When playing finesse wedge shots around the green (a.k.a., chipping and pitching) should you use a single club for nearly all shots or a variety of wedges and irons?

Some players (including a few tour players) swear by using only a single club around the green. The argument for this single-club approach is that it is simpler, and a player can be more practiced with one type of shot. Some players, for example, only hit their lob wedge around the green, preferring to fly it near the pin with little roll. This fly-it strategy works well for some shots, but poorly in other case.

Better Players Use Many Different Clubs Around the Green

Many of the best short game players in the world use many different clubs around the green. Amateurs, including higher handicappers, benefit from taking this same approach.

First let’s define what we are talking about: finesse wedge shots (what loosely used to be called chipping and pitching) are shots from 5 to 40 yards around the green from flat, uphill, downhill land sidehill lie that can be on the fairway, fringe, rough, deep rough and thin or hardpan lies.

Different lies and varying nearby and far pin positions requires different strategies with different clubs to get close to the pin. Consider the following: Tight Lie on a Hard Fairway – When there is little or no grass between the ball and the ground it’s easy to hit the ground first and then bounce the blade of the club into the middle of the ball, skulling it over the green. These types of shots may require hitting with a low-bounce club with a lower trajectory shot.

Soft or Wet Fairway – These lies risk the opposite. On soggy ground it is easy to dig the blade into the ground before the ball, producing a chunked shot that goes nowhere. Players who attempt this shot with a low-bounce club need to have nearly perfect contact. It is easy to miss, especially under pressure.

For soft ground conditions using a club with more bounce allows the club to slide across the soft ground and produce good contact.

Long Bump and Run onto a Hard, Domed Green – The long bump and run onto a hard green is a shot-saver, especially on links courses. Pitching the ball all the way to the flag onto a hard, domed green is a low percentage success shot. The easiest way to get the ball close to (or in) the hole in is to hit a longer, lower trajectory shot that may bounce on the fairway and fringe and roll onto an uphill green. It takes a bit of practice but plays really well. Hitting this long, low shot requires a lower-lofted club such as a 9 iron.

Ball Sitting Half Buried in Rough – This simple-looking shot is easy to mess up. If this ball is sitting up in the rough and a player uses a lob wedge is very easy to hit under the ball, either striking the top of the clubface our going under the ball completely. These mishits may only go a yard or two. Often when the ball is sitting up it is better to use a lower-lofted club such as a pitching wedge, providing some forgiveness if the ball is not hit on the bottom of the clubface.

Over a Bunker to a Short-sided Pin – Many times players face a shot from the rough or fairway over a bunker to a nearby, “short sided” flag. From the fairway or other clean lie, a regular trajectory finesse wedge shot with a lob wedge will work well. If the lie is in the rough and into the grain using a high trajectory shot with sand or gap wedge may work better.

These five examples are just of few of the many types of different shots players may face. There is no single shot with one type of club that works for all of them. Rather, having a variety of clubs with different bounces and different trajectories to fly it or roll out based is often a better choice. Skilled short game players use everything from 8 iron all the way to lob wedge around the green.

Playing Different Clubs Can Be Kept Simple

Admittedly, this can be a bit overwhelming for the new player. How can this be made simpler?

First, adopt the finesse wedge technique for a simpler, more versatile swing. It’s easier to learn and master one single, repeatable type of swing – with minor adoptions for different conditions. In other words, instead of trying different types of swings with a single club, have a single type of swing and use different clubs.

Next, for the beginning player consider using only two clubs. For example, use a high-bounce sand wedge and a nine iron (which will have a lower bounce). The sand wedge is useful out of rough, for high trajectory shots, and when landing on a downslope. The nine iron may be more appropriate for thin or hardpan lies, low trajectory shots into an uphill green, or for a 30-yard shot from the fairway. Newer golfers may want to focus their practice only using these two clubs, getting the feel for carry distance and roll for each, as well as practicing from different conditions.

Finally, practice different lies and conditions with both clubs. If you only practice with a single club, you will naturally only feel comfortable with that club. Practice sessions are the times to stretch yourself and try different and hard things.

As the player gets more comfortable with using two clubs, they can expand their arsenal by using more clubs. If the nine iron is the right shot, except it would go a bit too far, do the same swing with a pitching wedge. Soon the player learns an intuitive sense of what club to hit, how far to hit it, and what will the ball do when it lands. When you will face a difficult shot, you’ll look into your bag of shots, visual the right shot, and tell yourself, “I’ve got this.”

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