Developing feel with your wedges
Like putting, your wedges and shots around the green are feel shots. First there are fundamentals that need to be learned and refined, but learning to know the difference between a 40 foot chip to a 43 foot chip, or a 75 yard wedge to a 72 yard wedge cannot be accomplished without practice, feeling your clubhead, length of swing, body rotation, and speed of your club. The highly skilled players spend countless hours honing these abilities.
There are numerous practice methods that will help you learn better distance control. I will give you my personal favorites to give you a work sheet to reference. Starting with a full wedge at 100 yards (you might hit it further or shorter), mark off distances at every 10 yards. Then practice hitting to each distance. I like to pick out a distance, let's say 80 yards, and make my 80 yard swing and before the ball travels very far, I mentally say to myself: "is it long, short, right, left, or correct". Therefore I am getting feedback on each swing. Another method is knowing how far your half-swing (9 o'clock), three-quarter swing (10:30 position), or full swing goes with three different clubhead positions. The club positions are square, ¼ open (about 20 to 25 degrees open), and ½ open (about 45 degrees). Swing speed should be the same for each club position and length of backswing. These are great drills to fine tune your sense of feel for the longer wedge shots from 50 yards and up. Touring professionals have developed their feel to the degree that some can drop their wedges within ½ yard of their landing spot.
When you get closer to the green the sensitivity gets greater. The technique is still extremely important, but the visualization and feel is more critical. Tight muscles and exacting movements are doom for consistent shots around the green. This one exercise has helped many of my students get a better feel for the letting the club swing freely with better feedback in the hands.
One arm swings with both the right and left hand. Setup in your normal short pitching position and grip only with one hand, swing the club smoothly back to around halfway back In your backswing. Now let the gravity of the clubhead swing down and through to your finish. Remember you should swing the clubhead and NOT THE HANDLE first. Let the clubhead strike the ball and then let the body react and finish towards the target. Work both right and left hand drills with an emphasis on relaxed motion and smooth clubhead speed. Be sure to finish towards your target. Then put both hands on the club and replicate the feeling that you had with the one hand swing.
Ideally you have a practice green that you can work on these drills. I do not advocate hitting hundreds of balls in one position. What you should do is take three to four balls and pitch or chip to a target. Then change the target and distance each time, so that you visualize and adjust. Don't try to make this a mechanical method, but be instinctive and feel each shot.
.At the golf schools that I have taught, the emphasis is to make the game more enjoyable for the students and to have them lower their scores. Most want longer drivers, or more consistent irons shots, etc. Of course that is what we worked on, but being an all-encompassing golf school we worked on all aspects of the game. I emphasized the importance of the short game and the fact that the best players in the world spend between 50 to 75% of their time on shots within 100 yards. Given that fact shouldn't we all be spending a little bit more time on what really could lower our scores?