Approach Wedge Distances: Get it Right

The wedges are often called the scoring clubs for good reason. Get them dialed in and you are going to be looking at some short putts to make birdie, par or whatever, depending on your level. However, if your approach wedge distances are off, there is very little chance of scoring well. This is an area where is pays to know your game.

  • Make a wedge distance chart
  • Conditions change distances
  • Pick the right shot for the situation

Distance is Key

Distance plays a uniquely important role in golf. For example, nobody ever sold a driver by claiming it goes slightly less far than last year’s model. This is true for irons too. One of the biggest sectors of club development is the distance iron. That number on the launch monitor when you hit the demo seven iron is going to sell the club for many golfers.

However, I would say that distance is actually far more important in wedges. This might seem strange, but if your approach wedge distances are off or inconsistent, the effect on your score is far more important than with any other club.

If this doesn’t convince you, let’s look at a concrete example to prove the point. I get a new driver. This shiny new addition to the bag gives me another twenty yards over my old club. Imagine for a second that I am someone who hits their driver the same distance most of the time (hint: this golfer doesn’t exist). So my new driver means that I am twenty yards further down the fairway if I hit it straight.

OK, that is great and will help me to sore better because I will be hitting a shorter club into the green. However, in itself, it doesn’t make a difference. If old and new driver both hit it straight, I am playing a shot from the fairway. I regularly lose to people who are sitting twenty yards or more behind me off the tee!

Now think about the wedge. This twenty yard difference is simply night and day. It is the difference between a putt and in the water short of the green or out-of-bounds over the back. This is the difference between a par and a double bogey or worse! Nobody would ever buy a wedge that did this!

Consistency is Essential for Good Wedge Play

You might say that it doesn’t work like this. Once you know that this new wedge goes 20 yards further, you simply adjust distances and life ifs good. In fact, life is even better because you are hitting a wedge from twenty yards further away. I would reply that this is actually missing the point. Going back to my driver example, I said that the golfer who hits their driver the same distance every time doesn’t exist. This variation is always present, especially with longer clubs.

One drive that goes 230 and one that goes 250 or 270 (or whatever, depending on your level/distances) is common. And it is often not really an issue. We simply adjust our club choice for the next shot. For our wedge, variance in the distance is death. A wedge that hits it twenty yards further is great, generally. However, a wedge that hits it 20 yards further sometimes is a terrible club! A golfer who can hit an approach wedge 80 yards but has very little difference between shots is far better off than a golfer who hits the same club 130 yards, but varies between 115 and 145.

So how do you achieve this consistency?

There are a few different ways of working on this, but the key is to know your own game well. This generally means creating a distance chart. I have explained in depth how to do this for different clubs from hybrids to wedges before, but it basically involves testing out your bag in real course conditions using a GPS or rangefinder for more accurate results. Then this information should be put down on paper into a chart that you can print off and consult on course.

This doesn’t guarantee a good shot of course, but it does mean you know know far you really hit it as opposed to a vague idea based on that one amazing shot you remember.

Course and Weather Conditions Play a Big Role

Once you know how far you really hit each of the clubs you use for approaches into the green, the next step is to see how this plays out in real life. The most obvious factor that can change things is the wind. Hitting that high wedge into a howling gale isn’t going to do the same thing as when you play the same shot with a hurricane at your back!

Of course, these are extreme examples, but wind generally can be problematic with wedges. A wedge shot is going to go high with a lot of spin which means it will be affected by wind more than any other club in the bag. Temperature is also going to play a role as will humidity. Finally, turf conditions and whether you are hitting off a tight lie or thick rough will add yet another dimension to the calculation.

Factoring all this stuff in comes with experience and actually will be almost unthinking for many golfers. However, it means that even the most regular of regular golfers will have shots that go further or shorter. This should highlight once again just how ridiculous the idea of a wedge that has a big gap from short to long actually is. If the club isn’t doing the same thing in perfect conditions, what the hell is it going to do when you are trying to factor wind into play?

Different Shots for Different Situations

The final point to consider with approach shots is that not all situations call for the same thing. For example, with windy conditions, do you really want to hit it up high and try to guess just how much the wind will affect things? If the fairway is rolling nicely and there isn’t any trouble short of the green, hitting a lower shot and maybe even rolling it onto the green might be smarter.

This brings us back to our distance chart. Many golfers like to use a clock face system or similar to hit one club different distances. Having a 6 o’clock swing with a 50 degree gap wedge might give the same distance on your chart as a full swing with a 58 degree lob wedge. The ball flights are going to be very different, as will the amount of roll.

Know Your Approach Wedge Distances

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter exactly how far you hit an approach wedge. There is no “right distance”. Longer is not better at all in this situation. There is only one key and that is consistency. There should be as little difference as possible from one shot to the next in good conditions in terms of front to back dispersion. If this means that your approach wedge is 48 degrees and a full swing and someone else’s is an easy 58, who cares?

Get out on the course, start recording shots and get a good idea of the distance each wedge goes. Note this information down on a card, or print it off and consult it regularly on the course. There is no greater weapon in golf than knowing exactly how far you will hit each club. When you see Lee Westwood’s clubs, you will notice that he actually has the distance written on each clubhead. If one of the best golfers in the world over the past couple of decades does this, don’t you think it is tie that you took consistency a little more seriously?

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