Forget technique. The best way to improve your short game is to adopt a new way of thinking. When you're sizing up a wedge shot, don't choose a club based on how high you want the ball to go; choose it for the lie. By that I mean, forget the big number stamped on the sole—the loft—and look for a smaller number elsewhere on the clubhead—that's the bounce.
Simply put, bounce is how much the sole raises the leading edge off the turf. A wedge with high bounce (10 to 14 degrees) helps keep the club from digging in soft conditions. A low-bounce wedge (4 to 8 degrees) is best in firm conditions, where you want the club to dig a bit. But this is an oversimplification. Good players understand bounce deeply, and usually hit the right shot. I'll show you what they know.
To begin, a good system is to use at least two wedges: a low-lofted wedge (like a 54-degree) with high bounce and a high-lofted wedge (like a 60-degree) with low bounce.
1. WHEN YOU NEED HIGH BOUNCE
If your ball is on an upslope, choose your high-bounce wedge. This should also be your lower-loft wedge, which is perfect because the uphill lie is going to help the ball achieve any height it needs.
The most common mistake here is to shift too much weight to the lead foot. This creates excessive forward shaft lean and causes the club to dig and stick into the hillside. The shaft must be perpendicular to the ground to activate the bounce, so at address set your shoulders parallel with the slope and your weight primarily on your trail foot. With the extra bounce, you can even hit a little behind the ball and get away with it.
If you need to stop the ball fast on the green, don't worry that you're not hitting a lob wedge. Use a scooping action to add loft—you heard me right. Notice below that my left wrist is breaking as I swing through impact. On uphill lies, soft turf or deep sand, a scooping action lets you utilize the full bounce or even increase it.
2. WHEN YOU NEED LOW BOUNCE
If your ball is on a downslope, choose your low-bounce wedge. Again, this is perfect because it should also be your high-loft wedge, and you're going to need lots of loft to get the ball in the air.
Too often in this scenario I see amateurs pull their low-loft/high-bounce wedge& they're doomed before even attempting the shot. The trailing edge "bounces" off the turf and into the belly of the ball for a hot screamer. The low-bounce wedge lets the leading edge dig a little and get under the bottom of the ball.
Again, at address set your shoulders parallel with the slope so the shaft is perpendicular to the ground. Most of your weight now will be on your lead foot. You can use the same scooping action to boost height and spin with confidence that the minimal bounce will allow the club to enter the turf.
Be careful of opening the clubface at address, as that will add bounce. Remember: On downhill lies, firm turf and bunkers with little sand, opt for a low-bounce wedge.
Chris O'Connell teaches PGA Tour players Matt Kuchar and Scott Piercy. He is based at The Plane Truth at The Courses at Watters Creek in Plano, Texas.