Backswing RoundUp

To dial in distance on wedge shots, should players focus more on swing length or swing speed?

To dial in distance on wedge shots, should players focus more on swing length or swing speed?
Distance control is crucial when it comes to close shots under 100 yards from the hole. Two big ways to predictably control distance are the length of your swing and the speed of your swing. Most "feel" players will tell you they just feel how hard they need to hit the ball. More technical players might tell you they control distance by how far back they swing the club. Either way, let's see what our PGA Professionals have to say on the matter.

Distance control in the short game is one of my favorite things to teach.

Distance control in the short game is one of my favorite things to teach. For golfers that average a score over 85 you can shave the most strokes quickest by getting on the green with an up-and-down attempt from 0 to 50 yards and getting on the green from 50 to 100 yards.

For distance control you need a club head speed “governor.” For most golfers swing size or length is the better governor, and easier to conceptualize. Most golfers have 3 to 4 wedges (PW, Gap, SW & LW). I teach them swing sizes based on a clock or Dave Pelz’s fractional system, whichever they best respond to. Swing sizes of 7:00 to 5:00, 8:00 to 4:00, 9:00 to 3:00, and 10:00 to 2:00 multiplied by the 3 or 4 wedges will give a “table” of carry distances. For longer shots out to 100 yards, I teach using the 9:00 and 10:00 backswing length to full finish, times the number of wedges.

Jim Peters Golf

Jim Peters

PGA Certified in Instruction | Master Golf Teaching Professional

Jim Peters Golf, Cincinnati, OH

You're not John Daly. My answer to this question for almost everyone is to work on swing length for your partial wedge shots.

John Daly once asked Tiger why he practiced so much, and Tiger said something like “John if I had half the talent you have in your pinkie finger, I wouldn’t need to practice as much as I do.”

John Daly made a full backswing, with his club draping down his back, on even 60-yard wedge shots.

You’re not John Daly. My answer to this question for almost everyone is to work on swing length for your partial wedge shots. Learn how far the ball goes when you take it back to position 1, whether that’s on a clock system or “waist high” or whatever, with each of your wedges. Then do the same test for position 2, and then 3, and then a full swing. (Or if you prefer, just three positions: 1/3, 2/3, and full.) Then try to accelerate the same from there.

For smaller adjustments, grip down slightly. A half an inch might take off three yards.

It’s still about feel – you might be hitting the ball a bit more cleanly one day, or swinging a bit harder one day, or the greens might be firmer so you can’t fly it as far, and you’ll need to make an adjustment, but basing the distance the ball flies on your feelings for swing length gives you a framework and a foundation that makes the necessary adjustments easier.

PGA Professional

Erik Barzeski

Head Instructor

Golf Evolution, Erie, PA

It’s BOTH!

It’s BOTH!

LENGTH OF SWING:
I teach my students to use a clock system in order to train swing length. For example a right handed player, a 9 o’clock backswing length would be when the players arms are parallel to the ground in the backswing. I like the follow through to mirror the backswing length, so stopping when then players arms are at 3 o’clock. The 3 wedge swing lengths I train are 8&4, 9&3, 10&2.

PACE/SPEED
Once a player has mastered their feel of 8&4, 9&3, 10&2… they’re ready to lock-in on their consistent pace OR speed in which their body rotates. I say wedge distance control is both length and pace/speed, because I can turn fast with a 9&3 wedge swing, or very slowly still making a 9&3 swing, and the second one will always carry shorter. The key for the PACE is get consistent with the speed of body rotation. There is a correct speed of rotation for you. Below is a sample wedge chart, you’ll notice everything is about a 15yd gap.

Fill the GAPS:
This is how I know if my players are rotating at THEIR correct pace. I have them hit their PW full, and get an average carry. From there I am able to fill out a wedge chart of what each club and swing length should carry. Below is my wedge chart for reference:

WEDGE CHART

PW – 135 (f), 120 (10&2)
50 deg – 120 (f), 105 (10&2)
56 deg – 105 (f), 90 (10&2)
60 deg – 90 (f), 75 (10&2), 60 (9&3), 45 (8&4)
**inside my last number of wedge chart (45yds) is where I play chips pitches (feel shots)**

**Important – these are carry distances**

Fox Run Golf Club

Ryan Norman

Director of Instruction

Fox Run Golf Club, Council Bluffs, IA

I hate to say it, but it depends on the player. Don’t worry, I’ll elaborate.

I hate to say it, but it depends on the player. Don’t worry, I’ll elaborate. It depends on two things; time the player can put in and touch/feel/coordination. There are golfers out there that have a lot of time to practice, great facilities to practice at and the touch to see a distance and hit the ball there with “feel” alone. That’s great! Those players can keep going and get better. Sometimes all they need is a yardage measuring device and a good, solid range session to groove the distance and then they are good. These players don’t go too long between practice sessions, so they don’t lose that “feel”. Then there are the rest of us.

In 15 years of teaching and 25,000 lessons, I find most golfers don’t fall into that category. Most golfers play on the weekends, maybe, and practice once in a blue moon. Also, most golfers have not cultivated that touch/feel/coordination that the above golfer has built. These golfers would absolutely benefit from a system of rules to dial in wedge distance. Having some preset swing lengths that these players can recall will get them closer than just blind guessing with feel. Sure, even stopping your swing in the right place takes some feel and touch, but when you have a goal in mind, you will get close.

To this day, I still start with my swing length system when I have a long layoff. Living in Colorado, means I will always have random, long layoffs from the course. I can’t go out there after a month-long layoff and have the same touch/feel I had at the end of the summer last year. I will start with my system and then touch will take over as I practice more.

Nathan Morris

Director of Instruction

Center Manager

GOLFTEC Westminster, Westminster, CO

It's important to keep as many "constants" in your swing as possible.

When dialing wedges, it’s important to keep as many “constants” in your swing as possible. For instance, if a student can keep their stance width very narrow, grip the same, and tempo consistent, they will be much more precise with their short game. With borrowed methodologies from world-renowned instructors like Dave Pelz, a simple “clock” system will help most mid to high handicap golfers.

For instance, imagine if a person’s hands represent the hands of a clock. When the player addresses the golf ball, their hands will be at 6 o’clock. If the golfer brings their hands in the back-swing to 7:00 (or just past your right knee), and keeps all the “constants” listed above the same, they can produce a very repeatable golf swing. If the player can then add a 9 o’clock swing (hands level to the ground, lead arm across the chest), and a 10 o’clock swing (full swing), then the player can have three repeatable golf swings with each wedge they have in their bag. This means the player can have nine to twelve repeatable distances within 145 yards. This can drastically lower their golf swing and make golf a lot more fun.

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AJ Nelson is the Founder of the Swing Essentials golf app

AJ Nelson

PGA Golf Professional

Swing Essentials Golf App, Centreville, VA

Player’s should focus on swing speed to dial distance in on you’re wedge’s.

Player’s should focus on swing speed to dial distance in on you’re wedge’s. Speed creates distance. Focusing on the length of the swing will cause miss hits, chunks, blades, etc. Even if you do focus on the length of the swing you still need speed to create the control/distance of the shot!

Briar Leaf Golf Club

Cody Ward

PGA Associate Professional

Briar Leaf Golf Club, La Porte, IN

There are actually three elements for golfers to control, in order to dial in distance on their wedge shots.

There are actually three elements for golfers to control, in order to dial in distance on their wedge shots.
1. Club Selection- choose the proper loft!
2. Backswing- take the club back to the appropriate position for that club.
3. Finish- swing completely through the shot and finish high.
*The swing speed should be smooth and evenly paced, consistent with the player’s usual tempo.

The Country Club of Virginia

Adam Smith

Head Golf Instructor

James River Golf Course

The Country Club of Virginia, Richmond, VA

I've had success working with players focusing on "swing length" to improve in the scoring zone.

I’ve had success working with players focusing on “swing length” to improve in the scoring zone. With most players now carrying a minimum of 3 wedges, I suggest they take their wedges and range finder to their practice facility and “chart” their distances.
Take a simple index card and list the wedges they have in the bag in a column down the left side of the card, and then make columns for arm swing of 7:00, 9:00, and full swings. Hit several shots with each wedge from these 3 backswing positions, put the range finder to work to get your average distance, and fill in your card – giving the player a “distance chart” for your wedge play.
I feel this chart helps the players confidence
on the course when making wedge decisions.

Jon Beilstein

Associate Head Golf Professional

PGA Director of Instruction

Persimmon Woods Golf Club, Weldon Spring, MO

I really believe it is a blending of both.

I really believe it is a blending of both. When working with someone on wedge shots I want them to be athletic.
What I mean by that is if they were going to throw a ball their arm and body movement would be different for a short throw vs/ a long throw. For a short throw the movement would be small and slower, for a long throw it would be long and faster.
I know it can very from person to person, but I find if you are just talking swing length, like a clock drill, the swing can get to mechanical and have no feel.

By getting someone to be athletic you are helping them understand the correlation between swing length and swing speed. It really is a blending of both concepts.

Flagler Golf Academy

Rick Flagler

PGA Certified Professional

Five Ponds Golf Club | Flagler Golf Academy, Warminster, PA

I like to use a clock dial image to gauge distances.

I like to use a clock dial image to gauge distances. I get stock yardages taking the club back with lead arm parallel to ground, 9 o’clock then a little more to 10 and up to what one would consider to be a full swing then accelerate through to finish. Basically 50%, 75% then full. Word of caution, very rarely should you attempt to hit an all out wedge. For control and spin purposes it is best to keep it below full effort!

Topgolf Houston – Spring

Dan White

Director of Instruction

Topgolf Houston – Spring, Spring, TX

I like to teach the swing length

At the Matt Stotler Golf Academy I like to teach the swing length( the distance the club is pulled back from the ball in the backswing) in 3 positions, a 1/2, 3/4, and full swing positions. The one constant is swing speed, keeping the same tempo helps control distances. Using a 4 wedge system with a possibility of 3 shots per wedge, this gives a combination of 12 shots to cover all wedge distances.

To help with the distance control I use the TrackMan practice application. This application allows me to create specific skill assessments and tests that can be designed to fit the golfers needs. I generate student own protocols that focus on wedge swing length and feel for random distances. I have the perfect practice plan for the golfer that will improve their game.

Make it Measurable – Make it Real – Make it Hard

Elite player Practice

Matt Stotler Golf

Matt Stotler

PGA Golf Professional

Founder

Matt Stotler Golf Enterprises, Franklin, OH

IMHO I think it would be based on the player and the shot.

IMHO I think it would be based on the player and the shot. I would respond better to length of swing while other players I know key on the speed. Higher speeds with the body will increase the spin on the ball…good for some situations but not all. Long back swing and slower rotation will soften the shot but could cause some deceleration if not careful. This is one of the many great things about golf, different ways to achieve a similar result.

Sun City West Golf

Patrick O'Hara

Golf Operations Manager

Sun City West Golf, Sun City West, AZ

When practicing pitching, players should focus on their length of swing, rather than speed

When practicing pitching, players should focus on their length of swing, rather than speed, and even club choice to control the distance and trajectory of their pitch shot. Once a technique to pitch the ball with a consistent pattern has been developed, the way it is practiced is vital to producing good results on the course. Easiest way to produce good, accurate, distance control pitches on the course is to practice from 30-70 yards using your full pre-shot routine with no more than two shots from each distance. Use spacing of 1-3 yards in between shots. Be sure to change clubs to change trajectory. Good luck and enjoy!

Certified PGA Professional Teaching & Coaching Course: The Woodlands Country Club - Golf Performance Center City/State: The Woodlands, Texas

James Larkin

Certified PGA Professional

Teaching & Coaching

The Woodlands Country Club - Golf Performance Center, The Woodlands, TX

When hitting wedge shots I like working with my students on touch and feel.

When hitting wedge shots I like working with my students on touch and feel. If we talk in terms of soft, medium or hard it usually translates into length of backswing. Usually when hitting a pitch shot softer instantly the students takes it back shorter. A little bigger backswing when hitting it medium and a full backswing for harder shots. Remember we play a game of touch and feel!

Frank Bruno

PGA Golf Professional

The Club At Wynstone, North Barrington, IL

Thinking of 9-10-11 o'clock is just a way to adjust your swing speed.

Thinking of 9-10-11 o’clock is just a way to adjust your swing speed. Obviously the speed is the important part. Amazingly the thought of taking the club back to 9 10 or 11 will all finish at approximately the same place. It is just the thought of the length which helps adjust the swing speed.

Eugene Yanovitch

Director of Golf

Lords Valley Country Club, Lords Valley, PA

The length of the swing will regiment itself, if you simply apply the mental preparation of "See it, feel it trust it".

The short game is, of course, precision. Apply a light grip, relax your muscles and use a calm swing tempo. The length of the swing will regiment itself, if you simply apply the mental preparation of “See it, feel it trust it”. Just as you want to see the cup in your mind’s eye when putting, visualize your landing spot at address., relax and go.

John Barge

Gateway PGA, Life Member

Hidden Trails Country Club, Dexter, MO

We have seen success with adopting swing length to dial in distance for shots inside 120 yards approximately.

We have seen success with adopting swing length to dial in distance for shots inside 120 yards approximately.
Half swings with all wedges and note distances, 3/4 swings will all wedges and note distances will dial in most needed yardages. For even more precise measures, move down the grip as well.

Wolfdancer Golf Club

Kelly O'Donnell

Director of Golf Operations

Wolfdancer Golf Club, Lost Pines, TX

I strongly feel deceleration is the number one issue with wedge play across all levels of players.

I strongly feel deceleration is the number one issue with wedge play across all levels of players. That being said having the proper swing length to execute the indented shot plays a big factor in consistent good wedge play. A combination of both is important. Understanding how to sync length and speed will lead to much improved all around wedge play.

Canyon Springs Golf Course

Zachary Abels

PGA Golf Professional

Canyon Springs Golf Course, Twin Falls, ID

I've always been a big believer in acceleration with wedges.

There’s so many variables (yardage, hole location, wind, green pitch) but I’ve always been a big believer in acceleration with wedges. A club will not generate as much speed through impact if the downswing starts from the hip versus the top of the head, so players can modify shot length without compromising spin if they modify length and keep speed consistent. It’s no different with a wedge from 100 yards than a stock 7-iron from 160. If the 7-iron can only fly 155, taking an inch off the length of the swing while maintaining acceleration through impact will result in a slightly shorter distance.

Lebanon Country Club

Christian Sheehan

Head Golf Professional

Lebanon Country Club, Lebanon, PA

You should try and create distance control like you would shooting a rubber band.

Distance control is controlled by both swing length and speed. You should try and create distance control like you would shooting a rubber band. The longer you pull back the longer it goes. The longer you swing the club, faster the swing will go. If you try to create distance by speed swing.(taking the club back the same distance each time and adjust swing speed on length of shot) to much guess work. I like using a clock for references. For a right handed player, your hands start at 6pm, if you swing the club back to 7pm and follow through on a consistent basic, you will create average carry distance, unless your swing speed is different each time and then your guessing again. Then you practice an 8 o’clock swing, you hinge a little more(creating more swing speed) ball will carry longer, keeping in mind that if your rhythm changes your carry distance will change. So, my answer is – it’s more about lenght but different speeds will cause bad shot.

Tuscarora Country Club

Steve Nixon

GM/Head Golf Professional

Tuscarora Country Club, Danville, VA

Having the clear understanding that the hands are in control of the weight of the golf club, while our body is key in supporting the weight in our hands will help gauge true distance control.

Having the clear understanding that the hands are in control of the weight of the golf club, while our body is key in supporting the weight in our hands will help gauge true distance control. This will allow a proper foundation for both length and speed throughout our swing. At the end of the day, we are simply tossing a golf ball up to a specific point to/on the green by maintaining proper control of the handle to ensure the proper loft of the tool at hand is utilized to its optimum potential.

Stonebridge Ranch Hills Course

Carlos Benavides

Assistant Golf Professional

Stonebridge Ranch Country Club (Hills), McKinney, TX

BOTH. One relies on the other!

BOTH. One relies on the other! It’s about rhythm and timing. I’d say there is no other shot in golf that requires more practice and “feel” than the Less than full wedge shots! You gotta play a lot golf to hit these shots well. There’s simply not substitute! We feel with our eyes NOT with our hands. We see it, then we interpret/visualize what is needed and execute with confidence. This is feel. It’s a slow deliberate process in golf unlike basketball or tennis, it’s tricky because there is a lot of time for doubt that can creep into your execution.

Players need to learn how to Commit to a shot and this comes with a lot of practice folks – I don’t care how good your swing fundamentals are. Practice!!

Mohegan Sun Golf Club

Philip Krick Jr.

PGA Master Professional | Vice-President & General Manager

Mohegan Sun Golf Club, Baltic, CT

I am definitely a fan of working on dialing in swing length to dial in wedge distances.

I am definitely a fan of working on dialing in swing length to dial in wedge distances. I think it provides more consistency as opposed to focusing on swing speed.

Nate Miklos, PGA Head Women's Golf Coach Youngstown State University

Nathan Miklos

Head Women's Golf Coach

Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH

Swing length is easier to manage and teach

Swing length is easier to manage and teach because feel is very difficult to impart on someone else

Frosty Valley Golf Links

Carmen Costa

PGA Golf Professional

Frosty Valley Golf Links, Pittsburgh, PA

If I was forced to pick one thing to focus on I would pick length of swing.

If I was forced to pick one thing to focus on I would pick length of swing. Think hit and resist- More follow through=More Distance
Less follow through= Less Distance

Most amateurs follow through too much because they are trying to scoop the ball into the air

Prospect Golf

Jeff DelRosso

Head Golf Professional

Prospect Golf, Prospect, CT

Both are important in their own ways.

To dial in your wedge shots both are important in their own ways. Number one is control the length of your hand path. Length of the actual range for the head of the club is less important… Number 2 is tempo… It is easy to create more ball speed with faster tempo.

The Legacy Golf Resort

Jeremy Anderson

2018 Southwest PGA Teacher of the Year

Golf Digest Best Young Teacher 2018-19

The Legacy Golf Resort, Phoenix, AZ

I believe in the theory that swing length determines distance.

I believe in the theory that swing length determines distance. If the lower body is allowed to rotate uninhibited and freely, length of the backswing length will dictate the amount of travel that the ball will carry. Ball position will also play into the final piece of the carry and rollout.

Chris Rudi Golf Services

Chris Rudi

PGA Golf Professional

Chris Rudi Golf Services, Mishawaka, IN

I believe wedge distance is best controlled by swing speed or tempo.

I believe wedge distance is best controlled by swing speed or tempo. However every player is different and some may learn best by swing positions. However under tournament pressure, subconsciously trusting tempo I believe produces the greatest results.

PGA Golf Professional

Ed Schwent

PGA Professional

Old Hickory Golf Club, Saint Peters, MO

Controlling distance is a combination of the two.

Controlling distance is a combination of the two. Control the length of the backswing to know how much energy to give you shot. Control your tempo to be consistent from day to day. Speed around the green hurts more than it helps the average golfer.

PGA Golf Professional

Robert Sedorcek

PGA Golf Professional

Rob Sedorcek Golf Instruction, Saint Louis, MO

Distance, trajectory and spin

I think that being an effective and precise wedge player involves controlling swing length, speed and angle of attack. The only way to get it close is to control distance, trajectory and spin. I feel the turning of my chest to control distance on wedge shots. Its not easy and many weekend golfers could be better served to lay back to get a full wedge into the green.

Arsenal Island Golf Course

Todd Fowler

PGA Member

2015 Iowa PGA Professional of the Year. 2004 Iowa Golf Association Professional of the Year

Golf Galaxy, Davenport, Iowa