July 12, 2018 at 08:49 PM
By Rick V., Team Titleist Staff
Rick V., Team Titleist StaffDuxbury, MA
Do you ever go through stretches where you feel like you're playing really well but you just can't post a respectable score? Well, the problem may very well be your short game. Those short shorts into and around the green are the real key to eliminating big numbers, saving pars and even providing an extra birdie opportunity or two each round.
If you've been leaving too many shots out on the course lately, you're in luck, because we recently sat down with Titleist Staff Member Brandon Stooksbury, a Golf Digest "Best In State Instructor" since 2010, who has compiled his vast knowledge about the short game in a new book titled "The Wedge Book", which Brandon wrote along with Golf Digest Senior Writer, Matt Rudy.
We're extremely proud of our affiliation with staff members like Brandon and though Titleist does not endorse any particular instructional philosophy or methodology, we hope you'll visit https://brandonstooksbury.com, where you can book lessons with Brandon and also view some of his great video instruction. And please visit Amazon.com to purchase your own copy of "The Wedge Book".
In our discussion with Brandon, he talked about his start in golf, the basis for his teachings and the inspiration behind "The Wedge Book". We hope you enjoy our conversation below.
• • • BONUS SWEEPSTAKES: Brandon has been kind enough to provide three signed copies of his instructional manual, "The Wedge Book" to give away to three lucky members of Team Titleist.
HERE’S HOW TO ENTER - PLEASE READ CAREFULLY: Add a comment in the box below in the form of a short game question for Brandon, then hit the "Submit Reply" button.
Sample entry: "Brandon, how do I hit a long bunker shot?"
Yes, it's that easy.
We’ll randomly select three (3) winners from all approved entries that are submitted by Friday, July 20 at 11:59 PM.
A few more important details... Only one entry per person. If you send in multiple replies, you'll be disqualified from the contest. Don't forget to include all of the details outlined above or your entry will not be considered eligible.
After the drawing, Brandon will respond to as many submitted questions as he can to help us get up and down the rest of the season.
Keep in mind, all posts are moderated and it may take some time for your reply to appear. We'll do our best to approve posts quickly but if you enter more than one reply, we have to disqualify you from the drawing (sorry to repeat this but we want to make sure it's clear).
No purchase necessary. View complete rules here: http://www.titleist.com/company/Community-Policy.aspx#sweepstakes
U.S. only. Here's some more info: Why are Titleist sweepstakes U.S. only?
• • • Team Titleist (TT): Brandon, how did you get your start in golf? Brandon Stooksbury (BS): I don't remember not playing. We grew up at a small, nine hole country club in East Tennessee, which is my home and where I'm from. I played with my dad in all the club tournaments growing up. And it was just always a part of our life. My mom would do the traditional drop me off when the pool opened at 10 o'clock, and pick me up off the course at dark.
Golf was one of many sports that I played all through childhood, as well as high school. I tried to play in college, but wasn't quite good enough. And so I decided I would get into it as a profession.
TT: When you made that choice to pursue a career as a PGA professional, did it take long for you to discover that you had a talent for teaching?. BS: Yes and no. When I got into the business originally, I wanted to be an operator. And so I spent the first roughly six to eight years of my career on the operations side. And mid-stream I kind of caught the bug for instruction, teaching the ladies' clinics, and the beginner lessons at the small, private club where I was an apprentice professional, and that grew to the point that I didn't feel like I could teach enough working in operations. So I made the decision to go teach full time.
I worked for Jim McLean in Miami, at his flagship academy, which was at Doral at the time. And that's really when it all changed for me. I came out with the desire to go teach full time myself.
TT: What were some of the big things that you learned from Jim McLean?
BS: Jim had this incredible knack to be whatever he needed to be as an instructor to whomever he was standing in front of. Meaning, if he needed to be soft and calm and encouraging, he could do that. And then he could walk to the next person, and in an instant, be authoritative and forceful. And then he would walk to the next person and just shift and be a completely different instructor again. And it was incredible. I think people always have a natural style of the way they teach, but Jim had an incredible ability to just morph into whoever he needed to be.
I learned so much about teaching from watching him do that. I think about the type of instructor I would be now if it weren't for that, and I wouldn't be able to touch nearly as many people as I do now. If I just had one way of communicating, I'd alienate a lot of people. But because I saw how well Jim adapted his style, I try to be able to be whoever I need to be for that student. And it's made a huge difference. TT: How would you describe your approach to teaching? BS: There's a quote out there, and if I had my computer in front of me I could tell you who said it -- but it's something along the lines of, "You have to understand something in its complexity before you can teach it in its simplicity." That drives me. I'm a huge fan of quotes, and that one reminds me to try to be as solid as I can be on the science side, so that I know just how little science I have to use with the student. TT: Keep It Simple, Stupid? BS: Yeah. To keep it simple. Here's another McLean comment. Jim used to say, "You need to treat students like adults, and talk to them like fifth graders." Because students don't need to know all the intricacies, they just want to hit it better. And rarely do you need to say that much to get them to play or hit it better. So that's a challenge, I suspect, for any coach. It's part of learning how to be good at the craft. TT: How did you come to write "The Wedge Book"? BS: I stumbled across my co-writer, Matt Rudy, who works for Golf Digest, and has become a very good friend, through an online forum. I can tell you without Matt it never would have come to fruition. My personality, if I wrote you an email, I would write it, and then delete two-thirds of it, and then rewrite it, and then delete a third of it, and then rewrite it, and I might have just been asking you to lunch. It would never have come about had he not helped.
At the time, I had been thinking about a short game book, because golfers in general lose a ton of shots in that area. And, I didn't see a lot of good information out there. There are some great short game books, but if you look into the world of golf instruction printed book material, it's easily 10 to 1 on full swing versus what you see on short game. Then if you pull putting out, and just look at wedges, there's even less still. I can count on one hand the number of books that I can even think of that cover just wedges.
Plus, I had come out of a golf school background, where you only had three days to produce results for people. I figured out really fast that if I could get them putting better, and I could get them hitting wedges better, I could really make a ton of difference in their game in that short amount of time.
TT: Why do you think so many golfers have a tough time when it comes to short game?
BS: There are a couple of things that I think hold people back, really. First, in the world of less than full swings, you take away the momentum. There's a certain ease, if you will, in the full swing, about getting the weighted golf club moving in a certain direction that keeps things going. And it's not always the direction we want, and it doesn't always produce the results we want, but if we can just start the thing in motion and hang on to it, physics and gravity and all those things tend to help a lot.
Well, in the world of short game, you don't get that advantage, because you don't get to swing it long enough to always feel that safety blanket, that momentum.
The second problem is, frankly, the instruction. I don't think nearly enough people teach short game. And frankly, I think a lot of the information out there from a lot of the folks that do teach short game is not very sound.
And I'm not knocking the instructors as much as I'm knocking the available information to help the instructors teach better. It's just not out there. So you get a lot of old wives tales, you know? You get a lot of handed-down instruction. And so if somebody's hitting a chip shot, how many times have you heard, "Put it in the back of your stance, lean the handle forward, and hit down on it."
Now, that can work. Certainly lots of people do that. But it's absolutely not the best way to go about trying to hit a chip shot. It's the absence of knowing anything different. That's what their instructor told them when they were 10 years old, and that instructor was told that by his instructor when he was 10 years old. And you're teaching a golf lesson, and you spent 50 minutes of an hour on full swing, and then student says, "Oh, by the way, my chipping's terrible. Help me." The instructor doesn't want to say, "Well, I don't really know how to do that." So they just tell them the only thing they've ever heard.
I think the combination of those two things makes it really challenging for amateur golfers out there in the world of short game. It really makes it hard for them to be good at their wedges. Couple that with the fact that most golfers don't ever practice it, and it's a recipe for disaster. TT: So, in "The Wedge Book" you talk about three basic shots that build off one another. Can you describe those? BS: Wedge play can kind of be separated into a couple different areas. Real close shots around the green, 20 to 30 yards and in, if you will. Finesse wedges would be one term for that. And then beyond that, you're talking about what I would call distance wedges. And the way you approach the technique for those two different ranges are very different.
The wedge book really focuses on that inside, 20 to 30 yard range, in the finesse wedge area. And in the book it's kind of a building block approach. The first shot you would learn in a lesson with me, and the first setup you would learn, is a bump and run. And that happens really close to the edge of the green. And if you can get that set up and you can get that sort of motion down, then backing the ball up five or ten yards away from the edge of the green becomes a little easier to learn. Because all you do is add a little bit of length to the swing with some wrist hinge.
And then once you get that down, you can add the next building block, which is backing it up a little bit further and adding a little arm swing, and so forth and so on. The three shots, the bump and run, the hinge and hold, and the toss shot, were my way of trying to break down the finesse wedge motion into three parts that were sort of easy to learn.
And then I spend a little bit of time addressing bunkers and lob shots on their own. I call them out as types of common, but special shots. TT: Let's talk about each shot. How do you play a bump and run?
BS: I look at each shot as an association of your distance from the edge of the green. So, the bump and run is used from about five yards away from the edge of the green, and closer. It's the foundation shot. And so it describes a swing that's pretty small, really. The goal is to land the ball two to three steps on the green and let the ball roll the remaining distance like a putt. The ball won't travel very far in the air, regardless of the club you're using.
The motion feels like a putting stroke. You rock your shoulders to make the backswing and rock them back to the target. You don't need to do a thing with the hands. Allow your body to pivot naturally over your left leg as you finish the stroke.
TT: How do you set up for the bump and run? BS: The stance is narrow, about three to five inches between the heels, and square to the target. The ball position is just forward of center. The shaft of the club is neutral, meaning it's perpendicular to the ground, not leaning forward. It's important to get the chest, the sternum, ahead of the golf ball. As you do this, you let your weight shift, favoring your left side (for a righty).
The setup sort of sets the foundation. It allows you to use the wedge as it's designed to be used and it puts your body in a place that encourages you to move the golf club the right way, in the right sequence. You want the motion to look like it all starts moving together on the way back. The head of the club, the handle, the elbows, the chest. Not so much the torso, because you don't move that a whole lot in the backswing in a short wedge shot. But it all sort of moves together on the way back. There's no snatching the club head away. There's no hinging early with the arms. There's a lot of softness in the wrists and in the arms. And it all sort of flows together. And the setup really helps start that process. TT: Does the setup allow you to use the wedge's bounce properly? BS: It's interesting, because "using the bounce" has sort of become a fad topic in the world of instruction in the last five years. A lot of us have been talking about using the bounce for 15 years, but it's taken a long time to reach the mainstream conversation.
Most people I see have the ball positioned way too far back in their stance. They try to hit down on it too much and deliver way too much forward shaft lean, either because they've been taught to do that or they tried it one time out of desperation, and it happened to give them a little clean contact, so they now think that's the answer for everything. So they have never really experienced bounce properly around the green.
In order to have the softness and the spin generation that most people see on TV, or think they should have, or are trying to gain, it's almost impossible to do that without utilizing the bounce. The technique that I share in "The Wedge Book", and that I share every day with my students on the tee at Idle Hour, is trying to get the shaft delivered in a more neutral position, instead of leaning so far forward. It's all about trying to use the bounce in a different way than they've experienced before to try to give them a little bit of forgiveness as the club moves across the ground, and to not have such a narrow margin for error when you're making those tiny little shots.
It can be a challenging concept to explain to people. But once they feel it the first time, then they totally get it. It almost feels like you're hitting a shot fat. So they'll hit one, and they'll go, "Oh, I hit that fat." And the shot will turn out perfectly. It'll fly up on the green, and have a couple little hops, and it'll kind of grab. And they'll look at it, and they'll go, "I don't understand, I hit that fat." No, you didn't. You just felt the bounce for the first time ever. All I can do is set them up the right way, to have that success, and then let them experience it over and over. TT: Okay, what if you're further than five yards from the edge of the green? BS: As you back up, the golf swing needs to get longer in order to accommodate the distance you have between you and the edge of the green, where you're trying to land it. And so I add some hinge in the wrist to make the swing longer. And that's the hinge and hold shot.
The range for the hinge and hold is somewhere between five and 15 yards away from the edge of the green, depending on the golfer and the club you're using. The stance is slightly wider than the bump and run to support the larger swing, and the hands are set directly under the chin (or sternum).
The body technique is the same, the same rock of the shoulders as the bump and run. The wrist hinge just adds length, allowing the clubhead to swing to about waist height. The through swing should mirror the size of the backswing, with the club finishing at about hip height.
The hold part of the shot's name is really just a reminder to keep the shoulders and arms moving through impact. You don't want to let the clubhead flip past the hands.
TT: And what do recommend doing if you're even farther out? BS: When you back up even further, outside of 15 or so yards from the edge of the green, then you need even some more length on the swing to get the ball to carry, and so you add some arm swing. I call this the toss shot. It builds on the two previous shots, incorporating the basic motion of the bump and run and the wrist hinge of the hinge and hold. The only addition is a little shoulder turn.
The stance is slightly wider but you won't be turning your hips or shifting your weight into your trail leg. Crossing that line is where we start talking about distance wedge technique. In the downswing, you let your body go with the shot so that the chest and the hips face the target at finish.
TT: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask a short game expert about sand shots. What's your approach to bunker play? BS: My bunker technique is really heavily influenced by Jim McLean. Most people complicate bunkers beyond your wildest imagination. You get a lot of old wives tales, and a lot of misunderstood setup principles and technique principles that people try and just make the motion so complex that a tour player would have a hard time hitting a good bunker shot.
My bunker technique is all about being able to simplify the process. Simplify the setup. And provide you with the technique that gives you the highest chance of not only getting it out of the bunker, but having control over the ball when you hit it out of the bunker. To me, the challenge is not necessarily getting it out every time. The challenge is getting it out every time having some idea of what it's gonna do when it lands on the green, and how far it's gonna fly.
In a bunker, the club is used very differently, the sole is used very differently, and frankly, your intent is very different. You're trying to hit it fat on purpose out of a bunker. Lots of people fail in a bunker before they ever draw the golf club back, because they've set themselves up in a way that uses the golf club like you would use it out of the fairway. Not how you need to use it out of a bunker.
But the last thing I would want is this big, giant cloud of sand coming up and flying everywhere because you've taken a big, gouging divot. The best bunker players in the world take a tiny, tiny little cut of sand. Because they have minimum sand between the ball and the face. Which gives them maximum control.
TT: In the book you also mention that the tools you use are very important. What are your suggestions for selecting the right combination of wedges? BS: Yeah, so that's a challenge. And here's why. Because you'll want to buy wedges that will make your technique feel better, or work better. That's great, as long as your technique is versatile enough. Meaning if someone plays every shot they hit with the ball in the back of their stance, and they deliver a lot of forward shaft lean, then they're gonna be drawn to wedges that have a lot of bounce. Because those wedges will help that shot, that wedge cuts through the turf better on that shot.
The problem with that is now you have a tool in your hand that only ever allows you to hit that one shot. And so if you do that, if you buy the tool to suit one technique, then you'll only ever be one-dimensional around a green. Rather, if you buy a set of tools that allows you to hit a multiple variety of shots, then you can branch out and do lots of different things.
So when I'm fitting wedges I try to get people to understand the marriage of the fit of the wedge and the technique. And so rarely, if ever, is a wedge fit for me simply a wedge fitting. Most of the time there's some instruction that's involved in that, because I need them to understand how the bottom of the club either suits or doesn't suit the technique that they're trying to employ.
TT: What's your current wedge setup? BS: This year I put a combo set of 718 irons in the bag, the AP3 and the AP2. And I went a little stronger in the loft of the AP2 to try to help the gap when I changed from AP3 to AP2. And so, my pitching wedge got a little bit stronger than it normally is in my set. As such, I changed my wedges. For the longest time, I played a 52-degree sand wedge, a 56-degree sand wedge, and a 60-degree lob wedge. Now, I play a 50. I bent my 56 to 55. And I play a 60.
TT: What grinds do you prefer? BS: I have a 50.08 F grind, a 56.10 S grind and a 60.10 S grind, all Vokey SM7. When I deliver the golf club, I use more of the trailing edge of the club than most folks do. That's just my style. And so I need a golf club with a narrower sole. The trailing edge relief on the S grind accomplishes that for me.
TT: You play a Pro V1x golf ball. Is the golf ball an important equipment consideration when it comes to the short game?
BS: Oh, there's no question. Absolutely. I'll even go as far as to say the short game almost becomes unplayable at a high level without a golf ball like Pro V1x that you can control via spin and trajectory. That's how I've always fit myself. My particular game, my strength has never been iron play, it's certainly not driving. But if I can get myself near a green, I can hang with anybody. And I always had to have a ball that provided me with that control.
Quite frankly, you can't hit all the shots without a premium golf ball. I think it's imperative if you want to have all the options around the green. You've got to make the decision about what golf ball you play based on that. If you don't, then you're gonna be limited.
TT: Last question. What do you hope golfers will take away from reading "The Wedge Book"? BS: I wrote "The Wedge Book" to be an easy, fast read. And it was meant to be a book that any level of golfer could take and either completely transform what they do now, or maybe use to affirm and better understand the things they're currently doing well.
I really just want folks to take away that it doesn't have to be as challenging as it sometimes seems. If you'll embrace a new idea, and a slightly different approach, you can open up a whole new door of possibilities to better wedge play.
TT: Thank you, Brandon!
• • •
ABOUT BRANDON: Brandon Stooksbury is PGA Certified Director of Instruction at the Idle Hour Club in Macon, GA. A native of Knoxville, TN, he is recognized by Golf Digest as a "Best Young Teacher" and is the Amazon best selling author of “The Wedge Book" who specializes in short game and putting instruction.
For more information and instruction, visit Brandon's website at https://brandonstooksbury.com.
YouTube: Brandon Stooksbury Twitter: @StooksburyGolf Facebook: BStooksbury Instagram: stooksburygolf
Rick Team Titleist Staff
Dwayne NIsland, KY
July 12, 2018 at 10:07 PM
how do i hit fairway bunker shots with consistency
July 13, 2018 at 07:44 AM
Brandon, should l consider ‘putting’ with my hybrid when just off the green? Or is that a sign I am not practicing enough with my wedges?
Tyler HAppleton, WI
July 13, 2018 at 02:09 PM
What is the best method for high and soft greenside bunker shots?
Barry BLake St Louis, MO
July 13, 2018 at 05:01 PM
I know there are multiple wedge grinds for the various swing types & turf conditions, but for those of us that live in areas that experience soft, firm and hard turf conditions during various times of the year what would be the best time to schedule wedge fittings?
Darryl MWichita, KS
July 13, 2018 at 08:12 PM
Brandon, How do you high soft landing 30-40yd wedge shots when the ball well is below your feet on the downside of a hill?
July 13, 2018 at 08:34 PM
I have two wedges, pitching and sand. What type (degree, grind) should I get next. My AP1 irons are L shafts. I am 71.
July 13, 2018 at 08:45 PM
How do I play long bunker shots?
July 13, 2018 at 08:54 PM
Brandon how do I know what sole grind to play?
July 13, 2018 at 09:03 PM
Is it the distance from the fringe or the length of the rough around the green that helps determine whether to use my 50*, 54*, 58*, P wedge or maybe a 8 iron?
Gary MPasadena, TX
July 13, 2018 at 09:26 PM
I normally use my 52 wedge for shots around the green. I closed or open the face to suit shot I want to execute. I just like the feel of the one club versus change wedges, If its an extreme shot Ill use my 56 or a PW. What do you think of this practice? Thanks
Bud ZBarefoot Bay, FL
July 13, 2018 at 09:28 PM
What's are the different methods to spin the ball from the bunker versus letting the ball roll out
July 13, 2018 at 09:48 PM
How many degrees of bounce should I use on a very tight lie with real soft turf condition, to avoid digging into the turf.
Jim FVienna, VA
July 13, 2018 at 10:19 PM
Brandon, how do you recommend hitting balls that have “dropped” into fluffy fringe grass 10 - 15 yards off the green? Thanks!
dennis sNew Fairfield, CT
July 13, 2018 at 10:26 PM
Whats the best way to hit an easy lob from 25 yards that drops and stops?
Bill HTroy, MI
July 13, 2018 at 10:38 PM
Any suggestions for hitting out of deep rough surrounding greens? Perhaps 10 yards or less off the green surface.
paul lsyracuse, NY
July 13, 2018 at 11:24 PM
I can’t seem to hit the sand wedge we’ll with a full swing, to the point that I stopped using.
Dean DSan Francisco, CA
July 13, 2018 at 11:39 PM
Brandon, I am steep swinger, seldom any divot -tight lies-9hdcp confused about bounce, overchoice has my head spinning. Help.
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