Ken Duke's skill with a wedge enabled him to beat Chris Stroud at Travelers. (Cohen/Getty Images)
By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, PGA TOUR Academy
Ken Duke waited 187 PGA TOUR starts for an opportunity like he had on the second sudden-death playoff hole at the Travelers Championship on Sunday, and he wasn’t about to let it slip away.
With very little real estate between the greenside bunker and the flagstick (only about 10 paces), Duke would need to hit something high with a lot of spin to get the ball close, and that’s exactly what he did. The 44-year-old pulled out his sand wedge and let it rip from 117 yards out, barely clearing the bunker and bouncing the ball up to within two feet of the flag for an easy tap-in birdie ... and his first TOUR win.
What was most impressive about Duke’s winning shot was just how much power he was able to generate with such little arm swing. Most amateurs try to get maximum distance out of their wedges by overswinging their arms, when in reality they should try to shorten them up and use their rate of turn to power the shot. The advantage to the shorter backswing is that it makes it easier to keep your arms and body in sync. It also makes it easier to manage the rate of turn on the downswing, whereas if your left arm is moving independently of the body, it’s much harder to control the distance.
The perception of most wedge shots is that the swing has to be very up-and-down, and you need to carve out a huge divot. But in Duke’s case, he’s trying to shallow out his angle of attack into impact and just nip the ball off the turf. His left arm travels around him, same as it would with a long iron or driver.
Here are a couple of things to consider if you’re having trouble with your full wedge shots:
1. On the initial takeaway, keep the clubhead in front of your hands as it swings upward. Most amateurs immediately pull the clubhead inside of their hands, which forces them to elevate the left arm and get really steep with their swing. If you keep the clubhead outside of your hands, the left arm will round out, and the clubhead will start back on plane. From here, the left arm should stay on your chest as your shoulders turn back, which will give you a tighter, more compact feel. Your hands should swing no higher than your right shoulder on the backswing.
2. On the downswing, imagine there’s a speedometer attached to the center of your chest, and the farther you need to hit the shot, the faster you turn your chest through. On Duke’s winning shot, his rate of turn was probably at 80-90 percent of his maximum speed limit, whereas if he were a little closer he might’ve dialed it down to 60 or 70 percent. The rotation of the torso propels the left arm through, so there’s no need for any independent hand or arm action to generate more clubhead speed.
The rate of turn is all you need.