SI Vault
Arnold Palmer
August 09, 1965
A man renowned for his bold trouble shots shows the brave how to hit off hard ground, over trees, off sides of hills, out of holes and through a fringe
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August 09, 1965

Seeing Through Some Dirty Lies

A man renowned for his bold trouble shots shows the brave how to hit off hard ground, over trees, off sides of hills, out of holes and through a fringe

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If there is one situation in golf that makes the weekend player want to give his clubs to the Salvation Army and take up water polo, it is the prospect of having to hit a wedge off hardpan. He feels sure there is nothing in the world to keep him from either scooping the shot two feet or blading it 30 yards over the green.

Now make the situation really tough—which it usually is. The ball is sitting on bare dirt, the pin is close behind a steep-walled bunker, and you must get down in two—no worse than three—or be sent to Devil's Island. Almost any golfer, other than a pro, would as soon find his ball in an alligator's mouth. I have seen desperate players go at this shot in a variety of ways, almost all of them wrong. They will try to use a putter and run the ball through the bunker; they will use a choked-down three-iron and attempt the same thing; they will try to clip the ball with a nine-iron or eight-iron, praying that it will somehow stop when it clears the bunker; they will hood the face of a pitching wedge and try to stab the shot, which is the surest way in the world to scoop the ball or blade it.

Next time do it my way. As calmly as possible get out the one club in your bag you might never have thought of, the sand wedge, for it is the only club that can bring off the result you seek. The sand wedge gives you the extra weight on the underside of the blade that you need to bounce the ball up from the dirt, avoiding the scoop, and it has the grooves to provide the necessary spin to stop the shot within reasonable distance of the pin.

Assume the stance normally used for any short pitch shot, playing the ball back toward the right toe, and swing normally. It may help to imagine that the target is roughly 10yards beyond the point where the pin actually is situated. Connect with the ball and the dirt at the same time, and use a normal pitch-shot follow-through. Keep in mind that it is better to be long than short; better to have a long putt than to land in the bunker and have no putt at all—which is what will happen if you leave the ball short.

The sand wedge is a mighty weapon and, although it is a club designed for use in a bunker, it is perfect for the pitch shot off hard ground. Get to know it better and save yourself some anguish.


Just as in mountain climbing, there is a time in golf when the only way you can go is up—straight up. This most commonly happens when you have hit an approach shot far ofF line and are confronted with a cluster of tall trees that block you from the green. There is obviously only one way to get there: up and over.

I don't know what everybody did in the days before the pitching wedge was invented, but I would imagine in cases like this there was either general moaning or else the old pros could do things with a niblick that I never heard of. So, to Start with, take out your pitching wedge. Play the ball about the middle of a wide-open stance. Lay the blade of the wedge so open that it looks almost like a pancake fastened to the end of a long stick. The opened blade should face the flagstick. Your hands should be behind the ball. Finally, take a big, long swing, sweeping right under the ball, and end up with an equally big follow-through, one that will accentuate the lift. Do it right, and you will have hit the one golf shot that really makes you look up.

This is a shot you should practice a little in order to learn how quickly the bail will get up, and how high. The results are going to surprise you, because the ball will climb a lot faster than you think. Exactly how open you lay the blade and how strong a swing you take depends on the closeness of the trees and how far you want to hit the shot. To give you some idea, I would say for a shot which must rise at least 70 feet vertically, you should be able to count on getting 75 to 100 yards of horizontal distance. The faster you have to get the ball up, of course, the less distance you can get.

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