The best thing you can do for your swing is to let it be an athletic motion. What I mean is, let your body and the club flow back and through so the swing is smooth and natural. One area I see a lot of golfers losing this flow is on short wedge shots, say, 40 to 60 yards. Because it's not a full swing, the instinct is to overcontrol the motion. Trust me, that doesn't work.
The key on those short wedges is to get into a good setup and make a backswing that allows you to accelerate through the ball. Play the ball in the middle of your stance, and set extra weight on your front foot. From there, swing the club back nice and wide, keeping your hands stretched away from your body. The backswing should be short enough—no more than chest high—so you don't have to ease off the shot coming down. You always want your swing to be accelerating through impact.
“HERE’S A GREAT DOWNSWING TRIGGER: KICK IN YOUR BACK KNEE.”
A good downswing trigger is to kick your back knee toward the target. That'll shift your weight to your front side and get your body turning forward. A lot of amateurs freeze the lower body and try to steer the club into the ball with their arms. But it's critical to get your lower body and weight moving toward the target so the low point of the swing comes in front of the ball. That's how you make ball-then-turf contact, which is super important on wedge shots that don't require a full swing.
Last thing: Keep up your speed all the way to the finish (above, right). Avoid the instinct to baby the shot. With a short enough backswing, you can make a firm strike on the ball and not worry about going too far.
Commit to this swing thought: Wide back, accelerate through. You'll maintain an athletic flow and have a lot more success on those half-wedges.
ALWAYS HIT TO REAL TARGETS ON THE RANGE
At my school in Vegas, we installed big metal plates out on the range, not only for targets but for the clang players hear when they hit them. Determine the yardage to wedge targets on your range, and develop feel for how much swing equals how much distance. Remember, keep the swing short, and give the ball a good hit. Great wedge players don't guide the club into the ball. Stay aggressive.
Butch Harmon is a Golf Digest Teaching Professional.