Editor's note: Every week, PGA professional Kevin Hinton examines the swing of a recent tour winner and tells you what you can learn. A Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, Kevin is the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Golf Club, Locust Valley, N.Y., and is a Lead Master Instructor for the Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Resort & Spa. He also teaches at Drive 495 in New York. He has seen thousands of swings, and has helped golfers of all abilities, from rank beginners to tour players. This week, he looks at the incredible pitch shot from 83 yards over a bunker that David Toms holed for an eagle enroute to winning the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial on Sunday. It was Toms' first tour victory in five years and assured his spot in next month's U.S. Open at Congressional, where he will be a favorite. In August, Toms also will play in the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club, where he won the PGA 10 years ago. Hinton's analysis here will give you great insight for working David's technique into your own wedge play.
This week we discuss the fundamentals of good wedge play. The below clip comes from the par-5 11th hole of Sunday's final round at the Colonial. Let's take a closer look.
The three keys to a good wedge game are (1) producing consistent, solid contact, (2) hitting the ball the proper distance, and (3) controlling your direction. I believe they are important in that order, and I encourage my students to tailor their practice with that in mind. If your contact is poor or sporadic, then gauging distance will be nearly impossible, and directional control is even more irrelevant. So let's start with the basics of good contact.
Notice how solid Toms' contact is on this shot. You can tell by the sound at impact and the tiny divot he takes. His head is extremely steady in the backswing, and in the downswing he hits the ball more with the rotation of his body, not his arms and hands. This is one key to his excellent wedge play. Most golfers have heard the saying "hit the little ball before the big ball"...that is, the golf ball being the little ball and the Earth being the big ball. This is simply emphasizing the importance of producing proper golf-ball-first contact, and it is absolutely crucial. If just this information alone is a revelation, then that's a good
__* first step. Now, how to create it. I often tell my students that with their wedges, the only time they should be gripping the end of the club, with their normal setup, and their weight 50/50, is if they are hitting that club its full distance. For example, if your full sand wedge flies 85 yards (if you're not certain of your full SW distance then please continue reading to the basics of distance control), then when you are 84 yards or less your setup should be "smaller." Essentially, as you get closer to the hole, you should be gradually gripping down, standing closer, and setting more weight on your front leg. Golf gets easier as you stand closer and grip down, so as long as you can create enough power, take advantage of the better contact that will come from this setup. As for ball position, it should range from middle to back depending on the trajectory needed for a given shot. As the ball moves farther back in your stance, contact gets better but height will be limited. If you're thinking of positioning the ball ahead of middle, you better have a darn good reason and a very forgiving lie. You might gain height, but contact will definitely be tougher.
Once you have a good handle on contact, distance control is your second objective. Toms knew his exact distance. His ball landed two feet short of the hole, bounced past the pin three feet, and spun back into the cup. Here are a couple of ideas that will help you. First, know your full-swing wedge distances. If you can't answer the question of how far you hit your wedges, then it's time to get to work. We live in a world of range finders, GPS systems and Sky Caddies . . . seriously, no excuses. Whatever your set makeup is, you need to know how far each full wedge shot will fly. Think of that distance as a full swing with about 85-percent effort . . . swinging harder than that isn't necessary, and 100-percent-effort swings likely only go higher, not farther. Second, be sure to leave yourself the distances that you are most comfortable with. David Toms' wedge shot on No. 11 at Colonial is a perfect example of this. He laid up to a comfortable distance where he could make a full swing and spin the ball easily. The result obviously speaks for itself. The reason we don't see tour players hitting wedges from awkward distances very often is they are diligent about avoiding them. Amateurs love to hit the driver on short par 4s they can't drive, and go for par 5s in two that would take an absolute miracle to reach. Even if they do hit a decent shot, the typical result is a very difficult 30- to 50-yard shot. At this point it takes a very well-executed pitch shot just to hit the ball solid and get it on the green; essentially you have just negated your birdie chance. PGA Tour players are the best in the world at these distances, and they purposely avoid them. Don't make a tough game even tougher. Do your best to leave yourself easy shots.
The last component to good wedge play is directional control. Toms' obviously was spot on. He was not careless with his alignment. If you've been working on your contact and distance control, your direction is likely to be pretty good at this point. I would advise continually monitoring your setup and being very consistent with your pre-shot routine. Since a wedge shot will not have nearly the amount of sidespin as a longer shot, the ball will not curve much. If you are aligned well with proper ball position, the ball should fly pretty straight. Remember, a high percentage of shots in golf take place from 100 yards and in
. . . be sure to practice accordingly.