I think we’d all agree that golf is a tough game. Every shot requires precision, concentration, determination, skill, and, curiously, attachment and non attachment to the results. It takes a whole lot of practice and preparation to play this game as it was meant to be played. Or without those, the game requires a third “p”, patience.
So, after a long layoff, both coronavirus and medically related, I played the other day and made a few discoveries about the state of my game. One is that the driver is the easiest club to hit; and the wedge from 50 to 70 feet out is, arguably, the hardest. A bit of a paradox, I know, but the shorter the club, the more a tendency to decelerate at impact, and that deceleration, I believe, is one of the main reasons golfers have so much difficulty with this game. Mo Norman mentions this on almost every video he ever made. What he doesn’t mention, nor does anyone else, is why we slow down when and where we should be speeding up. And the answer is more mental than physical.
It is a lack of confidence that causes our brain’s amygdala and our hands’ nerve endings to take a gasp of apprehension. We just don’t practice that shot enough. And anything we don’t practice enough, a part of us fears when we are confronted with the shot as it arises. So I simply learned the other day that I need to practice that shot more. But where? How? What should I do differently? Driving ranges are often on mats on perfectly level and predictable lies. Grass ranges are better but still the lies are level and predictable. And your backyard? Well, maybe Tiger’s backyard will have all the possibilities. What I’m saying then it’s near impossible to practice all the permutations and combinations involved in perfecting this shot. But you can still practice the shot by spending a lot of time with the clubs you would normally use such as 60, 56, 52, 50, and 48 (PW) degree wedges. How much time do you normally spend with these clubs now? From my observations of myself and those at the range, not much. They just don’t make as much noise as the longer sticks. And they don’t potentially go as far. And they require more skill than longer clubs. But by increasing your wedge game practice at the range, what you can practice is acceleration through the ball.
You do this by employing a relatively slow, short backswing and an increasingly accelerating downswing, hitting not at the ball but through the ball at impact. Bring the hands back to no more than 9 o’clock. I’d suggest placing some impact stick-on’s on your wedge faces to check if you’re consistently hitting the sweet spot. As your consistency builds, you can experiment with clubhead speed and pace, but you don’t need a particularly fast swing to get the wedges to do what you want them to do. All you need is good contact and a clubface square to the target at impact. Once you get this down at the range, then take your added skills and confidence to the course and play a couple of practice rounds where you can discretely lay down an extra ball or two as much as possible, on varied lies, at this distance and see what you can do.
This may take time, but it will be time well spent, for you will have improved playing golf’s hardest shot, and consequently save several strokes per round. An alternative to this shot, by the way, is the chip and run through the fairway and onto the green. Very tough to pull this one off since it’s very difficult to judge how the fairway grass will affect the ball’s roll. (Of course, if you’re playing links golf with very tight lie fescue, a low lofted club or even a putter is the preferred way to play this shot but my emphasis in this piece applies primarily to parkland golf courses.) There are just too many variables to contend with. Instead, you really need to loft the ball onto the green without much roll after it lands: the proverbial butterfly landing. And the wedges, with their great assortments of loft and bounce are the right tool for the right job, depending on the length of the shot. At address, on this shot, you do not want much club shaft lean. Instead, you want the butt of the club in line with your belly button. That takes full advantage of the club’s actual loft. With forward lean, you’ll be delofting the club, which is how the pros chip, check, and stop the ball near the hole but that’s a whole other level of skills and confidence. Unless you’re a single handicap player, I’d leave that high backspin shot to the pros.
If you get this shot down, I almost guarantee it will improve your iron play overall. Why? Any increase in confidence around one part of the tee to green game will positively affect other parts of your approach game. In a word, you’ll be hitting the sweet spot with all your clubs more consistently.
Good luck and let me know how it works out for you, as I will keep you posted of my trials and errors.
I can handle coronavirus-affected golf in WA state. Singles or twosomes. Most short putts are gimmees. No ball washers, towels, or score cards at the second tee. No snack bars. One player to a power cart. Limited pull cart rentals. (I just bought a wicked snazzy push cart at my favorite range!) Just the occasional marshall keeping track of things. It was damn good to be out there again, the wind blowing off my hat, the sun baking down, an occasional tee ball hit on the screws, a chip up and down. Damn good.
Jim Stewart says
We’ve been playing Gearhart Golf Links all along. All good. Course is in fantastic shape. My game is what it usually is: inconsistent. But this post spoke to that nicely. Thank you.
Stephen Altschuler says
Ah, links golf on the coast. Good for you, Jim. Looks like a gem. Glad the post was helpful. Consistency in this game takes persistence, patience, and, of course, practicing the proper fundamentals.
But these days, what’s most important is to stay healthy!
Stuffing things under my armpits ruined my long game! but it can instantly transform a hackers short game. You learn to control the club with your upper arms/elbows and use your body for smooth acceleration.
I would also recommend right arm only chips where your left side really has to work to get out of the way and a few split hand pitches.
Always try play the ball of at least middle to forward in your stance otherwise you will limit your range of shots and dont become a backfoot chopper!
For the better golfers try hitting a low shot from forward in your stance and for those that really struggle try sideways on ie rightangles to the ball.
Stephen Altschuler says
More suggestions for this difficult shot. Thanks, Graham.
Phil Russell says
This blog was my second favorite . I think because my short game is my weakest part of my game. The blog was very helpful.
Hopefully The driving ranges and putting greens will be open soon and I can practice. I live in New York so we can play golf but with limited options. Thanks Phil
Stephen Altschuler says
Good to hear the post was helpful, Phil. Right. This shot, and other short game shots, will take practice so I also hope things open up in NY as recovery progresses. You guys have really had it rough.
Thanks for commenting.