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The Wedge Guy: “Sole” food, Part 2

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Writing for a knowledgeable and diverse crowd like you GolfWRXers is not easy, but I thank you for keeping me on my toes. Last week’s article was titled “A Discussion of Bounce,” but maybe it should have carried a disclaimer that it was only the beginning…let’s call it “Part 1,” OK?

Your grading and feedback reminded me that I’m writing for a wide range of skill levels and questions/opinions. Please understand that there is simply no way to write anything of value to any of you without also being either too elementary or too advanced for some of you.

I seem to have resonated with the over 400 of you that gave the article high marks, but almost 75 “flops”, “OB” and “shanks”? Ouch! I’ll try to do better.

From the comments, I surmise that most of you who were not enthused felt like I didn’t go deep enough, or that my advice to demo the wedges you were thinking of buying was not useful. Let me address that latter point first.

Some of the major retailers – both online and brick-and-mortar – are beginning to see the light and create demo programs for clubs across the board, so that’s an option. Another one is to borrow wedges from friends and try them. Ask your golf shop staff for help if you have a relationship there.

The reality is that I can’t figure out a way to make sure you get the wedges that will work best for you without an honest on-the-course trial. We offered an extensive demo program at both EIDOLON and SCOR, for that very reason. In summary, my advice here is to be creative and diligent, unless you just want to leave it to chance with what is a major purchase – a set of wedges.

With that behind us, let me try to dive a bit deeper into some of the nuances of the bounce/loft/sole grind conundrum, as it is the most complex aspect of wedge selection.

The industry’s guidance about higher lofts for steeper swings and/or softer turf is certainly a basically sound piece of advice, but it is just not that simple. If you play firm turf most often, and/or have a shallower angle of approach to the ball, then lower bounce options will likely satisfy you…most of the time. Likewise, a softer course and/or steeper swing path should steer you to higher bounce options. But getting just the right wedges for YOUR game is more complex than that.

Let’s start with what your wedges cannot do: they cannot fix swing errors. If you let the clubhead pass the hands and hit the ball right “in the forehead,” the wedge isn’t going to fix that. If you hit too far behind the ball and “lay the sod” over on it, ditto — the wedge cannot overcome that.

But the right bounce and sole grind can offer you a measure of forgiveness on those slightly fat mishits, and that’s where trial comes in. I’m sure you understand and can appreciate that there is just not enough time or space…or patience on your part…for me to offer an “owner’s manual” for every bounce/grind configuration out there. So I will not even try.

One way to give yourself a broader combination of options for any lie or shot you face is to put together a set of wedge lofts with different bounce configurations so that you can optimize your own shotmaking versatility. Realize that any wedge sole increases the effective bounce as you lay the face open. So, if you have a 52-54-degree loft wedge with medium bounce, you can make it a high bounce wedge for shots where you want more bounce and height to the shot. Likewise, a 57-60-degree wedge with a medium bounce can handle tighter lies if you just position the ball a bit further back in your stance and maybe even close the face down a bit.

Unless you play very soft turf and/or very fluffy sand, you might shy away from wedges with a very high bounce angle, as it will limit this kind of versatility. By the same token, if you play courses that pretty consistently have firm turf conditions and/or firmer sand, having at least one of your two “go to” wedges with a pretty low bounce will probably serve you well.

So, where can any of you go from here (well, almost any of you, that is)?

My suggestion is to take a bag of balls and your wedges to the far end of the range and experiment with hitting shots of short and medium distance with each of your current wedges with the face square, opened to varying degrees and hooded slightly. See what turf interaction seems to feel the best for you for different shots . . . and produces desired results. Find different turf conditions to hit shots from, and spend time in the practice bunker, too. That will help you experience and appreciate what a low, medium, and high bounce actually feel like through contact.

Again, I know this advice will not be just right for all of you, but I’m trying the best I can to bring some sense of order and simplicity to a very complex subject. Please let me know how I did this time!

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Jamho3

    Apr 15, 2019 at 4:59 am

    Now we’re cooking with gas! I like where you’re going with this. Tiger did it TK is up next! Solve a problem that they don’t think can be solved!

  2. TheCityGame

    Apr 10, 2019 at 7:44 am

    (I think your line “The industry’s guidance about higher lofts for steeper swings and/or softer turf is certainly a basically sound piece of advice” should be “higher BOUNCE” for steeper swings…)

    The biggest problem with wedge “fitting” is that some people think, “if I do X, I need wedge Y” and that’s their “optimal wedge” it will cure their problems. It’s so much more complicated than that and if you want to be a good wedge player, you need to UNDERSTAND bounce/turf/swing interaction.

    For instance a high bounce wedge makes sense for non-tight fairways, and non-firm fairways but if you get in the habit of relying on the bounce a little too much (and “cheating fat” on your shots), and your fairways become SODDEN (as they were in Maryland all of last year), then no amount of bounce is going to accommodate your fatness.

    A few things. . .for full shots. . .if you properly strike a wedge, the bounce shouldn’t matter. Ball first contact, then club enters the turf. Unless you’re playing off a cart path, the bounce is not going to affect that shot significantly.

    After that. . .you just need to realize that if you have a high bounce wedge for fluffy sand, you can’t use that wedge for pinching spinners off tight, firm fairways.

    If you have a 60º/04º that you like to slide under the ball for green side floppers, that’s not going to let you get away with an iota of fatness if you’re trying to hit down on a 40 yard pitch shot.

    Some grinds allow you to open the face around the green. Some force you to keep the club more square.

    But, the problem is that people want an answer from EQUIPMENT GODS. They don’t want to learn it in the dirt. These are your “shankers” when you actually try to write a thoughtful article here.

    An interesting article would be to take your 4 bullet points from the first article and show exactly WHY (with diagrams if need be) those 4 things make sense. I know it should seem obvious, but to most people it’s not. Go ask a random golfer why they don’t want a high bounce wedge for a shallow swing and see what kind of gobbledy-gook spews forth.

  3. Dr

    Apr 10, 2019 at 3:15 am

    Refreshing to have someone offer a method to find a solution rather than trying to come up with a generic solution that usually works for some. Looking forward to part3 and 4.
    Things to cover – how to tell things are working well or that you need change, what are the tell signs that equipment changes are needed vs lessons, wedge wear.

  4. James T Wing

    Apr 10, 2019 at 2:01 am

    When I think of the term The Wedge Guy, the names that come to mind are Rodger Cleveland and Bob Vokey..just saying

    • TheCityGame

      Apr 10, 2019 at 9:44 am

      says a lot more about YOU than it does about Koehler.

  5. Smiley Green

    Apr 9, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    Terry
    Don’t sweat “shanks” or whatever. Golfwrx is ultimately part of the internet and some men just want to watch the world burn.

  6. M White

    Apr 9, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    I think *both* articles were very helpful. Kudos.

    As for the need for all of us to learn and try different options, there’s another option that really isn’t too painful or expensive if you don’t have access to demo clubs: buy used clubs. Used wedges are everywhere, from 2nd hand sporting goods stores to eBay to used golf sellers online. Mostly, if you’re willing to have something that’s not the latest – they’re cheap. You can experiment to your heart’s content for not much more than the cost of a round of golf (if that). Then you’ll have a feel for what really works on your courses in your hands and you can go and buy new versions of wedges with those characteristics – if you so desire.

  7. Obee

    Apr 9, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    Getting the right grind/sole combo on a wedge is both art and science. I have always set up my two highest lofted wedges to be able to play all conditions that I might encounter. I am a steep player with wedges, so I carry a high bounce, moderate sold-width 56 degree, but I also carry a low(ish) bounce LW with a narrower sole because the bunkers at my home course have been quite firm and tight for the last many years.

    Now, though, we have re-done all of our bunkers and they are also soft and fluffy for the time being and a low-bounce “knifey” LW is NOT the club out of fluffy, new bunkers. So I bought a 12* bounce LW for use until the bunkers firm back up.

    I’ve always found that the LW is the club that needs the most attention based on conditions. I can hit my high bounce SW on any fairway conditions because I have a lot of forward shaft lean at impact. But for an LW to work for me ideally from the fairway (high bounce, rounded, wider sole), I have to give up to much playability out of tight bunkers.

    So I rotate in and out several different LW’s depending on conditions. 🙂

  8. Robert

    Apr 9, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Until we have teachers that can fit players into wedges, it’s going to be a crapshoot on finding the right wedge. It took me several years and trying 20+ wedges to finally find one that fits me the right way. Right now I would guess there are maybe 10 people in the US that can fit wedges properly and I would guess that of those 10 maybe 3 are available to the public. Wedge fitting isn’t something that anyone can learn like driver or iron fitting. It takes vast experience and knowledge of how a club should interact with the turf. Until that knowledge is taught and shared, we all face the doom of trial and error fitting.

  9. David Bloom

    Apr 9, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    The fewer words the better……This was outstanding. Thanks

  10. Brian Terry

    Apr 9, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Nice follow-up Terry! I thought both have been quite informative. I am fortunate to have the chance to play courses all over the US and Europe and know how much the RIGHT wedge set can help you. I have both high and low bounce wedges with me most of the time and choose depending on the course conditions of the day. I also understand that wedge practice is HUGE in learning how to properly use those wedges. Many do not put in the hours necessary to become truly proficient

    Hopefully, you will have an article on grinds in the near future. I learned long ago that a belt sander can be a best friend to your wedges. In the past, sole grinds were not nearly as plentiful as they are now. Fortunately, it’s not rocket science adding some grind to a wedge yourself! Something to think about if those who can’t find the exact grind they want.

    Keep up the good work!

    BT

  11. SV677

    Apr 9, 2019 at 10:20 am

    I like the idea of demoing wedges, however, being left-handed presents a problem. No green-grass shop or big box carries left-handed demos. Using a friend’s wedge is impossible since every one is right-handed. This leaves the tried and true method of looking at right-handed wedges to see if they look good, finding one with less than 10* bounce, buying it and then seeing if it fits the bill. While it is a big problem for wedges it isn’t much better for other clubs.

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking about slow play

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Ryan has guest Rob Miller, from the Two Guys Talking Golf podcast, to talk about slow play. They debate on how fast is fast, how much time should 18 holes take, and the type of players who can play fast and slow.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

If Jurassic Park had a golf course, this would be it

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I have had the good fortune of playing some unbelievably awesome tracks in my time—places like Cypress Point, Olympic, Sahalee, LACC, Riviera, and a bunch of others.

However, the Bad Little 9 is the most fun golf course I have ever played…period.

Imagine standing on the first tee of a 975-yard track and praying to God almighty you finish with all your golf balls, your confidence, and more importantly, your soul. Imagine, again, for example, standing on a 75-yard par 3 with NOWHERE to hit it beyond an eight-foot circle around the flag, where any miss buries you in a pot bunker or down into a gully of TIGHTLY mown grass.

Sound fun?

I have played the BL9 twice at this point, with the first time being on a Challenge Day in November. It was cold, windy and playing as tough as it can. My playing partners Chris N., Tony C., and I barely made it out alive. I made four pars that day—shot 40—and played well. Do the math, that’s 13 over in five holes on a course where the longest hole is 140 yards.

It’s a golf course that makes zero sense: it’s punishing, it’s unfair, it’s crazy private, and on “Challenge Day,” it’s un-gettable even for the best players in the world. Rumor has it that there is an outstanding bet on Challenge Day for $1,000 cash to the individual that breaks par. That money is still yet to be paid to anyone…keep in mind Scottsdale National has PXG staff playing and practicing there allllll the time. To my knowledge, James Hahn has the lowest score ever at one over. That round apparently had multiple 20-foot par putts.

The Jackson/Kahn team which is responsible for the two big courses at Scottsdale National (Land Mine and The Other Course) were tasked with a challenge by Mr. Parsons: create a 9-hole course with ZERO rules. Take all conventional wisdom out of it and create an experience for the members that they will NEVER forget.

In this video, you will get a little context as to how it came together straight from the horse’s mouth, so I won’t get into that here.

I will end with this before you get into the video.

The Bad Little 9 sits in a very exclusive club in North Scottsdale, most will never see it. HOWEVER, what the idea of it represents is a potential way into bringing more people into the game, making it more accessible, saving real estate, playing in less time and having an experience. Hell, YouTube made short-form content a necessity in our culture. Perhaps the idea behind the Bad Little 9 will inspire short form golf?

I’m in.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot Drivers: What’s really going on!

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Thanks to the R & A and Xander Schauffele, along with (allegedly) at least three other players we don’t know about yet having drivers test over the CT limit for speed, the golf world has exploded with hot takes on the subject.

Did the players know? Did someone else know? Are OEMs building fast drivers to trick the machine?

I’m not here to make hot takes, I’m here to talk facts and truths about how we got here and how Xander Shauffele (and potentially others) arrived at Royal Portrush with drivers over the CT limit.

First, let me make one thing straight, I don’t believe Xander, or any of the other players, had any idea their drivers were illegal/over the limit. Did they know they had a great driver that performed? Yes, but golf is a game of integrity and like life, in golf your reputation is everything; I don’t believe for a second they thought they were getting a distinct advantage against their playing competition.

How Does This Happen?

Modern driver heads are complex things. The tolerances that the OEMs and their suppliers work with are extremely tight—like aerospace industry tight—one engineer I have spoken to many times has said its actually tighter. You have extremely thin yet strong titanium, moveable weights, carbon fiber, and more working together in a complex geometry. They are built to launch golf balls up to 185 MPH all while maintaining flexibility so as not to explode on impact. It’s not easy to make a good one but the good ones make it seem easy.

A driver face will eventually wear out, its a fact. It can only take so many impacts before it will fail. The number it takes is generally very high, so high that many golfers will switch before failure ever occurs. It is well known within the industry that as drivers are used they actually get FASTER! The fastest a driver will ever be for ball speed are the few balls before eventual failure because of the increased flex happening with the face and the great energy transfer… but where does this flex come from?

OEMs are in the business of distance, and making drivers as long as possible. Thanks to advanced manufacturing, processes, and materials, they can now make drivers right to the limit and truly push the envelope with every single head. TaylorMade, for example, even openly talks about how thanks to the new speed injection on the M5 and M6 drivers, they are building drivers beyond the limit and dialing them back—pretty cool technology if you ask me.

Fast drivers + high swing speed players = a perfect storm for drivers to become hot.

The CT (characteristic time ) limit is .239 with an allowance of .018, meaning the absolute limit the OEMs have to work with is .257. If you get a driver that was measured by both the factory and your tour department and deemed legal at say .255 then you are good to go. But, without daily testing, we dont’t know when this “hot” stage in the driver’s life occurs: 100 balls? 1,000? What if you test before and after a round and it only fails after? No way to tell when it failed, maybe it was after the final tee shot and it was never non-conforming during play, what is the outcome? It’s not like the .003 increase would offer any distinct advantage once you factor in player and environmental factors, but still under the rules it’s a NO-NO.

You could even go the other way when it comes to wedges. I’ve been suggested the hypothesis that you could mill illegal grooves into a wedge beyond the limit but after a single bunker practice session of say 150-200 shots it’s now legal and RIGHT at the limit because of wear. In reality, this CT limit-pushing greatly benefits the regular golfer and allows any players to get the absolute most out of their driver (legally) when they get fit for a new one. Tour players get this same advantage, but because of their swing speeds, the likelihood of then getting to the fastest/hottest point is going to happen, well…faster.

Tolerance, Tolerance, Tolerance…

With so much talk about the tolerances of each head, what about the CT measuring devices? We’re talking about .003 microseconds! One tiny change to the way the test is conducted by the user, or how the machine is calibrated and there will be variance.

It’s the same thing when talking about lies and lofts, if unknown to you, the machine you use is off by a single degree then at least the whole set is “off” which from a players perspective is fine as long as you are seeing the intended results. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rules this could be the difference between a driver passing and failing—that’s a big deal.

What this has exposed and shown the world is that modern drivers really are pushing the limit for all golfers. Does it mean we need a rule roll back or adjustment to the CT variance to get the “hot” driver okayed…OR, does this mean the governing bodies to need put a real clamp down of how and when a driver can be tested and what it really means to “be at the limit”?

There is certainly a lot to discuss on many sides of this issue from player, rules,  technology perspectives, but if one thing is for sure, this really is just the tip of the iceberg to another element of the distance debate.

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