Great wedge play is a sure way to improve your scoring ability. Whether it is your 2nd, 3rd (or 4th) shot into par 4’s and par 5’s – being a great wedge player will improve your scoring and make golf a lot more fun.
For the purpose of this guide, we’ll define wedge play as 55-yards up to 130-yards. Scale these yardages to your own play, but essentially more than a pitch, and less than a full out 9-iron.
Check out this ultimate pitching guide for inside 50-yards
This guide has a lot of info – feel free to read it all the way through or jump to a section you want help with. If there is anything I haven’t covered leave a comment and I’ll add in more info.
Table of Contents
Great wedge play – the big picture
Our aim from inside 150-yards is to get the ball into the hole in the fewest amount of shots possible. There is a considerable difference in this ability as we move from club players, to scratch players, then another big jump as we move up to tour players.
We could suggest every foot closer to the hole you get with your wedge shots, the lower your scoring will be. However, a more accurate guide is what box/bandwidth below your wedge shots frequently finish in:
- Miss the green
- 30 – 10 feet
- 4 – 10 feet
- Inside 4 feet
If you work out your mean distance to the hole, you’re likely to find a weak correlation to lower scores. However, if you work out how often your wedge shots finish in each of the boxes/bandwidths above, you really start to understand how wedge play links to scoring.
A missed green is going to mean you take 3 to 4+ shots to complete the hole from 55 to 130-yards. On the green between 10 and 30-feet will commonly lead to 2 putts, so an average of 3 to finish the hole. 4 to 10-feet will lead to 2.5 shot average to finish the hole and inside 4-feet should hopefully mean a magical up and down with wedge in hand.
The rest of this article looks at how to improve your wedge game, but bear the above in mind – everything should come back to where will your wedge shot likely finish. The more shots in the closer bandwidths, the better your scoring.
Know your wedge distribution
We play golf with a shotgun, not a rifle (unfortunately). Below is the shot distribution from 160-yards for an average club golfer from Trackman.
I’m not saying this perfectly reflects your wedge play, however most club golfers will have more wedge shots that finish short than long. You will also find you have a bias (left or right) with your wedge game.
Picking your target
This brings us to the last part of our big picture of wedge play. Based on the pin position, your shot distribution, and your ideal finish location, pick your ideal target before every wedge shot.
Golf Insider example: My current wedge distribution is at the pin, or short and right (I hate that shot). If the pin is 80-yards away on the front right edge of the green. I will create my target at 85-yards and 8-feet left of the pin, towards the centre of the green. If I make a bad swing i’ll hit it very close. A good-ish swing and I’ll have a great birdie chance. The fatal mistake is to miss the green short and right, as this will greatly affect my scoring. This strategy changes based on my score and the situation. If the pin was centre of the green or back left I would come up with a different strategy and target.
The message – Before every wedge shot you hit ensure you have a clear target planned for your wedge game.
Golf wedge setup and technique
Your golf wedge swing is essentially a slightly shorter, more controlled full swing. At set up, have your feet slightly closer together – this helps your body turn back and through. Also, hold further down the grip – this gives you more control over the club as you zip through impact. For shorter wedge shots you can also place a little more weight through your front foot – a preference, not a necessity.
The set-up below is for your shortest wedge shots (for me around 60-yards). As I get back to 120-yards (a 3/4 PW for me) my stance gets a little wider, I hold a little further up the golf grip and my weight is only slightly favouring my front foot.
From here your aim is to make a controlled swing and creating a slightly descending strike. It’s a mini full swing. Too many club players try to hit full out wedge shots. Yet most tour pros will rarely hit a shot inside 15-yards that they need to hit at over 80% of their max. If a tour player is hitting a wedge from 135 yards, she/he is likely to be able to hit it 150 flat out. This is a small, but vital tip in becoming a great wedge player.
Golf Insider tip: If you struggle with striking your irons check out these two posts – Part 1: Why do I fat/thin my irons and Part 2: How to strike golf shots like a tour player. These same concepts apply to becoming a great wedge player.
Now we have your wedge setup sorted it is time to look at the wedge swing itself. During your backswing keep your body and arms moving together, and importantly, keep your arms and body rotating back down and through into a full finish. It really is 90% body turn, with the arms just long for the ride.
Most amateurs struggle with 1/2 and 3/4 swings. A common mistake is to create a backswing that is too long, meaning you have to decelerate into impact to prevent yourself airmailing the green.
It may take a little practice to feel comfortable with a shorter backswing and positive follow-through, but hopefully, the drill below will give you a great way to practice your wedge swing.
Hit 20 balls with the towel under your arms, then 10 without trying to repeat the same feeling. Start from 55 yards and build up towards 90 – 100 yards or a 3/4 9-iron shot. This drill isn’t perfect, your arms don’t have to stay locked to your side, but having the towel between your arms and body forces them to move back and through in sync. Feel free to let the towel fly out post-impact.
Controlling distance with wedges
Next, use the following drill to see how you can control your distance. Creating a 9-O’clock, 10 and 11:30 backswing with a given each club different distances you can re-create on the course with a simple feeling.
You can practice this three-ball wedge drill with or without a towel under your arms. To begin with hit 5 balls from the shortest backswing position, make a positive swing through with each shot and observe how far your shots travel.
Repeat this process with the 2nd and 3rd backswing positions and note down the average distance your wedge shots travel. Having the ability to create three different backswings with each club gives you three yardages you can be confident in, and re-create on the golf course with a simple feeling. Continue this process through your other wedges and 9-iron (8-iron too if you find it of use).
You’ll end up with 12 wedge shots you can play within 130-yards. Feel free to fill in the personalised wedge yardage chart below, I’ve put a printable download at the end of the article. You can take this printout to the practice ground or on the golf course with you.
There will be a slight overlap in distances (i.e. your longest LW might go the same as your shortest 9-iron). This is actually a positive outcome, practice both and use the option that you feel most comfortable with or the one that best suits the course conditions.
Elite wedge play
We’ve covered the basics, but how do you become dangerously good with a wedge in hand? Well, the key factor is getting seriously good at controlling your distance. Once you have the basic swing in place work on crossing out the points below.
Most golfers like to think they strike the ball well. However, until you reach a tour-level golfers rarely find the exact centre of the clubface every time. This affects the energy passed onto the golf ball and its total distance.
Grab a marker pen and mark five golf balls up. Place the pen mark blob on each golf ball and face the blob towards your clubface. Hit five wedge shots then check out where the black marks are on your clubface. Or you can buy some impact tape.
If you have more than 1/2 inch between your marks then your strike needs improving, go back to basics and check your posture and weight distribution, or find a great local PGA pro.
The next factor on your quest for great distance control is the club loft at impact (called dynamic loft). Variance in the dynamic loft is a key reason golfers struggle with controlling their distance for chipping, pitching and wedge play.
Note the straight-ish line between my left arm and club shaft in the picture below. Ensuring your wrists don’t break down through impact is critical for keeping a consistent loft on your club through impact. All great wedge players keep this form well after the ball has left their clubface (Check out Woods, Rose and Koepka’s swings for three great examples).
This position can only occur with great body rotation, so don’t try to get ahead of yourself, start by getting your basic wedge technique correct first, then come back and video your swing to check this position.
Hooks and slices – a hidden issue
If you struggle with a hook or a slice, you will undoubtedly miss wedge shots left and right. But there is a further issue, an open or closed clubface alters the club loft too. This makes controlling your wedge distances even hard.
If you wish to become a great wedge player, work on building a more neutral golf swing. If you’re happy with your ball flight, just be aware of this issue and try to control how open / closed your clubface is when you practice your wedge shots.
The last point on becoming really good at distance control and wedge play is to become a master at controlling your wedge shot trajectory. The ball will always launch somewhere between the dynamic loft (red arrow) and the angle of attack (blue arrow).
By adapting your ball position (forward and back) and weight distribution you can start to play around with your trajectory control.
The golf ball will launch differently depending on its lie (rough, fairway, tight lie), moisture, temperature and a multitude of other factors. However, you will be amazed at how good you body gets at predicting these factors once you have a sound technique and put in some practice.
Golf wedge drills and skills games
There are two parts to practicing your wedge game. Dialling in the swings and performing on the golf course. To begin with use some blocked practice with your wedges and the swing positions described above. Once you have the basics covered move on to the two skills games below.
Firstly, get some volume of wedge shots from different distances and get dialled in. Flagstick challenge is my favourite game for this task.
Pick a target distance (60 – 130 yards). Take 20 balls and see how many shots you can hit to finish within a flagstick length of the target. You score one point for every shot that finishes inside this zone, zero points for outside – yep it’s hard!
Your second task is to take your skill onto the golf course. Wedge challenge takes a little time but is brilliant. Your aim is to play 9 holes of golf. On each hole you play one wedge shots from each distance below:
- 125 yards
- 100 yards
- 75 yards
Each hole (9 x 3 – 27 in total) is a par-3. Your aim is to see how many birdies and pars you can score in 27 holes. I realise this game isn’t possible on a busy golf course, but try to find a quiet time or a short course where you can adapt this game.
Golf wedge summary & yardage chart download
There we have the ultimate wedge guide. There is a lot of info, so feel free to take some notes and come back to this guide in a few weeks time. Please get your basic set-up and wedge swing in place first. This can be done at home in front of a mirror or window, with any towel you can grab.
Secondly, find time to go practice your wedge yardages. Below is a download you can print off and fill in. Lastly use the skills games to really refine your distance control and take this skill onto the golf course. If you want to track your practice stats grab a copy of the golf insider performance diary.
If you’d like a guide on how to chip and some extra golf chipping tips check out these two links. And if you would like an article like this one sent to your email box, come sign up for the golf insider weekly post – it’s free.
As ever, happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider
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