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Top 5 wedges of all time

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Wedges. They are the “trusted old friends” in our golf bags. They inspire confidence inside of 100 yards and help us get back on track when we hit a wayward approach.

There was a time not too long ago when a bunker was considered a true hazard, but over the last 80 years, as agronomy has evolved on the same trajectory as club an ball technology, wedges have changed a great deal along the way—from the first modern prototype wedge built by Gene Sarazen to clubs featuring various plating and coatings to increase spin and performance. There are a lot of wedge designs that have stood the test of time; their sole grinds, profiles from address, and performance bring back memories of great hole outs and recovery shots.

With so many variations of wedges in the history of golf (and so much parity), this is my top five list (in no particular order) of the most iconic wedges in golf history.

Original Gene Sarazen Wedge

An early Gene Sarazen wedge. (Photo: USGA)

Gene is famous for a lot of things: the career grand slam, the longest endorsement deal in professional sports history (75 years as a Wilson ambassador), the “shot heard around the world”, and as mentioned earlier—the creation of the modern sand wedge. Although not credited with the invention of the original  “sand wedge” he 100 percent created the modern wedge with a steel shaft and higher bounce. A creation that developed from soldering mass to the sole and flange of what would be our modern-day pitching wedge. Born from the idea of a plane wing, thanks to a trip taken with Howard Hughes, we can all thank Mr. Sarazen for the help with the short shots around the green.

Wilson R90

The next evolution of the original Sarazen Design, the Wilson R90 was the very first mass-marketed sand wedge. Its design characteristics can still be seen in the profile of some modern wedges. Although many might not be as familiar with the R90, you would almost certainly recognize the shape, since it was very often copied by other manufacturers, in their wedge lines.

The R90 features a very rounded profile, high amount of offset, and a great deal of bounce in the middle of the sole, with very little camber. Although not as versatile as modern wedges because of the reduced curve from heel to toe, the R90 is still a force to be reckoned with in the sand.

Cleveland 588

You know a name and design are classic when a company chooses to use the original notation more than 30 years after its initial release. The 588 was introduced as Cleveland’s fifth wedge design and came to market in 1988—which is how it got its name. Wedges were never the same after.

The brainchild of Roger Cleveland, the 588 was made from 8620 carbon steel—which patinad over time. Not unlike the Wilson before it, the 588 had a very traditional rounded shape with a higher toe and round leading edge. The other part of the design that created such versatility was the V-Sole (No, not the same as the Current Srixon), that offers a lot more heel relief to lower the leading edge as the face was opened up—this was the birth of the modern wedge grind.

Titleist Vokey Spin Milled

The wedge that launched the Vokey brand into the stratosphere. Spin-milled faces changed the way golfers look at face technology in their scoring clubs. From a humble club builder to a wedge guru, Bob Vokey has been around golf and the short game for a long time. The crazy thing about the Bob Vokey story is that it all started with one question: “who wants to lead the wedge team?” That was all it took to get him from shaping Titleist woods to working with the world’s best players to create high-performance short game tools.

Honorable mentions for design goes to the first 200 and 400 series wedge, which caught golfers’ eyes with their teardrop shape—much like the Cleveland 588 before it.

Ping Eye 2 Plus

What can you say? The unique wedge design that other OEMs continue to draw inspiration from it 30 years after its original conception. The Eye 2+ wedge was spawned from what is undoubtedly the most popular iron design of all time, which went through many iterations during its 10 years on the market—a lifecycle that is completely unheard of in today’s world of modern equipment.

A pre-worn sole, huge amount of heel and toe radius, and a face that screams “you can’t miss,” the true beauty comes from the way the hosel transitions into the head, which makes the club one of the most versatile of all time.

Check out my video below for more on why this wedge was so great.

Honorable mention: The Alien wedge

To this day, the Alien wedge is the number-one-selling single golf club of all time! Although I’m sure there aren’t a lot of people willing to admit to owning one, it did help a lot of golfer by simplifying the short game, especially bunker shots.

Its huge profile looked unorthodox, but by golly did it ever work! Designed to be played straight face and essentially slammed into the sand to help elevate the ball, the club did what it set out to do: get you out of the sand on the first try. You could say that it was inspired by the original Hogan “Sure-Out,” but along the way it has also inspired others to take up the baton in helping the regular high-handicap golfer get out of the sand—I’m looking at you XE1.

That’s my list, WRXers. What would you add? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Ryan Barath is a writer & the Digital Content Creation Lead for GolfWRX. He also hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on GolfWRX Radio discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club fitter & master club builder who has more than 16 years experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour professionals. He studied business and marketing at the Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop in Hamilton and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers, including True Temper. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, from course architecture to physics, and share his passion for club building, and wedge grinding.

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Buckeye

    Sep 14, 2019 at 7:56 am

    MacGregor “Dual Purpose” in the 50s-60s, with a groove in the center of the sole. You have to be of a certain age to have experienced it. And perhaps from Ohio. I’m sure Nicklaus would have had one.

  2. slypanther

    Sep 9, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    The announcers are ill informed of the history of golf club technology, the audio is C**P, I would rather read the content as I do not have an hour of time in a day to just sit down and try to understand the commentators. I view WRX less and less as you have forced the majority of new content onto these podcasts. If I do not see a shift back to print media, soon, I will cancel my subscription status and look to Golf Digest/Monthly/World for info I desire about the golf industry

  3. Dan W

    Sep 2, 2019 at 8:37 am

    Growing up, all “players” either had an eye 2 or the 588 and usually accompanied with mizuno blades, eye 2 irons, or DCI 762. The small tour prefereed TM woods, a copper anser or zing 2 putter and the loose bodied Ping bag with legs.

    My bag in high school:
    Tm tour preferred burner 7.5 and 15 deg
    Ping eye 2 beCu 2-pw
    588 56 deg
    Copper ping zing 2 putter
    That ping bag.
    Saddle foot joy with old school metal spinks
    Tour edition ball.

    Just typing this up gives me a thick fat nostalga sandwich to chew on. Good times. I would love to recreate the whole set, ball included and go play onc last time with them.

    • Tim Armington

      Sep 4, 2019 at 10:06 pm

      You just described me!!!!

    • Dan W

      Sep 8, 2019 at 2:21 am

      Unbelievable, my bag was exactly the same but originally I had the copper 588, then the RTG. Dynamic Gold s-300 in the woods. Pings had zz lites and were black dot bent by ping from orange because they were hand me downs from my short grandpa. Found the putter broken in half in the garbage can in front of the pro shop. Soaked it in coke , reshafted it with an x-100 wedge shaft and loads of lead tape on the bottom. Top 2 putters I ever used. I still can’t figure out how the Tour editon could spin like it did with the firm cover it had. Also for a while I wore Mizuno shoes with permanent ceramic spikes until one popped out of the shoe. Saddle FG shoes were always a no brainer. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  4. rex 235

    Aug 31, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    How could anyone ignore placing the Wilson Staff Dynapower Wedge series- 1957-1975 in the top 5?

    • steve

      Sep 9, 2019 at 11:07 am

      If this lists does not include the WS wedges and or joe powell JP wedges than don’t bother taking this serious,

  5. ChipNRun

    Aug 31, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Callaway Forged+ and XForged SW with C-grind stayed in golf bags for a long time; most got bumped out for competitive golfers who had to obey the 2010 grooves rule revision.

    https://www.callawaygolfpreowned.com/golf-clubs/wedges/wedges-x-forged-2008.html?cgid=wedges

  6. Webster Miller

    Aug 28, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    I’ve still got a BeCu R90 in the garage somewhere. That thing can dig divots like a backhoe. While the 588 is easily more popular, I always preferred the 485 for its smaller head. FWIW, there are 2 completely different 485 head shapes; one that is offset with a super wide sole, and then one that’s more traditional. The offset one is a chipping machine as you can just aim slightly behind the ball and let that wide sole due all the work.

  7. Larry

    Aug 25, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    No Wilson 58 Dynapower????

  8. James Awad

    Aug 25, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    No serious ‘top 10’ – never the less top 5 – list can POSSIBLY exclude the Hogan Sure Out.

    But by all means, put Cameron’s poor cousin Vokey & his standard issue copies of stuff – made out of crushed up Yugos & tin cans.

    Hack!

    • Darryl Souness

      Aug 26, 2019 at 2:51 am

      Crushed Yugos…. immense, I’ll borrow that if I may James.

  9. duke

    Aug 25, 2019 at 11:06 am

    My all time favorite is the 588. I still have one in the bag.

  10. P

    Aug 25, 2019 at 2:04 am

    TM EF Grooves. They never wear out. Still sharp after 3 years.

  11. Pelling

    Aug 24, 2019 at 10:52 pm

    The Cleveland VAS 792 PW clearly the most beautiful club ever made…

  12. HDTVMAN

    Aug 24, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    I had Ping Eye2 56° & 60° in the 80’s, and the lob allowed me to do perfect flop shots. Just bought the new 54° & 58° Ping 3.0 Glide Eye2’s this weekend…can’t wait to try them Monday!

  13. D

    Aug 24, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    Eye2 plus? The original square groove is the relevant club for this conversation. The plus was NOT well received.

    • Jamie

      Aug 25, 2019 at 10:19 am

      This.

    • Ed

      Aug 25, 2019 at 5:15 pm

      I agree. I thought for sure the original Eye 2 sand/lob wedges, which spawned all of the “high toe” wedges, would be the style profiled. Those are the best wedges I have ever used around the green.

    • Ditto

      Aug 28, 2019 at 1:14 pm

      The Eye 2 sole was FAR SUPERIOR to the Eye 2+ sole. The Eye 2+ Sole grind was horrible for the average player. Even Tour Pros favored the Eye 2 sole.

  14. Bob

    Aug 24, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    Hogan Sure Out was very popular, late 70’s early 80’s

  15. Tom54

    Aug 24, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    Anyone remember the Ram 3D wedge? Not sure if it was a pro model but it sure had a neat split sole design

  16. RAR

    Aug 24, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    I think someone overlooked the Wilson R-20, it was one of the first sand wedges to ‘copy’ Sarazen

  17. Andrew Millar

    Aug 24, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    Taylormade RAC TP

  18. AF

    Aug 24, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    SCOR changed the Wedge category with the V-Sole (double bounce) & weight higher up the back.. More importantly, making the case forever that cavity back wedges are counter productive at best.. As far as I’m concerned, any Iron 40 degrees & up should never have any cavity..
    I wish they had never been wiped away by Hogan..

    • D

      Aug 24, 2019 at 7:34 pm

      Scor wedges didn’t change anything. Crappy grind for 90%

    • Mark M

      Aug 24, 2019 at 10:54 pm

      Still playing SCOR wedges, best wedge I’ve ever used. But they’re getting very hard to find now.

    • Jonathan Weaver

      Sep 2, 2019 at 8:59 am

      wasnt scor a copy of the eidolon which was a copy of the Reid Lockhart?

  19. Mario B

    Aug 24, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Mizuno Raw Haze, Taylormade EF, Crews wedges

  20. Howard Clark

    Aug 24, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Hogan Special: best then; best now.

  21. Mark

    Aug 24, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Watson cobalt wedges were the ultimate wedges. Should have made this list.

  22. L.T. White

    Aug 24, 2019 at 10:17 am

    Spaulding bird back wedges from 50’s and 60’s

  23. Greg Templeton

    Aug 24, 2019 at 2:24 am

    Think the 588 released in 1988 had a shiny chrome finish until about 1996 when the Rad Tour Grind finish was offered as an option.

  24. Techvan4Life

    Aug 23, 2019 at 11:06 pm

    You are wrong about the cleveland wedge naming system ending at the 588. The 691 was wedge 6 in 1991 the 797 beni was number 7 in 1997. Number 8 never made to market and the 900 was number 9 in 2000.

    Then the system just got simple. Cg10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16

  25. Wedge Doctor

    Aug 23, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Historically and impact fully, I’m not sure anyone could argue with:
    1. The Sarazen Wedge
    2. The Staff Dynapower Wedges
    3. The Ping Eye 2 Square Groove
    4. The Cleveland 588
    5. The Vokey Spin Milled
    Virtually everything else came as a result of those wedges.

  26. Tim Vaughan

    Aug 23, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    Wilson staff dynapower 58-59, Nicklaus, Watson, chip in US Open Trevino and many more, should be Number 1

    • J Zilla

      Aug 24, 2019 at 2:23 am

      I don’t think mine is from 58-59 but a much later re-release, but I’ve had my Wilson Fluid-feel Dynapower since my earliest days golfing 30 years ago. I don’t play it anymore, but I always love taking it and looking at it. In fact I may even take it to the chipping green next time I go.

  27. Bruce

    Aug 23, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Console? Wilson Staff?

  28. Darth Blader

    Aug 23, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    CG14?

  29. Joe McManuis

    Aug 23, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    If not top 5 the Hogan Sure-out has to be # 6

    • Bob Jones

      Aug 24, 2019 at 3:04 pm

      Yes. From the bunker or the fairway it works great. And from tall grass, all that metal will not be denied.

  30. tom

    Aug 23, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    Eye 2+ over Eye 2 square groove?????????????????????????????????????????????

    • Joe

      Aug 24, 2019 at 4:00 pm

      That’s what I was thinking. The non+ are the ones I’ve always liked (and have in my bag).

  31. JB

    Aug 23, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Can’t believe the replaceable face TaylorMade wedge didn’t make the list… lol

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Opinion & Analysis

PGA Tour players on the rise and on the decline heading into 2020

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At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically quality indicators of a golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and these Cornerstones include:

  • Driving effectiveness
  • Red zone play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
  • Short game shots (from 10-20 yards)
  • Putting (5-15 feet)
  • Ball speed

All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.

This past season, there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.7 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be “on the rise.”

Players on the rise

*The following rankings are based out of 194 players

Joaquin Niemann

The young Chilean golfer reached every one of The 5 Cornerstones of the Game, but he made the least amount of FedEx points of any of the golfers that executed all of the Cornerstones.

This was due to Niemann’s early struggles with the putter. However, his putting improved significantly as the season went by.

The dotted black line in the chart represents Niemann’s trendline and that shows a strong upward trend in his putting performance.

Niemann ranked 107th in adjusted par-5 scoring average, and given his quality of ballstriking and distance off the tee, that should greatly improve. The projections are for him to win soon. If he can continue to improve his putting, particularly from 3-5 feet (he ranked 160th last season) he could be a multiple winner this upcoming season.

Sung Kang

Kang recorded his first victory at the Byron Nelson Championship but flew under the radar for most of the season. He also executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game.

Back in 2017, Kang almost executed The 5 Cornerstones, but I was lukewarm to putting him on the list of Players on the Rise as the one cornerstone he failed to reach was red zone play, and that’s too important of a metric to miss out on.

Kang struggled in the 2018 season, but his red zone play greatly improved. In the meantime, his driving greatly suffered. He continued to struggle with his driving early in the 2019 season but made great strides right around the Byron Nelson and ended the season ranked 80th in driving effectiveness. Meanwhile, his red zone play has continued to be strong, and he’s a sound short game performer from 10-20 yards and putter from 5-15 feet.

While I am a little more on the fence with Kang, given his putrid performance from the yellow zone and generally inconsistent play, his putting suffered from ranking 181st on putts from 25-plus feet. That is more likely to move towards the mean and greatly improve his putts gained next season. He’s also 32 years old, which is a prime age for Tour players hit their peak performance of their career.

Sepp Straka

Straka had a good rookie campaign striking the ball and was a competent putter. The only Cornerstone that Straka failed to execute was short game shots from 10-20 yards. However, we can see that as the season went by Straka’s short game improved

That’s also recognizing that short game around the green has a weaker correlation to success on Tour than most of the other Cornerstones like driving, red zone play and putting from 5-15 feet.

Straka should improve greatly on par-5’s (104th last season). He made a lot of birdies last year (25th in adjusted birdie rate), but made a ton of bogeys (155th). These numbers project well at tournaments that are birdie fests like Palm Springs or courses that are relatively easy on shots around the green such as Harbour Town.

Sam Ryder

Ryder only missed The 5 Cornerstones with a poor performance from 10-20 yards. He’s an excellent putter and iron-play performer, and that is usually the parts of the game that the eventual winners perform best from.

Wyndham Clark

 

One of the new metrics I’ve created is called “power-to-putting.” This is a combination of the player’s putts gained ranking and their adjusted driving distance ranking. Earlier this year I wrote an article here about where exactly distance helps with a golfer’s game. In essence, the longer off the tee a golfer is the more likely they will have shorter length birdie putts on average. That’s why long hitters like Bubba Watson can make a lot of money despite putting poorly and why shorter hitters like Brian Gay have to putt well in order to be successful.

The “honey pot” is for a golfer that hits it long and putts well. This means they will sink a ton of birdie putts because they are having easier putts to make and they have the requisite putting skill to make them.

Clark finished first in power-to-putting (Rory McIlroy finished second). On top of that, he was an excellent performer from 10-20 yards which is usually the last step in a long ball hitter becoming an elite performer. Clark’s iron play was very poor and that downgrades his chances of winning on Tour. But, with his length, putting, and short game, he can very well get four days of decent approach shot play and win handily.

Players on the decline

Charley Hoffman

Hoffman ranked 64th in FedEx points but was 139th in adjusted scoring average. Most of Hoffman’s metrics were not very good, but he was a superb performer from the yellow and red zone. The other concerning part of Hoffman is his age: He is at the point of his career that player performance tends to drop-off the most. He only made two of his last seven cuts this past season with the best finish of T51 at The Open Championship.

J.B. Holmes

Holmes finished 166th in adjusted scoring average and was greatly helped by having a favorable schedule as he ranked 21st in purse size per event. The best thing Holmes has going for him is his distance off the tee. He also had a good season around the green that helps long hitters like Holmes when they hit foul balls off the tee.

After that, Holmes did not do much of anything well. He was 179th in adjusted missed fairway–other percentage (aka hitting foul balls off the tee) and his putting was horrendous and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.

Patton Kizzire

Kizzire only made two of his last 11 cuts last season, and it’s easy to see why with his ballstriking struggles. It also doesn’t help that he was poor from 10-20 yards. He’s one of the elite putters on Tour, but elite putting only helps a player so much in the big leagues.

Phil Mickelson

The biggest positive for Mickelson is his newfound power that he exhibited last year. He will also play a favorable schedule as he ranked 16th in purse size per event and has lifetime exempt status on Tour.

For fantasy golf owners, I would be averse to picking Mickelson in the short term. The question with Lefty is if his newfound distance caused him issues with his iron play, short game and putting, or if that is just a temporary slump that once he works thru those issues with his newfound speed, he may be winning tournaments again. But at his age, history is not in his favor.

Francesco Molinari

Molinari turns 37-years-old in November. There’s still plenty of years for good golf, but Molnari’s lack of power and routine struggles with the putter means that he needs to have impeccable driving and iron play in order to be competitive in big tournaments and the majors. Last season he was an average driver of the ball and he was below average from the red zone.

The positive for Molinari is that he has typically been an impeccable ballstriker, so the issues in 2019 may have been a one-time slump. And while he putted poorly, he putted well from 5-15 feet. He ranked 184th on putts from 15-25 feet and 157th on putts from 25-plus feet, and those are more likely to progress towards the mean over time and help his overall putting.

But, Molinari has never been a great putter, and at his age, it will be very difficult to keep up with his impeccable ballstriking to get back to the winner’s circle.

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Bogey Golf

Bogey Golf: Can a club fitting get you to hit longer drives?

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Larry D interviews a club fitter and talks about his first club fitting. They go into detail about how the process can improve your game, even for higher handicap golfers.

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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The 19th Hole: Rory or Brooks?

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Host Michael Williams breaks down the Player of the year controversy in a must-listen open, and we give you a perfect destination for Fall Golf! Guests include acclaimed golf writer Adam Schupak and Giants Ridge Director of golf John Kendall.

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