Finding Their Groove — Edel Golf’s new wedge and the James Patrick controversy
When it comes to wedges, bounce is a golfer’s friend. Legendary wedge designer Roger Cleveland will tell you that. Yet the majority of golfers use wedges that have much less bounce than the wedges Tour players use.
That seems odd, considering the mimicking effect Tour players often have on the average golfer. After all, the amount of Tour players using belly putters has caused belly putter sales to rise, not drop. So why do golfers with short games that fall well short of professional standards continue to buy low-bounce wedges? According to Mike Adams, a Golf Digest Top 50 instructor, the answer is simple. It’s difficult for consumers to purchase wedges with enough bounce.
In Adams’ 35 years of experience teaching golf, he’s noticed that many of his students have developed flaws in their wedge technique as a result of using too little bounce in their wedges.
“Everybody was hanging back on their right foot,” Adams said. “It wasn’t just amateurs. It was low handicappers and Tour players. Players would hit chunks trying to increase the bounce and loft on their wedges.”
Simply put, bounce angle indicates how far the leading edge of a club is off the ground when the club is soled. Zero degrees of bounce means that a club’s sole rests flat on the ground. The more bounce a club has, the farther the leading edge is off the ground. Bob Vokey, one of the most renowned wedge designers in the world, says that bounce acts similarly to the rudder on a ship if it were turned sideways, helping the sole glide through the turf or sand as it moves through the ground. But if a ship nose-dives into the water, the rudder becomes of little assistance. Likewise, if the bounce on a wedge is placed too far back of the leading edge, it is not able to engage and help the wedge glide through the turf. The wedge will dig.
Because not all golfers have the same tendencies with their wedges, Adams devised a system he calls the “the seven angles of attack,” which represent the seven possible paths a golfer can take to the golf ball. Through a fitting process that involves hitting shots off tight lies, deep grass and out of bunkers, he said he is able to identify a student as either a sweeper, picker, nipper, pincher, trapper, driver or digger, listed from the shallowest angle of approach to the steepest. Based on the results, he created the most suitable wedges for his students.
Adams learned while fitting wedges that it wasn’t just the amount of bounce that was important. It was where the bounce was positioned on the wedge’s sole, and how wide the sole was. The wider the sole, the more effective bounce on the wedge because of the greater surface area. The more narrow the sole, the less effective bounce a wedge has because of the decreased surface area.
Conventional wedge wisdom says that added bounce on a wedge makes it more difficult to use on tight lights, and harder to use for opened-face shots. But according to Adams, added bounce does not necessarily cause these problems. In fact, Adams said that with high-bounce wedges his students are still able to hit flop shots off of putting greens without taking a divot. How is this possible? It has to do with a wedge’s grind.
By grinding down the trailing edge of a high-bounce wedge, Adams could make a club that was better from tight lies. He wanted players to be able to open a wedge up for lob shots, so he would grind off some of the metal on the heel, allowing the club to lay flatter when opened up. This also helped the heel avoid “catching” and “turning over” in deep rough. Adams wanted his players to be able to hit chip shots with the wedges as well, so he had the toe ground down to make hitting chip shots easier.
None of his grinds are any thing new in the golf industry, Adams said. The best golfers in the world have used them for decades. But the system that Adams created to properly fit players for the correct wedges was something new. His system allowed players to enhance what they could already do with a wedge, and make it more efficient in the places they struggled.
But Adams still had a problem. Because the majority of wedges that are produced by major equipment companies have low bounce, he had difficulty locating enough high-bounce wedges that he could tailor to the needs of his students. To help him solve this problem, Adams get in touch with friend and PGA Professional David Edel.
A year and a half ago, Adams contacted Edel, owner and founder of Edel Golf, with interest in creating a wedge company that used the custom-fitting system he had developed. Edel had already established a line of custom-fit putters, and had spent more than 15 years making golf clubs. He was an expert metal worker that had used his talents as a craftsman to create high-end watches, and fly reels for fishermen. Together, Adams and Edel were confident they could fill a need in the golf industry, a wedge company based on proper fitting.
The two then sought a talented grinder for their company, someone who could artfully execute Adams’ custom fitting system. Their search led them to James Harrington, a 28-year-old with a wealth of wedge-grinding experience that was beyond his years. Adams and Edel wanted Harrington to become the face of their wedges – someone they could promote like Titleist does Bob Vokey.
Harrington, who is also known as James Patrick or JP, was mostly doing custom grinding on overweight Miura wedge heads at the time. He graduated from Arizona State University’s PGA Golf Management Program, and had learned to make custom golf equipment at Hot Stix Golf and Cool Clubs Golf, two top custom-club making companies located in Scottsdale, Ariz. He also spent time under the tutelage of legendary MacGregor Golf club maker, Don White. Harrington had even done the grinds on a set of irons for Aaron Baddely that Baddely used to win his first PGA TOUR event, the Verizon Heritage, in 2006.
“It seemed like a good marriage between the three of us,” Adams said. “JP was a very, very talented grinder.”
After meetings at the 2010 Aloha Section PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit at Kapalua, Harrington agreed to create wedges for the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show. There was a good-faith agreement that the three could potentially produce a line of wedges.
Harrington began work on the wedges in September 2010. He searched for a forging company that could supply Edel Golf with the blank heads for their new line of wedges. He chose Kyoei (pronounced Ky-o-eh), a Japanese company that became Edel Golf’s blank head supplier. When Edel received the heads from Kyoei in December 2010, he proceeded to machine the faces, grooves and logos at Edel Golf’s headquarters outside Austin, Texas. He then sent 60 of the finished heads to Harrington for him to work on for the show.
It was around the time of the show that talks between Edel, Adams and Harrington started to break down. Harrington made the wedges for the show, but was dissatisfied with the terms of the agreement offered by Adams and Edel in the meetings that took place afterward.
“The contractual offer that Edel made wasn’t in the best interest of James Patrick Golf,” Harrington said. “I felt I had a lot to do yet in terms of James Patrick Golf.”
Harrington had possession of the wedges he created for Edel Golf, and did not return them. After a dispute about the rightful owner of the wedges, Harrington agreed to pay Edel for the time he spent machining the wedges, which allowed Harrington to keep the designs. Since that time, there has been much discussion about the amount of influence Harrington had on Edel Golf’s wedges.
“Mike spent a lot of time with James,” Edel said. “They worked on wedge design and philosophy. James and I only spoke about how we would develop the business. Mike was very particular about what he wanted [in a wedge]. There’s this big controversy that I’m stealing James Patrick’s designs, and that’s just not true. The only thing I can honestly say I learned from James was the Kyoei blanks that we’re using. Any similarities between my designs and James’ designs are really similarities between Mike and James.”
Adams called Harrington “one of the two best grinders of wedges in the world,” but said that Harrington had no influence on the design of Edel Golf’s wedge.
“When we found James, he was basically just taking the Miura head and making it nice and fancy,” Adams said. “His designs are going to be similar to ours. I was showing him my fitting system and he was very impressed. He learned a lot from me. I can’t unlearn him.”
One of the key characteristics of Edel Golf’s new line of wedges is the location of the center of gravity. Adams said that in most wedges, the center of gravity is not in the center of the club, but more toward the heel. The groove pattern of most wedges is also positioned closer to the heel. This can make wedge shots more intimidated to players, and increase the chance of mishits. Through the grinding process, Adams learned how to move the center of gravity into the center of the clubface. To match the center of gravity, he moved the groove pattern to the center of the clubface as well.
Harrington learned a great deal from Adams, but he said most of the knowledge he gained was about golf swing mechanics, not wedge grinding. He maintained that his designs heavily influenced the look of Edel Golf’s wedges.
“To blatantly copy my designs from the thinned out hosel, heel and toe relief profile, center of gravity, and even my loft stamps is unsettling,” Harrington said. “Overall, I am disappointed in Mike Adams and David Edel using my designs as their own without giving any credit or payment.”
Edel said he doesn’t believe Harrington was the first person to stamp the word “sixty” in the back of a wedge.
“If that’s stealing, then I guess we did that,” he said. “As far as the center of gravity, those were Mike’s ideas. James didn’t even want to put the grooves in the center of the clubface. He thought we should stay with a more traditional look.”
Eying the future
Adams and Edel are co-owners of Edel Golf’s wedge company, and currently have five fitting systems in place across the country for the forged model of its wedges. They hope to have 100 fitting systems in place by the end of the summer. As of Oct. 25, Edel had already sold 250 of the new wedges. He’s also fit the entire University of Texas women’s golf team, who are all using his wedges.
“They’re seeing huge results,” Edel said.
Edel Golf’s wedges are also used by Nationwide Tour Player Diego Velasquez, LPGA Tour Player Katie Futcher and LPGA Futures Tour player Natalie Sheary. Velasquez used one of Edel’s putters during his junior and senior year while at Oregon State University, where he was a First-Team All-American. When Velasquez turned professional this year, he went away from the Edel putter he used in college, but has since returned to a near replica.
In July 2011, Edel fit Velasquez for three of the company’s wedges (52-degree, 56-degree and 60-degree), all of which he is currently using. During the fitting process, Edel worked to improve Velasquez’s mechanics, a staple of the new fitting system. According to Edel, Velasquez’s head was hanging too far back at address, and his hands were too far forward at impact. After instructing Velasquez to move his head farther forward and set hands more even with the ball at impact, Edel had Velasquez hit some shots with the lowest-bounce wedge in the line, 10 degrees, until he became more comfortable with the new positions. Then Velasquez tried wedges with more bounce until he was no longer taking massive divots.
Not surprisingly, Velasquez was fit for wedges with much more bounce than the wedges he was previously playing. His new 60-degree wedge has nearly six times as much bounce on it, from four degrees to 22 degrees. He also increased the bounce in his 52-degree and 56-degree models. In addition, Edel changed the shaft in Velasquez’s wedges to the KBS Hi-Rev shaft, a shaft especially made for wedges that comes in a black finish.
Velasquez told Edel prior to the fitting that even if he liked the way the Edel Golf wedges performed, he would not play them if they did not look good. Velasquez was pleased with the designs, however, and said he liked the additional bounce and new shafts.
“My swing plane is very shallow, but with the Edel wedges, I can hit down on the ball more and get more check,” Velasquez said. “I was using Vokey wedges before, but I was never really fit for them. I was never fit for any wedge before. I guess I just played them because they looked really good. The ball flight with the new shaft is a little flatter, which I like. It comes down to the little details you notice, hitting little shots around the green.”
The Edel Golf wedge-fitting system will include interchangeable heads which will allow the fitter to identify which of the 14 available wedge shafts is right for the golfer. Along with the forged line of hand-ground wedges that will retail for $350, a cast line will be introduced in February 2012 with a price point of $195.
Edel regrets his relationship with Harrington, mostly because of the four-month setback his company incurred because of Harrington’s departure, but he wishes him the best. Edel said that ultimately he thought Harrington wanted to have his own wedge company. Harrington, now 29, is the founder and owner of James Patrick Golf in Minneapolis, Minn., which is located near his hometown in Wisconsin.
The majority of the Harrington’s clientele is located out of state, so he doesn’t spend a lot of on the wedge mechanics and fitting system he learned from Adams. His company is based on the three pillars he established for wedge making — quality materials, performance and aesthetics. He said to produce the best product in the world you need to start, just like a top chef does, with the best possible ingredients. He believes he has those ingredients in the Kyoei forgings that both he and Edel Golf use.
“I don’t want to be the big-box retailer,” Harrington said. “I like the roots of where I’m at, me making hand-made stuff. I’m able to offer a unique look because I’m an artist. I don’t want to grow too fast.”
According to Edel, the controversy has been bad for him and his brand, which he said has been building for 15 years with the goal of helping golfers. Through the years, he’s seen golf companies rise, and then crash and fall. Often times, the fall is because of a departure from the company’s original principals. He sees his company as not just a producer of golf clubs, but a golf company about education and learning. As long as he sustains those principals, he hopes his company will succeed.