Dial in Your Pitch Shots
Golf is a funny game; it's the shortest shots that are often the most difficult. They should be fairly easy, but they're not.
When it comes to wedge shots under 80 yards (pitches), many of us have to hit a shot that is not full. Full shots are fairly easy because we don't have to guess how hard to hit the ball; the answer is full. These shorter pitch shots require us to guess at how hard to hit the shot and, unlike golf video games, none of us have that swing meter in plain sight that tells us exactly when to stop our backswing or how fast to swing.
Golfers end up playing the shot completely by feel and relying on their depth perception and hand-eye coordination to make the ball go the right distance. Unfortunately, this is an incredibly unreliable method for hitting pitch shots. It leads to shots with little confidence, timid swings, uneven tempo, and incorrect yardages.
The trick to mastering pitch shots under 80 yards or so is to practice three distinct shots with each wedge in your bag.
Now, most of us carry 2-4 wedges (48* PW; 52* GW; 56* SW; 60* LW) depending on your personal preference. I, personally, carry three (48* PW; 52* GW; 58* SW/PW). If I only hit these clubs a reliable distance when struck at full power, then I have three reliable yardages in my bag. The goal is to increase the number of reliable distances under 80 yards.
If I were to add two different reliable and repeatable swings to my wedges, then that would increase my overall number of reliable distances from three to nine. That's significant! So, what do these other two reliable swings look like? Well, they're the same swing as your full wedge shot, just with the backswing stopped a little bit earlier. To illustrate this, I use the image of a clock. If we were to imagine a clock around your golf swing (see below), my arms in a full swing would stop at the "11:00" position.
The two shots that would be helpful to add to your wedge game would be swings that stop at 9:00 and 10:00. This would mean that, for example, I would have a 9:00, 10:00, and 11:00 shot with my 48* PW, 52* GW, and 58* SW/LW. Depending on how many wedges you have, this practice could add up to nine NEW shots to your repertoire without changing your swing very much. It will also allow you to have confidence and consistency in your wedge game.
The chart below is helpful in figuring out the distance you hit each shot. As you can see, if you carry four wedges, you'll have 12 unique shots. Simply copy/paste/print the chart below and take it to the driving range. Practice hitting the three shots with each wedge and record the distance it travels consistently.
Now, the key to this approach is consistency. In order to be consistent with your yardages, you'll need to maintain the same tempo and acceleration through the ball. It's one thing to just say, "hit a 9:00 shot" and it's another to be able to execute the shot properly. So, here's how you do that...
Maintain a consistent tempo. Tempo is the rate of speed you swing the club back and through. If you think of a metronome for musicians, it keeps the rate/time consistent. There is no metronome for golf, but the best way to maintain a consistent tempo is to count in your head while you swing. I often count "one, two" in my backswing and "three, four" in my downswing and follow-through.
The backswing is shorter and slower than the downswing and follow-through, yet the count ratio is still 1:1 (2 count:2 count). This count will stay the exact same even when you have a shorter backswing (as in the "9:00" swing).
It's also important to accelerate through the downswing. Often times, when players are not confident in their distances, they'll decelerate, or slow down, through the ball. This is not what you want to do because it leads to more inconsistency. Instead, allow gravity to take your hands and the club through the impact zone. If you let gravity work, then you will be sure to accelerate through the ball.
If you're able to add these two shots (9:00 & 10:00) to your wedge game while also maintaining a consistent tempo and acceleration through the ball, then you'll definitely see your pitching game improve dramatically. Go ahead and save/print the empty chart above. Head to the range and fill out your yardages. Then keep the chart in your bag for the golf course, so you know exactly what club to hit and when.