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The Scoop on Wedges

There may be other symptoms you can detect in your game that suggest a steep approach angle. Do you hit relatively short pitching wedges—less than 110 yards—as opposed to robust ones that carry 130 yards?Do your wedge shots have a high parabola?Do you have to play your wedges toward the back of your stance to make crisp contact?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then your wedges probably need more bounce—at least twelve degrees—a wide sole and plenty of camber. "Most amateurs play wedges without enough bounce," says Heintzelman. On the other hand, if you take shallow, small divots or carry a handicap in the low single digits, you may need less bounce and be better suited to wedges closer to the pros' specifications.

How many wedges should golfers carry?Lucas doesn't think weaker players—those who can't break ninety consistently—should carry a lob wedge. Their scooping motion tends to add loft to their wedges, so they don't need sixty degrees, and they don't attain enough swing speed to take advantage of the club's ability to pop the ball into the air.

Assuming a player can break ninety, Heintzelman believes that three wedges are usually sufficient to start out. If the player has the standard lofts of fortyeight degrees in his pitching wedge and fifty-six degrees in his sand wedge, he might replace the latter with a fifty-four-degree sand wedge (either by buying one or by having his fifty-six-degree club bent two degrees flatter) and add a sixty-degree wedge. All three should have about the same bounce, sole and camber characteristics. If the player then finds a problematic distance vacuum between his pitching wedge and his sand wedge, he might go back to his fifty-six-degree wedge and add a fifty-two-degree gap wedge. A strong player who hits his pitching wedge 130 yards or more will naturally have bigger distance intervals to fill and should probably start out with a four-wedge set.

Once a player has the right wedges, Lucas says, he must learn to regulate distance from the sand. "Take the different wedges and make the same swing and see how the ball reacts. Maybe your sixty-degree wedge goes fifteen paces and rolls out a few more. Your fifty-four-degree sand wedge goes twenty yards and rolls a bit farther." Then you employ them accordingly.

If an amateur plays on courses with firm or sparse sand, Lucas says, he may need somewhat less bounce on his wedges. If he's a player who encounters different sand textures on different courses or on different holes of the same course, he may need to learn to use a thinner-soled gap wedge from the sand and develop the confidence to rely on it when necessary. With less effective bounce, the thinner sole will penetrate more into firmer sand. Hit it with a square, not open, clubface.

Lucas and Heintzelman also generally recommend replacing at least one long iron with a hybrid club. Among the advantages is utility in fairway bunkers. Hybrids have a broad sole, which makes them less likely to dig into the sand. And their weight distribution is skewed toward the sole of the club, which helps get the ball in the air fast. In other words, you're more likely to make solid contact and clear the bunker lip with a hybrid than with a long iron.

"It's like stealing," says Lucas. "Even if you don't hit it perfectly, it still gets up."

If you live too far away to work with Lucas or Heintzelman, don't despair. PGA professionals in your area know a lot about wedge specifications. So do many knowledgeable golf-store employees. And Heintzelman adds, "There's a lot of good information on the manufacturers' web sites, if you know what you're looking for."

Now you do.

Bounce is the angle created when the trailing edge of a wedge's sole is placed on the ground in the hitting position. If a wedge has lots of bounce, the leading edge will be fourteen to eighteen degrees above the ground. If it has minimal bounce, the angle will be perhaps four to six degrees. If it has no bounce, the leading edge will be flat on the ground. The more bounce, the less likely the clubhead will be to dig into the sand or turf.

For a shot out of a greenside bunker, you want the clubhead to glide smoothly just under the surface, displacing a dollar-bill-size scoop of sand. The sand and not the clubhead is what propels the ball into the air and onto the green. When the clubhead has a lot of bounce, the leading edge is above the trailing edge and knifes through the sand ahead of the rest of the clubhead like a woodworking wedge, minimizing resistance. When a wedge has less bounce and/or a thinner sole, the leading edge and trailing edge impact the sand at almost the same time, encountering more resistance.

The right wedges won't cure your bunker problems if your technique is flawed, as most amateurs' technique is, says Kirk Lucas.

In his view, the big mistake a lot of amateurs make in playing out of greenside bunkers is trying to follow the traditional advice of opening their stances and swinging parallel to the imaginary line between their toes. Lucas believes this approach tends to promote a poor ball position—too far back in the stance. With poor ball position, it's much more difficult to make the kind of swing that scoops a shallow slice of sand from under the ball. Instead, it leads to a steep angle of approach. The player either catches the ball or digs his club too deeply into the sand.

Lucas suggests playing the greenside bunker shot with a slightly closed stance (right), although the hips and shoulders remain parallel to the target line. Play the ball off the left foot. Flex the left knee so that it feels outside the left ankle, and keep it that way throughout the swing. This gets the player lower and promotes a shallow angle of attack. Lay the clubface open and swing, making a shallow, oval-shaped divot in the sand directly beneath the ball. It should pop up and land gently on the green.

For fairway-bunker shots with a hybrid club, Lucas advises choking up slightly on the club, positioning the ball toward the left foot, and then leaning forward so that the left foot bears a little more weight than the right. The feeling should almost be as if the torso were ahead of the hands. Then make an easy swing and clip the ball off the sand.

The Farm, Warrenton, VA
Individual lesson: $200 per hour


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