It may not strike the same fear in the hearts of golfers as, say, an approach over water, but the 40-yard pitch causes more trouble than any shot in the game. That's according to short game guru Dave Pelz, who ought to know. He's been studying these things since the 1970s.
Pelz's research reveals that from 40 yards, amateurs miss the target by a wider margin (percentage-wise) than from any other distance. Why? Because they tend to suffer one of two outcomes: a fat shot that falls well short, or a thin shot that sails way past.
The problem is that 40-50 yards out is too far to hit a standard chip or pitch, but not far enough that you can make a full swing with a sand wedge or lob wedge. Typically, the golfer will try to slow down his swing to compensate, leading to fat shots, or attempt to help or lift the ball into the air, causing him to blade it.
No matter your skill level, this shot is fairly simple to execute. Let's look at the basic technique for a 40- to 50-yard pitch played to a pin in the middle of the green:
- Take a slightly narrow stance, with your heels no more than 12” apart.
- Using your most lofted club, grip down on the handle and open the clubface a few degrees.
- Make an abbreviated backswing; your left arm shouldn't go above the point where it's parallel to the ground.
- Make a firm, accelerating swing.
Play the ball in the center of your stance.
The key is to not baby the shot. Keep your backswing short, your downswing forceful and your finish full. Experiment with ball position, gripping down and the amount you open the clubface; this way, you'll develop a feel for hitting pitch shots various distances – including that troublesome 40- to 50-yard range.
How to Hit a 40 to 50-Yard Golf Shot
When you first get started in the game of golf, hitting the ball a significant distance seems like the biggest challenge you will face. At first, just getting the ball to go 100 yards in the air is a goal worth celebrating when it is finally accomplished. Eventually, you may learn how to hit the ball 200 yards or more through the air, and some players even manage to hit the ball near the 300-yard mark. No matter where your personal distance limit happens to be, it feels good to be able to make a full swing and send the ball soaring down the fairway.
However, once you get comfortable with hitting the ball using your full swing, you will soon realize something important – hitting full shots is only part of the game. In fact, hitting partial shots is a big part of playing good golf, and they are actually more difficult than the full shots you have worked so hard to master. Only when you can successfully pull full shots and partial shots from your bag will you be able to live up to your scoring potential.
The 40-50-yard shot is one of those partial shots that is important, yet difficult. Being able to knock the ball close to the hole from this distance requires a combination of good technique and a soft touch. Your success from this distance range is largely going to determine your score at the end of the day, because getting 'up and down' from this range can turn pars into birdies, and bogeys into pars. Whether you are trying to set up a birdie putt after a great drive, or you are trying to save par after having to pitch out of the rough, skill from 40 to 50 yards comes in handy more often than you might expect.
Modern golfers tend to analyze every single aspect of the game, using videos and other tech gadgets in order to optimize performance. While that kind of golf instruction has its place, there is also something to be said for learning how to feel the swing, and how to feel your way around the golf course. No golf teacher is going to be able to tell you exactly how hard to swing to hit the ball 40-50 yards, because it will be different for each player. You can learn the basic techniques from a teacher, but you are going to have to work it out for yourself in the practice area. Players who are able to consistently score well day after day are those who can hit all of the shots, including these awkward half-wedge shots into the green.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
Modifying Your Setup
When you are playing a shot from close range, the first thing you need to do is modify your setup position. Since you don't need to create the power that is necessary to launch the ball way into the air, you can change some things about your stance in order to promote the kind of swing you need to make for these short shots. While these adjustments might be relatively minor in nature, they will have a major impact on the kinds of shots you are able to play.
The following three tips will help you appropriately change your setup position when you are going to hit a shot from 40-50 yards from the target.
- Narrow your stance. Without the need to make a full shoulder turn, it is not necessary to have your stance as wide as you would for a full swing. Instead of placing your feet shoulder width apart or so, bring them in a few inches from each side. This narrower stance will help you to make a smooth arm swing through the ball, which is exactly what you should be trying to do on half-distance wedge shots.
- Open your stance. Along with standing with your feet closer together, you also want to open your stance slightly to the target. Move your left foot back a few inches from the target line, and turn each foot so that it is angled slightly toward the target. With an open stance, your swing path will naturally move from outside-in, which is great for getting the ball up in the air on short shots. Also, you will have a better view of the target in this stance, making it even easier to get the ball on line.
- Choke down on the grip of the club. One of the easy ways to take power out of your wedge shots is to not use the entire club – by gripping down an inch or two from the top of the club, you can shorten your swing and slow the club down through the hitting area. This is a great adjustment to make because it allows you to be more aggressive with your swing which still not hitting the ball too far. If you were to use the entire length of the club on these short shots, you would need to have great touch in order to dial up just the right amount of power. Choking down slightly makes the job of finding the right distance a little bit easier.
The three simple adjustments listed above will serve you well when hitting 40-50 yard shots. Obviously you are still going to have to practice these shots, and there will be some other adjustments to your actual swinging motion, but tweaking your address position as outlined above is a great start. It might be helpful to think of the stance that you are going to use for these shots as falling somewhere between a full swing address position and a chipping stance. In fact, hitting a 40 or 50-yard wedge shot is kind of like blending a full swing and a chip. When you are able to use some of the mechanics of a full swing, along with the touch required for great chipping, you still start to see excellent results from this challenging distance.
Club Selection is Crucial
If you are like most golfers, you probably just reach for your most-lofted club when you arrive at a shot of 50 yards or so. Whether that is a sand wedge or maybe a lob wedge, it will certainly do the job of getting the ball up into the air and on its way toward the target. However, you don't necessarily need to play these short shots with your most-lofted wedge. If you can learn how to play this shot with two or three different clubs, you will expand the variety of shots that you have at your disposal, and you will be able to get the ball close to the hole more often as a result.
So what clubs can you use to cover the 40-50-yard distance? Basically any of your wedges, including your pitching wedge. Most golfers carry a pitching wedge with around 48* of loft, along with two more wedges somewhere in the range of 52* to 60*. Any of these clubs is perfectly capable of handling a 40-50-yard pitch, so you should practice with each of them while learning this shot.
Once you are comfortable using any of your wedges to attack the flag from short range, you will need to know how to pick the right one at the right time. The points below will help make that tough decision an easy one.
- Watch the hole location. The biggest determining factor when picking a club for this shot is the position of the hole on the green. If the hole is cut near the front of the green, you will want to use your sand wedge or lob wedge in order to carry the ball high in the air and stop it quickly. However, when the hole is cut in the back, you can use a pitching wedge to land the ball in the middle of the green and allow it to bounce and roll up to the flag. By playing the ball in low when the hole is in the bag, you minimize the risk of flying the ball over the green and into trouble.
- Check the course conditions. When the course is soft, playing the ball high is really your only option – because the turf won't allow for a pitch-and-run style shot. Therefore, your lob wedge is going to be your best friend when the ground is soggy. On firm conditions, you will have a wider array of option at your disposal. Before starting your round, try to hit a few pitch and chip shots in the short game practice area so you can get comfortable with the turf conditions that you will face on the course.
- Wind matters. You might not think much about the wind when you get this close to the green, but it actually can play a major role in the shots that you are able to hit. Playing downwind from 40 or 50 yards will cause the ball to take a bigger bounce when it lands, so adjust your aim accordingly. If you are playing into the wind, expect your shots to fly higher and stop faster when they land on the putting surface. Floating the ball high in the air can be difficult to control in windy conditions, so don't be afraid to play lower shots when possible in order to take the wind somewhat out of the equation.
You will probably have a favorite club that you prefer to use when you are 40 or 50 yards from the target, and that's okay. There is nothing wrong with reaching with one club for a majority of these shots, but you always want to have the option to use one of your other wedges if necessary. When working on this shot in the practice area at your local course, try using the 50/25/25 method to divide up your practice time. That means that you are going to spend 50% of your time hitting your favorite wedge, while using 25% of your time with each of your other two wedges. This approach to your practice sessions will ensure that you have enough time to master your favorite club while still getting comfortable with the other two. Then, when you are on the course, you should feel confident pulling any of the three out of the bag, depending on which one you think is right for the job.
At first, you might think that you would rather be standing out on the driving range during your practice sessions, trying to hit your driver as far as possible. However, once you get into the process of learning how to hit great 50 yard shots, you will likely realize how much fun these short shots can be. There is a lot of creativity involved in playing these pitches, and you will probably be able to practice for longer since the swing isn't as physically demanding as your full swing.
The swinging motion needed to hit medium-length wedge shots is really quite simple. If you took the time to review the important notes on the address position above, you should already be standing over the ball correctly. From there, it is really about staying out of your own way. If you can make a simple swing with a good tempo and good balance, you can send the ball on its way to the hole.
To get the club started back away from the ball, you want to use your left shoulder just as you would in a full swing. A good shoulder turn is important when hitting a 50-yard wedge shot, so don't neglect this part of your technique simply because you are so close to the green. Of course, you won't be turning your shoulders nearly as far as you do when hitting a full shot, but it is still important to start the swing by moving your left shoulder toward your chin.
Once the club is moving, your main job will be to determine when you should stop the backswing and start the downswing. In a full swing, you simply swing up to the top until your shoulders won't turn anymore, and then you move back down toward the ball. That isn't going to work from short range, as that kind of swing would send the ball carrying well beyond your target. Before you start your swing, you should have a clear picture of how far back you want to carry the swing before you change directions.
Think of the length of your swing in terms of the position of your left arm for simplicity. For example, you might want to swing your left arm back until it is parallel with the ground, and then start to swing forward. If you have practiced this kind of swing, you will already know how far that length of a swing will send the ball. If taking your left arm to parallel with the ground results in a 45 yard shot when playing a sand wedge, you can adjust from there to dial in exactly the distance needed for the shot at hand. To get serious about improving this part of your game, think about writing down your yardages with different wedges and different swing lengths so you have a reference sheet that you can use when needed.
Managing the length of your swing is going to be the big challenge when learning how to hit shots from 40-50 yards. However, you also need to make sure you are maintaining a nice rhythm to your swing while hitting these shots. It is easy to rush through your tempo from short range, especially if you are thinking about a specific swing length when you start your takeaway. Resist the temptation to rush through the shot and try to maintain an even tempo back and through. Good rhythm will make it easier to control your distance, and it will help you make solid contact as well.
Throughout most of the round, the average golfer makes way too many practice swings. Standing on the tee and taking three or four practice swings with your driver isn't going to do anything to help your game – so just make one practice swing and get on with the process of hitting the shot. However, one place where practice swings are crucially important is on awkward pitch shots in the 50-yard range. Since this is a 'feel' shot, you will want to take a few quick practice swings to get a good feeling in your hands and arms for how hard you are going to swing. Make these practice swings right next to the ball so you can step in and play the shot shortly after you are done preparing. Obviously, you don't want to slow down pace of play while making these practice swings, so go through them quickly and then play the shot right away.
You don't want to make drastic technical changes to your swing when you start to get close to the green. The swing that you use from 50 yards should be mostly the same as the one you use from 150 yards, with the exception of your modified setup and your shorter backswing. Put in the time working on this shot during your practice sessions and it will be far less intimidating when it comes up on the course.
Why is that most golfers fear shots from this short distance, despite the fact that they should be much easier than shots played from farther away? Easy – they are afraid of a disaster. If you make a mistake during your setup or your swing, it is possible to hit a terrible shot that quickly adds multiple strokes to your scorecard. If you hit the ball fat, you may leave it just a few yards in front of you, meaning you will basically have to play the same shot over again. On the other hand, you could hit it thin and send the ball shooting across the green. It is the fear of these two misses that causes many amateur golfers to tighten up when asked to play a shot from 40-50 yards.
The best way to avoid disaster on your short wedge shots is to practice. That probably sounds too simple, but it is the truth. When you practice these shots over and over again, you will learn that there is really nothing to fear. Through practice you will build your confidence, and that confidence will carry you through when you are facing a tough pitch out on the course. Even if you have to pitch over a water hazard or deep bunker, you can rely on your preparation to enable you to hit a great shot.
Along with sufficient practice, the other step you can take to eliminate the fear from this shot is to pick smart targets – even from this short distance. If the hole is cut dangerously close to a pond, for example, don't hesitate to aim to the safe side of the hole in order to keep your ball away from the hazard. You might think that you have to aim directly at the hole when you get this close to the green, but that isn't the case. Good course management is about positioning your ball correctly on every shot, and those rules still apply even on half-wedges. When you choose a smart target, you will feel relaxed and confident knowing you aren't taking on an unnecessary risk.
Hitting great 40-50-yard shots is a sure way to lower your scores. These shots are likely to come up a few times within any given round, so you will have plenty of time to show off your new skills after you practice this shot with the help of the content above.