Jamie Donaldson knows a thing or two about nailing an important wedge shot.
The Welshman’s approach to the 15th green of the PGA Centenary Course during the singles matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles was so good that his opponent, Keegan Bradley, had no alternative but to concede his putt and hand Europe a third successive victory in the biennial battle.
Donaldson’s arrow-like approach from 146 yards finished just a foot from the pin, prompting Bradley to take off his cap and concede defeat, Donaldson fending him off by a 4&3 scoreline.
How good was his shot exactly? Put it this way: it was subsequently chosen as the European Tour ‘Shot of the Year’ for 2015 and, earlier this summer, the Gleneagles Hotel placed a plaque in the ground from the exact spot Donaldson hit from to permanently commemorate it. Yep, it was that good.
Who better than Donaldson, then, to impart some wisdom on how to flush your wedges when there’s something on the line?
Factor in the conditions
A wedge shot is a controlled shot, a finesse shot. Most of the time you’re just trying to ‘feel’ how far you need to hit. So, there are two things you need to have straight away: good rhythm and a proper understanding of how far you hit each wedge in your bag.
It’s nice to know how far a big one goes but better to know how far an average one goes. In my Ryder Cup match with Keegan Bradley, I had 146 yards to the flag. I don’t hit a wedge 146 yards in calm, flat conditions, but this is why it’s important to take stock of the conditions. If you play the number you’ve got, you might get a nasty surprise.
In my case, I took away six yards to compensate for it being downhill, another five yards because it was slightly downwind, and then some more - maybe five more yards - to account for my adrenaline.
So, whilst I was 146 yards from the flag, it was more like a 125-yard shot. No matter what level you’re playing at, 20 yards is a difference of one, if not two, clubs, so don’t just play the number you’ve got.
Ball position can be a matter of preference but, for me, I prefer to play my wedges somewhere between the middle and back of my stance. It’s just the way that feels most natural to me.
My swing path is usually slightly in-to-out, so I tend to pick the ball up earlier. Try a few different positions until you find the one that’s most comfortable for you. You’re looking for something that picks the ball clean off the turf and where the loft of the club is doing all of the hard work. If you feel like you’re trying to help the ball in the air, you’re doing it wrong.
Pick your target
It’s so important with any wedge shot that you take perfect aim. And by perfect, I mean perfect. To give yourself the best chance of sticking it anywhere near the flag, you need to know exactly what you’re trying to do and not just be thinking ‘I suppose that’ll do’.
To do this, I like to stand a few yards behind the ball and try the visualise where I want the ball to start. In that match in the Ryder Cup, that was the right edge of the green. I knew that if I started it out there, the wind would draw it back in towards the flag. I normally pick a spot about a yard in front of the ball, aim my clubhead over that spot and stand my feet parallel to that target line.