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The Wedge Guy: Some things that make me go “hmm…”

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As you might imagine, playing golf as long as I can remember–and then tacking onto that passion 40 years in the golf equipment industry–has given me a broad perspective on the evolution of golf clubs and the game we play. And those six decades of observation and experience have not yielded a shortage of things that make me scratch my head and just wonder…wonder why that is?

Of course, beginning golf in the 1950s and developing into a pretty good teenage golfer in the 1960s meant that I learned with persimmon woods and forged blade irons—that’s all there were back then. As I entered the golf industry in the late 1970s, I was blessed to do marketing work for Joe Powell, who was a total maestro when it came to crafting the finest persimmon woods. That was before the introduction of the TaylorMade metal woods, so everyone played persimmon. I learned a lot about golf club performance from Joe; for example, you wouldn’t know that he was frequency-sorting shafts before anyone was commercially offering “frequency matching.” Joe just saw it as a way to eliminate a variable in the golf club.

Over those 40 years in the golf equipment industry, I have observed the evolution of all our clubs from those earlier “states of the art.” No one then would have imagined the technology we now see in drivers, irons, putters, shafts…but all that technology leaves me scratching my head all too often; I would like to share just a few of those puzzling observations and get your take on them, OK?

What really makes today’s drivers so much longer?

It is impossible to isolate any single technology and how much it affects driving distance. Since those days of persimmon, we have had quantum leaps in shaft technology, heads have gotten nearly three times the size in volume, we have pushed perimeter weighting to the max, and we have faces of exotic metals that act like trampolines. While all of those things have contributed to the distance gains, as far as the driver is concerned, my take is that it mostly boils down to two primary things.

  1. Drivers are at least two–and up to three-plus ounces–lighter than they were back then; that’s a weight reduction of 15-25 percent, so of course, we can swing them faster…and clubhead speed makes the ball go further.
  2. We all swing harder than ever before because the penalty for an off-center hit has been reduced dramatically. In my opinion, all the other technologies only tweak the effect of these two advancements. What do you all think?

What is the deal with “matched sets” of irons?

From the advent of “matched sets” in the 1920s (a development pushed by Bobby Jones), irons have been designed so that the lowest-lofted 2-iron (now 3 or 4) through the highest loft club marked ‘P’ or ‘W’ all look alike. That’s always puzzled me because the impact dynamics of a 25-degree iron are radically different from those of a 45-degree iron.

Only recently have manufacturers begun to mildly modify the mass distribution through the set to give higher launch angles to the long irons and lower trajectories to the short irons, but when will they take this to the optimum and break the chains that bind–the restriction that all the irons in a set must look alike? [NOTE: I know that mixed sets have been offered and failed, so maybe it’s us golfers that won’t let them do that.]

About those adjustable drivers/fairways…

The advent of the adjustability device has completely taken over the driver category. There are very few sold today that are not adjustable, and there are a myriad of devices and principles espoused by the various manufacturers. But I’ve always been puzzled by one very important aspect of this. It would seem to me that to be truly “tweakable,” the driver shaft would have to perform in an identical fashion regardless of the position to which it has been rotated.

But we know that even the finest graphite shafts are not completely straight, completely round or completely symmetrical in flex performance. The fact is that, at 100-plus mph, the driver shaft is exhibiting a lot of split-second dynamics, and those can change depending on the orientation of the shaft into the clubhead. That’s why we have the concepts of “spine-ing” shafts and even more sophisticated “Pure-ing.” The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know about any specific shaft. I’ll leave the rest of this conundrum to your own head-scratching.

Forged blade irons vs. mainstream wedges

Being a wedge junkie, this one puzzles me the most. Statistics indicate less than two percent of all golfers game a true single-piece forged blade iron (but a large percentage of tour players still favor them).

I’ve heard all the reasons…

“The thin top line is intimidating.”
“I can’t get the ball flight I need from the lower lofts.”
“I’m not good enough to play these.”
“They are not forgiving enough.”
“Blah. Blah. Blah.”

But yet 95 percent or more of all wedges sold are of the same design favored by the tour players. Single piece cast or forged designs…just like tour blade irons. Heavy and stiff steel shafts…just like tour blade irons. I can’t make sense of that, but with very few exceptions, that’s all the industry gives us, isn’t it?

Let me share a little secret that no one will tell you. On an “Iron Byron” swing robot, a tour blade 9-iron is much more forgiving of mishits than any of the current mainstream wedges.

Does that make any sense at all?

I think I might have just opened a can of worms, and we can spend lots of time talking about this, I’m sure. And we probably should. Please sound off with your comments on this first handful of topics, and let’s tackle some more.

What makes you go “hmm…”?

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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.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Greg

    Aug 21, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Terry

    The Iron Byron info related to single piece blades is telling.
    But i play the Ft Worth 15 and TH/SCOR wedges.
    So I agree with you

  2. GMFlash

    Aug 17, 2019 at 8:01 am

    Terry –

    In addition Rob’s comment above regarding momentum is true, and the fact that Cleveland Srixon makes their clubs heavier to increase swing MOI in many of their designs also helps create greater distance. In a regular cast cavity back the Z-355 irons are my longest to date and the 355 Driver the straightest. In other drivers I have I have added weight until my swing speed goes down – this gives me maximum momentum for my ability.

  3. GMFlash

    Aug 17, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Terry –
    Appreciate the article. Started to take golf seriously about 20 years ago at age 45. From the beginning I read and was told that I could not play forged irons, even though they looked and felt the best to me when demo-ing them at my local Golfsmith. I immediately began to try them all. The problem I found was not the head but finding such “better player” clubs with softer than usual flex shafts that worked for me was really difficult. So I got into club making and mixed and matched shafts that worked with various forged sets, and found I played just as well with those sets, and enjoyed the game more with forged clubs (cavity muscle backs mostly). Presently however I use forged clubs from the 6 or seven iron down – distance comes from hybrids now.

    But one of the biggest developments in club design for me was the implementation of the V-sole (TK invention) which I have on my collection of Cleveland /Srixon clubs (Cleveland CBX, Z-565, Z-765, and Z-355). I shoot my lowest scores with these and am convinced that it is because the way the v-sole interacts with the turf that keeps my clubbed speed up and along the target line. My success with these led me to purchase a set of used SCOR 4161 wedges (42, 47, 51, 55, 61) that have the first V-sole. Despite the small head I am amazed how these clubs always seem to be right on the pin, and go the distance I intend. And they weren’t even fitted to me. So I use the V-sole through my entire set and this design really works. Finally, at least with the scoring irons (6-wedge) my distance with cast cavity backs and forged clubs is virtually the same given the same loft. I am, most of the time on the center of the face.

    My most recent experiment is with hollow hybrid like irons with which I have not had success and never liked the feel, sound or turf interaction until I discovered the Tour Edge CB Proh irons. Forged face hollow with a V-like sole in the 3-7 iron, these perform for me especially with the stock fujikura fuel reg. flex shaft. I never like the fat soles of hybrid irons, but these get through the turf very smoothly and as with the other v-sole clubs are more along the my target line than other clubs I’ve tried – and the distances are consistent too.

    So – the v-sole is really works in CBX, RTX-3, RTX-4, SCOR 4161. And in my experience mid handicap plays like myself can indeed play with forged clubs provided other parts of the club equation are in place for their swing dynamics.

  4. Ed james

    Aug 16, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    If one sets his adjustable club for a certain bias, wouldn’t it be a) more difficult to work the shot in the direction opposite the bias, and b) exacerbate a miss in the same direction as the bias?

  5. Skip

    Aug 14, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    He actually thinks Puring matters. LOL.

    • Rob

      Aug 14, 2019 at 8:59 pm

      Makes great sense to me, and agree 100% with the wedge comment vs. the forged 9-iron. I play blades with confidence but struggle with my wedge play. What I get is I need more wedge/short game practice time. Very, very good news to know. Many thanks. Have not heard this comment from a professional instructor or club fitter to date.

  6. whatevs

    Aug 14, 2019 at 7:42 am

    I’m still wondering why this dude has a sopabox to preach from. He’s killed every company he started, often soon after it starts, and knows so little about equipment he thinks spine and flow still matter when they haven’t been anything other than snake oil for 10 years.

  7. Nomad Golfer

    Aug 14, 2019 at 7:20 am

    It was good to see Ben Hogan clubs come back into the industry, I only have one BH club and that is a forged 47* Apex Plus ‘E’ along with a Lovett LW which covers all the pitching and sand ploughing I need. Golf in the seventies with the smaller rubber wound balls and wooden clubs was a lot different from today.. When you bought a medium priced set of clubs (like Spalding) the highest loft was the 9 iron and you bought the PW and SW separately, how things have changed.

    • Bob Jones

      Aug 14, 2019 at 3:20 pm

      Ben Hogan clubs have never left. Go to eBay, buy a set of Red Line irons, and have them retro-fitted.

  8. Charles Knox

    Aug 13, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Terry, that was a phenomenal piece. The secret re: Iron Byron and a tour 9 iron versus wedge absolutely blew me away. At my very best, I played to a plus 3.4. Played two years of mini tour golf and put 198,000 miles on a Honda Prelude, playing across North America. Today, I don’t even keep score. But all of the posts I read today, the clubs sold by players here, many soft and hard stepped, spined or pured, blah, blah, blah, blah… Leads me to wonder: How is the NGF SO WRONG about quality of play in 2019. Considering the equipment, EVERYONE must be a scratch player or better ????

  9. John B

    Aug 13, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    I grew up with a P and an S club and was a very good wedge player not knowing loft, bounce, grind or lie angle. We just bought those clubs stamped P and S and learned how to use them. I’m not sure I am a better wedge player today.

  10. Rob

    Aug 13, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    Is it really so simple as to say more speed equals more distance? The physics of the club/ball interaction is elastic collision, which means momentum is what matters. Momentum is mass x velocity. More mass or more velocity equals more momentum, but if you change both variables in opposite ways, you can’t say for sure what happens to momentum.

    • Brent Anderson

      Aug 14, 2019 at 3:18 pm

      This right here.

    • CJB

      Aug 16, 2019 at 5:34 am

      I would like to see more discussion about this. I tried discussing it once with our club pro but he sort of dismissed it.

      I believe the benefits of a heavier club have been overlooked by manufacturers. Heavier heads give more feedback and feeling during the swing and I feel that they are easier to swing on a natural plane. Plus the extra mass must be good at impact – getting hit by a bus at 30mph will know you a lot further than being hit a 30mph by a go cart – I think! or am I wrong?

  11. ALAN L STEIN

    Aug 13, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    That’s my old Palmer Peerless persimmon driver!

  12. Curtis

    Aug 13, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    I’ll never respect pros till clubs and golf balls get rolled back. Personally I think the equipment does to much work for them. Swing accuracy should matter more. They are very spoiled these days.

    • NRJyzr

      Aug 13, 2019 at 4:05 pm

      The golf ball has been regulated for decades, since the original ODS was implemented. And, the ball was actually rolled back a bit when the new test protocols were introduced.

      The golf balls aren’t the problem.

    • Doug Dobney

      Aug 13, 2019 at 4:16 pm

      Oh noes the best golfers in the world don’t have Curtis’ respect. How will they go on?

    • Nomad Golfer

      Aug 14, 2019 at 7:25 am

      But even with all the modern tech they spray their tee shots every which way in pursuit of distance. I prefer to stay on the fairway.

      • whatevs

        Aug 14, 2019 at 7:40 am

        Of course you prefer it because you can’t hit it as far as them

        • Nils Nelson

          Aug 14, 2019 at 4:20 pm

          Switch to decaf, perhaps?

          • John L Wullkotte

            Aug 18, 2019 at 8:11 am

            You tell em Nils. There is nothing prettier than a custom made persimmon driver made by you know who.

      • Mike

        Aug 16, 2019 at 1:18 pm

        Have you been to a tour event before and saw them “spray it”? I’d love to have their “spray” shots. When you swing it 125MPH a degree or two off is a lot larger miss than when you’re swinging it 95MPH.

        If you’re playing a 7200 yard course first things first. You have to be long enough to play the course regardless of hitting a fairway. “I can stop my 9 iron out of the rough faster than you can stop your 6 iron from the fairway” -B Koepka

  13. Fitz

    Aug 13, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    What makes me go Hmmm?

    That one of the finest wedge and iron designers in the world isn’t producing wedges and irons for the marketplace.

  14. Juststeve

    Aug 13, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    What makes the ball go so much further is the ball. Modern drivers contribute but the biggest factor is the modern ball. It was when Nike then Titleist introduced the solid multi-layer ball that driving distances shot up.

    • NRJyzr

      Aug 13, 2019 at 4:10 pm

      Strata was the first solid core multilayer ball. Bridgestone was in there ahead of Nike, also.

      Driving distance change from the solid core ball was all of 5.5 yards. There was a bigger spike due to the mass move to 400cc+ drivers, and launch monitor introduction, a couple years later.

  15. Reid Thompson

    Aug 13, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Here’s one. Why do they say hit it on the screws when the screws were never in the middle?

    • Ben Hargraves

      Aug 14, 2019 at 7:44 am

      It’s actually the sweet spot, all part of the gear effect. That’s why persimmon woods are so workable

      • Robert Coggins

        Aug 14, 2019 at 3:08 pm

        Golf today is a farce, golf should have been baseball, make the pros play with wood.

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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The Gear Dive: Akshay Bhatia

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist Golf, Johnny chats with rookie phenom and Walker Cup Player Akshay Bhatia.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Host Ryan Barath takes a long look back at the lineage of club designs from putters to drivers, and explains why we often see trends repeat themselves. From the eureka moments to modern-day manufacturing techniques that allow for continuous breakthroughs in forgiveness and overall performance. We try and cover it all on the show!

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