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The Wedge Guy: Spin 2: An examination of impact

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Last week, I gave an overview of all the factors that I believe affect spin and promised to dive deeper into the dynamics of impact this week.

But first, thanks to all of you who chimed in with your comments. Those keep me going, whether you totally agree with me (or completely disagree) I enjoy reading what you all have to say. I will be the first to admit that the science of golf is unsettled…we continually learn more and more about the dynamics of swinging a golf club and striking a ball. And that’s a good thing.

In today’s post, I want to share what I believe to be true about impact – lessons learned from observing thousands of golfers of all skill levels, interacting and analyzing over 50,000 wedge-fitting profiles from our online engagements, and analyzing data from Iron Byron testing of wedges of all lofts, makes and models over the years.

So here goes.

From all that input I’ve gained over the years, I believe that some golfers are just always going to spin the ball better than others. I also believe that anyone can learn to spin the ball better, if they are willing to invest in instruction and practice, but that is what it takes. Ever since the USGA and R&A changed the rules on groove geometry in 2010, and eliminated those sharp-edged square grooves, spin just isn’t “for sale” anymore.

So, let’s first dive into the dynamics of the wedges you play. But we’re not going to address clubhead speed, as I believe we all agree that faster speed results in more spin. While that doesn’t mean you should try to hit your wedges harder, it is a piece of information you should know. What you can do with that is try to leave yourself lay-up shots that give you more full-swing wedges into the green than those dreaded ‘half-wedges.’

There is no question that very new wedges, with fresh grooves and no face wear yet, will help you spin the ball better than an old worn out wedge. But is it realistic to think that all of us can just run out and get new wedges every 40-50 rounds, as one major wedge manufacturer suggests? Probably not.

The next best thing is to keep your wedge face and grooves as clean as possible for each shot. After you take your practice swings on that wedge shot, give your club a good wiping down with a towel to get it as clean as possible – that will definitely help.
Likewise, I have learned that softer shafts will help you spin the ball better, as will graphite over steel in my opinion and observation.

One of the most critical factors of wedge spin as a result of impact is the exact point on the face where impact is made. We’ve all heard “thin to win,” and that is truer with wedges than any other club. Generally speaking, the lower on the face you make contact, the lower launch angle you will get and the more spin the ball will take on.

In the many Iron Byron tests of wedges of all makes and models that I have analyzed, I’ve learned that spin will dramatically drop off as impact is moved higher on the head and toward the toe as well. In a recent test, we saw top-brand wedges deliver spin variances as much as 35-45 percent from impacts as little as 3/8” from center. When we measured the range from maximum spin (low face) to minimum spin (high face and toe), most wedges would see variances of as much as 55 percent!

I will tell you that tour players and top-level amateurs generally strike their wedge shots lower on the face than most recreational players. So, if you want to learn to spin your wedges better, practice making impact lower on the face. Impact tapes are a good way to see your own results and the effect of your practice. The two photos below are from a well-known tour player’s wedge (above) and that of a low-single-digit player’s wedge (below). That lower impact pattern of just 2-3 grooves gives the tour player a lower launch angle, more distance and much more spin on a consistent basis.

Tour pro

low single digit

The other element of impact that you can learn and improve on is your angle of approach to the ball, and the quality of your impact. To get maximum spin from your skill set and strength profile, you must make absolutely sure you contact the ball before the turf, and that your clubhead is moving slightly downward at impact. You don’t need to dig up “beaver pelts,” but you do need to make clean contact with the ball first. A very good amateur golfer I knew well would never take much divot at all, he just nipped the ball clean and “shaved” the grass with each iron shot. But darn, he spun the ball and controlled his trajectories as well as anyone I ever saw that didn’t do this for a living.

So, I hope this helps those of you who would like to learn to spin the ball better with your wedges. To recap:

  • Make sure your grooves and face are clean before the shot that counts.
  • Learn to make contact lower on the face consistently.
  • Learn how to make a clean descending path through impact (A tip I can offer that works for most golfers is to focus your eyes on the forward edge of the ball for all wedge shots – the side toward the target. It really does work)

I hope you all enjoyed this two-part series on spin. I would also appreciate you sending me an email with ideas of things you would like me to address in future articles. My knowledge, insights, and opinions are yours for the asking. Just send that email to Terry@TheWedgeGuy.com.

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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. jamho3

    May 10, 2019 at 8:17 am

    TK in 2020!

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, I can see how difficult it is to get things just right when so many factors are in play. Science, real experience, knowledge of Am’s, Pros playing conditions and so forth.

    I appreciate the discernment that goes into your writing with your efforts to help us.

    New product by 2019 The Open or we’re going on strike!

  2. Brando

    May 8, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    I think lie angle is overlooked when it comes to wedges and putters. It’s very important in my opinion. My lob wedge is the flatest club in my bag. I just bent my putter 1 degree flater and putting so much better now and hitting the sweet spot again.

  3. Layne Yawn

    May 8, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Terry:
    I have a lob wedge with 10* of bounce. All my lob wedges in the past have had about 5*-6* of bounce. Is it possible to shave a small amount off the bounce? Our fairways are extremely tight as well as the chipping areas around the green. I just don’t seem to hit the quality wedge shots like I use to and being 65 doesn’t help. I like the wedge, I like the way it looks and feels. A lower bounce was not an option offered by the manufacturer. What would you suggest?
    Thank you

  4. Luke

    May 7, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    Any opinion on re-grooving with groove tools?

    • Terry Koehler

      May 8, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Hello Luke, the main issue with re-grooving wedges is that the process removes material, of course, which will then likely make your grooves exceed USGA specifications, and possibly sharpen the edges too much as well. If you and your golf buddies don’t mind your wedges being non-conforming, I guess it’s not an issue. But you should be aware of this . . .

  5. Tom Newsted

    May 7, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    So the question in my mind is what is a realistic number of rounds before we look to replace a wedge. Currently I do it once a year but then again I use all three a great deal and I normally get in about 60-70 rounds a year.

    • Terry Koehler

      May 8, 2019 at 10:43 am

      Good question, Tom. A major brand is saying that wedges exhibit significant spin loss after 50 rounds, but they are not specific on how many shots that represents. If you practice a lot with them, you might not even get that many.
      My suggestion is to get a good magnifier and visually examine the grooves and face texture often, comparing the center impact area to the perimeter of the scored area where you make impact much less often, and make that call yourself. I also recommend that you practice with your older wedges if you replace them, and keep your new ones fresh for actual play.

      • Chris

        May 8, 2019 at 8:15 pm

        Wow, as simple as the thought of practicing with an old wedge is, I never thought about it. Thanks.

      • Revanant

        Jul 30, 2019 at 12:58 pm

        Hey Terry,

        The rule of thumb I’ve heard regarding wedge condition is to run your finger nail down the grooves–as long as you hear a click, you have good grooves.

        Is that an over-simplification? Should I be looking for major wear and chipping, kind of like in the photo of the tour pro’s wedge? I feel like that wedge is definitely on the verge of replacement, whereas my wedges don’t yet have wear spots but I’ve put probably about 60 rounds through them and a fair amount of practice. But, most of my wedge usage is chipping, pitching, and half-swings, or bunker play. My 54 degree is only good for 70 yards on a full swing, so most of my gapping on full shots is covered by my Hogan Redline Equalizer through my 9 iron for shots between 80 yards and 110 yards.

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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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Podcasts

TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

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

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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