As I’ve said many times before, the short game accounts for an average of 50% of your shots per round, so you should give it at least 50% of your game improvement time!
One of the major differences between the average player and Tour pro is distance control with the wedges. Within 100 yards, they seem to have a sixth sense for hitting it close from ANY distance. To get to your potential, you’ll have to get as precise as the pros and this article will show you a couple of ways to do it.
Let’s say your average distance with a FULL gap wedge (52 degree) is about 115 yards, a SW (56 degree) 100 yards, and a Lob Wedge (60 degree) is about 80 yards.
These distances you should get right almost all of the time, but how often are you exactly those distances away from the hole? What if you’re 93 yards away? If you hit a full SW, you’ll be at least 7 yards (or 21ft) away, which is most likely a 2 putt.
But…what if you had a 90 yard shot and you could get within 1 putt range a lot more often? This could save at least 5 shots per round!
The Clock-face Drill for Wedge Distance Control
This one is used by many tour players such as Phil Mickelson and was used some of the greats like Nick Faldo, Tom Kite, Vijay Singh and Annika Sorenstam.
This drill is best practiced on the course as on the driving range it’s hard to know exactly how far the ball flies, so try to get out early in the morning to practice it, and for more accuracy use a range finder.
1. Take 3 wedges PW, SW and LW. I’m assuming you know exactly how far each one goes.
2. Now, I know some players gauge distance by how hard they swing (“I think this is an easy PW”, or “I think this is a hard SW”) but I think that tempo is one of the most important parts of a good swing and should not be tampered with. So with this concept, we’re going to keep tempo constant and control the length of the back-swing using an imaginary clock-face.
So…a full swing would be 12 O’clock (this means your hands are in the “12” position on the clock-face), and a half swing would be 9 O’clock (your hands are in the “9” position)
With each club, hit 3 balls, one with a full swing (12 O’clock), the next with a 10-11 O’clock swing and another at 9 o’clock. See how far each one flies and focus on consistently getting your hands into those clock positions. It’s important to record these distances, so you can start to see the average distance these shots go.
Note: I don’t advocate thinking about your swing at all during your rounds, so save this gauging of your new distances for practice time and then rely on feel when you’re on the course. With practice, you’ll start to gain consistency with those distances and you won’t need to think about the clock-face, it will be instinctive.
Choking down and using ball position to control distance with your wedges
Another way to control distance with your wedges is using trajectory. I remember watching a clinic with Tiger Woods where he talked about this and I know that a lot of other Tour pros use it.
If you’ve read my “Nine shots” article, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of experimentation and developing visualization and feel for shots, instead of getting technical. This is the same concept.
Again, it’s best you try this on the course when it’s a slow day as it’s hard to gauge how far you hit it in on the driving range.
1. With each club, play around with ball position and see how that affects the flight and distance. This will also come in handy when the wind is blowing and you know that you have a low shot in your repertoire that flies xxx yards.
2. For example, hit a SW from the center of your stance. This should fly the distance of your regular SW. Next, try moving it 2 inches further back and see how far that flies. It might take 5 yards off it (on average). Do the same moving it 2 inches in front of center and record this distance also.
3. Go through all 3 wedges and hit as many different shots from different positions in your stance. Use inches as calibration and record each distance. Over time, you’ll notice average distances.
4. You can also do the same with your grip position. With each shot, you can try choking down an inch on the club and see how that affects the flight and distance.
With both these drills, focusing on the techniques during practice will mean you don’t have to do it on the course – they’ll be a habit. Give them a go and you’ll gain at least 9 new shots to your short game you didn’t have before and these will result in more shots closer to the pin and a reduction in putts per round.
Photo by Keith Allison