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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 6: Trouble shots

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So here we are with the last part of this series on scoring range performance. I hope most of you have enjoyed this adventure into the part of the game that makes or breaks your rounds, most of the time. That is always my goal with this blog–to leave most of you with at least one tidbit of help that you can immediately incorporate into your game right away.

This last piece of the series is probably the hardest one to write about, as we can get presented with a practically endless variety of shots that fall outside the norm of “routine” irons shots, wedge shots, pitches, chips, and putts. That’s what makes this crazy game so baffling, frustrating, and alluring all at the same time.

So, it is an inevitable matter of fact that we are going to face shots every round that don’t fall into those normal situations. The good news is that I believe each one of those will require some variation on the basics of chipping, pitching or putting that we work on during every round. So, let’s dive into some of those situations.

Bunkers. I’m not going to try to explore bunker techniques here, as that is a subject to itself, on which thousands of words have been written and hours of video have been produced. I believe it is a good routine (if you have the opportunity) to hit a few bunker shots before you go to the golf course for each round, as bunker shots can help set the pace and tempo routine of your swing for the entire round. I will also offer that becoming proficient from the bunkers requires a combination of the right bounce in your wedges for the sand you face, and a technique that you trust, so that you can make confident swings. And practice—lots of practice—is just unavoidable if you want to become a proficient bunker player.

Odd lies. We are going to face uphill, downhill and a variety of sidehill lies around the greens—that’s just a fact. To me, the first challenge of these shots is to not let the lie distort your alignment and ball position, which it will most certainly do. So, when you are faced with one of these shots, spend a bit more attention and focus on your set up alignment and posture and the ball position that is being “forced” on you by the lie. In general terms, an uphill lie will cause you to put the ball a bit further forward, and a downhill lie will place it further back. The key is to have the ball in the right relation to your body core, not your feet, as that will determine the bottom of the swing arc. Generally speaking, your downhill foot will be further from the ball than with a level shot, the body’s way of achieving balance. Likewise, sidehill lies will generally distort your aim right if the ball is above your feet and left if it is below. Again, these are generalities, but pretty common distortions.

Low runners. When you find yourself unable to hit a lofted pitch, you have to resort to the low running shot, one that we probably do not practice much, if at all. Because of that, I believe the best solution is to let the club do the work of keeping the ball low and running, and do not try to “invent” some technique that you have not practiced. It is amazing how simple it is to put a 5-iron in your hand instead of a wedge and then just execute a basic pitch or chip swing with the ball a bit further back to keep the ball low and running.

High lob shots. There are times when you simply have to get the ball up quickly and hopefully have it stop equally quickly. Again, I am always in favor of simplicity to hit the out-of-the-ordinary shots, and the simple way to get the ball up quicker and stopping shorter is to take a club with more loft than you would choose otherwise, and execute your familiar confident technique. And you can always add even more loft by opening the face a bit, but be sure to aim further left (for right-handed players) when you do this.

Practice these shots. I know that is a boring idea, but you cannot expect to be able to execute shots you have not practiced. You probably go to the range to hit a few balls to warm up before a round, even if you are not a “range rat” that loves to practice. If so, I promote ending each pre-round session with a dozen or so chips and pitches to work on your tempo and execution. If you can, even give yourself some tougher shots to practice.

A very wise teaching pro once told me that if you end your warm-up session with some chips or pitches, then the first one you face in the round will allow you to draw on very recent “muscle memory.” It also helps to slow down your tempo from the drivers you probably were just smashing in anticipation of the opening tee shot. I’ve followed that advice since I heard that from him.

So, that concludes my high-level dive into scoring range performance. I hope you all got at least a few things out of these past six weeks that will help you improve your enjoyment and scoring on the course. If you have ideas or questions about things related to scoring or the tools we choose to play this crazy game, please drop me an email at Terry@TheWedgeGuy.com.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

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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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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Sam Bettinardi

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with EVP of Bettinardi Golf, Sam Bettinardi. They discuss coming up as Bob’s son, the growth of the company, and why Bettinardi continues to be at the top of the putter conversations.

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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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Sounding off on your favorite golf pet peeves!

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Steve and Knudson weigh in on your favorite golf pet peeves. From not fixing ball marks, to slow play, to guys telling you “good shot” when you make a quad! Knudson shot a 33 in his league and still thinks he isn’t a sandbagger.

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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19th Hole

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