Once upon a time golfers had fewer choices in their short games. If you had to hit a pitch, you used a pitching wedge. If the shot was too short for the pitching wedge, you used it anyway -- you just took a lighter swing. Today, golfers may carry as many as four wedges. In addition to the sand wedge -- which is primarily used for hitting from bunkers -- there’s the old reliable pitching wedge, along with the heavily lofted lob wedge, plus a gap wedge, also known as an approach wedge. Understanding each wedge’s function will help you decide which club to pull from your bag when you’re closing in on the green.
Hit a pitch shot when you’re too close to the green to swing an iron, but you’re either too far to hit a chip, or you must hit a lofted shot onto the green. You typically take a slightly shorter than normal backswing for pitch shots, depending on your distance from the green. Many golfers use an open stance and play the ball a bit forward of center when hitting a pitch.
The pitching wedge is the least-lofted wedge. Depending on the manufacturer, your pitching wedge probably contains about 45 or 46 degrees of loft. It’s basically next in line if a 9-iron is too much club for your approach. Depending on your swing speed, and which other clubs you’re carrying, you may use a pitching wedge from around 60 to 100 yards from the green. Before sand wedges were invented, players also used pitching wedges when they landed in bunkers. You may occasionally find the pitching wedge handy if you must hit from hard-packed sand and you need a club that will bite into the sand, rather than bouncing off the hard surface.
Pitching wedges used to be lofted around 50 degrees. Manufacturers gradually reduced the club’s loft over the years, sacrificing height for distance. This left a gap of roughly 10 degrees of loft between the pitching and sand wedges. That’s why the approach wedge is commonly termed a “gap” wedge, because it fills the gap between the other two clubs.
The approach wedge is basically a more lofted version of the pitching wedge. Typically lofted at about 50 degrees, or just a bit more, an approach wedge hits the ball shorter but higher than a pitching wedge, all else being equal. You’ll probably use the approach wedge when you’re 80 yards from the green or less, if you’re not in a position to chip the ball onto the green.
Choosing a Wedge
There’s no magic formula to determine whether to use a pitching or an approach wedge for a particular shot. The correct decision depends on your ability, and the only way to determine the extent of your ability is to play the game. Take your wedges to a golf range that contains a pitching/chipping green and hit from various distances to determine your comfort zone with each club. Be sure to aim at a specific target and see how close you come to your target with each club, from each specific distance.
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