What Do Golf Wedge Shots and Basketball Free Throws Have in Common?

One of the common denominators among the best distance wedge players in the world is that they tend to have a launch angle that is lower and more consistent than higher handicap golfers. 

Elite players rely on low-launching wedge shots to control spin and trajectory.  Generally, they apex their wedges under 50 feet and launch them under 30° (often half the loft of their club). 

This strategy helps them maximize both control and consistency.  According to our friend and instruction advisor, Mike Malaska, it isn’t a practice that should be only reserved for TOUR pros and club champions, either.

“I don’t care what level player you are, you need to work on gapping your clubs and understanding launch angle windows.”

– Mike Malaska

In the video above, Mike mentions basketball, drawing an interesting parallel to how shooters manage their trajectory to optimize consistency. He states: 

“Most professional players shoot it close to the same angle because they’ve found there’s a certain trajectory that gives them the most success.  It’s the same with golf.” 

– Mike Malaska

What’s interesting about this basketball comparison is that trajectory of the most accurate shooters in the NBA does not actually maximize the “effective size” of the rim.

At a 30° trajectory, the effective size of the rim is roughly 14 inches.  At 45°, the effective size of the rim is closer to 16 inches.  At 70°, the effective size of the rim is over 17 inches.  So, if the rim “gets bigger” the higher a shot is launched, why are the highest percentages of made shots closer to 45° and not 70°?

The answer is similar to the way wedge shots work in golf; the higher the trajectory, the more difficult it is for an athlete to control the consistency.

Phil Mickelson’s short-game wizardry is entertaining (and effective) around the green, but it’s impractical to flop and stop a distance wedge.

Golf is a game of controlling variables.  If you only think about “distance” you may ignore the inputs that produce it.  For more consistent results and effective practice, don’t just focus on the power you want to impart on the ball, but the “window” you want to launch the ball through.

“If you hit three shots with the same club and same speed, but have different launch angles, you’re going to end up with different distances.”

– Mike Malaska

Most importantly, measure.  It not only offers valuable feedback for your practice, it gives you confidence you can take to the course.

There’s no way you can determine launch angle with the naked eye.  Maybe you can get close, but close isn’t good enough.”

– Mike Malaska

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