How to Hit Great Wedge Shots: What You Need to Know
Your golf wedge shots can make it or break it when it comes to your game – they can rescue a bad drive or completely derail a good drive. They’re also a key component of golf — the short game, or the shots within 100 yards of the green, make up over half of the shots you play in a round. But what makes a good wedge player? Great wedge players have full control over the distance and the trajectory of their golf ball – and that requires great technique and strong skill. Let’s unpack.
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Hitting Great Wedge Shots: Grip and Stance
When it comes to wedge shots, the way you grip your club is especially important, more so than it is for any of the other clubs. That’s why before we walk you through the step-by-step setup to play a wedge shot, we’re going to first talk about the grip.
It’s all too common for golf players to grip their club tightly when they have a wedge in their hand due to the pressure associated with a wedge shot. It’s important that you do not do this, as wedges rely on feel and you lose that feel when you grip the club tightly.
Instead, maintain soft hands. Your arms should not have a lot of tension in them – you want to be able to ensure your swing is consistent and that you can get the ball as close to the hole as possible.
To do that, you will want to release your club head, and when your arms are tense that release does not happen.
With this in mind, here’s how to set up to play a wedge shot on the practice range:
- Select your target and pick a spot between the ball and target where you will visualize your target line.
- Take an extra club (this is allowed only on the practice range!) and use it to mark the ball position on the ground. Place the club so that the shaft points directly at the ball and the club lies perpendicular to your target line while extending back between your legs.
- Take your stance with the club centered between your legs. Your feet should be parallel to the shaft. With wedge shots, the ball should always be in the middle of your stance.
- Angle your lead food in the direction of the target. This makes it easier to turn during the shot. As you angle your foot, leave your heel on the ground and only lift the ball of your foot while pivoting. The ball will appear to be much further back in your stance, but it will still be in the middle of your stance, as the middle of the stance is measured between your heels.
- Place more weight on your lead foot. The weight helps you hit down on the ball and, in situations where the ball is in the rough, avoid catching as much grass between the face of the club and ball — improving the consistency of your contact.
- Swing your wedge to test your setup and see how comfortable you feel with the position. If you feel that you need to open your stance, you can use the club shaft on the ground to guide and move your lead foot directly back a few inches. This will open your stance and help you turn through the ball.
- Keep practicing this position until you feel comfortable with it and eventually try doing it without the club to guide you! On the practice range, you can use the club on the ground for guidance but you won’t be able to do it during a round.
Different Shots – The What, the Why, and the How
As a golfer, you will end up hitting wedge shots in a variety of different situations on the course. This means that different types of shots and different types of golf wedges are appropriate depending on the circumstances, including distance and turf.
Shots you may end up using include the full swing wedge, the half swing wedge (also known as the three-quarter swing wedge), the pitch shot, and the chip shot.
The Full Swing Wedge Shot
This swing uses your full power and is more appropriate when you have 85 -100 yards to cover. Make sure to opt for the right wedge club to cover the right distance. When it comes to a full wedge shot, you should:
- Make sure that your arms and body match up during the backswing. This means both your torso and your arms arrive at the top of your body at the same time.
- Keep your backswing short and wide. Don’t get too loose at the top of the swing with your arms while using a wedge club. You want to make sure you produce a consistent amount of power.
- Rotate your body as you come through the shot so that at finish-through your chest is facing the target.
The Half Swing Wedge
Also sometimes referred to as the three-quarter swing wedge, this kind of shot is appropriate when you have to hit a distance that is in between the distances your clubs carry.
So, for example, let’s say a full swing with a gap wedge flies 100 yards and a full sand wedge flies 85 yards but you need to hit a shot for 92 yards. This is when the half swing wedge or three-quarter swing wedge comes in. A few tips on this kind of shot:
- The half swing is not about reducing power – it simply requires the same power but at a shorter swing – 75% or 50% of your usual length, depending on how far you need the shot to carry.
- Maintaining your normal wedge stance with the ball in the middle.
- Use your grip to maintain distance control. You can do this by setting your hands lower on the grip and then swinging at normal speed. This is much more effective than swinging softer if, say, you’re trying to cover 92 yards but your full wedge goes 100 yards.
- Place extra weight on your lead leg. This will lean the shaft towards the target.
- Make your normal swing, focusing on a full backswing and a follow-through with the same length
Pitch Shots and Chip Shots
Two other kinds of wedge shots you may end up using in short game are pitch shots and chip shots. Pitch shots are played through the air and travel farther than chip shots while chip shots are low shots that roll on the ground and do not spend much time in the air.
A pitch shot is more difficult than a chip shot but is appropriate when you’re not right next to the green. In this scenario, you may need to hit the ball over some rough or a bunker.
Different types of golf wedges will be appropriate to different situations – for example, a pitching wedge makes sense if you have a large area of green in front of you and no obstacles, but if you’re facing a sprinkler head or some rough, switch to a gap wedge.
When the obstacles get larger or the hole closer, switch to a sand or lob wedge — but more on the different types of golf wedges later. Here’s what you need to know for a quality basic pitch shot:
- Make sure that the clubface stays open during the backswing. When the club shaft is parallel to the ground, the club toe should be pointing at the sky.
- Sinch pitch shots are rarely more than 40 yards, you don’t need to make a large turn off the ball in the backswing. Swing back with your arms and keep any motion soft and smooth.
- Your goal in the downswing is to set the club in an open position when it addresses the ball. You do this by primarily moving your body so that your chest turns towards the target and the clubhead swings on the target line. You should have little hand or wrist movement.
A chip shot makes sense in scenarios where you want to advance as much as possible towards the target while keeping the ball low.
It’s appropriate if you’re in the rough, such as under trees, and need to keep the ball low or you’re just short of the green with the flag still a significant distance away. Here’s what you should know about hitting a great solid chip shot:
- When taking your setup, place a bit more weight on the front foot and push your hands just in front of the ball so that the shaft leans forward slightly.
- Your hips or legs should not move much at all during a chip shot. The shot is primarily an upper-body movement, with your chest as the motor driving the clubhead.
- Keep the forward angle of your wrists constant but avoid tensing up, particularly during impact. The key is to maintain soft wrists so that the club releases past your hands just a bit in a way that activates the bounce.
The Different Types of Golf Wedges
Now that you know the basics of setting up for wedge shots, as well as the different types and techniques, we’re going to take a closer look at the different types of golf wedges mentioned above.
Golf wedges are usually categorized by their loft into four types: pitching wedge, gap wedge, sand wedge, and lob wedge.
The loft is the angle at which the club’s face lies in relation to the shaft of the club.
For golf wedges, the loft can range from 45 degrees to 64 degrees. The loft plays an important role in how far you can hit the ball and what type of shot you should take.
Another important aspect of the wedge is the bounce – or the curvy part of the wedge’s head. It prevents the club from snagging the turf and getting stuck.
Clubs with different degrees of bounce are suitable for different kinds of courses and golfers – for example, a club with less bounce (0-10) degrees is more appropriate for heathlands and link courses or for golfers that take shallow attack angles.
A standard bounce (10-16 degrees) is more appropriate for courses that are wet parkland, or for golfers with a steeper angle of attack.
The Pitching Wedge
This usually comes with any set of clubs you purchase and has a loft of 45 to 48 degrees. It’s best used for shots beyond 100 yards.
The Sand Wedge
The sand wedge has a loft of 54 to 58 degrees is usually used for bunker shots. It’s best used for chip shots and belly-wedge putts and averages at full swing 70 yards.
The sand wedge has a higher bounce (16 degrees and higher), which prevents digging and creates a smoother glide of the sole along the ground.
The Gap Wedge
The gap wedge has a loft of 50 to 55 degrees and serves as a sort of compromise between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge.
It’s especially important for golfers to have this in their arsenal since the difference in degrees between the sand wedge and the pitching wedge is around 10 degrees.
Instructors typically recommend you have four degrees of difference between all of your wedges.
The Lob Wedge
The lob wedge has a loft of between 60 and 64 degrees. It’s best used for about distances of 30 yards for amateurs and is useful for throwing the ball up high from short distances.
Mastering wedge shots is no easy feat – after all, it requires technique, skill, and knowing when to use which shots and which clubs. With practice and comfort in your golfing style, however, you’ll soon be on your way to perfecting those shots.
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