Newly-turned pro shares 3 secrets for dominant wedge play

Pro golfer Erica Shepherd hits shot during golf tournament

Improve your wedge game with the same practice routine as Erica Shepherd!

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Welcome to Shaving Strokes, a new GOLF.com series in which we’re sharing improvements, learnings and takeaways from amateur golfers just like you — including some of the speed bumps and challenges they faced along the way.

All too often, amateur players don’t have intent when they go to the driving range. So instead of putting together a focused practice strategy, many of us just go beat balls around without actually working on the areas of our game that require the most attention.

Many times, this means taking out the driver and just trying to bomb it, thinking that this is the way towards lower scores.

While increased distance off the tee is helpful to improve your scorecard, what makes golf so difficult is that everything must be in synch in order to consistently shoot low. So even if you rope your driver 300 yards, if you don’t have touch with your irons, wedges, or putter, you’re likely staying in neutral as a player.

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That’s why having a plan each time you go to the range is so important — and in today’s Shaving Strokes lesson, Erica Shepherd’s teacher, GOLF Top 100 Teacher Tony Ruggiero, shares the game plan that the newly-turned pro golfer uses to master her wedge play.

Not only was Shepherd a two-time All-American at Duke University, but she’s also a two-time USGA champion and represented the U.S. in both the Junior Solheim Cup and Junior Ryder Cup.

After finishing her collegiate career, Shepherd earned Epson Tour status through Q school, and is now just kicking off her pro career. So take a look below to see how you can mirror her practice plan and dominate with your wedges.

3 ways that Erica Shepherd dials in her wedge play

“One area that I see Tour players spending a lot more time on than recreational players is with wedge play,” says Ruggiero. “Practicing your wedge game is much more than just mindlessly hitting the first shots of a range session.

“Instead, it’s an opportunity to improve your golf swing by working on your mechanics in a manner that will allow real change to happen.”

Since wedge work is an opportunity to learn how to hit the required shots to score lower, Ruggiero and his team share secrets from a lesson with Shepherd.

“By utilizing these tips, you can learn to practice more effectively, ultimately transferring your hard work to the course,” adds Ruggiero.

1. Use bands to slow swing speeds

The slowest way to change a motion is in full speed with a ball and club. That’s because, at full speed, your brain is basically in performance mode, meaning you’re often using familiar habits.

That’s why I like to use bands and other things away from the ball, which help teach new movement patterns.

By doing this, once you transition to performance mode, it gives you a chance to think and feel the different moves that you’re trying to make.

The best players understand the root cause of their problems, and work slowly and diligently to fix that issue. Players that never seem to improve spend their time on the range chasing symptoms.

So if you really want to improve, identify the one thing that needs to be fixed in your swing, and start with wedges and slow speeds to make the change.

2. Practice hitting shots at specific distances

In my experience, Tour players never hit a shot where they don’t know the distance to the target; and neither should an amateur.

Tour players work on hitting specific clubs to specific distances with different trajectories.

I teach golfers to take distance off in one of three ways.

They can either choke up or down on a club, shorten their backswing, take speed off the motion (which I think is hardest for weekend warriors), or a combination of all three.

By practicing this and experimenting with the different ways to take distance off of clubs, it will help you gain a better understanding and feel for hitting the shots you need to score better on the course.

3. How to transfer your practice to the golf course

Many amateurs I teach often tell me how well they hit it on the range, but how poorly they transfer that to the course. This is a reason why Dr. Greg Cartin is such an important part of our team.

In the video above, you can see how Cartin helps to ensure that Erica’s wedge work transfers to the course.

So how can you do the same? Simulate what happens on the golf course. This is something that Tour players do all the time.

In order to make your wedges sharper on the course, do your full pre-shot routine, hit different clubs with each shot, hit to specific distances, and put boundaries on every shot.

For example, on your first shot, say you have 122 yards to the flag and you can’t carry the ball more than 118. On shot two, you have 85 yards to the flag, and the ball has to carry 70 yards, but can’t go more than 90 or be right of the flag.

By thinking of and changing these shots in practice, you’re simulating real scenarios, which can then transfer to the course.

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Golf.com Contributor

Nick Dimengo

Golf.com Editor