It doesn’t matter whether you are a pro playing out here on tour or an amateur playing in your first club medal – your wedges are your scoring clubs. From inside 135 yards I am thinking only about getting my ball as close as possible to the flag. Pitching is a game of precision, knowing your exact distances and being able to hit the perfect flight lay at the heart of success. Here, I’ll talk you through my approach. From the wedges I carry and the ways I hit different yardages to planning the shot and coping with tough conditions, here’s my guide to the scoring zone.
Rory McIlroy Pitching Tips
It goes without saying that distance control is essential when you are pitching. Here is how I hit my three key yardages with my middle wedge – my 54˚. The same principles apply with each wedge I carry, giving me a range of yardages I can comfortably hit from inside 135 yards.
My 115-yard shot
For me this is a full swing with my 54˚ wedge and my hands are in their normal position on the club. Whilst it is a full swing, the shaft has not reached parallel to the ground at the top. Even when I’m making a full swing, I don’t want to hit the shot too hard because that will only create a flight that’s too high. It’s a full but comfortable swing.
My 100-yard shot
100 is a nice round number and it’s important that you are comfortable you can hit it. As I have said, my normal sand wedge goes, with a full swing, about 115 yards. In this situation, as the greens are quite soft, I’ll try and take 10 yards off that club, which will be about right. To do this, I have to make a small adjustment to my normal approach so I’ll concentrate on swinging so that as soon as I feel my left shoulder is under my chin, I’ll start down. I’m just trying to abbreviate the swing a little bit without changing the rhythm.
My 90-yard shot
Now I’m looking to take another 10 yards off my 100-yard swing, still using my 54˚ wedge. This way the swing is controlled and so is the flight. To do this, I have a little white mark on the grip of my wedge as you can see here. I put my thumb over it and that sets my hands down the club a fraction and the swing also becomes a little shorter and takes 10 yards off the shot. It’s a pretty simple approach because the rhythm of the swing always stays the same. By making the distance the club moves shorter, I am reducing the clubhead speed. So basically, I have three different approaches per wedge and that gives me all the key yardages I need to hit the ball close within 135 yards.
Feel & Mechanics
You might think this approach seems a little mechanical but actually, what you are doing is keeping as many of the factors as possible the same. The ball position (unless it is really windy) and the rhythm never change – all you are doing is shortening the swing to hit the ball different distances.
This will depend on how soft the greens are but usually I am trying to land the ball on the number I want to hit it. If it’s a full shot it might spin back a bit more but usually the ball just stops dead. But importantly, to get it right it is absolutely essential that you know your yardages. I spend a lot of time using a Trackman launch monitor with my wedges as it helps me understand distances, spin rates and trajectories a little better. One thing I sometimes struggle with is keeping the flight down with my wedges. I want to keep the flight down but the spin up which is tricky to get right – but the Trackman helps me work on this. Now, I understand that many of you reading this will not have access to a Trackman but with some careful, dedicated practice you’ll develop the feel for distance and flight that will put you ahead of your playing partners.
Focus on the pin
When I have a wedge in my hands, I’m trying to be as direct as possible and get the ball close to the pin. Sometimes if I know the course well and I know that there is a backstop five yards behind the flag, I’ll try and land the ball on that. You have to consider the green and then figure out the shot.
I don’t have a set wedge because I find that, for me, it goes a little high and I flight it a bit better with the 46˚ Vokey wedge instead. The loft is strong so I can keep the flight down. The maximum I’d hit that in calm conditions would be about 135 yards. I don’t like to have too much of a gap between my 9-iron and my wedge. Then I have a 54˚ which, as I have already said, the maximum I would usually hit would be about 115 yards. Then I have a 59˚ lob wedge. There is a nice 20-yard gap between each of the wedges which I like. I feel like as a set of wedges they are pretty well balanced.
Your pitching swing
Some amateurs go wrong when they pitch because they use a totally different approach from their usual swing. There is no need, it’s just a mini-version of a full golf swing. It is toned down a little but the same factors, like completing your backswing, staying over the ball through the downswing and finding a balanced finish position still apply.
If it’s windy, you’ll need a good wedge game even more than usual but control is harder to find. To hit the ball a bit lower I’ll just move the ball back in my stance and make sure the swing is more abbreviated than usual. As I have already mentioned, a shorter swing reduces clubhead speed which also prevents too much backspin from sending the ball too high. Of course, moving the ball back on your stance and swinging shorter affects your normal yardages, as will the wind, so you’ll need to develop a good feel in practice for what to expect.