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A Bouncing Idea: The Story of the Sand Wedge

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If you’re like me, it’s painful to watch the golf ball tumble into a bunker, or as you Americans like to call them, “traps.” Fear and trepidation soon follow while surveying the next shot from the sandy grave.

We watch in awe as professionals effortlessly splash their escapes exquisitely up to the hole. With endless hours to practice and a technique honed to perfection, these guys make it look easy. In fact, they sometimes prefer sand to greenside rough. The average weekend warrior has a much bigger fear factor and is less concerned in leaving the ball beside the hole as he is in not leaving the ball in the bunker. And the anguish of today’s golfer is only heightened as he sees the ball in anything but a perfect lie on the beach.

Compared to the early days of golf, however, bunker play is relatively easy.

LongnoseWaterRakeGolfWRX

A water iron (far left), a rake iron, and a long-nose play club (far right) from the 1900s

Back in the dark ages when golf was invented, the landscape was not as refined as we know it these days. Golfers had to put up with all sorts of interesting lies including cart paths, (made by horse and carts, not the tarmac cart paths we know of today), ruts, hoof prints and cow pats. In those days, golfers used all sorts of designs to extricate themselves from hazards including the “water iron,” which was used from casual water. Back then, you played the ball as it lay no matter what!

The bunker itself came from our golfing forefathers in Scotland. The first golf courses were built on sand-based links land, and pits appeared that they called “bunkers.” And merely getting the ball out of a bunker was an issue. They were really a hazard and golfers accepted them as a punishment. They were unkempt, were full of stones, shells, weeds, and rocks and didn’t have rakes. They looked like they had been fashioned by men drinking whisky, which was probably not far from the truth. Indeed in early exhibition games, the crowds used to stand in the bunkers to get a better view of matches.

RoyalCountyDownBunker

Royal County Down keeps the natural look to its bunkers.

Prior to the 1930s, the best club for short approach shots was the niblick, roughly equivalent to today’s 9-iron or pitching wedge. The design of this club, however, featured a flat, angled face and virtually no sole, making it difficult to use in sand and other soft lies as it was prone to digging into the ground. Players had to pick the ball cleanly off the sand, which required a good lie. The other alternative for bunkers was the jigger; it was similar to a chipper with a short shaft, but little loft. Less loft prevented the club from digging in too much on soft lies, but the compromise was the low launch angle and it was useless at moving through the sand to dig out a buried ball. The club was also not ideal for approach shots from a greenside bunker, as a chip shot made with this club tended to roll for most of its distance. The club designers in those days were often blacksmiths who offered up all sorts of strange solutions to the bunker dilemma. The rake iron (pictured above) was invented by a Scottish optometrist who became fed up of having to remove sand from the eyes of golfers playing at the local links, and created a club designed to cast up less sand when swung.

The governing bodies soon began to clamp down on design and banned many offerings. Spoon clubs offered varying degrees of loft and allowed players to scoop their ball out of sand traps and deep rough. Some had bowl faces, others featured deeply grooved faces, but not all of these designs conformed. Walter Hagen was using a lethal-looking sand wedge in the late 1920s, with a hickory shaft and a smooth concave face with a lot of loft and about a half pound of weight in the flange. This was deemed illegal and soon became outlawed.

OldGolfClubWRX

Walter Hagen concave sand wedge with a smooth face.

It is widely acknowledged that the biggest breakthrough in sand play appeared in the 1930s, and many connect Gene Sarazen with the design of today’s modern sand wedge. The story goes that he dreamed this club up after flying with Howard Hughes, the aviation tycoon, movie producer and scratch golfer. When Hughes’s plane took off, the flaps on the wings came down. We don’t know if alcohol or narcotics were consumed at the time, but Sarazen made a connection between the flaps and the flange you could add to a club that would allow it to slide through the sand and help the ball pop up.

SandWedgeWilson

Early Wilson sand wedges.

Sarazen experimented by soldering flanges to his niblicks, which were similar to a modern pitching wedge. Another modification that he made was to add extra lead to the front edge of the club face, allowing it to cut through the sand more smoothly. He sent the clubs to Wilson, and the company used those prototypes to come up with its first sand wedge in the early 1930s with a steel shaft, dot markings on the club face and the amount of flange that is still widely used today. After he won the 1932 British and U.S. Opens with the help of his new club, its popularity quickly grew. Almost 85 years later the club has hardly changed, and you’ll still see Wilson R-20 and R-90 wedges in the bags of golfers today.

Sarazen was also a pioneer of the explosion shot. Up to then golfers tried to pick the ball clean out. By hitting in behind the ball and using the bounce of the club, the sand shot suddenly became more consistent. Of course, Sarazen downplayed it, saying it was the game’s easiest shot because the club face never touches the ball.

gene_sarazen_sand

Gene Sarazen hitting a bunker shot.

Today, we are a lot more educated than ever on the design aspects of the sand wedge from the grooves and loft to the bounce. We have so many grind options these days with laser-engraved grooves machined to tolerances previously unachievable. Dave Pelz, Roger Cleveland, Bob Vokey and others are now celebrities of the short game, an industry within the game. The gap and lob wedges were natural additions, driven by marketing demands to sell more clubs, but in truth the basic concepts have only changed marginally. More loft seems to be the current trend, and it’s interesting to see 58-64 degrees as the new norm. I stop at 60, as I have this recurring nightmare of a ball coming straight up and hitting me in the face, but that’s another story

So the next time you find yourself on the beach, think bounce, knock it out and tip your hat to Eugenio Saraceni.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Greg V

    Aug 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Eugenio Saraceni – who is this violin player of which you speak?

  2. Flavastalloni

    Aug 14, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Tom Morris Junior perfected the rutclub shot from off the green which won him his Opens

  3. Pe

    Aug 14, 2016 at 2:35 am

    I also have this recurring nightmare that while I play a links course in Scotland in the brutal winds and I go to take a pee in the gorse bush, the wind would blow so hard the pee would splash up and hit me in the face

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See what GolfWRX Members are saying about Mizuno’s new ST-180 driver

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Mizuno has recently released a new ST-180 driver that we spotted on Tour at the 2017 RSM Classic. The company’s “wave sole” technology makes an appearance for the first time in a Mizuno driver; the design is used to push weight low and forward to reduce spin rates, and the construction contracts and expands during impact to increase energy into the golf ball. The result is a lower-spinning driver, especially for those who hit down on the golf ball, and increased ball speeds across the face.

The ST-180 drivers have a new Forged SP700 Titanium face insert that allows the faces to be made thinner — saving weight from the face while increasing ball speeds — and they feature what the company calls a “Internal Waffle Crown” that saves weight to help shift CG (center of gravity) low and forward in the head.

There’s a slew of custom shafts available for no upcharge. The stock grip is Golf Pride’s M31 360, and the drivers are selling for $399.99, available in stores now.

Below is a collection of early feedback from GolfWRX members, and make sure to join the full discussion. See more photos of the ST-180 driver here.

Note: The posts below have been minimally edited for grammar and brevity.

GolfWRX Members comment on the new Mizuno ST-180 driver

TeeGolf: I’ve seen the ST180 driver [in person] and it looks like it sits perfectly square to me. And this is coming from someone who has been playing a Titleist driver set 1-degree open for the past 3 years. It doesn’t look closed at all. 

trhode: I’ve been playing the M2 all year. In comparison at address, the ST is very closed. I had 3 customers look at it yesterday too and they all had the same reaction: closed. That being said, I did play 18 on the simulator and hit some monster drives. The head, with the Raijin shaft, seems to be just a little lower spin than my TaylorMade M2. The blue finish doesn’t bother me either. 

akjell: Hit this yesterday at the Mizuno demo day yesterday at Eagle Ridge in Gilroy, CA. Far from a hook machine but definitely a bomber. The Mizuno’s reps put me in a Mitsubishi Tensei White 70X and I could hit this this driver on a string possibly a bit better than my M1. Of the Mizuno drivers of late, this has to be the best one.

odshot68: Ordering it today. Was fit and played a round with it. Optimal launch and spin. Tensei Blue 70x at 9.5 degrees. This is definitely not left bias; first Mizzy driver ever.

nmorton: Hit this today and it’s going in the bag. Just a classic head shape that suits my eye. Been messing around with a number of drivers over the past year and haven’t singled one out. Last long term driver I had was the 850. The ST checks all of the boxes for me…looks great down by the ball, sounds solid and performs as good as any other. What really sold me was how well slight mis-hits performed. I had the 12.5 dialed down so it definitely sat open a bit. Didn’t hit the fairway but it looks sharp as well. 

evoviiiyou: Had a chance to test the driver with a couple shafts last night. The head is definitely deeper than the JPX900 and the footprint seems bigger from he set up position, very confidence inspiring like the JPX900 but a little improved. Finish and graphics are very similar to the 900 which is very nice if you like the satin Mizuno blue and I do love it just like the satin black I recently had done to my JPX driver and 3 metal. 

regiwstruk: My current gamer is a Titleist 917D3, and this is definitely replacing that. I used a JPX 900 from November 2016 through June 2017 — biggest differences are the sound and that the distance is up there with at least one of the leaders in the market. Anxious to see how it does on the course! 

Paul065: It is high launch, low spin yes but I wouldn’t say it was targeted at the average golfer. It’s basically their version of Callaway Epic Sub Zero. Rory used the Sub Zero. 

Tommyj: I went down to Carls yesterday specifically to look at the ST180. I’ve read some comments that the face looks closed. When I picked it up it was in the 10.5D position and did look slightly closed but then looked perfectly square at 9.5D and also square at 10.5D which seemed sort of odd. The shape is not for me, I had a Cobra F6 and while the ST180 footprint isn’t that big its still substantial. I like blue on drivers and the ST180 has a real quality look to it with the matte finish, having said that I’m not sure I’d want to be looking at that shade of blue all the time. The sound was an absolute killer for me, it was completely unexpected because I always associate Mizuno with being traditional and understated… ST180 launch was lower than G400 in the neutral setting, about the same when I lofted the Ping down.  ST180 was noticeably lower than D2. Longest driver of the three was G400, followed by ST180 then D2. For me the ST180 had the widest dispersion with G400 being the most accurate (by a wide margin).

Discussion: Read more comments about the ST-180 driver here

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Spotted: Justin Rose is testing a new TaylorMade “Hi-Toe” wedge

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On Twitter today, Justin Rose posted a photo of a never-before-seen TaylorMade “Hi-Toe” 60-degree wedge. As the name suggests, it appears the toe portion is raised; we’ve seen this high-toe design from other manufacturers, and the benefits of those designs included increasing face area on open-faced shots, and shifting CG (center of gravity) to where it’s more beneficial for wedge play (likely higher for more spin and a lower flight).

The wedge is also stamped with “MG” to suggest it’s a “milled grind” wedge, much like TaylorMade’s popular wedge line that’s in stores now. There also appears to be slots behind the face, likely to also shift CG to where it’s deemed more beneficial.

Talks of a TaylorMade wedge with a high-toe design were actually started by Dustin Johnson a few weeks ago in a press conference. His full comments on that wedge are above, and you can join the discussion about the wedge in our forums.

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GolfWRX Exclusive: Patton Kizzire speaks on first PGA Tour win, WITB, new 718 irons

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Patton Kizzire nabbed his maiden PGA Tour win at last week’s OHL Classic, outlasting a late charge from Rickie Fowler. He raised his first Trophy with a bag full of Titleist equipment and a Titleist ProV1x.

Following the event, our Andrew Tursky had a revealing chat with Patton about the win and the clubs he used to do it.

GolfWRX: When you’re leading down the stretch, are you leaderboard watching? Does a big name like Rickie Fowler chasing you have any effect on your mentality/gameplan?

Patton Kizzire: For most of the tournament, I try not to look at the leaderboard. I took a long look on 15…and I just wanted to make sure nobody was ahead of Rickie and closer to me, and I just went from there.

GolfWRX: Do you get defensive or less aggressive down the stretch? Are you aiming away from pins, or are you ‘head down, keep it going’?

PK: It’s all situational. On difficult holes, maybe [I] play a bit more conservatively. I certainly wasn’t willing to take any chances with a three-stroke lead. I was playing the percentages. I maybe didn’t hit the best shots of the tournament there toward the end. The beginning of the back nine — 12, 13, 14 — were not my best tee shots. But I certainly wasn’t trying to play defensive. I was trying to play aggressively to conservative targets.

GolfWRX: Were there a lot of nerves coming home down the stretch?

PK: It was a little nerve wracking, but it wasn’t my first time in contention. I was able to draw on some of my near-misses, especially the Safeway Open last year. I was in a very similar spot on the weekend on Sunday, and I didn’t get it done, but I was able to look back at that and learn a little bit.

GolfWRX: It looks like you don’t do a whole lot of switching. You’ve still got a 913 Hybrid in the bag and a putter that’s been in the bag for years, too. What does your testing process look like when Titleist comes out with new equipment?

PK: Titleist has been really consistent for me since I was 15…I’ve played Titleist equipment almost exclusively since I was 15 or so. Every year it seems they come out with something new, and I have so much trust in it. It’s a pretty seamless transition. I don’t switch much. I try to put the new irons in play, the new driver, the new woods.

But something like a hybrid, you kind of have a club you fall in love with over the years, and I’ve been a little bit hesitant to switch that. The new balls, the new woods, the new irons are pretty easy for me to get into. And the Vokey team…have done such a great job with wedges”

And I have to mention the putter. The Scotty Cameron GoLo putter has been in my bag for about five years. And I owe a lot of my success to putting.

GolfWRX: Do you ever look to switch out your putter, or do you just kind of love that one and it works for you?

PK: I’ve toyed around with other putters here and there, but I always go right back to the GoLo. For whatever reason, maybe because I’ve used it so long, it just seems like what a putter should be. I feel really comfortable with it. I always gravitate back to the GoLo.

GolfWRX: What makes the wedges a good fit for you?

PK: The way they go through the turf. I like to have a strong leading edge to go through the turf. And the lob wedge needs to perform well around the greens and in the bunker. I’ve really been hitting my bunker shots well with my new 60 degree. I have different versions of the same wedges. Aaron [Dill] does great work in the truck. He kind of tweaks it here and there for me, and they perform like expect them to.

GolfWRX: How often do you switch out wedges?

PK: I get a new 60 degree the most…every four or five tournaments. New 56 and 52 every six to eight tournaments. I try to keep that 60 degree sharp. If we get to a course with firm greens and my wedge doesn’t have the bite that I want it to have, I’ll definitely give the Titleist guys a call.

GolfWRX: What kind of grind do you have on that 60?

PK: We call it the “Dufner grind.” I saw Jason Dufner had one like that about a year ago, and I told Aaron, “I want one like that.” I don’t know what the grind is, but it’s really good for me. [Note: The grind is a modified K grind.]

GolfWRX: One last question… How do the 718 irons look and feel different than the 716 irons?

PK: They don’t look a whole lot different. They’ve been holding their flight better in the wind. I’m able to get the long irons up in the air a little bit. That’s something I look for, being able to control the trajectory. I kind of imagine the shots that I want to hit, and the 718s are coming out on the flight that I want them to.

The good folks in New Bedford, Massachusetts, were kind enough to furnish us with some details about Kizzire’s setup.

Titleist tells us Kizzire switched to from the 915D4 driver to the 917D3 the first week it was available at the Quicken Loans National last year. He switched to the 718 irons to start the 2017-18 season at the Safeway. After missing the cut at in Napa, he has finished T10 (Sanderson Farms), 4th (Shriners Hospitals Open for Children) and then won the OHL Classic.

Titleist Tour Rep J.J. Van Wezenbeeck had this to say about working with Kizzire.

“Patton likes traditional look throughout his bag but needs vertical help with his angle of attack.  A 10.5 degree 917D3 helps him with launch but still controls his swing.  The shaft is based on a platform he had success with us early in his career and he really loves the feel.”

“The 917 F2 was a perfect fit for Patton early on.  He loved the ball speed and having a 16.5 allows him get great launch out of a club he has had trouble with in the past.  Titleist Tour Rep Jim Curran worked extensively on finding him a shaft that felt good, was the proper weight, and yet still launched the way Patton wanted. Tour Blue 95 fit the bill – and Patton has been in it for a year.”

“Patton loves the look of traditional irons and the 718 MB fit the bill for his look and his desire to control flight.  Now, as he moves up through his bag, he has multiple options in 718 which really helps his game. He moves to 718 CB at his 5 and 6 irons, and then carries the 718 T-MB at 4-iron which helps gapping and ball flight at the top of his set.”

Vokey Design Wedge rep Aaron Dill regarding Patton’s wedges:

“Patton has a old school approach to wedge selection.  When he finds a wedge he likes he will rarely make a switch. He doesn’t blame the wedge for poor or mishit shots. His technique is smooth and accurate with mid to high ball flight. His 52 and 56-degree wedges have been in the bag for a while now, and his 60 has changed a little keeping the width but changing the bounce angle for conditions. He likes an old school look which is why we add offset to his 60.”

Kelley Moser on Kizzire’s Cameron GoLo:

“Patton has been using a Scotty Cameron GoLo model since his mini tour days. The one he is currently using was a backup that was made for him when he first earned his PGA TOUR card. He had a stock shaft and silver head version that he used for a long time, but he wanted to shake it up a little so we made him one with a black shaft and a dark finish. He loved it and after his victory said he’s pretty sure this one is in the bag permanently.”

Many thanks to Patton for the talk and the folks at Titleist for sharing some insights on the newly minted PGA Tour winner’s WITB.

You can see Kizzire’s full WITB here

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