5 wedge shots you gotta have : Some shots are a luxury. These are necessities

Phil Mickelson

Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2001 campaign to “Cut Your Handicap in Half.” This month’s two-part package: Phil Mickelson on shots near the green, and Randy Smith on putting.

When I was a kid, teachers and players placed a lot more emphasis on the full swing than on the short game. That’s still true to some extent and probably always will be, but I’d say the gap is narrowing. Really, we have no choice. Trends in architecture today lean toward longer and more difficult hole designs, making it harder to hit greens in regulation. Designs around the greens are more challenging as well. Bunkers are deeper and more plentiful. There is more use of swales, hollows and collection areas. Add to that the nature of the greens themselves–they’re faster, firmer and more undulating–and you have a new bottom line on the short game: You simply need more shots from 80 yards and in.

These challenges are not insurmountable. I believe if you can add five specific short-game shots to your repertoire, you’ll be able to handle almost any situation. The five shots I’m talking about are fairly simple to learn, because you make the same type of swing on all of them. You may have to simplify the process by adding a sand wedge or two to your set, but beyond that, you should be able to pick the shots up quickly without a lot of practice.

Like I say, we’re seeing a new type of game out there. Adapt your short game to it, and you’ll stay one step ahead of everyone else.

First things first . . .

All of the shots I play from 80 yards and in are predicated on two principles: a steep angle of approach into the ball, and plenty of acceleration through impact. Only one type of swing will produce those actions consistently: one with the shortest amount of arm swing possible and the greatest hand action possible. My left arm doesn’t swing past horizontal, and my wrists are cocked as fully as possible. That ensures a steep, knifing attack into the ball, which produces plenty of backspin and decreases interference from tall grass or sand when the lie isn’t good.

You also need a sound grip. Hold the club as I’m doing (above), both hands set in a neutral position, neither too strong nor too weak. Make some practice swings to check that you have plenty of freedom in your wrists during the swing.

1 The Knockdown: Hands lead the way

Many players execute the 80-yard knockdown shot by playing the ball well back in their stance, effectively decreasing the loft of the club. I believe in selecting a club with the right amount of loft to begin with, and then making a simpler, more normal swing.

Play the ball just a shade back of center in your stance. Choose your least-lofted wedge (50 degrees in my case; you may want to use a pitching wedge). Through impact, keep your hands well ahead of the ball and extend your arms on the follow-through. This is a sure way to keep your ball flight down.

2 The 40-yard Tweener: Shorten swing, then accelerate quickly

Among better players, the 40-yard shot is the toughest there is to play consistently well. You’re too close to the green to apply much backspin, yet too far away to lob the ball in as you would on a simple pitch. Needless to say, poorer players struggle from 40 yards, too.

The solution: Choose your most lofted wedge and play the ball in the center of your stance. Make a short backswing but cock your wrists as far as they’ll go (left). Now, really attack the ball. Hit down firmly. The ball will start dead on line (right), provided you swing the clubhead straight down the target line through impact. Even the divot’s on line here.

With practice, you’ll find the aggressive swing rarely produces too much distance, thanks to the shortness of the swing and the loft of your wedge.

3 The Mini Flop: Think ‘fat and firm’

The greenside pitch with little green to work with is also one of the toughest shots. To play it, take your 60-degree wedge, lay the blade open, and aim for a spot about two inches behind the ball (above and near right). Make a very handsy swing, deliberately hitting the ball fat while accelerating firmly through impact (far right). This is the best way to make the ball come out high and land soft.

4 The Skip and Check: Drive the ball down

Another tough shot is an uphill pitch to a hole cut close to the edge of the green. Most amateurs try to run the ball up the bank with a middle iron, or they try a risky lob shot. Either way, it’s difficult to get the ball close.

Try this: Select your most lofted wedge and play the ball off the toe of your back foot (above). Make a steep, handsy backswing (near right). Hit down sharply on the back of the ball, keeping your hands well forward until the ball is gone. You’ll find that the ball comes out low due to the ball-back position, but it will have plenty of spin due to the loft of the clubface. The ball will hit the bank, hop onto the green and check up (far right).

5 The Fried-egg Floater: You want the club to dig, not bounce

The flange on the bottom of your sand wedge is invaluable on routine bunker shots, because it prevents the clubhead from digging too deep into the sand. But there is one case where you want the clubhead to dig: the fried-egg lie, with the ball sitting down. You need the clubhead to penetrate the sand deep enough to get the ball out, while maintaining enough clubface loft to get some height.

Choose your most lofted wedge (like an L-wedge, which most likely has the least amount of deep-flange “bounce”). Position the ball forward in your stance, lean toward the target and aim for the “white” of the egg. Make the same steep, handsy, short-armed backswing I’ve demonstrated earlier, then hit down and through the shot firmly, with lots of acceleration.

RELATED ARTICLE: You’ll need the right tools

Rarely do I see a high-handicapper with more than one wedge in the bag other than a pitching wedge. That’s unfortunate, because a sound short-game technique can take you only so far. To be really versatile, you need variation in clubface lofts and design. A multiple-wedge lineup provides you with endless combinations of spin, trajectory and softness from all sorts of lies.

I recommend you carry at least two wedges in addition to your pitching wedge. One wedge should have loft in the medium range–say about 56 degrees. The other should have a great deal of loft, something closer to 60 degrees. In choosing your wedges, pay attention to the amount of bounce as well as loft. One of the wedges should have minimal bounce, with the leading edge sitting almost flush to the ground at address. The other wedge should have more bounce (the leading edge more off the ground), so it can ride better through tall grass or sand.

I carry three wedges, all with off-the-rack specs except for loft. One is a Titleist Vokey design, which I’ve had bent from 56 degrees to a more comfortable (for me) 55 degrees. My second wedge is also a Vokey, which I had bent from 52 degrees to 50 degrees. That’s what I play the knock-down shot with. My third wedge is a Ping Eye2 L-wedge with 60 degrees of loft. It’s my most common choice on shots inside 80 yards.

All my wedges have stiff shafts and rubber grips with a coarse texture. I would add this: They all are appealing to look at, provide great feel and are versatile. They give me confidence just looking down at them.

(For a look at more of the hottest new wedges for 2001, see page XXX.)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Golf Digest Companies

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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