The Art of Being Skillful

As many of you know I enjoy deciphering which elements contribute to being a great wedge player. Ever since I started with my 'Wedge Project' research in 2010 chipping and pitching have really piqued my interest.

My recent testing, and philosophy, has been aligned alongside golfers using one club and applying their skills to control the trajectory and outcome of their shots in close proximity to the green. For ease of illustration and testing I selected a 58º wedge and a 15 yard carry requirement. I then played three different trajectory shots - a high, mid and low shot. I recorded each version in slo-motion and at regular speed along with running TrackMan in the background to capture data on a handful of each type of shot.

As you can tell there is a dramatic difference in the pace required to execute each intended trajectory. The technical changes for each shot changed as follows:

High: ball positioned off front big toe, face square at address and a sense that the handle slows dramatically approaching impact as the clubhead passes the handle prior to impact. Freddie Couples is a good image here.

Mid: ball positioned centrally, face square at address, medium pace and a sense that the shaft will be vertical at impact.

Low: ball positioned off the back big toe, face square with hands forward as a result of the ball position and an upbeat pace that encourages the handle to 'beat' the clubhead to the ball at impact. Zach Johnson's brisk pace comes to mind with this type of shot

At Impact

At Impact

The TrackMan data provides some interesting differences:

Club Speed: Low 23mph; Mid 30mph; High 37mph

Ball Speed: Low 27.8mph; Mid 28.5mph; High 28.0mph

Smash Factor: Low 1.2; Mid 1.0; High 0.8

Launch Angle: Low 29.6º; Mid 40.6º; High 51.6º

Spin Rate: Low 2230rpm; Mid 1630rpm; High 1250rpm

One thing that struck me was that the average ball speed was the same for each type of shot, yet the club speed was very different. The attack angle was steepest with the lower shot primarily due to the ball position and the shaft lean. I also found it interesting that there was roughly 10º difference in the launch angle of each version.

The numbers might be important for coaches to understand, but what can you, the player looking to save strokes take away?

  • Stick with one club around the greens - you'll become a skilled artisan with it in your hands.
  • Alter the trajectory with subtle changes at address and less subtle changes in the pace.
  • The manner in which you release the clubhead through impact will make a big difference
  • Now get to work!

Thanks for reading and please share with a friend. Happy New Year and all the best for a fabulous 2018. #birdies

Two Shots for Sand Success

In order to be a great bunker player you need more than one shot.  How often have you found yourself in the sand, twenty feet from the hole, and you need to hit a high, soft, spinnning shot to have any chance of getting up and down?  Or found yourself sixty feet from the target and you now need a lower, running type bunker shot in order to reach the hole?  You need to learn these two shots!

Feel the Face this Open for the High Shot!

The first shot is a high velocity, high trajectory, high spin shot.  It is most often struck with the most lofted club in the bag.  In this situation the ball needs to come to a screeching halt very soon after landing, due to the fact that you have very little green to play with.
Here is how to play the shot:
  • Using your most lofted club, open the face as much as possible.  You should feel as if you could balance a glass of water on the face of the club at address - take note of the picture above.
  • The velocity and speed in the swing is what gets the ball high and spinning, so even though this may be a short shot it requires an aggressive approach.  Hit it hard!
  • Going through impact try to feel the hands scoop under the ballThe club head releases under and thus the club face stays open through the hit. This is an important element to this shot as it allows the golfer to hit hard, yet when releasing the club properly, the ball goes up versus far.
  • Practice this shot from good lies off of a slight up slope in the sand.  While hitting the shot as hard as you can try to see how high and short you can make the ball travel.

Post Impact

The other shot is a low velocity, low trajectory, low spin shot.  It should most often be played with the second most lofted club in the bag.  If you have an LW it would be the SW, or if you only have an SW then you should use the PW.  In this situation the shot needs to traverse a large portion of either flat or downhill green.  There is ample opportunity for the ball to roll like a putt!

Play the shot this way:

  • Using a lesser lofted club the stance should be of average width and the ball position is still forward of center.
  • The clubface remains open, yet to a lesser degree than the above shot.
  • This shot is played almost in slow motion as there should be very little speed in the swing. I often call this the 'dump and run' shot, as it should just get out the bunker, land early on the green and roll to the hole as if it were a putt.
  • The hands should be light throughout the swing and it is okay to actually roll the face a little through impact.  This serves to lower the shot further and causes the ball to release more.
  • Do not attempt this shot when your ball is lying on an upslope! An upslope requires a more aggressive swing and that robs the ball of  its ability to stay low.
  • Practice is vital for this shot as it tends to take a few tries before sensing the correct speed of the swing.

With a few minutes spent experimenting with the above suggestions in the sand you will soon start to lose some of the angst we have all experienced when stepping into a bunker.  Give it a try and please feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Additional Resources:

How to Hit Great Bunker Shots

Luke Donald's Buried Lie