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A Study That Changed the Way Golfers Think About Wedges

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Ever wonder: What’s the difference between my wedges and the ones used on the PGA Tour? The DNA is identical, but the actual clubs on tour are normally unique to each player.

More than any other type of club, the modern wedge was borne of and by the best professional golfers in the world. Its place in design results from the demands and navigation of the most difficult competitions and courses. But the obvious question of whether “tour wedges” are necessary or even suitable for average golfers may help shed light on our clubs in everyday use.

Commercially available, or “stock” wedges, are sold as essentially the same tools that tour professionals use, however, professional golfers have customized their wedges forever. Tour heads are naturally heavier to allow for the extra shaping. Players grind them to their liking in terms of sole, head shape and leading edge shapes. Generally, measurements have less importance than how the club looks or how the wedge works with their game. Specifications get recorded after modifications have been made. Manufacturers use the tour prototypes to share with the public the same basic equipment as the best players in the world use, but often the modified “one-off” clubs aren’t exactly the same as the final products found on the shelves.

At the heart of the matter: THE BOUNCE, or the angle of the sole plane relative to the ground plane, has always been a source of disagreement and debate. It used to be a widely held belief that tour players used wedges with extremely low bounce values. The perception was that the better the player, the less bounce was required and vice versa. While that may have been true in a few limited cases, normally clubs with low bounce angles had wider soles. Another way of saying that is the distance from the leading edge to the trailing edge was longer.

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A wider sole acts like it has more bounce, and it does when the player opens the face. The leading edge of the club lifts higher off the ground when the sole is wider, acting like extra bounce. Another wedge contour called “camber,” the roundness of the sole from the leading edge to the back of the sole, can substitute for additional bounce.

Whether genius or completely misguided, wedge manufacturers regularly published bounce values that were substantially different from the absolute values found on the clubs themselves. Even as recent as 1998, conventional wisdom regarding the amount of bounce used by PGA Tour players in so-called lob wedges was about 3 degrees. We now know that this was laughable. Better players are steeper… yes? So why would they use wedges with knife-like leading edges and soles? They wouldn’t with the exceptions of a few very rare cases. It turned out to be urban legend.

Typically, a very low bounce angle would incorporate a wider sole and more camber (roundness) to counter the effects of a flatter bounce angle. Wider soles act like added bounce, especially with an open face. These features are commonly found in so-called “game improvement” wedges for average golfers like Callaway’s Sure Out or the XE-1… you know, the one from the infomercial on Golf Channel.

Early on in my career at Cleveland Golf (I worked for Cleveland as The Senior Designer from 1998-2004 and consulted with them until 2009), we discovered that our documentation (brochures and other collateral materials) reflected inaccurate wedge bounce specifications. This was true of both consumer and “tour-only” products. Upon learning of these discrepancies, Cleveland Golf CEO Greg Hopkins (founder and owner of Hopkins Golf) dispatched me, a Cleveland consultant at the time, to travel the U.S. professional tours to measure and document all of the sole properties of every wedge in use in American professional golf. This was a gigantic undertaking involving more than 1,000 golf clubs. Over the course of several months, I traveled to PGA, LPGA, Champions and Web.com tours to measure wedges and document everything in a master database. We considered anything north of 45 degrees loft to be a wedge.

My Measurements

  • Bounce Angle (in three places): Toe, heel and center.
  • Sole Width (in three places): Toe, heel and center.
  • Rocker Radius: The roundness from heel to toe.
  • Camber Radius: The rounded contour from the leading edge to the back flange.
  • Leading Edge Roll: The sharpness or dullness of the leading edge.
  • Every Player Was Asked the Question: “Which loft is your primary sand club?”

Before this study, the task of creating tour wedges was something of a “black art.” It was iterative and often wasteful. We often had to custom fabricate many wedges for a player to get one in their hands. The results of the study might well have been one of the most revealing research projects in the history of the game. As a company, we were no longer guessing; we knew what wedges professional golfers needed and used, and it made our job a lot easier. We now had a primmer and a robust template to go by.

Through the study, we discovered the average loft progression for three-wedge sets was a six-degree spread: 47, 53 and 59 degrees. Almost no one played with a stock 56-degree sand wedge unless it was part of a four-wedge set, which was rare. The 56-degree wedges were normally bent to 54 degrees, and usually much of their flanges had been ground off usually to make them narrower (it should be noted that doing that actually INCREASES the measured bounce angle). The most common four-wedge loft progression was 46, 51, 54-55 and 59-60 degrees. We also saw many “pitching wedges” that were not matched to the iron sets. These didn’t look like 10 irons, but more like real wedges.

Finally, we learned that the vast majority of PGA Tour players had one wedge with higher relative bounce and one with lower relative bounce.

RELATIVE BOUNCE DEFINITION: If two wedges have identical sole properties (bounce angle, sole width, leading edge roll, camber radius and so on), the higher-lofted wedge will dig more and the lower-lofted wedge will act as though it has more bounce potential.

And most EXPLOSIVE of all, we learned that the average lob wedge (58-60 degrees) had 12 degrees of bounce angle. At the time it was stunning, to put it mildly. These high-bounce lob wedges were being used as the go-to primary sand clubs for the best players in the world. The so-called “sand wedge” (a 56-degree wedge with about 14 degrees of bounce) had become all but a dinosaur. The modern primary sand club has about 59 degrees of loft and 12 degrees of bounce.

The results of the research effort gave birth to several new concepts and a complete cultural change in Cleveland’s wedge programs. I like to believe that this was a paradigm for the entire industry at large, and we had contributed to the game.

  • We rid wedges of letters SW, DW, PW, and LW in lieu of loft numbers.
  • We conceived, developed and documented the concept of “net bounce,” a mathematical algorithm that predicted and derived sole specifications (bounce angle, sole width, camber and so on) for new wedge products at any loft. That is a part of the wedge development doctrine at Cleveland Golf to present day.
  • We introduced the concept of multiple bounce options for any loft, known as the “Dot” system. Shortly afterwards, almost all other golf companies followed suit.
  • Internally, we started to use the vernacular “primary sand club” with all of our fitting programs and wedge packages. And this was the way we communicated that to the tour as well.

We essentially changed the definition of what a sand wedge was. The subliminal connotation was that there were several sand clubs, not one dedicated to the purpose. Of course, we all now view sand play as achieved by using several different wedges. Within the context of the wedge business at the time, this was a very disruptive and pioneering set of actions, but we were only following the lead of what the tour was already doing.

Interestingly, wedges never really fit into the concept of the matched set. While the design of a wood or iron set with a “family-like” progression of features seems pretty straightforward, wedges don’t fit that mold no matter how similar the shape to its iron siblings. Average golfers mistakenly identify wedges as the shorter end of the iron set, basically the 10-13 irons. Well, IRONS they’re not! Wedges are in a class all by themselves. They are definitely not irons in the same way that hybrids are not fairway woods. As a matter of fact, modern wedges share more in common with putters than irons.

In the first place, wedges are used in a tactical way. Think of the difference of “tactical” versus “strategic.” A driver, fairway wood or long iron deliver more strategic results…in other words, long-range targeting to a larger area. Tactical means close in targeting to a smaller area.

Wedges facilitate delicate distance control because of their weight, high loft values, low centers of gravity and deep faces. Because of the large surface area of the faces, wedges offer a diversity of points which to strike the ball and get varying results. Furthermore, with the roundness of their leading edges and often their little offset — or even onset faces — wedges allow their faces to be opened substantially without the hosel getting in the way. Opening the face increases the loft for higher short range shots and increases the bounce potential of the wedge. Complex geometry of the sole lets the user orient the wedge with a diversity of setups. Large cuts on the toe or heal called “shelving” facilitate a more vertical or flatter setup by the golfer depending on the need.

Wedges have been likened to an artists’ paint brush or knights on a chess board. Similar to an artist’s paint brush, wedges are used differently than other clubs and produce shots differently every single time they are used. These are the tools of skillful golfing artisans. And like the adept use of the knights in chess, wedges deliver an obscure and invented type of shot, yet deadly results that confound the competition who has limited understanding of this part of the game.

Indeed the wedge game has become the modern signature of the very best players in the world. And if you think about it, it makes total sense. The modern wedge was developed with professional golf in mind.

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Don Wood is a 25-year veteran of the golf industry, and is the owner of MyGolfIQ.com. He has worked in golf equipment R&D, design and manufacturing for companies such as Cleveland Golf, Golfsmith, Wood Brothers Golf and more, and spent many years working with some of the best players in the world on their equipment needs. Don has many U.S. Patents pertaining to fitting and short-game golf equipment. He is currently a member of the instructional staff at Common Ground Golf Club in Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Tony Wright

    Jul 11, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Don an absolutely great article thank you. Unless I missed it, I do not see any discussion about the shafts used in tour wedges. Do tour players use the same shafts in their wedges as they use in their irons? If not why not, and what are the trends? Would love to hear your thoughts on this thanks.

    • Don Wood

      Jul 12, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      Thank you Tony!
      As a general rule, shafts in tour wedges typically get a little softer. Wedge shafts can be basically “8 iron” shafts. But because the wedges have heavier head weights, the flex is softer. That’s not true for all as some tour players want their wedges to be the stiffest ones in the bag. And the wedges are almost always steel…even if the player has mostly graphite throughout the bag.

  2. Golf Code Weekly

    Jun 20, 2017 at 9:24 am

    What a great article!

    That was the most educational thing i have read in a long time, really interesting to learn about this stuff from someone who clearly knows a lot

    thanks!

  3. Bill

    Jun 19, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Please ignore trolls ooffa and SH. The discussion is informative.

    • Don Wood

      Jun 19, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      Thanks Bill,
      Trolls are a very important part of our society these days. Their numbers…or lack of them tell a lot about the vulnerability of what we say. Golf Trolls Are people too. And if they cannot contribute to our game, they at least have the desire to be a part of the discussion. Let’s give em a break.

      • ooffa

        Jun 21, 2017 at 8:52 pm

        I’m sorry I didn’t mean “often incorrect”.
        I meant to say always.

  4. tazz2293

    Jun 18, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Thanks for the article Don.

    Very informative and a great lesson.

  5. ooffa

    Jun 18, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz

  6. Hack

    Jun 18, 2017 at 2:51 am

    1. Trial and error. You’re gonna have to own several lofts and bounces and rotate them according to what you’re going to encounter that day.
    2. 1968? Well they had, basically, rubber balls back then. Rubber could grip the surface, if the surface is sticky-clean enough, and won’t need too many grooves to get spin. Think in terms of Table-Tennis. Flat surface of rubber against plastic balls – the balls spin plenty from the friction (given that the balls are, yes, very light, but still the principle is the same). Modern balls are hard, even with urethane, and need grooves to spin them. But then again, that is why we got rid of square grooves, as those were grabbing the ball and spinning them too much

  7. Don Wood

    Jun 17, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Hello Bubba,
    Thank you for your question.
    I had driving range access and knew many of the players and player reps.
    Most of the time the players were pretty accommodating and didn’t mind a few measurements. All but a small handful had no objections. The other manufacturers really didn’t get the full understanding of what we were doing as it may have gone unreported by their player reps.

    Net bounce became important because a nominal bounce angle measurement wasn’t a reliable indicator of how the sole would behave without knowing its other properties. Also, a single measurement in the center isn’t indicative of the behavior of the sole on various types of shots.
    I’m not at all surprised at the bounce readings of your wedge.

  8. bounce

    Jun 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Don, I don’t understand how grinding off the flange increases bounce angle? Wouldn’t the bounce angle stay the same, unless part of the high point of the camber was ground down? Can you help me understand that. thanks.

    “The 56-degree wedges were normally bent to 54 degrees, and usually much of their flanges had been ground off usually to make them narrower (it should be noted that doing that actually INCREASES the measured bounce angle).”

    • Don Wood

      Jun 17, 2017 at 8:56 pm

      Thank you for your question.
      The answer has to do with the camber or the roundness from leading edge to back of the flange edge.
      Bounce angle is measured from a tangent at the center of the sole equidistant to the edges of the leading and trailing edges. And so if one of these edges is moved towards the center as a result of grinding, the tangential center point migrates to the opposite side…along the arc of the camber.

      • bounce

        Jun 17, 2017 at 10:30 pm

        Ok that explains it. But if you measure it that way, how is knowing that # useful to anyone? You can have exact same wedges, both high points in camber intact, but 1 has relief on the trail edge. The one with relief is still playing the same way as the stock, as long as the high point in camber is still in tact after the grind. It plays the same way on everything except when the face gets wide open. Why call it “low bounce” just because sole length got shorter? It doesn’t tell the whole story.

        • Don Wood

          Jun 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

          Actually, the entire surface area of the sole has a dramatic effect on the “bounce potential” of the wedge at nearly any face orientation in the circumstances of thick contact. So if we grind the back flange to narrow the sole, that quantity is reduced. While a perfectly solid shot hit with a square face may not be affected, once we travel outside of those pristine strike conditions, we need to disperse the friction over a larger area.

          • bounce

            Jun 19, 2017 at 2:17 am

            don, anyone seriously putting relief on the trail edge is doing it to get the leading edge lower on open face partial shots.

            They could careless how it performs when you take a 10 inch divot, because this player simply doesn’t do that.

            Am I wrong?

  9. Rex

    Jun 17, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Where’s the part about wedges?

  10. Desmond

    Jun 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Appreciate the history lesson.

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), Ryan Jamieson (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

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Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

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Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

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Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

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Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

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