One of the oldest sayings in golf is, “Lay up to a comfortable yardage that gives you a full swing.” In other words, a full swing is easier to repeat than having to manage a partial swing with a wedge.
With the advancement of strokes gained statistics, thanks to Dr. Mark Broadie, the lay up approach has been shown to have some serious flaws.
For example, if you had the option of laying up to 120 yards versus hitting a longer club and leaving yourself 50 yards, which would you choose? In my experience, the majority of golfers would choose the 120 yard shot, because it’s a full swing and requires less feel.
Here’s where Dr. Broadie comes in:
On the PGA Tour, the average proximity to the hole from 120 yards is 18 feet. From 50 yards, it’s 12 feet. For the golfer that shoots 90 on average, that proximity jumps to 47 feet from 120 yards and just 23 feet from 50 yards. Looking at the table below, you can see that the higher score you shoot, the MORE important it is to get the ball closer to the hole whenever possible.
One of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour is Dustin Johnson. His prodigious driving performances would often leave him short irons and wedges in to a lot of short par 4s and long par 5s. Unfortunately, this was where he struggled with his game. In 2015 he was ranked 108th in proximity to the hole from 100 to 125 yards. Knowing this, Dustin and his coach got to work on the same plan you will learn below. By 2017 he was ranked 9th in the same category and became the #1 ranked player in the world.
The point of today’s post is to help you take advantage of those distance wedge shots and make the statistics work in your favor rather than against you.
Distance Wedges 101
For our purposes today, I will refer to a distance wedge shot as anything from 30 to 120 yards. For your own game, the upper end of the spectrum would be whatever distance your full swing pitching wedge travels.
The issue most golfers have with these shots is they play them based solely on feel, but have no way of calibrating what it is they are trying to feel. The system most commonly taught is using the length of the back-swing to regulate the distance the ball travels. This is often referred to as the “clock system,” where your lead arm would correspond with the hour hand on a clock.
For our purposes, we will use three different lengths, 7:30, 9:00 and full. For the 7:30 and 9:00 swings, it is important to take these at 70% of your normal swing tempo. This helps you control the launch angle and spin rate while not sacrificing performance.
The 7:30 swing will stop just as the club weight begins to feel lighter in the back-swing, your lead arm reaches a 45 degree angle and your hands have just passed the trail leg.
The 9:00 swing will stop where the lead arm is parallel to the ground. At this point, your club should be at a 90 degree angle to the lead arm.
Lastly, in the full swing your torso has completed its turn and the lead arm is approximately 120 degrees to the ground. Notice how my pelvis has stayed forward and the turn of my body is centered in the photo below.
An important detail to note is that the follow through for each of these swings is exactly the same. When you adjust the length of your follow through, you’re introducing a second variable. For a player that is implementing this system for the first time, I would recommend adjusting only the back-swing. When you have mastered the basic system, you can begin to adjust your follow through length to achieve a greater variety of shots.
An example of the follow through is depicted below. Some checkpoints to note are:
- the weight is 95% over the lead foot
- the trail shoulder, hip and knee have all turned 90 degrees from their address position
- the club has stopped as the grip reaches shoulder-height
- the pelvis is ahead of the shoulders
When it’s time to chart out your distances, you will need a few pieces of equipment.
- 10 agility cones
- range finder
- basket of range balls
- 6 high performance golf balls (same make and model you use on the course)
- 120 yards of flat ground
- notebook and pencil
- wet towel
Step one: lay out the cones at 10 yard increments. I recommend placing your golf bag on the spot you wish to hit from so you have something to shoot with your range finder. Begin walking out to 30 yards (each step should be approximately 1 yard). When you reach 30 paces, turn around and use your range finder to shoot your golf bag. This will help you adjust the placement of the cone in case your step size was off.
Step two: get warmed up. The first drill is the tempo drill. With your highest lofted wedge, lay out 5 range balls. Make your first swing at 10% of your normal tempo. The ball shouldn’t travel much more than 15 yards. Make your second swing at 30% of your normal tempo. Repeat for 50%, 70% and finally 90%. As I mentioned above, we need to dial in our 70% tempo. Hit another 5 range balls trying to match the 70% tempo. Pay attention to where these balls are landing in comparison with your first 70% shot.
Step three: Once you are comfortable with your 70% tempo, I recommend starting with the 7:30 swings with all of your wedges. It will be easier to dial in the feeling. While your practice, it’s imperative to have some form of feedback (mirror, video, coach) to verify if you are, in fact, hitting 7:30 in your back-swing.
With your 6 high performance golf balls, make a 7:30 back-swing at 70% of your tempo. Once completed, walk out to where the balls have landed and note where the median of the group is. Shoot your range finder back to the golf bag to verify the distance marked by the cones.
Return to the spot you were hitting from and mark your result in your notebook.
Step four: use your wet towel to clean your clubs between shots to ensure you are getting consistent spin rates. In this process we are trying to make the conditions as much like being on the course as we can.
Step five: repeat this process for the remainder of your wedges. Once you have completed the 7:30 swings, move to 9:00 and then to full swings. I recommend returning to the tempo drill between sets to ensure you are locked in at 70% throughout the process.
Once you have completed all three swings with each of your wedges, it’s time to print the results. Make a small chart like the one below on a computer and put your numbers in. Print a small copy of it, laminate it and place it in your golf bag in the same pocket as your range finder for a quick reference next time you are on the course.
When looking at the above chart, notice there are a few instances where multiple clubs and swings go the same distance. Starting with the bottom left corner and working to the top right corner, the spin rates and launch angles will increase as you move up the chart.
For example, from 75 yards the 7:30 gap wedge (52 degree wedge) will launch low and have a low spin rate, where the full swing lob wedge will also travel 75 yards, but launch much higher and spin more. Having these overlaps gives you options based on green contours, flag locations, wind direction and hazard locations.
Once you have your chart made, all that matters is that you train it often. At Sean Foley Performance, we are fortunate to have one of the premier wedge practice facilities in the country. The wedge range is designed for shots of 40 to 110 yards. The target blocks are 4’ by 4′ and tilted back toward the player slightly to make them more visible. They are made of concrete which, when struck with a golf ball, makes a high pitch sound and sends the ball some 20′ straight in the air.
Whether you have a world class facility to practice at or just a row of cones to dial in your distances, all that really matters is sticking to your plan. With competence comes confidence, and you won’t think twice when given a choice between laying up to 125 yards and leaving yourself 45 yards.
All that’s left to do now is spend an afternoon hitting the shots, making your chart and making some birdies!
Broadie, Mark. “Every Shot Counts” (2014) 201. Print.
Sieckmann, James “Your Short Game Solution” (2015) 142-170. Print.