There’s no one like Rickie Fowler on the PGA Tour, and there’s no one that plays golf clubs like him either. Casual golf fans recognize Fowler for his flashy orange outfits and flat brim Puma hats, but most don’t know that his irons and wedges are unique, as well.
During Fowler’s marathon victory at The Players Championship, his deadly wedge play was on full display at TPC Sawgrass’ Island Green. He attacked No. 17’s Sunday pin location three consecutive times (once in regulation, twice in the playoff) en route to victory, making birdie each time.
In Fowler’s bag for his critic-silencing win was a set of irons and wedges that took him and the Cobra Golf team years to fine tune. Recently, I spoke with the man responsible for Fowler’s unique clubs, Ben Schomin, Cobra’s director of tour operations, who told me the story of Fowler’s unbelievably custom clubs.
The Magic Metal: Tungsten
About three years ago in the locker room at Riviera Country Club, Fowler told Schomin that he wanted to try shorter-length irons. That led to a blind test in which Schomin built Fowler more than a half-dozen different 6 irons with different lengths and different shafts to see which one he liked best.
After the range session, Fowler decided on a length that was 0.5 inches shorter than standard, and True Temper’s Dynamic Gold X100 shafts that were “soft-stepped.” Shortening a shaft makes it stiffer, which is where soft-stepping comes in. It’s a process where a 4 iron shaft is installed in a 5 iron club head, a 5 iron shaft is installed in a 6 iron club head, and so on, which makes the iron shafts play slightly softer than they would if the set was built traditionally.
But something else happened due to the length change, and it’s what makes Fowler’s clubs so special. Shortening the shaft 0.5 inches caused the swing weight of the clubs, a measurement of a club’s balance point, to drop three points. That caused the clubs to feel lighter to Fowler, as the balance point moved toward the handle of the club. Fowler played the shorter, lighter-feeling irons for several months, but then had another request. He wanted to try irons with a heavier swing weight.
It was time for another blind test, after which Fowler chose irons that had a swing weight of D3. Schomin had to find a way to add those three swing weight points to Fowler’s irons, which required an additional 6 grams of head weight. Six grams is a lot of weight to add to an iron head, Schomin said, and to accommodate the request a dense metal called tungsten was used.
Schomin and Cobra’s machinists began boring holes through the toes of Fowler’s irons so that they could add tungsten plugs behind the hitting area. It worked so well for Fowler’s irons that Schomin tried it with Fowler’s wedges, which presented its own set of problems.
“Say a wedge weighs 308 grams and the target is 320,” Schomin said. “You’d need to add 12 grams. But boring the hole takes it down to 300 grams, so now you need 20 grams.”
Wedges also tend to have shapes that are much more curved than irons, particularly in the toe area where the tungsten plugs were installed. To make it work, a fixture was developed to hold the wedges in place as an end mill was bored through the toe of the club.
Then, tungsten plugs — which are custom, individually milled conical rods — were installed using intense pressure, and the clubs were sanded and polished to look (almost) exactly like they were before.
“Each wedge takes about 2 to 3 hours,” Schomin said. “It’s a very complex process.”
I asked Schomin if an average, everyday golfer wanted to have this done to their wedges where they could go. I heard a chuckle on the other end of the line. There are machinists who can do the work, but it won’t be cheap, and good luck finding them. And with computers, 3D milling machines and advanced technology taking over at factories these days, fewer and fewer people have the necessary skill to pull this off, Schomin said.
“We used to have a shop full of guys, now we have two,” Schomin said.
Now for the story of Fowler’s most unique club, his 62-degree wedge.
Fowler’s 62-degree wedge wasn’t for him
When preparing for The Masters, many Tour players make changes to their equipment to help them with Augusta’s special challenges: tight lies, fast greens and severe slopes. And the 62-degree wedge Fowler used in the 2015 Masters came from an unexpected source — country music singer Jake Owen.
Owen is an avid 3-handicap golfer who once pursued a career in professional golf. Golf fans may know him as Jordan Spieth’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am partner, and the pair finished T6 in 2015.
Here’s how Fowler ended up with Owen’s wedge. He and swing coach Butch Harmon were on the range with Schomin at The Floridian in February before the Honda Classic, and the three were tweaking Fowler’s driver. Owen, who’s a friend of Schomin and Fowler, was also at the range. Sometime during the range session, Harmon learned that Schomin had built Owen a 62-degree wedge, which caught his attention — and then Fowler’s.
“What do you think of this wedge at Augusta?” Fowler asked his swing coach.
“I think that’s a fantastic idea,” Harmon said.
To put the wedge to the test, Fowler took it over to the chipping green and picked out the most difficult shot he and Harmon could find, attempting to replicate the diabolical chipping areas at Augusta, with Schomin looking on.
“The ground was so firm and he had no green to work with,” Schomin said. “It was honestly an impossible shot.”
Fowler proceeded to hit every shot within 3 feet. After that, it became Fowler’s wedge.
With some modifications — tungsten was added, and a 0.5-inch short, soft-stepped True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 Tour Issue Shaft was installed — Fowler put the new 62-degree wedge in play at the Honda Classic and then The Masters, and it hasn’t left his bag since.
It’s been a good change for Fowler, who used to carry wedges with lofts of 47, 51, 55 and 59 degrees. To make room for the 62-degree model, Fowler removed the 55- and 59-degree wedges from his bag, splitting the difference with a 57-degree model.
Fowler’s Current Irons
Fowler’s current irons, unlike his wedges, now have three Tungsten plugs bored straight into the sole from the bottom, not through the toe. That’s because Cobra’s Fly-Z Pro irons, which were designed with feedback from Fowler, already have Tungsten in the toe to add forgiveness — but Fowler’s irons still needed the additional head weight because of their shorter length.
Fowler’s Iron Specs: Cobra’s Fly-Z Pro (4-9) with KBS C-Taper 125 S+ shafts, 0.5 inch short (37-inch 6 iron), soft-stepped, D3 swing weight
Stepping up his stampings
Schomin, who does all of Rickie Fowler’s stampings, says he keeps running notes, and tries to surprise Rickie with new designs.
“I don’t compete with other wedge makers. It’s more like a competition to see the players reaction… how big of a smile or reaction can I get from a player for a stamping.”
SO what about the famous mustache stamping?
“Obviously people know the mustache stamping, which yes, I did come up with,” Schomin said. “But it’s another year now. I have to keep it fresh.”
Related: The Best Wedge Stampings of 2015
Wedge stampings have become more and more popular in the bags of Tour players in the last few years, and Schomin definitely helped fuel the fire.
“I won’t say I started the movement,” Schomin said. “But I was the first one that started putting it all out there and being goofy. Taking risks. It’s been sort of a trickle down effect.”