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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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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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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.

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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.

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