This story was selected as one of the 15 best GolfWRX stories of 2015!

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.

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Fowler attended Oklahoma State University, where the Cowboys “Live Orange”

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.

Related: See all the clubs Rickie Fowler currently has in his bag

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.

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Fowler’s AMP Cell Pro irons from 2013-2014.

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.”

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Fowler’s 47-degree wedge, which has 8 degrees of bounce.

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.

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The part of the plug we see is actually Stainless Steel, while Tungsten sits inside.

“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.

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“Spear” is an ode to the Florida State Seminoles, Owen’s alma mater.

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.

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Heinz 57 (ketchup) is the perfect name for Fowler’s 57-degree wedge #TourSauce

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

FowlerIronFlyZ

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?

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“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.”

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Andrew Tursky is the Assistant Editor at GolfWRX. He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team while earning a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

38 COMMENTS

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  1. So how on earth does a 5’7″ golfer stand a chance at getting a properly spec’d set of clubs if the only way to get an 0.5″ short D3 club is to go to the ends of the earth and have them personally machined?

  2. So he made his irons 0.5 inches shorter in length. He then soft stepped them. So his 4 iron shaft would be in his 5 iron. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of shortening them. I know this seems stupid but they didn’t really explain. You trim a shaft to the specs you want. So is each club actually 0.5 inches shorter than standard?

  3. While this article is interesting regarding the use of tunsten etc, the whole premise for Ricky’s use of shorter shafts seems to have been overlooked.

    His physical stature, (leg length, arm length, torso length) is the real story. Like Anthony Kim, he figured out that so called “standard length” is a folly. Due to his physical dimensions “standard” doesn’t fit him. In other words, if you don’t fit “standard” – “standard” means nothing, much like there is no “standard” size of apparel or shoes because we are all different, sometimes in major ways, sometimes in more subtle ways (grip sizes, shaft flexes).

    The ONLY purpose of “standard length” is if you are making clubs for the great unknown, the masses. That’s why everyone should be measured for the length that fits dimensionally and one they can efficiently use. Don’t tell the major OEMs that though – they’ll have a heart attack.

  4. OP….really enjoyed this article. And to each is own, but the lead tape comments I can’t agree with. I know “they are only tools” but I personally don’t like the look of lead tape on my irons.

  5. Nothing new here. I’ve had my EPON wedges bored with tungsten back in 2011 at E.M. Niigata. Service Endo provides for guys that don’t want lead tape mucking up aesthetics.

  6. Chuck, you’re an amateur, hobby lobby moron. Lead tape has a density of ~7g/cm^3 while tungsten can be up to 18 g/cm^3. That means you would need more than double the amount of lead tape than a simple piece of tungsten. Anybody can stick lead tape to a club. The work and effort to eliminate lead tape seems highly worth it to create one of a kind creations.

    • Hmmm.

      Let’s say they were your clubs, and I told you that I could get your C-9 irons to D-2 for $120 with lead tape and my Maltby Swingweight Scale, or you could send your clubs to a place in Texas or California and they would put Tungsten plugs in all of them and get them to D-2, for $5000, which would you choose?

      (I’ve chosen $5000 on a whim; my guess is that the billable time for Rickie Fowler’s irons might actually be in the low five figures. Not that Rickie paid. They pay Rickie! Anybody else care to make a guess on what that custom job cost?)

      • All depends on machinist….I was in that business for a while (CNC) and would do it for the experience and clean look. I don’t know how many club building machinists would there are, but If there were, id assume in the $500 an iron range. About 5 main steps, $100 a step. Bore, making plug, making fit, hiding it/flushing it, then final clean up polish is how I would figure.

        • That seems like a rather informed view. $500 per club. Times eight clubs (4-PW and just two wedges, being modest) equals $4000.

          And how would a talented machinist figure, within 0.5 swingweight points, how much steel to drill out, and how much tungsten to install? When the ultimate shape of the plug (“shaped” to blend with the club) is such an odd and irregular volume? Where do you get tungsten alloy plugs? What sort of equipment do you need, to seal a tungsten plug in the head?

          I don’t doubt it is doable. I don’t doubt that it is done regularly as a part of retail club manufacturing now, in some club models. And I don’t doubt that it is useful in moving the center of mass in some clubheads. I just doubt that for three swingweight points, it’s worth it for any normal recreational golfer.

      • Chuck, you’re probably right. It would be out of reach for the normal person to do what they did to Ricky’s clubs, but that’s not the point of the article. It was not a suggestion that that’s what we should do, it was merely and interesting piece on how Ricky got his clubs working for him. Of course cost is not the issue there.

  7. Tungsten in the toe, just like my i20’s. I do think having Ricky is good for their products. Their driver two years ago felt great but went 20-40 yards shorter than the competition. Bravo to them for making improvements on the equipment (assuming these ideas make it to the shelf models).

  8. so, i was under the impression Hard Stepping made the shaft play stiffer than the normal flex. IE, hard stepping a set of DGS300 makes them play stiffer than normal but less stiff than X100, for example. And viceversa for “softstepping.” Do you mean that he just tipped his irons or butt cut them to the desired length???

    All of the forums on this site indicate hardstepping makes the irons play stiffer and vice versa for soft stepping. I was told by my fitter to hardstep my dgs300 irons because s300 was too soft and x100 felt way too stiff for my game?

    Is all this inaccurate and you are correct?

  9. I just have to wonder if all of the effort to put tungsten plugs inside the forging, instead of putting lead tape on the clubhead, is all about appearances. So that teenage fanboys can see Rickie’s irons, and “COBRA” on them. On television, at tournaments and in photos. Because I know for a fact that three swingweight points can be very easily made up in a matter of minutes by a hobbyist with a good swingweight machine and plenty of lead tape that can be purchased for just a few bucks. You just wouldn’t see the manufacturer’s logos anymore. If a player really needs some serious weight moved around, to the toe, or higher, or lower, I’d concede that perhaps you’d need to use a drill or a grinder. Goodbye chrome. Hello rust. And in the end the clubs (which might be terrific, playable gamers) would look like they are ready for the Road Warrior Invitational. But they’d be perfectly usable, without the enormous expense undertaken by the Cobra tour technicians for Fowler.

    • I think you’re off here. First his wedges aren’t chrome. They’re “Trusty Rusty” so they’re supposed to rust I believe. Also, Rickie is signed to Cobra so why wouldn’t they use this technique instead of covering up the logo with lead tape which will fall off at some point anyway. My fitter even suggested adding weight to my irons by boring a hole and injecting something. Lead tape falls off and what your pro wants to be bothered with that?

      • Never, ever, ever have I had lead tape come off a clubhead.

        And yes I understand very well that Fowler’s wedges are unchromed.

        But I think about how hard it would be, to drill out a clubhead, insert a titanium alloy plug, balancing out (as this article points out very well) the lost weight of the steel being drilled out, versus the increased weight of the titanium fill-in plug, and to make that calculation with the added pressure of knowing that the titanium plug needs to be smoothed to the same surface as the rest of the head. It’s very difficult, complicated time-consuming advanced club-building, for sure. I am not knocking the skill of the Cobra clubmakers. They are really good, no doubt.

        But I just don’t understand it except in terms of preserving the appearance of the clubs. I already mentioned that I respect the notion of moving weight around — to the toe especially — and a titanium plug will do that for sure.

        It’s totally cool in my book if OEM’s manufacture forged blades with titanium plugs and I’d seriously consider them. But for those of us mortals who don’t have a tour van and a tour staff and a testing center in Carlsbad of our own… lead tape does it for swingweighting.

        • Chuck…They are boring out a hole on the toe side and adding tungsten not titanium. This process while time consuming and difficult allows the builder to control the center of gravity

          • Tungsten; yes of course. My bad. I thank you for the correction. I don’t know what I was thinking while typing that. I meant tungsten of course.

            And yes I understand it is moving the center of mass (which I think is a better term than center of gravity in this case) of the clubhead, and honestly I’m cool with that. I always liked clubheads that had more mass toward the toe. I personally like longer blades and having a bit more mass in the toe.

            I think we agree on all of it. You’re right, and it is the critical thing; doing this to a set of irons is tremendously difficult, time consuming and must be very costly for the tour staff.

            Funny thing; some of the irons with a lot of weight back toward the hosel were those clubs that Tiger grew up with as a competitive star; his old Mizuno MP-29 / MP-14 split set. He has definitely evolved, in wanting more weight out on the toe.

        • The calculations to do this are not as difficult as you might think. It’s about a 10 minute job for the CAD designer to figure it out, including the new position of the CG. It’s still a good amount of work for the machinist that has to do the job, but all the calculating is generally done beforehand and relayed to the machinist.

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