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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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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Golf Hall of Fame resumes—what does it take?

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We are back from last week, and Knudson is finally a father! Steve asks what it takes to get into the Golf Hall of Fame, how much do majors count? Knudson talks about his last round and how much fun he had. Finally, we talk about the Rory and Keopka beef that is starting to play out.

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

The Wedge Guy: Getting more out of your wedges

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When I started SCOR Golf in 2011 and completely re-engineered the short end of the set, I took on “the establishment” and referred to our line of clubs not as “wedges” but as “scoring clubs”—I felt like the term “wedge” had become over-applied to clubs that really weren’t. While I’ve tempered my “respectful irreverence” a bit since then, I still think we are shackled by the terms applied to those high-loft clubs at the short end of our sets.

Think about this for a moment.

It all started with the invention of the sand wedge back in the late 1930s. This invention is generally credited to Gene Sarazen, who famously had metal welded onto the bottom of a niblick to give it bounce, and introduced the basic “explosion” sand shot. Over the next few decades, the sand wedge “matured” to a loft of 55-56 degrees and was a go-to staple in any serious golfer’s bag. In his 1949 book, “Power Golf”, Ben Hogan described the sand wedge as a very versatile tool “for certain shots” around the greens, and listed his maximum distance with a sand wedge as 55 yards.

Even into the 1970s, the pitching wedge was considered the ‘go-to’ club for short recovery shots around the greens. And because the typical pitching wedge was 50-52 degrees in loft, it was very versatile for that purpose. I remember that even as a scratch player in the 60s and early 70s, I would go days or weeks without pulling the “sand wedge” out of my bag—we didn’t have bunkers on that little 9-hole course so I didn’t feel like I needed one very often.

Fast forward into the 1980s and 1990s, people were hitting sand wedges from everywhere and the wedge makers began to add “lob wedges” in the 60-degree range and then “gap wedges” of 48 degrees or so to fill in for the evolutional strengthening of iron lofts to a point where the set match pitching wedge (or P-club as I call it) was 44-45 degrees typically. Along the way, the designation “G”, “S”, “L” and “P” were dropped and almost all wedges carried the actual loft number of the club. I think this was a positive development, but it seems we cannot get away from the pigeon-holing our wedges into “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” nomenclature.

So that history lesson was a set-up for suggesting that you look at all your wedges as just “wedges” with no further limitations as to their use. I think that will free you up to use your creativity with each club to increase your repertoire of shots you have in your bag…more arrows in your quiver, so to speak.

For example, long bunker shots are much easier if you open the face of your 50- 54-degree wedge so you don’t have to swing as hard to get the ball to fly further. You’ll still get plenty of spin, but your results will become much more consistent. Likewise, that super-short delicate bunker shot can be hit more easily with your higher lofted wedge of 58-60 degrees.

When you get out further, and are facing mid-range shots of 40-75 yards, don’t automatically reach for your “sand wedge” out of habit, but think about the trajectory and spin needs for that shot. Very often a softened swing with your “gap” wedge will deliver much more consistent results. You’ll reduce the likelihood of making contact high on the face and coming up short, and you can even open the face a bit to impart additional spin if you need it.

Around the greens, your lower-lofted wedges will allow you to achieve more balance between carry and roll, as almost all instructors encourage you to get the ball on the ground more quickly to improve greenside scoring. For the vast majority of recreational/weekend golfers, simply changing clubs is a lot easier than trying to manipulate technique to hit low shots with clubs designed to hit the ball high.

Finally, on any shots into the wind, you are almost always better off “lofting down” and swinging easier to help make more solid contact and reduce spin that will cause the ball to up-shoot and come up short. Too often I watch my friends try to hit hard full wedge shots into our all-too-common 12-20 mph winds and continually come up short. My preference is to loft down even as much as two clubs, grip down a bit and swing much more easily, which ensures a lower trajectory with less spin…and much more consistent outcomes. It is not uncommon for me to choose a 45-degree wedge for a shot as short as 75-80 yards into a breeze, when my stock distance for that club is about 115. I get consistently positive results doing that.

So, if you can wean yourself from referring to your wedges by their names and zero in on what each can do because of their numbers, you will expand your arsenal of shots you can call on when you are in prime scoring range and hit it close to the flag much more often. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

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Opinion & Analysis

Autumn golf is the best golf

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For many, golf euphoria occurs the second weekend of April when the flowers start to bloom, courses begin to open, and the biggest tournament of the year is on television. But I believe the absolute best season for golf is the fall.

Let me explain.

SPRING

Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, and for most golfers, it’s the first opportunity to break out new clubs or take the game you’ve been working on all winter to the course for the first time in many months. Depending on where you are in North America or around the world, golf courses are just opening up and the ground is drying out from a winter filled with snow and ice.

Yes, spring is fantastic, you can shrug off the occasional mud ball since it’s probably your first round in four months and you’re willing to cut “the super” some slack for the slow greens, because you’re just happy to be out on terra firma chasing around a little white ball. Your game is rusty. Courses aren’t quite there yet, but it’s golf outside, and you couldn’t be happier.

SUMMER

The dog days. This time of year is when golf courses are the most busy thanks to the beautiful weather. But high temperatures and humidity can be a real deal-breaker, especially for walkers—throw in the weekly possibility for afternoon “out of the blue” thunderstorms, and now you’re sweating and drenched.

Unless you are a diehard and prefer the dew-sweeping pre-7 a.m. tee time when the sun breaks on the horizon, rounds tend to get longer in the summer as courses get busier. And you’ll often find more corporate outings and casual fairweather golfers out for an afternoon of fun—not a bad thing for the game, but not great for pace of play. Summer makes for fantastic course conditions, and with the sun not setting until after 9 p.m. for almost two months, the after-dinner 9 holes are a treat and you take them while you can.

FALL

As much I love nine holes after dinner with eight clubs in a Sunday bag and a few adult beverages in June, nothing compares to the perfect fall day for golf.

The sun’s orbit, paired with Mother Nature, allows you to stay in your warm bed just that little extra, since you can’t play golf when it’s still dark at 6:30 a.m. The warm, but not too warm, temperatures allow you to pull out your favorite classic cotton golf shirts without fear of the uncomfortable sweaty pits. We can’t forget that it’s also the season for every golfer’s favorite piece of apparel: the quarter zip  (#1/4zipSZN).

Courses in the fall are often in the best shape (or at least they should be), since player traffic and corporate tournaments are done for the season. As long as warm afternoons are still the norm, firm and fast conditions can be expected.

Last but not least, the colors—reds, oranges, and yellows—frame the green fairways and dark sand to make them pop in the landscape. Fall is the final chance to get in those last few rounds and create happy thoughts and mental images before the clubs go away for the inevitably cold, dark days of winter.

Fall is meant for golf! So take pictures, smell the smells, and make great swings, because golf season is quickly coming to a close, and now is the time to savor each moment on the course.

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