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The Wedge Guy: Do you know why you miss short?

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One of the facts revealed from our recent GolfWRX/Wedge Guy survey is that your wedge shot misses tend to end up short five times more than they do long. This really wasn’t surprising to me, in that every one of my prior research projects into golfers and their wedge play for the past 20-plus years has revealed the exact same thing.

The good news is that it’s not your fault!

That’s right, the fact is that all “tour-style” wedges have a very volatile smash factor as impact is moved around the face, especially on those high face impacts we all know. You feel it as soon as you make contact…the ball is hit high on the face or toward the toe and before you even look up you know it’s going to be short of the flag. Sometimes woefully short, ending up in the bunker, water or short of the green.

I know this, because for years I have put market-leading wedges on Iron Byron with the most respected independent research facility in the game. In all these tests, the operator has complete control over all swing variables – clubhead speed, angle of approach, shaft forward lean at impact, and point of impact on the face. The robot doesn’t miss, and the launch monitors don’t lie.

What I’ve learned from all this testing over the past 20-plus years is that “tour-style” wedges are much less forgiving than even the most traditional muscle-back blade 9-iron. And that these wedges really haven’t changed much in their impact/smash factor volatility in decades.

Shots hit low on the face always fly lower and go a slight bit longer, and have much more spin. We’ve all heard the old adage, “thin to win”, right? But those hit even 1/2 inch higher than the optimum “sweet spot” will launch 3-5 degrees higher, lose up to 60% of their spin and 15-20% of the smash factor. So what does that mean to you?

A miss of only one-half inch high in the face on a 90-yard wedge shot can cost you up to fifty feet or more in carry distance and 2-3,000 rpms in spin. [NOTE: I’ve always thought that was unacceptable, so my entire wedge design career has been spent making the top half of the blade thicker and thicker, more than any other wedges from any other company.]

What is most important to understand is that elite tour players–with their extraordinary skills and talents honed by thousands of hours of practice–actually use this smash factor volatility to their advantage. One of the ways they hit all these remarkable shots with their wedges is that they intentionally hit the ball a little higher or lower on the clubface, or maybe a bit out toward the toe or heel, in order to alter the launch angle, energy transfer and/or spin. Trust me, guys, these top-tier professionals have all the shots and are borderline magical on what they do around the greens. The very best of us recreational players are not even close.

Also, understand that they play more closely-cropped fairways than we do, so it is much easier for them to routinely make contact low on the face, where launch, distance and spin are all maximized.

The rest of us, however, have not spent countless hours perfecting our wedge contact to that degree. We play fairways that are not cut nearly as close so the ball sits up a bit higher, and we might even bump the ball to give ourselves a preferred lie (yes, recreational golfers are not nearly as committed to “play it as it lies” as you might think). As a result, we ordinarily make contact with our best wedge shots 2-3 grooves higher than the typical tour professional. And we miss that perfect sweet spot much more often than they do.

That said, nearly every week, you can hear a television announcer go in on a close up of a wedge shot that came up short and comment, “You can see he made contact a bit high on the face there,” or something similar.

So, what can you do about this? Well, short of spending thousands of hours of practice, you can do a couple of things that might help.

One, on every wedge shot you face from full swing to short shots around the greens, focus on the leading edge of the ball–the side toward the flag. This will help you sharpen your contact and be more likely to make impact lower on the face to improve launch angle, distance and spin. Of course, that doesn’t apply to bunker shots or other flop shots where you are trying for a higher launch and softer landing.

Secondly, I strongly suggest you experiment hitting shorter wedges shots with a stronger loft, say your 54 or 56 instead of your 58 or 60. The simple geometry of wedges is that the higher the loft, the more likely you are to make contact higher on the face than what is “perfect”. My bet is that you will be surprised that you will not necessarily lose spin by “lofting down” on your less-than-full wedge shots, and you might even get more.

Of course, you can only do so much to counter the effect of the club design itself.

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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, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. 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.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Ty Webb

    Oct 24, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    I read an article by Vokey once where he talked about bounce being important as well, the higher the bounce the lower on the face ball contact is made typically. I think Rory was who was being discussed. Rory had been playing a Vokey 48.06 bounce but was losing distance because the impact was higher on the face. He went to the 48.10 version and got the proper distance back.

  2. Reid Thompson

    Oct 22, 2019 at 10:57 am

    This is dead on. Get a gap wedge fit to your iron set. Best thing I ever did.

  3. dave

    Oct 9, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    Larry, if this is true (and it seems to be consistent with my own experience, at least), what should those of us with less-than-pro ball striking abilities (i.e., 99.9% of us) be looking for in a wedge design? Any recommendations on specific makes and models?

  4. Greg

    Oct 8, 2019 at 10:06 pm

    Terry, finally! You could have continued two more paragraphs on the advantages of proper ball striking. However, yes thin to win = lower on the face.

  5. ChipNRun

    Oct 8, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    The Hogan wedges and the Vokeys starting with SM6 have tried to design a correction factor into the heads. The as you move from PW up through LW, you have progressively higher Vertical Center of Gravity to lessen chances of ballooning on high-face hits.

    Another factor leading to high-face hits involves hitting wedges out of moderately thick rough or more. The golfer who weight well more than 100 pounds often sinks down do dirt level with his feet. The ball, however, only weighs a few ounces, and likely floats a quarter to half-inch above the dirt in the grass. (The float varies by turf grass; less float in bluegrass) So, this means the golfer is set up with his leading edge to hit about groove 5 or 6 on the face, leading to a lazy floater.

    The trick is to choke down on your wedge… this will raise the leading edge and increase chances of a “groove 2” hit.

  6. Deedern

    Oct 8, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Interesting that when Koehler restarted Ben Hogan Golf they had the TK wedge that was built in the mold described, more mass higher and behind the full club face.

    The other interesting note, as I just watched Lee6 come up woefully short on a chip with a 60, the old guys of yesteryear had it right. Use a club with just enough loft to get the ball onto the green and rolling. Could be anything from a 60* to a five iron. But that seems to be rarely taught. Instead the “simpler” technique is to change your swing and use one club for the majority of pitches and chips. Perhaps simpler from a club selection standpoint but not as effective in most cases.

  7. larrybud

    Oct 8, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    So can we just throw some lead tape up the face a bit to counteract this?

    • Shallowface

      Oct 8, 2019 at 1:37 pm

      You can’t apply enough lead tape to make a measureable difference without making the club so heavy it would be unplayable. A strip or two of lead tape might tweak swingweight but it does next to nothing to alter the center of gravity.

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Urban Golf Performance owner Mac Todd

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Fujikura, Johnny chats again with his old pal Mac Todd Owner and Operator of Urban Golf Performance in Los Angeles. They cover the growth of the business, what the new Club member experience may look like and much much more.

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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The Gear Dive WITB Edition: Adam Scott

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In this WITB edition of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with JJ VanWezenbeeck and Aaron Dill of Titleist Golf on the ins and outs of Genesis Invitational Champion Adam Scott’s setup.

Adam Scott WITB details below

Driver: Titleist TS4 (10.5 degrees, A1 SureFit setting, 2-gram weight)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Kuro Kage XTS 80 X

  • Scott put the Kuro Kage in play this week. Per Titleist’s J.J. VanWezenbeeck, “Adam Scott switched to the TS4 driver at the ZoZo Championship due to head size, shape, and improved launch to spin ratios. This week, after discussions with Adam, he went to a shaft he had previously played for increased stability. He felt the shaft went a little far and he lost head feel. We went on course with lead tape to get the feels to match up then weighted the head to preferred swing weight after testing.”

3-wood: Titleist TS2 (16.5 degrees, A1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Fujikura Rombax P95 X

Irons: Titleist 716 T-MB (3-iron), Titleist 680 (4-9 irons)
Shafts: KBS Tour 130 X

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (48.08F, 52.08F, 56.10S), Vokey Design SM8 WedgeWorks (60.06K)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold AMT Tour Issue X100

Putter: Scotty Cameron Xperimental Prototype Rev X11 (long)

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Scott marks his ball with dots in the pattern of the Southern Cross, which is featured on the Australian flag.

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet

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