Mickelson’s final-round charge that led to his win at The Open Championship, as well as another runner-up finish at the U.S. Open in June and his win at the Scottish Open in early July have a lot of folks talking about Lefty’s place in golf history.
Just a decade ago, Mickelson was viewed as an underachiever whose potential for major championship dominance never materialized for one of two reasons:
- Tiger Woods’ domination of major championships from 1997 to 2008.
- Mickelson’s aggressive style of play.
Five major championship victories later, no less of an authority than Jack Nicklaus has said that Mickelson will go down as one of the greatest players ever. With over 40 PGA Tour wins, and victories at the Masters (three times), PGA Championship and Open Championship, it is not too soon to discuss where Phil stands in the pantheon of great players — especially considering his six second-place finishes at the U.S. Open, which would be a great career in itself for many long-time Tour players.
When we compile any list of the “best ever,” era comparisons invariably rear their head. It is difficult if not impossible to compare Old Tom Morris and Tiger Woods, so perhaps some criteria are in order. To be fair, we needs an apples-to-apples basis for our list and I think we have to consider some of the following:
Dominance: Was the golfer the dominant player of his/her era? Did he/she beat the others often enough to be the best player of that time? This is tricky, because in golf we’ve had “waves” of great players who often stood in the way of one another.
- The “Great Triumvirate” of Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and J.H. Taylor, to the early American supremacy of Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen.
- The war years of Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
- The modern era of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
- The “Tiger” era.
In the first three eras, there always seem to be three players that stood out among the rest. So if a player didn’t win every time (in golf, they don’t), the greats were often in contention. For example, there’s no doubt that Palmer and Player took potential titles away from Nicklaus, but even when Nicklaus lost he was often in close pursuit.
Only Tiger Woods has stood head and shoulders above the rest in his era. The late 1990s to 2008-2009 is really the only time we’ve had one player completely dominate an era, with the possible exception of Bobby Jones from 1923 to 1930.
Some may argue that Tiger dominated the golf world because their was no other “great” player at the time. Tom Watson was past his prime, and Nick Faldo was slowly exiting the scene as well. Mickelson was still learning to win the big ones, and not the player he is now. Others like to argue that Tiger dominated because he was playing the best golf the world had ever seen, which I’ll touch on more later in the story.
Major championships: While it difficult to say where the cut off line would be, I will arbitrarily select five (5) as the number of majors a player had to win to be considered on our greatest-of-all-time category. Here, too, we are on a slippery slope, because majors have changed.
The U.S. Amateur is a great example: In Bobby Jones’ era, surely it was a major. In Jack’s era, it may have been marginally a major, and today is clearly is not. The Masters, a modern day major, was not played until 1934, and the PGA Championship not until 1916. So we have to be careful when comparing on this basis alone. But majors are how we define good from great in our game, and, in some form, we have to consider their records in them.
Longevity: Again, using this as one of our criteria can get confusing, as golf is a game where most players do NOT stay at their peak for very long. Nicklaus, Snead and Player are notable exceptions, but many of the game’s greats have had short reigns at the top.
Jones was at his best from 1923 to 1930, while Nelson was in his prime from 1937 to 1945. Even in the modern era, all of Palmer’s majors came in an 8-to-9-year period. And often the flame burns brightest before it burns out: Nelson, 18 wins in 1945, gone two years later; Jones won the grand slam in 1930, retired the next year. A player named Ralph Guldahl, one of the premiere players in the 1930s, won back to back U.S. Opens and nothing after really — so did Curtis Strange.
On the other hand, Snead won events over a 30-year period as did Gary Player, and Jack over 25 years. So we still have to give longevity a place on the list.
Total Wins: There’s no denying that great golfers are able amass their share of total tournaments won around the world, not just the PGA Tour. Gary Player, for example, won only 24 events on the PGA Tour, but over 150 worldwide. Tiger is rapidly approaching Sam Snead’s all-time record of 83 PGA Tour wins, but of course he also has 14 majors victories. Considering all that, here is my vote for the top 10 players ever:
No. 1: Jack Nicklaus
With 18 professional majors, 2 U.S. Amateur titles and 73 PGA Tour wins over 25 years, Jack’s record speaks for itself. Tiger has won three more times on the PGA Tour than Nicklaus, but until him or someone else tops his record 18 major championships, there is no question that “The Golden Bear” is the greatest golfer of all time.
The best golf that has even been played was from Woods from 2000 to 2008, but he still has work to do to catch Jack in longevity (Nicklaus won his last major at the age of 46) and majors.
No. 2: Tiger Woods
In his prime, Tiger was the best golfer the world has ever seen. Winning the U.S. Open Championship by 15 shots, the British Open by 11, the Masters by 12 and the “Tiger Slam” are just a few of the things that separate him from the others.
Consider this statistic: Tiger has won 25 percent of the professional tournaments he has played. The next best on that list is Phil at 8 percent! And I, for one, believe his comeback is almost complete and inevitable. But until then he remains firmly in second place, four majors away from the No. 1 spot.
No. 3: Ben Hogan
Hogan was the consummate ball striker, winning three consecutive majors in 1953 — The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open (he didn’t play in the PGA Championship).
The “Wee Ice man,” as the Scots affectionately named him, was one of the best ever. His nine major championships in a five year stretch is the stuff of legends, and it seems that his legend is improving as the years go by.
Remember this: Hogan basically only played the majors after his near-fatal car accident.
No. 4: Walter Hagen
With the possible exception of Gary Player, Hagen was the best match play player ever, and maybe as good a putter who has ever lived as well.
Hagen taught golfers that confidence is a MUST in championship golf, personifying his self belief with his lavish dress and habits. He won four consecutive PGA Championships (1924-1927), five British Opens and 2 U.S. Opens.
Once, needing to hole out from the fairway from 155 yards to force a playoff, Hagen had his caddie remove the flagstick! That’s confidence.
No. 5: Bobby Jones
The best amateur golfer of all time, and his No. 5 ranking here could easily be higher — Jones quit tournament golf at the unthinkable age of 28! In 1930, his grand slam year, he only played in two other events.
Remember this: Jones averaged one round a week during his playing days, and he put the clubs away most of the winter! He was an amazing talent that may never be duplicated. In his last 12 national championships (U.S. and British), he was first or second a staggering 11 times.
No. 6: Gary Player
With nine majors and over 100 victories worldwide, Gary Player brought physical and mental fitness to the world of professional golf. He was also the first to play the game internationally at the highest level.
Player is one of only five players to win the modern grand slam, and he also won the World Match Play Championship an unprecedented five times! But because he played in the same era as Nicklaus, Player’s place in history is sometimes greatly underrated.
No. 7: Sam Snead
Sam Snead is still the winningest player ever on the PGA Tour, with one of the sweetest swings anyone has ever seen. He amassed 81 wins on the PGA Tour, all while while playing in the era of Hogan and Nelson.
He won the West Virginia Open 17 times, often playing in bare feet in the early days. A natural athlete who took great care of his body, Snead could kick the top of a door frame with his other foot on the ground!
No. 8: Arnold Palmer
Every young player who collects a big, fat paycheck today should quietly thank Arnold palmer. “The King” popularized the game and brought it to the masses like no player before him.
Loved and adored by fans for his go-for-broke style, Palmer saved a moribund game and Tour after the Hogan era. Consider this: from 1960 to 1966, Palmer won the U.S. Open once (Cherry Hills, 1960), and played off for the title in 1962, 1963 and and 1966. Although he lost all those playoffs, that is first or tied for first for four out of six years!
No. 9: Byron Nelson
His 18 wins (19 if you count the New Jersey Open) in 1945 puts him automatically on my top-10 list. A quiet man, who eschewed the spotlight, his ball striking has become the stuff of legends.
Byron was alleged to hit a golf ball straighter than anyone before or since him. But he disliked tournament golf, often to the point of nausea before big matches.
Once Ben Hogan, who saw Nelson with his head in the toilet before the 1942 playoff for the Masters, actually offered to delay the start of the match! They didn’t and Nelson won. After his record-breaking 1945 season, he retired two years later.
No. 10: Harry Vardon and Tom Watson
I’m copping out a bit here because although the two played some 75 years apart, the single dominance of the British Open alone (six wins for Vardon and five for Watson) make it very difficult to choose.
Vardon actually invented the more modern golf swing, and left us with the famous “Vardon Grip,” the overlapping grip as we know it, and dominated golf just as it was coming to America.
Watson won 39 PGA Tour events, eight of them majors, and of course came within a whisker of winning the British Open at the age of 59 in 2009. He may be best known for his memorable battles (and victories) with Jack Nicklaus when Jack was in his prime.
I would love to hear from anyone who would adjust my list. Please remember, this my the list as it stands today. My list does not include Mickelson yet, but he is surely a bullet!
How can my list NOT include Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Billy Casper et al? Well, again it is my list, and I was asked to write the piece. Again, era comparisons are difficult at best, but it makes for great 19th hole conversation.
Fianlly, I think Phil is a long way from through, and at some he will be on that list. His talent is that good.
As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.
Inside the ropes with the fittest on Tour
Before the world hit pause, I had the awesome opportunity to go out to Torrey Pines and the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open and spend the week with former champ Scott Stallings.
The link was fitness, and this was my opportunity to go and learn from the best about all aspects of performance.
That’s how I got to know Scott a couple of years ago—a similar path to improved health and fitness directly, and indirectly, linked to golf performance.
So, what does a week on tour really look like from the player’s perspective?
I flew in late Monday evening, and Tuesday at 8 AM, it was time to meet up with Scott—in the gym of course. Scott, Adam his trainer, and a couple of players were already fired up and ready to go.
A one-hour session of dumbbells, med balls, kettlebells, and sleds finished with a “vanity pump” session that was more than enough to get a serious sweat going in the California hills.
After freshening up with a solid post-workout breakfast, it’s time to hit the course. As a past winner, Scott knew all about Torrey As a newbie from England, I can tell you that place is as good as you think it is!
Scott joined workout partners Trey Mullinax and Scott Brown, as well as Sepp Straka, to go play the North Course. At this point, it was clear the players were feeling out their games as much as they are the course—a couple of challenges here and a few extra chip shots there, the mood is pretty laid back as the players do their thing.
Off the course, and it’s time to refuel again. This kind of schedule is asking a lot of the body. Then you guessed it, it’s back to the gym. This time it’s a lighter focus to let the body wind down and only around 40 minutes long. Then its time to loosen up, get a massage, and the day is largely done.
In the current age of performance tracking and performance data, sleep and recovery are almost as important as anything else going on here. Scott is at the forefront here as well, being one of the first to use the extremely popular Whoop Bands to track a whole bunch of physical data. Keeping yourself in the green can be a pretty big deal if you want to feel and perform your best!
Wednesday is pro-am day, and with 36 holes at Torrey, everyone is in. An early tee time means no specific gym work in the morning, rather a quick functional mobility session before heading to the range—increasing the heart rate, moving the body and basically waking up all of the movements patterns needed for the body to hit the range to start getting dialed in.
After the “steadily paced” round, Scott fuels up ready to hit the gym with a different workout partner. A certain curly-haired Irishman got in touch with Scott to set up an early season workout to gauge performance, maybe learn a few things, and for sure do some work!
Fitness on tour is a continuing revolution, with almost all players now understanding the huge benefits of increased physical performance for their games but also for their health. The benefits of increased speed, fitness, and overall performance, when you’re playing at the highest level seems fairly straightforward. But players also have to consider their schedules, travel, work demands and a bunch more stressors that affect mental, physical, and hormonal function.
Having earned his reputation through an accelerated journey from poor health to fitness junkie, Scott is more than happy to spend time with other pros talking all things, health, fitness, and performance.
This is how the game will continue to move forwards and also how it will feed down into all levels of golf. There is a clear spectrum emerging within this for the golf world: using golf as a motivating factor to get in better shape and overall health all the way up to using specific fitness work to further golf performance.
Basically you gotta be doing something!
Anyway, fresh from an all out sweat session, it’s head down and prep for a Thursday morning tee time—same deal, physical therapy, good nutrition, and as much rest as possible.
With a 9:10 AM tee time Thursday morning, the preparations are much like that for the pro-am and the body is ready and warm headed to the tee.
Then, it’s go time. Stepping onto the first tee in competition and everything changes. This was one of the most noticeable and impressive things watching Scott and all the other players in this incredible field.
There is a visible, almost palpable, change in demeanor, and it’s all-out competition mode.
This is a part of the mental toughness and preparation learned through years of hard work and the desire to do what is needed. This, in my opinion, is where all golfers can take so much from the best in the game—just compete and grind to get the best score possible whatever the circumstance. Don’t over-think technique, don’t overreact, just play each shot as best as you possibly can and count them up at the end.
Scott is also playing the first round on the brutal, but incredible, South Course in tough conditions and posts up a 1-under 71 to sit nicely on the leaderboard after day one. This was a mentally and physically challenging day with high temperatures, a tough course and an incredible field. On course nutrition, and even more so, hydration, are on point and the hours of work in the gym all stack up for optimal performance.
After a good day’s work, more food, and just enough rest, we hit the gym for my last workout at Torrey: 30 minutes of hard effort including rowing, stepper, med balls, and squats—there really is no holding back.
Training is always individual and even more so at this level. Training hard after a five-plus hour round of golf is no easy workload, but it depends on the body. If you are consistently putting in the work, it feels best to keep the body operating at that level. If you’re not doing all that much and decide to do this mid-tournament, it is not likely to end well!
And that’s what it is all about: finding how you can be your best in all areas! For a Tour pro, it’s probably not as easy as you might think. Balancing performance with all the factors listed above, the grueling (normal) season schedule and the time taken to be at this level requires huge commitment and consistency on so many levels. Scott has shown this better than anyone with his newfound commitment to health, fitness, and all things performance.
I took off back to the UK Friday, and Scott went on to play the weekend finishing in the top 50. Each of the four competitive days required the same level of physical commitment, and every day Scott was in there getting the work done.
Gaining this direct insight into the week of a PGA Tour pro gave me a new appreciation for the time and work required as well as an even greater foundation to help to continue and develop the relationship between health, fitness, and golf at all levels.
It comes down to attitude and effort. Rent is due on both.
So you wanna work in golf media…
I get this question all the time: “So, how does someone get a job in golf media?”
Hmm…I could give you a bunch of tips, ideas, resume suggestions, etc. I’m not going to. All I know is how I got here. It’s a story of passion, initiative, blind luck, God, and desperation.
I feel like in the telling of how I got here you will see a path but not the only path.
My story—condensed into the point golf gear took over my life.
It’s 1993, and I’m a sophomore in high school at John F. Kennedy Memorial in Burien, Washington. I was a baseball player my whole life, and for whatever reason that summer, I decided it wasn’t for me anymore, and I wanted to go scrub clubs, pick balls and have the occasional lung dart with my buddies at the local country club. At that time, golf was something to me just shy of an afterthought. I had played the occasional short 9 as a kid, went to a camp or two, but in all honesty, it was just another game.
Fast forward to my first week working at Rainier G&CC—the second assistant was a guy named Mike Montegomery (DOG at Glendale CC now), and he took me to the range to help pick balls and hit some into the net. After about 30 mins of pounding balls, I was hooked. Hook, line, and sinker.
I’m an obsessive person by nature, so when I get into something, it becomes a bit scary—I want to know everything. That’s when the equipment junkie revealed himself, and it all started with a trip to the dentist and an issue of Golf Digest.
This magazine started the whole thing. No, it wasn’t the fact that Phil Mickelson graced the cover, it was the advertisements. The color codes of Ping, the black and gold of Cobra, Titleist Tour Balata, Founders Club, and on and on. Everything looked just so damn awesome. I wanted to try, see, touch and feel everything I could. And I did. From that point, until even today, golf and golf gear dominate a good chunk of my thoughts every day.
Lesson #1: To do this job well….you have to obsessed.
Now we are in 2005. I’m working in Irvine, California, for LendingTree slanging equity loans to the A paper client,s and in the search engine, I type David Duval golf clubs…
Before I go further it must be acknowledged that my good friend Nico Bollini and I used to spend HOURS on Getty images and at the local Wajamaya scouring pictures of players bags in Golf Classic magazine and any close-ups Getty would catch. Instead of going to parties and chasing girls as normal people do, we were trying to see what shaft Ray Floyd had in his Bridgestone J’s driver.
Back to DD. I type in “David Duval golf clubs,” and I land on this weird forum thing called BombSquad Golf. It was a site that not only talked gear in-depth like Nico and I did, but they had some dude taking pics at tour events. It was golf porn. I was in. Eventually, BSG became nothing, and Richard Audi and GolfWRX.com took over. That story is very well told, so I won’t go into it.
That fueled my golf junkie for a long time. It wasn’t until 2012 and the urging from my then-girlfriend that I began writing for WRX. Since I was on the site so much and had so many opinions, she jokingly said, “You should write for them,” to which I replied, “I should.”
This is where luck comes in. I found the contact info at the bottom of the site and ended emailing Zak, the editor at the time.
My name is John Wunder and I am extremely excited and interested in writing for Golfwrx! I have been a member of this site for over 6 years now and I have always admired the professionalism and in-depth coverage that your site provides. I am what they would call in the golfing streets a “Junky”. Tour news, college news, equipment trends, companies, in the bag info, history, etc. You name it, I know it. I’m a lifer and the only thing I have left to do to get my fix is either learn how to putt and play the mini-tours or start writing. Unfortunately, even the belly putter was of no use to me so writing it is! As writing goes my experience is limited with the exception of the occasional Facebook comment but my knowledge of the game and its culture is undeniable. I’m dying to be apart of this thing and if I had not been scrolling to the bottom of the page I would not have noticed the link to you. Maybe it’s a sign from the Golfing Gods, you never know. Any information you can give would be much appreciated. I Look forward to hearing from you.”
Lesson #2: You won’t know what’s possible until you ask.
Eventually, Zak gave me a shot and from 2012 to 2018 I wrote roughly 30-40 articles for WRX. For fun, for free, for the love of the game. I wrote opinion pieces, did some video articles, reviews, tournament recaps, etc. Every time they asked, I said HELL YES. Why not? Golf content is what I think about all day anyway. It requires no real study or extra work to execute. It’s something I can just sit down and do, sometimes quickly.
Now we find ourselves in 2018. It’s late January. My son Seve had just been born and my main source of income at the time (film/tv) was slow and unpredictable. I had two months of savings left, no consistent income coming in to speak of, and with two kids and my girl that I am supporting. Things got scary. Desperate is a better word. In that desperation, a decision was made. I wanted to finally do the thing I’ve always wanted to do. Work in the golf business.
I sat down and mapped out my plan…
Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid of desperation. God can be found there.
But how? What can I bring to the table?
Remember obsession? Remember the power of asking?
I knew my knowledge of the tour and golf equipment was abnormal, to say the least. It still is. I knew that I had a Rolodex to choke a horse, and I had the email of someone at WRX that I could plead my case to. The editor at the time, Andrew Tursky. My email to him was very similar to my email to Zak. I plainly told what I wanted to do, why they needed me, and left it at that.
The term the squeaky wheel gets the grease is so true in my case—every job I have ever chased, there were two things I made sure were in place…
- I knew my passion equaled my knowledge
- I was willing to hear NO multiple times until the right YES came along.
Lesson #4: Know where you want to go (and tell people).
That email turned into a face-to-face with the GolfWRX brass, to a “yes we will hire you,” to getting a job doing what I love.
The job I was hired for has mutated into something way different. Every person at GolfWRX.com does multiple jobs—there is really no definitive titles or boxes we fit in. It’s a passionate, nimble crew and to a person, everyone is a golf junkie degenerate, including the owner, Rich. That was the deciding factor of going down this path. Yes, I wanted the job, but after meeting Richard Audi and discovering he was just as crazy as I am, I knew I had to work for that man.
The moral of the story is this: Golf media is not a box anymore. You don’t need a degree in journalism or your doctorate in Bill Shakespeare. It’s the time of the hustler. So, if you have something to say, say it, something to show, show it, and most importantly if you want to get in, ASK. ASK. ASK. Someone will say yes eventually and when they do, what you do with that YES is up to you.
Hope this gives you a hint that like anything else, there is not one door, there are multiple. Knock, scream, kick, and do it with some fire.
Lesson #5: ANYTHING is possible if you want it bad enough
Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes
There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.
For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.
I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.
Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.
We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.
Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.
So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.
If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.
The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.
One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.
At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.
My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)
I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.
My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.
My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.
As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”
The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.
Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.
The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.
Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.
A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!
One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.
If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.
Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.
This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.
Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.
My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)
The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…
Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?
Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.
Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.
The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.
There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.
Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!
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