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The Wedge Guy: The highest loft you should carry

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I am starting to get more and more emails from you all, sharing your own personal questions and comments about what I’m writing. Thank you all for doing that and for taking the time to share. I will do my best to answer all of you individually, but realize that as the mailbox gets more and more full, that may be hard to do.

That said, I did get a few emails this past week asking for my thoughts about the highest loft wedge you should carry, so I thought that would make a good topic for today’s post. But first, let me share that I did my first GolfWRX podcast this week, and had a great time doing it. You can listen here.

So, now on to the big question that so many golfers have: What is the highest loft wedge I should carry?

Let me start with a bit of history of putting wedges in our bags, as that might help make sense of the subject for each of you.

After the invention of the sand wedge in the 1930s, a design generally credited to Gene Sarazen, most golfers began to carry one. Did you know that the 1930s was also the decade that witnessed one of the greatest contributions to modern golf clubs, the numbered and matched set of irons? Well, from that time through the 1940s, most golfers relegated that club to only those shots hit from the sand. Most “sand wedges” from that time until the mid-1980s were about 55-56 degrees in loft, but loft was not a specification that many paid much attention to. Sets of irons had a “pitching wedge” of about 50-52 degrees, and that was the more generally used wedge for greenside shots. However, in his 1949 book, “Power Golf,” Ben Hogan wrote that the sand wedge could be a great tool for certain greenside shots.

Through the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, most of golf’s biggest stars only carried one “wedge” after their set-match pitching wedge. Many of them used that club to great success, and we witnessed near genius in the likes of Tom Watson, Phil Rogers, Seven Ballesteros and others.

It was the late 1980s, I believe, when Tom Kite began using the first 60-degree wedge to great success. They say he was deadly from his “magic number” — 63 yards, as I remember. I do know those first 60-degree wedges had very large heavy soles, with very pronounced camber from front to back. And they were very difficult to master for most recreational golfers.

Since that time, the higher lofted wedges began to take on more of the look of the traditional sand wedge, and the loft selection was expanded in both directions, with this design applied to wedges as low as 46 degrees and as high as 64. I believe Phil Mickelson gave the lofts over 60 degrees more visibility and curiosity than anyone.

So, with all these choices, what do each of you do with regard to deciding how high to go with the loft of your wedges? The reality is that the answer to that question is different for everyone but let me try to help you make sense of the process.

My observation is that the lofts over about 57-58 degrees are much more challenging to master for most recreational golfers. As loft increases above that level, controlling ball flight and distance becomes more and more difficult. Most golfers just have a hard time making as full a swing as required to move the ball a given distance with these high loft wedges. That said, I have seen recreational golfers that do a great job and use their high-loft wedges to great utility. But that number is very small in my estimation.

The biggest “fail” with the high loft wedges is making contact with the leading edge or very low on the face, either of which imparts much more dynamic force to the ball and sends it screaming over the green into a worse lie than you started with. Right behind that is the tendency to “bail out” on this fuller swing and decelerate before impact, laying the sod over on the ball, and having a similar result.

I do believe that mastering the higher lofted wedges of 60-64 degrees requires a great deal of practice, hitting all kinds of shots from whatever distance you consider “full” to delicate greenside chips and pitches. If you can take the time to do that, then you might turn that high-loft wedge into a powerful scoring tool. But if you don’t…well, my bet is that it will cost you more shots than it saves.

As I’ve already shared, I firmly believe you should select wedges that give you consistent distance differentials on full swings from your set-match 9-iron or “P-club,” all the way down to your 56-58 wedge. For most golfers that differential should be not more than 12-13 yards for optimum scoring. Depending on your strength profile, those loft differences could be as wide as 5-6 degrees, but 4 seems like it works for the vast majority of golfers.

Whether you choose to carry a wedge with a higher loft than that should be left to your own experiences with it, and an honest assessment as to whether that club should have a place in your bag.

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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.

40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. joro

    Jun 20, 2019 at 9:25 am

    I looked at a 64 the other day and it looked like the Ball would come straight up hit he in my Juevos. No Thanks, 58 is just fight.

  2. Christopher Hansen

    Jun 12, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    5 index. I have carried a 4-wedge setup for years. 45, 52, 56, 60. Why? Because I get predictable coverage at all distances inside of 140 yds. I can open up the 60 to flop or for delicate bunker shots.

    My favorite wedge of all time has to be the SM5 64 from Titelist. Sadly, they don’t make them anymore (but I still have one, heavily used). A 64 imparts big spin, and you can get balls to stop on a dime if executed properly. Very handy for sand, delicate greenside chips, and tight pin placements over hazards with very little green to work with. I only stopped carrying my 64 because it was so worn its grooves looked a bit questionable. I never picked up the Mac Daddy 64 when it came out. I’ve generally avoided Callaway as a brand (although I’m sure there’s no *real* difference for most people). Call me a wedge snob, but Vokey’s are still king.

    I’d love to see the 64 made in a Taylor Made wedge (or bring back the Titelist model).

  3. Distance Compression Dude

    Jun 9, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    90 degrees.

  4. steve

    May 26, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Might I suggest that confirmation of low single digit talent be required in order to purchase not only a 60* wedge, but also ANY set of “forged blade” irons. Those clubs in the hands of most players are just as dangerous as is a firearm in possessed by a psychopath!

  5. James T

    May 25, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    “…we witnessed near genius in the likes of Tom Watson, Phil Rogers, Seven Ballesteros and others.”

    Terry… I’m glad your word correction program fixed it for you. Just a bit surprised it didn’t change it to Seven Ball and Stereos!

  6. Wally

    May 24, 2019 at 11:57 am

    I have a 60* and an old TM 64* wedge but I don’t carry them because I’m so inconsistent with them. You almost have to have the perfect lie to hit those clubs and at the courses that I play, very seldom do I get the manicured grass needed to hit those clubs. The highest lofted club that I carry is a 58* Ping Stealth or Cleveland RTX4 and even then I don’t take full swings with them.

  7. ChipNRun

    May 22, 2019 at 11:58 am

    Terry K. said…

    “My observation is that the lofts over about 57-58 degrees are much more challenging to master for most recreational golfers.”

    A couple of years ago, Golf Digest reported that half the male tour pros use a 58* as their highest-lofted wedge.

    As for pre-1980s role of SW, I would differ with Terry. Lots of players – including me – used a SW for greenside cut shots long before the LW arrived. First-cut lie = PW, shaggy lie = SW.

    Also, golf-ball designer Dean Snell has another angle on wedge problems of mid-HDCP golfers: harder distance balls. Dean suggests that a urethane ball will grab the clubface better on higher-lofted clubs such as wedges, and give better spin and control to ALL golfer.

    I carry a 48-54-60, mainly because I found a 60* I could hit. Big distance control problems with earlier 60* adventures.

    Also, many golfers only hit partial shots with SW and LW, as per Juststeve.

  8. G

    May 21, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    I remember the year G Mac won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The lowest wedge in his bag was a 56*. Spoke with him during the Wednesday practice round and asked him why only one sand wedge. he said because it’s his best club for that course!

  9. slash

    May 20, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    46* is the squish club for an 85% shot that the 54* can’t be relied upon for a full swing
    54* is for long bunker and squishable 60* shots
    60* is for a rare full swing, bunkers, lobs (long and short) as well as big rough

  10. Howard Clark

    May 20, 2019 at 8:32 am

    I am scratch but, having said that, I can atke anyone’s 56, fan it open going back, and turn it into a 64.

    • Steve O

      May 29, 2019 at 6:02 am

      I’m a 3 and if I fan it open I can get the shanks. So I carry the loft that requires no adjustments, just as I do with my other irons.

  11. Frank

    May 19, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    Play in a real pro tournament and all those short side misses with the real tucked pins will 100% convince you to carry a 64 degree wedge, there’s a reason both DJ and Phil carry 64 degree wedges and it’s absolutely for those short shots with no green to work with.

    • Tiger Noods

      Jun 24, 2019 at 5:36 am

      Play as much as a pro, and you too can play any loft your heart desires.

  12. Sp4cetime

    May 19, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    In your podcast you suggest that forged tour wedges are a detriment to your average golfer. What do you suggest as an alternative?

    • Andrew

      May 21, 2019 at 6:38 pm

      Cleveland CBX. I have the 52, 56, and 60 degree.

  13. Phillip Pearson

    May 18, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    I love my 62* wedge. Yes it took practice BUT when you learn it , it’s a great club. From 65 yards in I can get it close most of the time. If you go out and practice the high lofted wedge at the practice range I think you will learn to love that high lofted wedge

    • Zach Bartness

      May 19, 2019 at 2:12 pm

      What’s your wedge setup with the 62*?

  14. Geoffrey Holland

    May 18, 2019 at 3:43 am

    “It was the late 1980s, I believe, when Tom Kite began using the first 60-degree wedge to great success.”

    Actually he started playing a lob wedge in 1980. Quite a big difference from your completely incorrect anecdotal evidence.

    I bought my first 60 degree wedge not long after Tom Watson won the US open in 1982 and Ram released the wedge series with his name on them. I’ve carried a Ram Tom Watson 60 degree wedge in my bag for probably 95% of the rounds I’ve ever played in my life.

  15. JG

    May 15, 2019 at 9:25 am

    The gapping and the sole is the most important in my estimation. I have rolled with setups like 50/55/60 and I currently game 50/54/58. If your scoring wedges aren’t properly dialed in correctly what’s the point. You just eliminated your ability to score…

  16. James

    May 15, 2019 at 9:12 am

    No one going to pick up on the seven Ballesteros’ in the list of great names?

  17. JThunder

    May 15, 2019 at 1:58 am

    “The highest loft you should carry” is like saying “the largest size shoes you should wear”. People are individuals. The corporate world and the internet desperately wish they were not, so it would be easier to make profits by selling everyone the same thing. This includes advice.

    If you want to know “the highest loft”, either work with a pro you trust who knows your swing and game, or find out for yourself. You can carry 14 clubs according to the rules. Generic advice won’t get you any further than what you already know, unless you’re new to the game.

  18. TD

    May 15, 2019 at 12:41 am

    I have a Ping G25 PW(45°) UW(50°) and a Vokey SM6 56°/M-8 and that’s all i ever need

  19. CG

    May 14, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    I like a 60* wedge with low bounce and wide flange. It’s my go to club around the greens. I honestly don’t see how people get by without a lob wedge. I watch them hit chips that run out too far and think, why? Learn to use a lob wedge!

    • JG

      May 15, 2019 at 9:22 am

      Because an average golfer (practice or plays once a week) who knows how to chip properly will see far lower scores than if they attempt to master a 60. Learning how to chip is just proper setup and making a putting stroke. Mastering a 60 takes practice and touch which the average once a week player doesn’t have at their disposal.

  20. JP

    May 14, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    Phil has been doing it wrong!

  21. Thomas Prosserr

    May 14, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    48pw a 56sw an a 60lw covers it all. Feel is the most important aspect of it. If it feels good do it. Me an my buds arent good enough to say you gota hit a certain club from a particular yardage an we all shoot about 10hdcp. yrstlawy in pa

  22. Nanananana

    May 14, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Nobody will take away my 64 degree bent to 67 away from me. It does wonders around tight lies and checks the ball like it has a string attached

    • 3puttPar

      May 29, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      Sounds like you need to hit more GIR’s.

  23. Rich Douglas

    May 14, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    I play Wishon Sterling single-length irons. My set is 4-iron through lob wedge (60 degrees).

    I started out playing traditional SW and LW, but those clubs began to feel funny. I added the Wishon versions–which are the length of an 8-iron and struggled with them at first. Some back-and-forth ensued, but I stuck with the SW first, then the LW. I’m not interested in going back.

    I play a course that’s short and all the greens are Donald Ross-style pop-ups; small and elevated. Almost every approach shot is hit with a wedge, and all shots around the green have to be hit high and soft or they won’t stay. Sure, you can try to run them up the slopes, but that’s a guessing game. I have no trouble anymore hitting lob shots with my LW opened way up. The swing is a little flatter, but it’s not a problem.

    But the best part of these wedges is hitting them from the fairway. It’s nice to use the same swing planes (back and down) I use with all my other wedges. That was the point of going to single-length clubs; the SW and LW complete the experiment. I’m never going back!

  24. Pete

    May 14, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Funny, the 60′ is one of the few clubs I goet a consistent distance with full swing. Handy 18

  25. Scratchscorer

    May 14, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    If the bounce and lie angle are a good match then I see no problem with 60 degrees. It’s all about getting those two things right and then finding the lofts that fit your eye and give you the ball flight you expect from your shots.

  26. PSG

    May 14, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    Right. So “in your estimation” you “have seen a lot” of high handicappers that are not good with high lofted wedges.

    It is the exhaustive research and hard-hitting data that makes this article so good.

    I’ll save everyone else some time: “I think 57-58 is too much, because I can see the loft on the wedge watching most people hit. So, eh, have good gaps I guess. Who knows. This changes if you practice some.”

  27. RudyV

    May 14, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    I’m 62 and I never carried anything more than my Pitching wedge until about 15 years ago…my PW has a loft of 46 degrees so my next wedge is 50 then 54…I find it very difficult, for myself, to hit a loft larger than that consistently but I do almost always take a full swing with my wedges…I’m not as long as I used to be but I do find it advantageous on wedge shots to try and take full swings…as I said, that works for me…then again if I can’t get to the green on my second shot I will put myself as close to 100 yards out as I can…for me, that’s my 50 degree at a full swing

  28. Dayunski

    May 14, 2019 at 10:57 am

    I’m a 12. I use 50, 54 and 58. My benchmark distances for regular full swings are 100, 85 and 70. I practice 3/4 and 2/3 swings. In theory, I have a swing in 5 yard increments from 60-105 yards. The wedge I use also depends on how I want to land the ball and how much green to work with. Works for me 70% of the time.

  29. ~j~

    May 14, 2019 at 10:44 am

    when first swinging a club around age 16-17, I had an old dunlop 64* I used to mess around with in a park beside my house, walk out at anytime with a few cold beers and spend an hour + just hitting it back and forth to things (had 100y or so of ample space).

    I wouldn’t touch a 64* now, but I bank on my 60* Vokey from 105y and in every round. I wouldn’t recommend it to my golfing peers but I’ve always been able to scale the 60* to whatever distance needed, and it sticks like a dart.

    I’ve hear the arguments against it, things like one could lay a 56* open and have the same effect. True, but I’d rather take a full swing with a squared club than one that’s held wide open.

    My 2 wedges I carry are 50-08* and 60-04*. 60* gets me up to 105y max, and a 75% 50* gets me from 100y up to 130 comfortably before my PW takes over. Just enough space between wedges to allow a choice, but anything within 100y is normally my 60-04* vokey, unless I need a little more bounce.

    • Christian Larsson

      May 22, 2019 at 2:29 am

      You had a habit of drinking a few beers….at 16 years of age?

  30. Juststeve

    May 14, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Consistent full swing distance gaps, 12-13 yards is of little significance to me since it is very seldom I make a full swing with any of my “distance wedges”. I carry a 50, a 54, and a 58, but, inside about 80 yards I will most likely be making a partial swing with any of my wedges depending on the trajectory I want and how I want the ball to act after it lands. Full swing carry distances are irrelevant to me.

    • Alex Corona

      May 14, 2019 at 11:11 am

      So you don’t hit full swing wedges? what do you hit at 135yrds pin but carry 132 yrds? Full swing wedges matter as well as charting partial swing wedges. Both are valuable but saying full carry distances are irrelevant doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.

      • Juststeve

        May 14, 2019 at 12:24 pm

        From 135 I hit a nine iron, in real life, on the internet it’s a little sand wedge.

        It’s not that I never hit a stock wedge, but it’s seldom I find myself on the number just to hit a full wedge. Much more often I am inside the full wedge range for any of my wedges trying to figure out how to best get the ball close to the hole. In that large majority of cases how far I hit the club with a full swing has very little to do with the club I choose. I’m not going to make a full swing with any of the wedges.

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TG2: Callaway’s MAVRIK driver leaked and Bryson has some gains in the gym?

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The MAVRIK driver is out in the open and we speculate on it. What do we think of the color and design, anything we can tell from the photos on new technology. Bryson is bulking up and has gains in the gym already, but will it help?

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Why aren’t more small golf companies making it big?

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More and more in the golf industry, success is based on skills that are not required to make a birdie or par. The people who design today’s driver heads are in some cases, actual rocket scientists. A digital expert who has never been on a golf course is often more valuable to a company than a tour player. Yet when you look at the smaller companies that exist in the golf industry, and particularly in the golf equipment industry, you generally see companies that are heavy on golf passion and light on modern business expertise. It’s killing them.

Golf equipment, in particular, is now more driven by the big brands than it’s ever been, and this is totally the opposite of what’s happening in so many other industries. The food business is a wonderful example. I was in CVS last week and was surprised to see a “Keto” meal replacement shake being promoted on an end-cap. On the same end-cap was a vegan protein powder.

Five years ago, I had never heard of Keto. I knew very few vegans. Today, I know people on both diets. If you have an ability to surf the web, it’s been quite easy to take part in the food revolution that’s happening right now in the U.S. And one of the most interesting things about it is that it’s been almost entirely driven by small companies.

The big food business is hurting because it’s struggling to meet the evolving preferences of consumers. Smaller brands have been much more in touch with customers, and as a result, much more innovative with their products and marketing. There’s no disputing this. Many small food brands are crushing it.

And the same trend is happening in retail. Been to a Sears lately? Mine closed. When my wife wants to go to the mall, it’s only because of a product that was recommended by an Instagram influencer (think of Influencers as micro-brands). Usually, it’s something from Madewell. I digress.

Last month, I bought the most beautiful double-walled, glass coffee cups from Fellow, a premium coffee accessories brand that sells online. I had no way of knowing I could enjoy coffee cups this much. This little company knew what I wanted before I did. So like a lot of modern consumers, I took to Instagram to celebrate. I tagged the company. A few friends texted me to ask about them (many of my friends are very into coffee).

So how is it that people can buy the most wonderful products from small, innovative companies in nearly every space, but they struggle to do this in golf? Or is it just that they’ve never heard of all the great small golf companies. And if so, whose fault is this?

It’s true that with enough time the most serious golfers will eventually find out about the best small golf companies. But the problem isn’t that small companies can’t reach the most serious golfers. Many can. It’s that most small golf companies can’t reach anyone else.

Across the board, small golf companies are failing to embrace a strategy that would actually resonate with a sufficiently large audience. In most cases, this is because they’re trying to play the same game as the big boys. They’re obsessed with making products that they can say are “better.” That strategy can only work if you have a lot of money to spend.

When I worked with GolfWRX, one of my jobs was to speak with big and small golf companies and pen articles about their new products. And in most cases, the claims checked out. The smaller company’s clubs were sometimes 10 yards longer or 10 percent more forgiving, etc. as they said.

But I always had a feeling in these interviews and testing sessions that for certain companies, this extra performance wasn’t going to make a meaningful impact on sales. Not enough golfers were going to try it. Not enough golfers were going to talk about it. And the cycle would continue. I watched several of these companies run out of money only to blame “a slow down in the golf industry” for their failure.

What these companies were missing is that having an exceptional product is simply the cost of doing business. It’s not game-changing to make a product that’s as good or slightly better than the big boys. You won’t move the needle with products that are “just as good” but cost less. The only way small companies can make it big is to play a different game, and I believe it’s a better game.

Marketing works best when customers are willing participants in the process, and if you believe that, then the first step is obvious. A company has to find ways to make customers genuinely curious about its products or services. When customers feel this way, they’ll want to learn more. They’ll follow a company on social media. They’ll read a company’s website from cover to cover. They’ll often walk away liking a company so much that they can’t stop talking about it. Not just to their playing partners, but to their brother-in-law. Their friends at work. Their old college roommate. The guy sitting next to them on the plane.

We’ve all had these positive experiences with a brand or product at some point, and they’re magical. It’s exciting to share a great find, even if it’s something as trivial as a coffee cup.

What you’re seeing right now in other industries is small companies that are succeeding because they stand for excellence in a specialized way. To communicate their excellence, they’re not talking at their customers. Their communication feels like an invitation. It feels like the marketing campaign was designed with them in mind. And this strategy is even more effective when the product stands for an idea that’s bigger than golf, which isn’t as pie in the sky as it sounds.

For PXG, it’s status—and a bit of rebellion. For Titleist, it’s trust. And if these companies are doing their jobs well, these big-picture ideas are built into the product DNA—not attached ad hoc when it’s time to sell.

When companies create products that stand for something, it becomes so much easier for them to build authentic relationships with their customers. They suddenly have choices beyond beating their chest about their most recent accomplishment, which rarely works. Think about it this way; when your friends brag to you, you probably want to roll your eyes. When strangers do this to you, you quickly walk away. And when brands do this to you, you ignore them.

I believe that golfers want to change their buying habits in golf as they have in other industries. But they need more small companies to shake things up in a positive way. They’re waiting for the right message at the right time. And because that’s not happening, they can only hear the loudest voices in the room. And it’s a shame.

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The Gear Dive: TXG’s lead builder Mike Martysiewicz

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In this newest episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with Mike Martysiewicz of TXG.

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