How to Play the 10 Toughest Wedge Shots

Wednesday January 14th, 2009
Brian Henn

The most common decision you're faced with as you move closer to the green is a simple one: Lob wedge or sand wedge? Thanks to our analysis of 540 short-game shots hit by golfers just like you, you can now know for certain you've pulled the right club. This exclusive test, directed by Top 100 Teacher Eric Alpenfels and Dr. Bob Christina at the Pinehurst Golf Academy, is the first to provide a clear-cut guide to short-game club selection, and puts to rest the misconception that the only wedge a good player needs is a sand wedge. \n

Alpenfels and his team pitted 27 golfers against 10 familiar greenside lies. Each tester played every shot with both wedges and only once to simulate real-life playing conditions. "We found significant differences in the performance of each club from different lies," says Alpenfels. What this means is that you can knock the ball closer to the hole simply by choosing the right wedge.

CONTINUE TO SEE WHICH WEDGE CAME OUT ON TOP!

Pitch Shots | Chip Shots
Spot the difference: SW vs. LW
How to pitch with your lob wedge
How to chip from awkward lies
How to lob it out of the sand
Why you should try a 64-degree wedge

PITCH SHOTS

The test: Study participants played 25- to 30-yard pitch shots from the fairway, rough and hardpan. The pitches were hit in random order and only once to simulate real-life playing conditions. In each case, the hole was cut in the center of the green, that is, there was plenty of green available to land the ball.

The results
Testers fared better with the sand wedge from hardpan, but hit the ball much closer to the hole from the rough and a normal fairway lie with the lob wedge.

Why the lob wedge won
Most of the testers felt the lob wedge allowed them to make a fuller swing, instead of an in-between one with the less-lofted sand wedge. Top 100 Teacher Anne Cain says that's a good thing. "Short-game spin and control come from accelerating through impact. Since a lob wedge has more loft and doesn't travel as far, you'll naturally be more aggressive and create the spin needed to land pitch shots close."

On Tour: Ernie Els
"I've been trying to incorporate my sand wedge and my pitching wedge a little more because I have more variety with those clubs. But if I need to stop the ball quickly, I'll always opt for the lobber." — Ernie Els is fifth (66.7%) on Tour getting up-and-down from 20-30 yards

THE TEST

USE YOUR LOB WEDGE TO LAND PITCH SHOTS CLOSER
From the rough and the fairway, pitch shots hit by our testers with a lob wedge stopped an average of 11.5 feet closer to the hole.

Chip Shots | Bunker Shots
Spot the difference: SW vs. LW
How to pitch with your lob wedge
Why you should try a 64-degree wedge

CHIP SHOTS

The test: Testers played chips of 50 to 84 feet from (1) a clean lie to an easily accessible pin; (2) a clean lie with very little green between the fringe and the flagstick; (3) an uphill lie in the rough; and (4) a downhill lie in the rough over a bunker. Again, each shot was hit only once to simulate the pressure of having to hit a good shot on the first swing.

The results
The sand wedge is the pick for chip shots unless you have to carry a bunker or other obstacle. In that case, the extra loft of the lob wedge makes it easier to clear the danger and stop the ball quickly.

Why the sand wedge won
According to our testers, a sand wedge is easier to control on delicate short shots. "It has to do with the bounce angle," says Top 100 Teacher Jerry Mowlds. "More bounce gives you more room for error in situations beyond sand shots. Opening the face makes your sand wedge play like a lob wedge, but with a touch of extra forgiveness due to the bounce."

On Tour: Aaron Baddeley
"My lob wedge is the most used club in my bag. I hit it from inside of 90 yards, from bunkers, and chipping around the green. David Leadbetter told me from an early age that I should try to get really good with one club, and I have a lot of trust in my LW." — Aaron Baddeley is ranked second (97.6%) on Tour in getting up and down from the fringe

THE TEST

\nUSE YOUR SAND WEDGE TO HIT CHIP SHOTS CLOSER
From the rough, from an upslope and to a tight pin, chip shots hit with a SW by our testers landed an average of 4 feet closer to the hole.

Pitch Shots | Bunker Shots
Spot the difference: SW vs. LW
How to pitch with your lob wedge
Why you should try a 64-degree wedge

BUNKER SHOTS

\nThe test: Testers played bunker shots ranging from 43 to 52 feet to a center pin from the following situations: blast from a deep-faced bunker, standard bunker shot, blast from a buried lie.

The results
Surprisingly, the lob wedge outperformed the club originally designed specifically to escape bunkers, although the two performed roughly equally from a buried lie.

Why the lob wedge won
The majority of testers felt the extra loft of a lob wedge made it easier to get the ball up and out of the bunker. "To do the same with a sand wedge, you have to open the face," adds Top 100 Teacher Dr. Gary Wiren. "But that raises the leading edge above the bottom of the ball and increases the chance of blading the shot. You're better off blasting with a lob wedge."

On Tour: Justin Rose
"I use my lob wedge most frequently from the bunker, and for pretty much every shot that's 40 yards or less. If the sand is really soft, however, I'll go with my sand wedge because it has more bounce and won't dig into the sand as much as my lob wedge." — Justin Rose is ranked fifth (59.1%) on Tour in sand save percentage

THE TEST

\nUSE YOUR LOB WEDGE TO BLAST IT CLOSE FROM SAND
From non-buried bunker lies, blasts hit with a LW by our testers landed and average of 7.5 feet closer to the hole.

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