The short game is the most important aspect of the game. It’s the first thing you should work on as a youngster or beginner as you learn how to properly manipulate the club and control distances, and it’s the part you seek to improve on the most as an established player looking to shave a few strokes and get to the next level handicap-wise. But you must wield the proper tools to fit your technique. One of the most common questions I get is “How do I know what lofts and bounces I should be playing?
When properly struck you should see a variance of about 12-15 yards between each iron as they are separated by 3° and 4° of loft each way. In order to properly choose your wedges the first thing you need to do is look at your current pitching wedge. Whether you are purchasing new irons or sticking with a trusty set currently in the bag, you must know the loft of the PW. There’s two ways to find out this information. You can look it up online as most spec charts are available from irons sets over the last 20 years or so. Or you can take your clubs to your nearest pro or club fitter; just make sure they have a loft/lie machine before you show up. I would recommend checking both ways as it is. The spec chart may show your PW having a loft of 46° but when you check it in the machine it is actually 45°. This can happen with forged irons and soft carbon steel that see a lot of play and practice. Now you are asking yourself can 1° really make that big of a difference. It probably won’t for most of you. But for the sake of getting things precise and uniform, let’s say it does.
Iron lofts have gotten stronger over the years. Your blades and muscle backs will stay pretty traditional where distance isn’t the number 1 priority. In those sets you will see a pitching wedge with a more traditional loft of 46° or 47°. But in some super game-improvement models you will see PW lofts as strong as 42°. This is where the gap wedge comes in and grows in popularity. I cringe when a student of mine has a PW in their bag and their next wedge is a 56° sand wedge. Let’s say a player hits their PW an average of 120 yards and they hit their sand wedge around 75 on a full swing. That’s a 45-yard gap between the 2 clubs. Now I’m all for learning how to take some off and controlling distances with your swing, but that is too big of a window and a big ask from an already inconsistent player. If we can properly fill that “gap” with the correct lofted wedge, we can help the player now find his 100 yard club, fitting in perfect between his pitching and sand.
Four to five degrees between your wedges seems to be the perfect fit for most players while your long irons are separated by 3°. My pitching wedge over the last few years has had a loft of 46°, so I have had much success with a wedge setup of 50° – 54° – 58°. The standard seemed to always be 52° – 56° – 60°, so I had to make some adjustments. By rights my 54° would be considered my sand wedge, but I play a lot of greenside bunker shots with my 58°, especially if I’m short-sided or have a high lip to deal with. I can also open that 58° and play a flop shot when needed, which may occur once or twice a round at the most. I don’t like to recommend a wedge higher than a 58° for most amateurs or high handicappers. There has been an obsession with 60° and 64° lob wedges and the thrill of the “Phil” flop shot. But there’s not a lot of room for error. To excel at a flop shot a player needs a lot of speed through impact. You have to be willing to take a big swing to hit the ball a short distance. A lot of amateurs don’t trust it and the either decelerate which chunks it fat or skulls it over the green, or they sweep right under the ball and it goes nowhere. I would instead learn to hit different shots with your sand wedge and differentiate the distance they carry and the height at which they travel by learning and practicing different techniques and ball position within your stance.
When is it time to split hairs? I am always one to keep it simple when you can as golf is hard enough. “Hey Seth, what if my pitching wedge is 45°?” Well I’m glad you asked, err thought of it and I heard you. Most wedges are forged or made of extremely soft carbon steel and can be bent in that same machine you asked your fitter to check the loft in. So if you’re a perfectionist and will lose sleep at night, you can bend that 50° to a 49° and so on to meet your needs of 4° increments. One degree is usually the equivalent of 3 yards. Ben Hogan once fired a caddie over a discrepancy on whether an approach shot was playing 153 or 154 yards. You’re not Ben Hogan and neither am I. So if you are rocking a 44° pitching wedge you could do the 50° gap wedge as is and leave the worries at home.
When people think of Track Man they think of trying to hit 180 mph ball speeds and 1.50 smash factor, and it is a great tool for finding the best driver. But Dustin Johnson became the #1 player in the world by using it to improve his wedge game. DJ used Track Man to dial in his wedges and see which lofts and types of swings produced the ideal spin numbers and carry distances. Now no everyone has access to a $30,000 launch monitor, but now that you know how to choose the right wedges for your bag, get practicing. From a young age I fell in love with practicing around the green. To this day I get a much bigger rush by chipping in or holing a long putt than I do by hitting a long drive. I still love heading to the practice green in the evening and working on shots well past dark. Being able to properly feel and then execute a 54 yard shot and then a 61 yard shot can be the difference of 4 or 5 strokes per round.
Fantasy Picks The golf offseason, or lack thereof, is behind us and the wrap around 2020-2021 campaign picks up this week in Hawaii at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. This event is typically a winner’s only field but the criteria were changed when the schedule was adjusted due to Covid. The boys tee it up at majestic Kapalua where you can enjoy beautiful vistas, 30 mph winds, and 400 yard drives on the 18th hole. Forget a slow start. Let’s come out swinging! Winner Dustin Johnson Don’t over think it. Best player on the planet and playing like it. Will contend Xander Schauffele A win and a runner-up here the last two years. Contend he shall. Sleeper Tony Finau A top-10 machine isn’t exactly a sleeper but it seems like he just can’t win. He’s in the field due to being in the current top-30 of FedEx points. Take advantage of the opportunity.
Enjoy the game and each other,
Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional