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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, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. 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.

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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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

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

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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