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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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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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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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