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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

From the GolfWRX Vault: How far should you hit your golf clubs?

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Editor’s note: Jaacob Bowden‘s 2013 piece on how far a club “ought” to carry based on clubhead speed—i.e. how far you should hit your golf clubs–remains one of our most widely read pieces (thanks, Google search). And while seven years have passed since its publication, the data remains the same, and thus the piece remains just as relevant today. 

We’re happy to crack open the GolfWRX Vault for this excellent bit of writing. 


One of the nice things about having all this new fancy technological equipment like Trackman, Flightscope, ShotLink, etc., at various PGA Tour events is that distance data can be gathered for each of the players.

In case you haven’t come across it already, here are the approximate Trackman carry distance averages for men at the professional level.

Average PGA Tour Carry Distances (yards)

Club Carry
Driver (Total) 289
Driver (Carry) 269
3-Wood 243
5-Wood 230
Hybrid 225
3-Iron 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

Pretty cool info. Perhaps they hit it farther than you might have thought…or maybe they hit less than you may have been lead to believe based on what you’ve seen on TV, read on the internet, etc.

Since I deal a lot with swing speed training and helping people in general hit the ball farther, a relatively common question I get is, “How far should I hit my clubs for my swing speed?”

Well, since we also know that the average driver swing speed on Tour typically runs around 112 to 113 mph, using a bit of algebra and the above distances we can approximate a guide for how far you could expect to hit the ball (assuming fairly consistent and solid contact) given your personal driver swing speed.

Here are those carry distances.

Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

 Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

I took the ranges down to 60 and 70 mph because those are swing speeds I’ll encounter when working with some amateur women and seniors. I also went up to 140 mph because numerous long drivers I’ve trained can get their drivers up that high (RE/MAX World Long Drive champions like Joe Miller, Jamie Sadlowski and Ryan Winther can actually reach over 150 mph).

Aside from using the chart as a general reference point, here are a few other things that I think are worth pointing out:

First, these numbers are based off how the average Tour player strikes the ball. Although Tour players are overall good ball strikers with all their clubs, most of them are actually not as efficient (the Tour average is about 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed) as they can be when it comes to distance with their drivers because on average they hit drives that launch too low and with too much spin.

LGPA Tour players (2.65 yards/mph of swing speed) and Professional Long Drivers are actually more distance efficient with their drivers…but that’s a topic for another article. The good news for you is that greater carry and total-driving distances can be achieved at all the range of swing speeds shown above if you are a more efficient driver than the average male tour player at 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed.

With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc, one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!

Second, the club distances are based on the driver swing speeds that you would get from a system like FlightScope and Trackman. So if at all possible, get yourself checked on one of those. Otherwise, if you measure with something like a Speed Stik (which measure higher in my experience), you could get a false sense of how far you might expect to hit the ball.

As another example, Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radars (SSR) also read faster. It should be pointed out that SSRs are still a great personal training aid, and because of their accuracy and relative affordability and portability, they are actually the radar I recommend in my swing speed training programs.

However, the Doppler radar in an SSR measures the fastest moving part of the club head (typically the toe) versus a Trackman or FlightScope, which each have proprietary algorithms to calculate the speed at the center of the club face. For this reason, SSRs will read about 5 to 12 percent faster, depending on how you as an individual move the driver through impact. If you have an SSR, just hit 5 to 10 balls with it and a Trackman or FlightScope at the same time and you’ll find out your personal difference for sake of comparison.

Third, the above numbers can be useful for a good general reference, but like I mentioned in my article about understand distance variance, recognize that carry distances can vary a lot depending on conditions. Slopes, wind, temperature, altitude, etc., are all things that can affect how far the ball flies, so remember to factor that in.

Fourth, keep in mind potential loft differences between your clubs and the ones here. As a general rule of thumb, club manufacturers have made their club lofts (especially in the irons) continually stronger over the years as a way of marketing and selling consumers the new clubs.

Many top Tour players are being paid to play the latest clubs, which could mean they might also be playing irons with stronger lofts than the set you are playing. This isn’t always the case, however, but it’s another thing to be aware of.

Last, once you start approaching less than 80 mph with the driver, notice how the distances start bunching up between clubs.  At this point, you start getting to an area where you really don’t need a full set of 14 clubs. If this is you, perhaps you might also find that you hit a 3-wood or 5-wood further than a normal driver.

My wife is very strong and athletic, however, as a beginner who doesn’t play or practice very much, she hasn’t developed much swing speed. For that reason, we got her fitted for a 9-club set of Wishon 730CLs, a set that is designed specifically for men and women with less than 80 mph of club head speed.

The shafts are very light, the driver is 16 degrees and only 42 inches, the fairway woods are 20 and 26 degrees (versus the commonly used 15- and 19-degree fairway woods), and the remaining hybrids/irons are gapped out in 6-degree loft increments (compared to the normal 3- or 4-degree). Also, since many beginners, lesser skilled players and those with slower swing speeds can struggle with really high lofted wedges, the highest lofted wedge in the set is 54 degrees.

All of these things combine to provide a driver that can actually be hit in the air for distance, clubs that have substantial distance gapping, plus it’s just less clubs in general to lug around and choose from.

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Why we play golf

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I played golf the other day with friends. COVID-19 restrictions, but we got out. They will attest that I stunk, but that isn’t news or the basis for this piece.

Normally that kind of golfing experience has me in borderline depression searching for a swing change that I know will allow me to play at my fantasy level. What was remarkably different was the pleasure. Being outside, sunshine, fresh air, joking with friends, enduring the glares from my partner. It was four hours that were singular in their positivity made more so by the daily media barrage of doom and being essentially quarantined for all other activities.

To start, one of the great things about golf is when you play, it requires total concentration—world events, personal issues are put on hold. You see, golf isn’t fun, it’s hard and that element is what brings us joy no matter how small our victories.

I’ve played the game for some 70 years and studied it for 40, working in the industry. One of my favorite exercises over the years has been to ask someone who played recently to describe their best shot of their previous round. Immediate answers flow accompanied by a smile or whimsical expression. Whether it’s a tee shot, a chip, putt, it’s a moment of slaying the dragon. And this is golf. Not an 18 or even 9-hole score—one shot, immediate recall and the reason to play again.

We find ourselves today bordering on panic—daily feeds from the media, warning us, frightening us. For those who play the game, it is a needed respite. There have been some articles, and I’m sure more coming, about what will happen in the distant morning. Massive unemployment, lost wages, and crashing investment portfolios, a small sample. Sadly, the media is going to have bad news to emphasize for months to come and there is no question that some of the collateral damage will be human lives and financial well-being.

It’s easy to sit and critique humans making decisions. But when asked the question about affecting lives now or in the future, it’s way more complex. Political expediency focuses on the now knowing there will be a pivot down the road.

What does all this have to do with golf? The game provides an instant middle ground. People can have four hours in the sun and fresh air and the difficulty involved forces them to temporarily shelve daily tribulations. Even with reduced course services as a precaution, just the chance to go to bed at night knowing the weather looks great and you can escape to the course for a few hours…it’s something that brightens one’s outlook.

So, I’m championing the playing of golf, while accepting various related restrictions. I’m championing a few hours where we can forget the drama, the panic, and get our butts kicked by a little white ball. And when done, we’ll make arrangements to play again.

Oh yes, now that the internet is overflowing with tips from golf teaching experts, I really need to play, because I have this new move that is guaranteed, guaranteed, to produce 12 more yards off the tee. You see, it all has to do with the position of the shaft vs. the left knee and…

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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