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Opinion & Analysis

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, 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.

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

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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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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Podcasts

TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

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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