the club/shot combination you’ve notated is still working for you. Make adjustments, if necessary.
This is a fluid process, and you can and should occasionally adjust your club and shot from each distance as your short game improves.
If you need help with technique, check out this step-by-step guide to better pitch shots. Good luck!