"What do I need to do to lower my scores?"
Unfortunately, that's probably the second most-asked question for golfers, right behind, "How do I hit longer, straighter drives?" It should be first, though, shouldn't it? The fastest, most effective way to shave strokes off your scorecard is to dial in your wedges. Let's face it: The closer you hit it to the hole, the shorter the putt and the more putts you'll make.
We sought out the advice of 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year Lou Guzzi to answer that very question. "Start by taking out your pitching wedge and finding out precisely how far you can carry it -- full swing -- and then work off of that," he said. "Focus solely on carry -- not carry and roll out."
The wedges, Guzzi explained, are the most versatile clubs in your bag, unlike the "grip it and rip it" approach you might take with the driver.
"There are so many variations with the wedges," he said. "Get out on the driving range and take the pitching wedge out for an experiment. Take different size backswings and complete each of those swings with a full finish. Go hip-high with the hands and some hinge in the wrists to full follow-through. Then go chest-high with the hands and full hinge to full finish. Then shoulder high with the hands to full finish. Note how far you're carrying each one of those variations."
After that, you can work on the same variety of backswings, but with a smaller, shoulder-high finish. Pay attention to how hard you're hitting the ball with each of those swings. As you hit these shots to consistent distances, you're going to want to note those yardages either on paper or in your memory bank. It's all going to come in handy on the course. "Once you've played around with all these shots, identify which one is your strongest," Guzzi said. "Take advantage of that and know you can always go back to that shot when you're in trouble."
As an example, Guzzi said, suppose your strongest, most consistent wedge shot is from 60 yards. If you find yourself in some danger off the tee, rather than attempting a low-percentage hero shot to the green, just play the ball out to where you'll leave yourself close to 60 yards to the hole.
"Take advantage of that knowledge -- where you're the strongest -- and hit more shots from that distance," he said. "Being a good wedge player puts you in a position where you think better around the course. You can play with your ball position as well. None of it is incorrect, you'll just get three different trajectories. But, remember, the smaller the backswing, the less swing speed you'll generate. The less swing speed, the shorter the shot."
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