What’s the Difference Between PW, AW, SW & LW in Golf?

In golf, the plethora of different wedges has the potential of making the game significantly more complex than it needs to be. For any player just starting out, it’s easy to see how you can become confused as to what all these different wedges are for, and how do you incorporate them into your round?

Well, an explanation as to the best shots that can be played by the different wedges will certainly make life significantly easier for any player. Let’s face it, you need to know you have the right clubs in your bag for your round, so getting your wedge game sorted out does kind of make sense.

So, let’s explore what the different options are, and how they could apply to your game.

The Pitching Wedge (PW)

Pitching wedge

A pitching wedge comes with the highest loft out of all the wedges, and that does mean it has quite a specific role to play. When it comes to the loft angle, then you are typically looking at a PW having an angle of anywhere from 44 to 48 degrees. 

A player will tend to bring out their pitching wedge when they have a shot in the region of 100 yards left. This is the longest wedge you will have in your bag, so it makes sense that it is often used for the longest shots.

However, if you are more adept at using this club and keeping control over the ball, then you can also bring it out of the bag for a shorter pitch and roll onto the green.

Aside from the sand wedge, it’s the pitching wedge that is the most widely known club of its kind. It doesn’t have as high a loft angle as the other wedges, so there is less backspin on offer with your shot.

In saying that, it does still provide you with the ability to get control over the spin when compared to the short irons, so that is certainly something to work on when you start to bring your pitching wedge into your game.

The Approach Wedge (AW)

Approach Wedge

The approach wedge can also be referred to as the gap wedge, and this club falls perfectly in between the distances and loft angles, you will be able to get from both a pitching wedge and a sand wedge.

What this means is your approach wedge is going to be coming in around a 50 degree loft angle. That’s going to bridge the 30 yard or so gap between the pitching and sand wedge, so you can already start to see where this club will come into its own.

If you stress that you may overhit your pitching wedge shot, then an approach wedge is going to offer you a substantial amount of control over your shot without having that fear.

Also, the height you can get from this club is pretty impressive. It creates an ideal trajectory for shots some 50 yards to 100 yards out from the green. With the slightly higher loft angle, which does tend to sit around the 50 degree mark, you will generate enough backspin from the shot to naturally get it to stop pretty stone dead on the green. 

Overall, this club works well for those individuals that have a tendency to hit beyond the mark where a pitching wedge would work, but too far out to get onto the green. Also, if you do not have the control over your shots that would be required for a loft wedge, then this club would sit nicely in your bag.

The Sand Wedge (SW)

Sand Wedge

The sand wedge is self-explanatory since it’s used to get out of the sand trap. It does come with a different loft angle of anywhere from 54 degrees to 58 degrees, but there’s more to this club than just the angle.

The design of the club head has been created in such a way that the head has a wider sole to it. Also, it tends to be rounder in style, and this is all designed to help you get the club under the ball while it's sitting in sand, and to get it up off the surface.

But the design is even more intelligent than most are aware. Thanks to the round style, it does have the ability to move through the sand and pop up out the other side. It won’t simply stick, forcing you to lose control of your shot.

Also, don’t think for a second you will be restricted to only using a sand wedge when getting out of a sand trap. That’s not the case.

Instead, it can be used for short approach shots, but don’t expect to hit this a vast distance thanks to the loft, as the ball will be unable to fly like it would with a pitching wedge.

What you need to remember with the sand wedge is that the club is all about getting a clean connection even when the ball is well set into the sand. That is why the design is different to the other wedges, as the rounder style gives more surface area to push through the sand without coming up short.

This round style does then make it harder to hit the ball as cleanly if you are on the fairway, but then you would turn to another wedge to make that sort of shot.

However, when you are deep in a sand trap, then the sand wedge makes life so much easier. Yes, the loft wedge has a higher angle, so it would get the ball up into the air, but don’t presume that angle is everything. It’s not.

A sand wedge is designed to offer you as large a sweet spot as possible. The club face is opened up, and it’s going to make it easier for you to get some sort of connection on the ball with the loft angle then doing the rest.

The sweet spot is so important when you are in this sort of situation. That, along with the soft touch that the sand wedge can offer, allows you to get a significant amount of control over the shot, especially when in a green-side bunker.

The Lob Wedge (LW)

The final option we are looking at is the lob wedge, and this is going to sit with a loft angle of anywhere from 58 degrees to as much as 62 degrees. That does mean it has the highest angle in your entire bag.

This club is designed for those very short approach shots where you are skirting around the edge of the green. The intention here is the high loft angle is going to lift the ball up off the floor and climb to a substantial height, while then stopping quickly on the green. 

If you find yourself looking at greater pin accuracy more than focusing on simply getting the ball on the green with a close approach shot, then the loft wedge can certainly help you out. Pick a spot, and go for it. This sort of wedge requires you to commit to the shot in advance, as it’s going to get you to where you want it to go, but only as long as you have the control over your swing in the first place.

If you don't, then you could end up in all sorts of trouble.

Basically, the amount of control you can have over a lob wedge shot is pretty impressive, but only when you know how to use it to your advantage.

But that control does come with a problem attached. You need to have a better understanding of the greens, as well as the added accuracy of your shot. That is not something you will pick up in an instant, but if you are playing to that sort of standard, then a loft wedge could easily make a real difference to your game if you find yourself 50 yards or less from the green.

A Summary of the Shots

If we were to offer a summary of the different shots that can be made with these clubs, then it could be summed up as the following.

The pitching wedge is for those longer approach shots to the green where you want to still have an impressive amount of control. 

The approach wedge is for something closer to the green where you stress about overhitting.

The sand wedge is for getting out of the bunker, or you may want to use it closer to the green.

However, the lob wedge is the best option of all when it comes to those more spectacular short approach shots where you need to kill the ball stone dead.

Which Clubs are the Best Option for a Beginner?

So those are the differences between the clubs, and as you can see, they are all used for slightly different shots. But what is you are new to the game? What should you be using?

Keep in mind that when starting out, you are focusing on trying to improve your basic game, so getting all fancy with spin on shots is not high on your list of priorities. As a result, we would recommend not including the loft wedge.

The lob wedge requires a softer touch and feel around the edge of the green. It’s all about making that connection to send the ball high into the air and dropping dead. 

A novice player is not going to have that type of control over their game. Also, it’s stressful trying to figure out how to play those shots, and you don’t need that when starting out.

As a novice, or someone with a high handicap, then you need to think about getting yourself out of trouble. After all, there’s a pretty good chance you are going to find yourself in the bunker or long rough from time to time.

That means both the pitching wedge and sand wedge are the two most important clubs out there. You are highly unlikely to be hitting through greens too often when trying to master the game. Chances are you will come up short rather than long, so worrying about overhitting the ball is not something that should be concerning you.

The Loft Angles in Your Bag

So, the different wedges do come with different loft angles, so let’s look at what may be your best options from that perspective.

If you are an average player where your shots come up short and leave you with a chip onto the green on a regular basis, then a wedge around the 54 degree loft angle would be perfect. That’s going to cover most bases if you are lacking in power and control from a greater distance.

At the same time, if you do end up wanting that real control and producing as much backspin as possible from your shots close to the green, then a loft angle on a wedge around 62 degrees will work out well for you.

At that angle, you should be able to float in a chip and kill it on the green. Alternatively, if you have reasonable accuracy with your shots, then this degree angle allows you to pinpoint your shot on the green if you don’t have a lot of room to play with, perhaps due to a bunker or water hazard cutting down your target area.

The Summary

From the four options that are out there, each wedge has its own place in your bag, but as we have said on several occasions, it all depends on your style of game and where you are at with your development.

The one thing you will always need is your sand wedge. That is not something you should compromise on, as it can get you out of all sorts of trouble.

Aside from that, the pitching wedge or gap wedge may be suitable, with the gap wedge being better if you have a bit more power and accuracy over your tee shots. If you can get a reasonable distance from the pin, then either of these options should get you onto the green.

Keep the lob wedge for those spectacular shots. If you feel capable of dropping the ball in on a dime, then go for it. The shots are cool to play, and they also make you feel good when you replicate the pros.

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