Connect with us

Opinion & Analysis

A Study That Changed the Way Golfers Think About Wedges

Published

on

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.

bounce-angle-56a3d83b5f9b58b7d0d40a8f

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.

Your Reaction?
  • 515
  • LEGIT60
  • WOW24
  • LOL3
  • IDHT2
  • FLOP5
  • OB0
  • SHANK20

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.

Continue Reading
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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

Published

on

My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

Your Reaction?
  • 6
  • LEGIT0
  • WOW0
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK1

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

Published

on

After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

Your Reaction?
  • 94
  • LEGIT4
  • WOW1
  • LOL1
  • IDHT2
  • FLOP1
  • OB1
  • SHANK7

Continue Reading

Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

Published

on

If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

Your Reaction?
  • 99
  • LEGIT19
  • WOW12
  • LOL2
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP3
  • OB2
  • SHANK20

Continue Reading

19th Hole

Facebook

Trending