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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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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 Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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