How To Hit Great Wedges

Dustin John­son’s rise to the top of the game co­in­cided with a mas­sive im­prove­ment in his wedge game. Here, coach Claude Har­mon III ex­plains the process they went through to sharpen up his pitch­ing… and how you can copy it

Golf Asia - - CONTENTS - WITH DUSTIN JOHN­SON & COACH CLAUDE HAR­MON

Claude Har­mon has no dif­fi­culty pin­point­ing the mo­ment he knew Dustin John­son’s wedge game had come of age. “It was last Au­gust at the North­ern Trust, the first event of the PGA Tour’s Fedex Se­ries,” he re­calls. “Dustin was fight­ing his way back af­ter an in­jury and loss of con­fi­dence, while Jor­dan had just won the Open. The 18th hole is 470 yards, dog-leg­ging left around a lake. DJ had the length to carry it but it would leave him around 100 yards from the green, in a wedge zone that up to 2016 had been some­thing of a weak­ness for him. But he took the drive on, hit a mas­sive shot and was left with just 95 yards to the pin.

“He just got up there, pitched it to three-feet and sank the putt for a win­ning birdie. That shot was the cul­mi­na­tion of two years of hard work that turned his wedge game around… and took him from be­ing a top-10 player to a top-one player.”

Here, Har­mon re­veals the process DJ went through to go from be­ing an aver­age wedge player to one of the best on Tour… and ex­plains what you can take from it to tighten up your own play from 50-125 yards.

How did you and DJ ar­rive at the de­ci­sion to fo­cus on wedges?

Mostly through look­ing at stats. The first one was sim­ply an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of just how many times in the course of a round or a year DJ is go­ing to have a wedge into a green, given how far he hits it. But we also looked at his Strokes Gained per­for­mance on short ap­proach shots; in 2015 from 100-150 yards he was at 0.09, so ba­si­cally bang aver­age for the PGA Tour. The main fo­cus be­came to find a way to help him take ad­van­tage of his length and the yardages he was leav­ing him­self into a lot of holes.

So how did you set about im­prov­ing Dustin’s wedge play?

Prac­tis­ing his wedges wasn’t ex­cit­ing or glam­orous or in­ter­est­ing to him. It’s hu­man na­ture to grav­i­tate to­wards the parts of the game we are al­ready good at, the ones we en­joy, and for DJ that meant the driver and power shots. Dustin is also not a guy who will hit balls for hours a day; he tends to prac­tise for 90 min­utes to two hours, and af­ter this he just kind of checks out. So we needed to find an ap­proach he found en­gag­ing and en­joy­able, one that would al­low him to achieve ef­fec­tive, tar­geted work. We set­tled on tech­nol­ogy, and specif­i­cally the launch mon­i­tor Track­man.

‘WHEN HE WON THE US OPEN AT OAKMONT IN 2016, HE HIT WEDGES FOR 75 MIN­UTES BE­FORE TEE­ING OFF’

How did you and DJ use Track­man? Quite sim­ply, we used it to get con­sis­tent at hit­ting dis­tances. Dustin has three wedges (52º, 60º and 64º) and three wedge swings – half, three-quar­ter and full-length. We cre­ated tar­get dis­tances for each wedge and swing – so nine yardages in all – and he used the ball­track­ing tech to see how good he could get at hit­ting each one. He loved that in­stant feed­back.

Dustin likes to warm up for about an hour-and-a-half – about twice as long as most guys on Tour. Un­til 2016 that would have been based around long game; these days he’ll spend up­wards of an hour of that time just hit­ting wedges, work­ing on his num­bers. When he won the US Open at Oakmont in 2016, he hit wedges for 75 min­utes be­fore tee­ing off.

That sounds like some­thing DJ could do by him­self; what is your role in this?

Ab­so­lutely, and that’s one of its strengths. At any level of golf the last thing we want is for the player to be re­liant on their coach; we want them to fig­ure stuff out on their own. The fact it doesn’t have a lot to do with me is the ul­ti­mate goal. My role is to give DJ in­for­ma­tion, ar­eas he can get bet­ter, and then come up with ideas and ways to make the process some­thing he would be will­ing to do and look for­ward to do­ing. He is very much a feel player, some­thing he doesn’t get a lot of credit for, so a launch mon­i­tor was ideal, some­thing he could just put on the ground and get in­stan­ta­neous feed­back from.

Was there any tech­ni­cal work in­volved?

Not re­ally, though I strongly be­lieve the changes we made late in 2015, when he took the de­ci­sion to play with a fade and not a draw, have re­ally helped his wedge game. With the fade the at­tack gets a lit­tle more down­ward, the path more neu­tral or even a lit­tle left, and Dustin feels like he is a lit­tle more on top of the ball through im­pact, ‘cov­er­ing it’ with his chest. These are all things you’d like to do when you are hit­ting a wedge any­way, so from that per­spec­tive the shape change helped him make progress with his pitch­ing.

DJ fa­mously has a very bowed left wrist, which puts the club­face into what we would re­gard as a shut po­si­tion. How does that not cause is­sues with pitch­ing and dis­tance con­trol?

Be­cause he con­tin­ues to ro­tate. If you ro­tate out of the way it min­imises and nul­li­fies a lot of things that his­tor­i­cally hav­ing a shut face like that would cause. I ac­tu­ally think his wrist ac­tion is a great way to play; he is ba­si­cally set­ting up an an­gle in the wrists which al­lows him sim­ply to ro­tate, and that pro­motes con­sis­tency both of at­tack an­gle and face loft.

But also, note that DJ re­leases the club through im­pact. He is not drag­ging the han­dle through, hold­ing on to that lead-arm/ club­shaft an­gle; he hits what we call re­lease

fades, and that al­lows him to de­liver the club on the path and with the loft he needs.

Does he have a ten­dency you have to guard against?

Dustin hits bad shots when he gets slow, when he ba­bies it, and that’s across the board, not just with wedges. With pitch­ing, the num­ber one thing I’m al­ways telling him is to keep his body and chest speed up, hit it harder, per­haps to find shorter po­si­tions on the backswing and fol­low through so he can hit with the speed he wants.

If he’s not hit­ting the num­bers he wants, how do you han­dle it?

We ba­si­cally quan­tify it by look­ing at the fig­ures. Say he’s look­ing at hit­ting a shot of 125 yards and he’s hit­ting it 130-135; we’ll tend to look to make that mo­tion a lit­tle shorter and tighter, keep the speed in and con­trol the dis­tance. But one thing about Dustin is that he doesn’t care if the shot misses to the right; it’s just not an is­sue for him. But he hates the one that misses left. In 2016 and 2017 he pretty much took the whole of the left side of the course out of play by fad­ing the ball; he looks to fade ev­ery shot he plays, even shorter pitch shots. We know that if his path is three de­grees left of the tar­get and his face one de­gree closed to the tar­get, he will hit a nice soft fade, and that’s a great les­son for the club player; find a good re­la­tion­ship be­tween the face and path and you can play from any­where. If he hits a wedge shot left, you can guar­an­tee it’s be­cause his path isn’t left enough, and his body doesn’t ro­tate. From here, he can over­draw it.

So, in a nut­shell, what can I take from your work with Dustin that will im­prove my wedge game?

I’d love to tell you there has been some in­tri­cate and con­vo­luted process to im­prov­ing Dustin’s wedge play, but there wasn’t. Ul­ti­mately, the road map to turn­ing a weak­ness into a strength is pretty sim­ple. Just like the work DJ has done in the gym to im­prove his shape, this is sim­ply a ques­tion of stand­ing there and putting the time in. It’s all been about gain­ing the con­trol that al­lows him to hit dis­tances at will; he’s used a dataled ap­proach, and there’s af­ford­able tech­nol­ogy out there that will al­low any­one to fol­low the same process. It worked for DJ… and it can work for you.

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