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.
Mondays Off: Steve’s worst shot of his life and Knudson’s handicap is heading up!
Steve played in a tournament and hit one of the worst shots of his life. Knudson’s game is on the decline but his handicap is heading north. Steve talks about member-guest tournaments and the one-day event they have coming up.
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What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for golf?
Golf, like many hobbies, can drive people to do some crazy things—whether it be to play a course on your bucket list, purchase a club you’ve been looking for, or drop everything just to play with your buddies.
As a purely self-diagnosed golf junkie, I have gone out of my way to do all of these things on many occasions, and I have a feeling a lot of others here have some stories to tell similar to these.
The Long Trip
Let me start by saying that I’m not a “Bag Tag Barry” or really a bucket list course kinda guy. Yes, I have courses I want to play, but at the moment the highest on the list starts and ends with the Old Course at St. Andrews – because, simple – it’s St. Andrews. Beyond that, my “hoping to play” list pretty much the standard classics.
But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t gone WAY out of my way to play, especially when you think about the recent 1600-plus mile journey I just took to Sweetens Cove to play in the First Annual “Oil Hardened Classic” run by Eternal Summer Golf Society.
Sweetens has been on my radar since I first heard about it, and if you are at all interested in course architecture I’m sure it has been on your radar for a while too – great piece on it here from WRX Featured Writer Peter Schmitt (You’ve Never played Anything like Sweetens Cove).
When I first heard of this event, I knew it was something I HAD to do. I’ve been playing persimmon clubs (not to be confused will full hickory) for a couple of years now and in case I haven’t made it clear in the past—I love blade irons. To be able to play with a bunch of other “golf sickos” made this something I really wanted to do, and to let you in on a little secret I’ve been hiding for a while, before this I had never done a real “golf trip” before.
Problem: Being in the Great White North puts me a long ways away from South Pittsburg, TN and a golf trip like this with air travel and a rental car was out of the question. So what’s the next best thing? load the car up with a bunch of old wooden clubs, some blades, three golf bags, lots of balls, gloves, enough clothes for a few days, a cooler, and a passport: BOOM my first golf trip.
I-75 was my route for an entire day. 14 hours total with stops: It was an easy drive to Chattanooga, where I filled up on BBQ and stayed the night. From there, it was a simple 40-minute drive over in the morning and with Sweetens Cove in Central Time (just across the line, I should add), I even got a much appreciated extra hour of sleep. The golf course was ours for the whole day and beyond the for fun scheduled matches it was a playground. Groups of 12 people playing the same hole, three-club mini loops, trying out impossible putts on the rolling greens—we did it all.
A few years ago, if you had told me I would drive 28 hours round trip to endlessly loop a 9-hole golf course with persimmon clubs and a bunch of “strangers,” I would have probably called you a total idiot. Now, I can’t imagine not doing it again.
Speaking of long golf trips, how does a 2,700-plus mile round trip to play Cabot Links and Cliffs Sound?
It started with an already planned two-week road trip, Toronto, Boston (to see Fenway), Portland, Halifax then finally to Inverness, Nova Scotia home of Cabot Links—and at the time, only open for “lottery bookers” and resort guests Cabot Cliffs. We had times booked for the links course but Cliffs was another story. Since I’m not one to take no for an answer, and although staying at the resort was well beyond our road-tripping budget, I had a little tip that if you call very early the day you are hoping to play they could potentially find spots for players when resorts guests cancel. Cliffs was still under preview play and tee times were 20 minutes apart so the chances we’re slim but a 5 a.m. alarm and some not-so-subtle begging and bartering got my wife and I an afternoon tee time on the best new course in the world!
It was an amazing experience made even better by the beautiful weather and fun we had that day. I have, still to this day, never had an experience like that on a golf course.
The Must-Have Wedges
I’m an obsessive club collector and builder. There I said it. Not only do I love clubs, but I love the idea of making things, or taking things that are considered less desirable and making them better than ever before.
This all stems from a piece I wrote this spring about a HUGE used club sale about an hour from where I live, Check it out here: Hunting Used Clubs at Fore Golfers Only
Although I did get some fantastic deals at “The Sale,” as the locals call it, there were a few wedges I could not get out of my head after visiting the accompanying retail store after the sale. As I was driving home, in a bit of a snow storm, I couldn’t help but think about the potential of the raw Nike Engage wedges I left behind. I wanted them for a number of reason including the fact that I hadn’t had the chance to work and grind on raw wedges in a while and these were the last Mike Taylor-designed Nike wedges before Nike decided to shut the doors and Artisan Golf was born.
By the time I realized I had to have them, it was already too late to drive back and they were closed, so first thing the next day, I called and asked if they 1) Still had the two exact wedges I remembered seeing 2) if they would hold them for me until the Monday morning after the sale—the only chance I would have to get back there in the next month. Why did I need them when snow was still on the ground? Because I’m a nut!
Monday rolled around, I got out of bed bright and early during another not-so-fun snowfall to shovel the driveway, gas up the car, and drive three hours round trip to pick up two rusty used, Nike Engage wedges for the grand total of $120. But when I finally got the chance to work my magic, it’s hard not to say the effort was worth it.
The Wedge Guy: You and your wedges (survey results part 2)
As I promised last week when I presented the first layer overview of the GolfWRX/Wedge Guy survey, today I’m going to dive into the section of the survey where you shared your thoughts and feelings about wedges and your wedge play. I’ve made a study of golfers and their wedges for nearly 30 years now, and have always found it fascinating. It also has helped me immensely in breaking from traditional wedge design to address what golfers have told me about where they need help most.
I’m proud that this insight gained from golfers over those years led me to develop “the Koehler sole,” which I patented back in 1990, and have brought to market as both the “Dual Bounce Sole®” and the “V-SOLE®”. That insight also guided me to begin to introduce higher and higher CG in wedges since the mid-90s (which almost all wedge companies have finally begun to do to one degree or another), and to create the first progressively weighted wedges with the SCOR™ line in 2011.
But this is about you and your wedges, so let’s dive right into what you all shared in the surveys.
First of all, you GolfWRX readers are way ahead of rank-and-file recreational golfers in the respect you show for your wedges, with 70 percent or more of you carrying at least four wedges, counting the set match “pitching wedge” that came with your set of irons. I’ve long been an advocate of having more wedges in your bag to give you more options in prime scoring range. As manufacturers have continually strengthened the lofts of the set-match pitching wedge, down to as low as 43-44 degrees in some models, it just makes sense.
Partly as a result of this attention, you GolfWRXers rated your wedge play much higher than golfers at large, based on my prior research. What I found interesting is that fewer of you rated your wedges play outside 75-90 yards as a strength of your game (26 percent) than you did on your wedge play inside 75-90 yards (30 percent). Almost 30 percent of you said your wedge play outside of 75-90 yards was “not as good as it should be,” but just 21 percent said the same about your wedge play outside 75-90 yards. It is generally accepted that full swings are harder to master than the partial swings those short-range shots require.
I have an intern student at University of Houston-Victoria diving into these surveys to cross-tabulate all the answers to reveal more interesting insight for all of us to share, but that is going to take a few weeks, I’m sure, as there is a lot of data here. But what my takeaway from this question is that the vast majority of revealed you have lots of opportunity to improve this segment of your game, as 70-75 percent of you rated your wedge play in both categories as average or below-average. One way to do that is to re-allocate your practice time to hit more wedge shots of different distances, really focusing on distance control. Which brings me to the next couple of questions.
Two questions are very closely linked, as proven by the answers you shared. Nearly an identical number of you responded that your full-swing trajectories were “about right,” and your distance control was “pretty good.” But the majority of you said your trajectories trended too high and your misses come up short almost all the time. You are not alone—my experience with wedge design and golfer feedback is that this majority of you GolfWRX readers is actually much better than the majority of all golfers.
The harsh reality is that this is not all your fault. While mastering wedge play is probably the hardest part of the game, the design of wedges aggravates these two problems. Robotic testing of wedges indicates that essentially all models on the market are very unforgiving of impact moving around the face. We all know that low-face impact, nearly bladed wedge shot is going to fly low and have lots of spin (i.e. “thin to win”). And that likewise, that shot you catch high in the face is going to fly high, come up short and have much less spin.
Tour professionals spend countless hours working to perfect their wedge impact point to be low on the face, a goal helped by the very tight-cut fairways they play. But for the rest of us playing higher-cut fairways, the ball is sitting up more and we are much more likely to catch the ball higher in the face, which—by design—causes the ball to fly higher and have less spin. Conventional wedges have as much as a 20 percent lower smash factor when impacted just half an inch above the “sweet spot.”
The fact is that consistent wedge distance control requires a consistent impact point, lower on the face. One way to try to improve in that regard is to focus your eyes on the forward edge of the ball when you are hitting any wedge shot, but particularly on full swing wedges. From a technique standpoint, your left (or lead) side must be more influential on these shots. In other words, try to make impact with your hands ahead of the clubhead. I’ll dive into that whole subject in a dedicated article soon.
I believe that this challenge of wedge play is aggravated by when and where the majority of you purchase your wedges—let me explain that reasoning.
The vast majority of you are playing relatively new wedges, with 36 percent having purchased them in the last year, and another 43 percent playing wedges that are 1-3 years old. That’s the good news—your wedges are relatively fresh. But now for the bad news.
Almost 45 percent of you said you purchased your wedges at a large off-course retailer, which means you most likely purchased wedges with a heavy, stiff steel shaft—but how does that compare to the shafts in your irons? Is it a match or even close? If not, I’ve learned that the wrong shaft is a huge factor in wedge play, as it creates a feel disconnect in prime scoring range. My experience is that, for most golfers, a thoughtful re-shafting of your wedges to produce the same weight and flex as in your irons will make a huge difference in your wedge-range performance.
This is getting a bit long so let me share another interesting takeaway from this survey, then leave you with another question to sound off about.
Less than 18 percent of you said your last purchase was of a different brand with the goal of improving your performance. I find that puzzling, as I’ll bet nearly 100 percent of you chose your last driver, putter or irons specifically with that goal in mind.
I can only take that to mean that you have relatively low expectations of improvement when you buy wedges—can you all share some thought with me to help me understand why that is?
Thanks, and I look forward to some lively dialog this week. I don’t chime in often to your comments, but I will this week if you want to have a discussion. Should be fun!
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