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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, 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.

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

Honoring our heroes with golf

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Mr. Parsons’ military service and the impact it made on his life is the foundation of the PXG brand. In my time with Bob, I am always excited to get into this topic because of how much passion he has for it. If you watch the initial video of this series, he goes in-depth as to just how much his service changed his life.

PXG Heroes is an extension of Mr. Parsons’ appreciation for that time and one of the many ways he is giving back to veterans and first responders. Led by 26-year Marine Corps veteran Kevin Hudson, the program has put PXG clubs in the hands of over 16,000 military veterans and first responders. This gesture has created a community of PXG Troops across the country, and in many cases brought some of our heroes back from PTSD and the challenges that our men and woman of the armed forces face upon coming home to civilian life. Truth be told, I don’t believe its the discounted clubs that are the headliner here or the ultimate difference-maker into a veterans recovery, it’s the community that is created around it and the promotion of a game that does have healing powers.

In addition to the PXG For Heroes program, the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation has also raised more than 100 million dollars for the Semper Fi Fund, in an annual Double Down For Veterans match campaign. The Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund help provide urgently needed resources for combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

Through December 31, 2019, the Foundation will once again match donations to the Semper Fi Fund–up to $10 million–with the goal of raising $20 million to continue providing vital assistance to our service members and their families.

I’ll let Kevin explain the rest to you in the video as I won’t do it justice, but I will leave you with this: In true Bob Parsons style, he dug in deep on this initiative, and of all the things we ever discuss, this topic is the one that really gets him going. It’s who he is, was, and what he wants PXG to stand for as a brand.

Enjoy the video.

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Bogey Golf

Bogey Golf: The greatness of Tiger Woods

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Larry, Pat, and new show guest Elayna talk about the career of Tiger Woods. His greatest wins, records, and shots. We then compare him to other great athletes. It’s a show befitting the greatest golfer in the world!

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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Opinion & Analysis

The sole Team USA coach: Azinger

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In all the years that I have followed Team USA in the Presidents and Ryder Cups, I’ve seen evidence of one coach: Paul Azinger. I’ll circle around to him in a bit.

Does anyone recall that the basis for these matches is the friendly exhibition? They don’t hold the key to anyone’s fiefdom, nor does the winner earn the right to rule over the loser. Let the golfers have at each other, but consider which golfers they are.

Consider the honor of carrying your country’s (or your union’s) colors. That’s a keeper for a lifetime. I’ve been in pro shops where, decades prior, the aging pro had competed for the USA side. How honored he was to display his team bag. Kevin Na, Kevin Kisner, among others, may never have that honor. They deserve to have it, as do many others.

Consider the honor of leading your side into the matches. Why should any captain have more than one opportunity at this? Thanks to the short-sighted decisions of ruling bodies, Larry Nelson and Sandy Lyle will never captain a team. They deserved to do just that.

Let’s circle back to Azinger for a moment. Remember what word he introduced into our lexicon? Pods. He divided 12 golfers evenly among three pods, and those golfers practiced and competed with only the members of the pod. Azinger put the team, the whole, above the individual. His team won, and did so in proper fashion. It was no War by the Shore (is there a shore in Kentucky?) and the team looked for all appearances, like it was having a great time. Nick Faldo and his side were helpless.

Remember how intense Captain Seve was? I loved that guy, but that was dumb. He was a captain, and he should have acted like a captain, like a coach. Instead, there he was, inserting himself into every situation, trying to intimidate. His guys still would have played great for him; they didn’t need the over-coaching.

I have to thank Captain Tiger for selecting Gary Woodland and not Rickie Fowler. Again, I like Fowler, but he doesn’t close the deal. Woodland earned his shot with his U.S. Open win. He never would have made a squad, because he’s not part of the clique. The Reed selection mystifies me; sure, Captain America has had great moments while bathed in the R, W, and B, but he hasn’t had many moments of late. Why not Na? Why not Kisner?

Don’t get me started on Tony Finau. All right, get me started. One tour win. A miraculous defeat of Tommy Fleetwood when the Ryder Cup was already lost. This is not a guy at the top of anyone’s list, and yet, there he is, selected by Captain Tiger. Utterly ridiculous. Not on form. If Finau and Reed win four points between the two of them, you shall color me astonished.

Steve Stricker remembers what it was like to drop off the face of the earth as a touring pro. I’m certain it happened to him twice. As the captain of Team USA Ryder Cup 2020, I hope that he remembers how fortunate he was to play on Ryder and Presidents Cup sides, and that he gives a guy on the edge, an outsider, a shot at something that will honor his family for generations to come.

I remember the Dream Team, that astonishing collection of USA ball players who annihilated the world. Have you seen Team USA lately? They don’t always win gold, or even silver, but the diversity of players is sizable. Guys who will always have a team jersey, the right to say that they represented their country.

Golf is so behind the times.

It’s just a game. We will still tune in, the ruling bodies will still claim their cash, the golfers will continue to eschew hunting trips in order to play in the matches. But the captain ought to be a coach and give some other guys a chance.

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