So you find your ball near the green lying on a patch of firm, nearly bare ground. You've got to pitch the ball high, possibly over a bunker or other obstacle, and make it stop quickly to finish near the hole. What do you do?
The pitch from a tight lie scares the daylights out of many golfers. More often than not, you'll see the ball bladed and sent whistling over the green. Sometimes, the player will hit the ball fat by trying too hard to lift it into the air.
Executing the tight-lie lob requires pinching the ball off the turf – in other words, you need a fairly high degree of skill. Before trying it, weigh other options. Maybe you can chip and run the ball onto the green. Perhaps there's plenty of green beyond the flag, allowing you to play a safer shot and still have a chance to hole a putt.
If you're ready to add the tight-lie lob to your repertoire, here's how it's done:
- Play the ball in the center of your stance, with your weight favoring the left (lead) leg.
- The shaft should be perpendicular to the ground or leaning just slightly toward the target. You don't want to de-loft the club in this spot.
- Open the clubface if you need to hit the ball very high and very short. Otherwise, aim the face straight at your target.
- Grip the club lightly to allow the wrists and hands freedom to hinge.
- Focus on a spot directly beneath the ball's back edge. The idea is to clip the ball by sliding the clubhead underneath the ball with a minimal downward blow.
- When swinging through, rotate your body toward the target.
It takes practice to hit this shot consistently well. Experiment at your home course, or even in the backyard, to get a feel for varying your height and distance.
How to Hit a Lob Wedge
The lob wedge just might be the most versatile club in your bag. While it is not capable of the impressive distance that you can achieve with your driver, it is important to understand everything that this valuable club has to offer your game. When you learn how to hit a variety of shots with your lob wedge, you will find that it can help to get you out of a number of sticky situations all around the course.
A lob wedge is generally thought of as a club with 60 degrees of loft, but a 58 degree wedge can be included in this category as well. If you don't currently carry a lob wedge as part of your set, you would be wise to invest in one sometime in the near future. You may be able to handle many of your short game shots with a sand wedge, but there are some shots that simply require a lob wedge to be executed correctly. With a little practice time and some solid technique, any golfer can learn to hit great shots with a 58* or 60* club.
Many amateur golfers resist the idea of purchasing a lob wedge because they are afraid they will be unable to hit it properly with a full swing. When you look down at the lob wedge from address, it can be a little intimidating at first. With so much loft on the club, it may look to you like the club is going to slide right under the ball. However, after a period of time spend practicing with a lob wedge on the driving range, you will find that they are actually rather easy to hit. The advantages of hitting a lob wedge – the high trajectory and high spin rate – easily are worth the time and effort required in getting used to this unique addition to your golf bag.
Of course, the benefits of a lob wedge are certainly not limited to what you can do with it on a full swing. In fact, most of the shots you hit with this club are going to be something less than a full swing. The real magic of the lob wedge shines through when you learn how to hit other, more creative shots around the greens. When you have 60* or so of loft at your disposal, you will find that there are countless different types of pitches and chips that you can use to get the ball close to the hole.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as needed.
Hitting a Full Shot with a Lob Wedge
Although most of your lob wedge shots are going to take place close to the green, you still want to be able to hit this club with a full swing when necessary. Even though it can look a little bit weird at address, hitting your lob wedge really isn't any different than hitting any of your other wedges. If you are able to use good swing fundamentals throughout the shot, you should be able to get the ball flying high toward the target time after time.
To practice hitting full shots with your lob wedge on the driving range, use the following three tips –
- Ball in the middle of your stance. It is important that you place the ball perfectly in the middle of your stance when hitting a lob wedge. This ball position will allow you to remain balanced and hit down through the shot nicely at impact. If the ball is too far forward in your stance, you will have to slide to the left to reach it – causing an extra high ball flight that will typically land short of the target. On the other side of the coin, moving the ball too far back in your stance can lead to a steep angle of attack and poor contact. Take your time on the driving range to be sure your ball position is under control before hitting any shots.
- Swing under control. There is no need to swing extremely hard when hitting a lob wedge. Even on a full shot, you probably aren't trying to hit this club more than 90 – 100 yards, so don't wind up like you are hitting a driver. The biggest key to quality ball striking with your lob wedge is balance, and you can easily lose balance by swinging too hard. Resist that temptation and make a smooth swing, trusting the club to do the work of sending the ball all the way to your selected target.
- Quiet hands. The one problem that gets amateur golfers in trouble with their lob wedge more than any other is active hands through the hitting area. Ideally, your hands would be quiet through impact, allowing the rotation of your body to propel the club. Unfortunately, many players use their hands too much at the bottom of the swing when playing shots with a lob wedge. The result is a ball flight that goes straight up into the air and only flies 40 or 50 yards. Keep your hands quiet and focus on turning through the shot in order to get an optimal trajectory from your lob wedge.
As you are working on your lob wedge swing on the practice range, pay attention to how far you are hitting each shot. While driving range distances often don't translate accurately to the course, you can at least get a rough idea of how far you will be able to hit this club. As a rough estimate, you should expect to hit it between 10 – 15 yards shorter than you hit your sand wedge. So, if your sand wedge is your 100 yard club, plan on a lob wedge providing you with 85 – 90 yards of carry on a well-struck full swing.
After you become comfortable with your lob wedge on the driving range, you can start to look for places to hit full shots with it out on the course. One of the best opportunities you will find is when you have a short approach shot to a front hole location. The high trajectory of a lob wedge is perfect for getting the ball close to a front pin, as you won't have to worry as much about getting caught up in rough or bunkers that may guard the front of the green. For back hole locations, you should usually opt for the lower trajectory of your sand wedge, even if you are within range of the lob wedge. This plan will make it easier to bounce the ball once or twice before stopping it near the cup. As you gain on-course experience with your lob wedge, you will quickly learn which shots it is able to handle for you, and which shots are better left to another one of your wedges.
The Basic Chip Shot
With the full swing under control, you can move on to working on your short game shots with the lob wedge. This is really the area of the game where this club will start to show its many strengths. To start with, work on hitting a basic chip shot with your lob wedge. After you become comfortable and consistent with that shot, you can then move on to other variations of the chip that will allow you to deal successfully with tough situations around the green.
Follow the step by step instructions below to hit beautiful chip shots using your lob wedge –
- To address the shot, line up the ball with the inside of your right foot. You should be playing from a slightly open stance, and the majority of your weight should be leaning onto your left leg. It is crucially important that you are able to set up with your weight on your left side, because that stance will promote a downward hit into the ball. Many amateur players struggle with their chipping simply because they don't hit down into the ball. Chipping with a lob wedge can be a challenge for these players, because the 'scooping' action they use can lead to thin or miss-hit shots. If you only do one thing right in your address position, make sure that you get your weight onto your left side.
- As you are taking your stance, you should also be getting your grip set on the club. Some golf teachers will suggest that you choke down to the bottom end of the grip – but that is a mistake. You want to be able to feel the weight of the club head swinging back and through the shot, so only choke down an inch or two from the top of the grip for a standard chip shot. However, if you are faced with an uneven lie that puts you in an awkward stance, feel free to adjust your grip as necessary to get yourself as comfortable as possible.
- With your stance and grip set, it is time to put the club in motion. To start your takeaway, slightly hinge the back of your right wrist to move the club head up and away from the ball. Your chipping motion should be a combination of hands and shoulders, working together to move the club. It is key to use your hands at least a little bit in the backswing so you can get the club head up off of the ground high enough to then hit down into the ball on the forward swing. If you try to use your putting motion to hit chip shots, you will be unable to hit down on the ball and you will have a difficult time controlling the distance that you hit the ball.
- As you are swinging the club, be sure to keep your eyes fixed on the ball at all times. It can be tempting to follow the moving club head with your eyes, but that will only make it more difficult to make solid contact at impact. Pick out a spot on the top of the ball and keep your eyes there until the ball is gone.
- At impact, there is one golden rule that you need to follow – your hands must be ahead of the club. As the club moves forward into the ball, keep your hands moving so that they are past the ball when the club head arrives at impact. This is the key that will enable you to hit down on the ball. If your hands stop moving and don't get past the ball before impact, you will be far more likely to miss-hit the shot. As long as your hands move through the shot and don't stop until the ball is gone, you should be on track for a solid strike.
There is no substitute for practice in golf, and that is especially true when it comes to chipping. Hit as many chip shots as possible with your lob wedge until you can strike the ball cleanly time and time again. Specifically, work on your distance control on these chip shots. It is easy to get the ball on line when chipping from the side of the green, but it is far more difficult to get the distance correct. Practice to a variety of different targets so you can work on both short and long chip shots.
As you are practicing your chipping, remember that you won't always draw a perfect lie on the golf course. Place your ball on short grass, in long grass, in divots, and anywhere else you can think of that will challenge your skills. A golfer who only practices chipping from perfect lies will have plenty of trouble when they get out on the course and have to deal with the numerous challenges that 18 holes of golf can present.
The Flop Shot
While the flop shot has been around for a long time in the game of golf, it has really been made famous through the work of Phil Mickelson. A master of the flop shot with his lob wedge, Mickelson has been able to save par (or even better) from some of the most difficult situations imaginable throughout his remarkable career. Even if your short game never reaches the lofty heights that Mickelson has achieved, you can still work on developing your own flop shot to help get you out of tight spots around the greens.
The best way to learn the flop shot is to start with your basic chip shot technique and adjust it slightly to create flop shot. So, starting from your standard chip shot, make the following adjustments to end up with a beautiful flop shot that floats high into the air and stops quickly when it lands.
- Move the ball forward in your stance. Instead of playing the ball off of the inside of your right foot, you want to line the ball up with the inside of your left foot. This will only be a difference of a few inches since you should be hitting your short shots with a narrow stance. However, that few inches can make a big difference.
- Lay the face of the club open. This is the key to the flop shot. If you are going to get the ball to shoot directly up into the air off the club face, you will need to lay the club wide open at address. To do so, hold onto the club with only your right hand and position the club head behind the ball. Once the club face is in position, take your left hand grip and then reposition your right hand to match your left. Use this procedure each time to make sure your grip and the club face are working together to maximize loft.
- Slide your hands slightly behind the ball. For a normal chip shot, it is essential that you have your hands in front of the ball at impact. For a flop shot, it is exactly the opposite. When you reach impact, you need to have your hands either even with the ball, or slightly behind it. With that in mind, it is helpful to set up with your hands behind the ball at address. Move your hands back so that the shaft of your lob wedge is tilted slightly away from the target, and you will have an easier time getting the ball airborne.
- Use more hands. You want to use some hands in a regular chip shot – but you want to use them even more in a flop shot. Think about making the swing using mostly hands with only a little bit of rotation in your shoulders. Also, keep your legs stable and your knees bent so you can maintain your posture nicely throughout the shot.
- Swing hard. This is the most challenging part of the flop shot. Even though you are often just a few yards from the green, you are going to need to swing hard in order to execute the shot correctly. You will probably be worried about hitting the ball too far, but remember that most of the energy of the shot is going to be vertical, not horizontal. As long as you keep your head down and slide the club under the ball properly, you should be left with a flop shot that goes up into the air and lands softly near the hole.
There is no getting around it – the flop shot is a difficult shot to execute consistently. Even the best players in the world know that it is a gamble when they line up for this type of shot. However, when you find yourself in a position on the course where a flop shot is your only option, lean on the tips above to hit the shot to the best of your ability.
Other Uses for a Lob Wedge
The three shots that have been highlighted above – the full swing, the basic chip shot, and the flop shot – will make up the majority of the shots that you hit with your lob wedge. With that said, there are still some other shots that you can play using your 58* or 60* wedge. Those include the following –
- Greenside bunker shots. Your sand wedge will usually the be the right club for the job from a greenside bunker, but you can turn to your lob wedge if you are faced with a particularly steep face that calls for a high shot. Play the shot just like you would any other bunker shot, and trust the loft on your lob wedge to throw the ball high into the air.
- Getting out of trouble. If you hit a bad tee shot and find yourself deep in the wood, hitting a low punch shot isn't your only choice. Depending on your lie and the trees in front of you, it is possible to use your lob wedge to hit the ball over the trouble and back onto the fairway.
- Bump from the edge of the rough. When your ball comes to rest on the edge of the rough surrounding the green, you might find it difficult to play a traditional chip shot. If that is the case, consider using your lob wedge like a putter to roll the ball onto the green. Use your regular putting stroke and try to strike the ball on its equator with the leading edge of your wedge. When done correctly, the ball will stay on the ground and roll just like a putt. This is a difficult shot to execute, so be sure to practice it before trying to pull it off on the course.
While most amateur golfers would list their driver as their favorite club, many professionals would point to their lob wedge. This versatile club is able to help get you out of a variety of trouble spots around the course, and it can often set up birdies when used to play short approach shots into the green. Get to know your lob wedge and you will be rewarded for your efforts.