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Can’t get up and down? It might be a sole problem

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Titleist Bob Vokey

It’s not me; it’s the club.

Make that claim in front of experienced golfers and they’ll shy away from conversation with you for a while. That’s because they’ve learned one of golf’s hardest truths – golfers, not golf clubs, cause bad shots.

For the most part, I’ve been in agreement them. Sure, a properly fit driver can result in more yards and more accuracy. And a more forgiving set of irons will be… well, more forgiving. Such improvements can lead to slightly lower scores and more fun, but they’re changes that aren’t going to take a golfer to the next level. That’s because substantial improvement comes from practice, not product, right?

After talking to renowned wedge designer Bob Vokey and going through a wedge fitting at the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, Calif., I was forced to reconsider. I learned that choosing the right wedge is about more than filling in distance gaps – it’s about finding one with the proper sole design. And selecting the right sole can be the difference between chunking pitches and pitching it to a few feet from the cup.

According to Vokey, the sole is the engine of a wedge. If a golfer hopes to play their best, they have to use a wedge with a sole configuration that matches their style of play. This is especially important for a golfer’s lob wedge, the most specialized wedge in a golfer’s bag.

“A large part of the game is working with the player and getting feedback,” Vokey said. “Early in my career, my strength was knowing what the tour liked. I built trusting relationships with each player and that’s what it takes. They’d say, ‘Voke, you know what I want. Make me what I want.’”

When Vokey first opened a business as a custom clubmaker in 1976, sole configurations (also known as grinds) were much more limited than they are now, especially to the general public. But through the years, wedges have evolved from “get out of jail clubs” — designs that helped golfers escape bunkers and rough — to scoring tools that give golfers the green light to play a variety of shots from the fairway, rough, bunkers or wherever else their ball ends up.

Vokey gained expertise building equipment for some of the game’s best, such as Lee Trevino and Dave Stockton. After stints with TaylorMade and Founders Club, Vokey joined Titleist in 1996. His first project with the company was as a design assistant for the 975D driver. But his attention to detail and rapport with tour players made him a natural choice to lead Titleist’s wedge department. His sole focus became wedge design, which he mastered through his tinkering with tour players.

“That’s how all these grind came about,” Vokey said. “Working with tour players and getting the right grind for their particular technique.”

 
Gold-plated replicas of the Vokey wedges that were used to win major championships.

One of the most important aspects of a wedge’s grind is the bounce angle, which simply put is the measurement of how far the leading edge of a wedge sits off the ground. More bounce means the leading edge rests higher off the ground at address, and less bounce means the leading edge is closer to the ground. Bounce is impacted by several factors such as camber (the curvature of the sole) and sole relief (the shaping of the trailing edge), which makes it complicated to measure. But Vokey made the function of bounce easy to understand:

“The idea of bounce is to let the trailing edge hit and keep going forward.”

Good wedge players have mechanics that allow them to use wedges properly. They know how to use the bounce, which leads to more consistent wedge play because it prohibits the club from digging. Vokey has found that most regular golfers are not so skilled with their wedges. They don’t know how to use the bounce of a wedge, which leads to digging. That’s why more bounce is often better for them.

“There are more positives to a little more bounce than there are negatives,” Vokey said.

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment” forum. 

Wedge fitting at TPI


Zak Kozuchowksi being fit for wedges by Kurt Donahoo at Titleist’s Oceanside Test Facility

After my interview with Bob Vokey, I headed to TPI Oceanside for a wedge fitting with Kurt Donahoo, a Class A PGA Professional with more than a decade of club fitting experience at TPI. There, the entire line of Vokey wedges was available for me to test with shafts and lengths I liked. And thanks to an outdoor loft/lie machine, there was no guessing involved. The lofts and lies were dialed in, and I hit all shots with my preferred golf ball.

After I warmed up, Donahoo started by having me hit full shots using a 50-degree wedge with 8 degrees of bounce and my favorite shaft to a flag 125 yards away. After a few swings, he changed my target to a flag that was 65 yards away. As I was hitting the less-than-full shots at the new target, Donahoo directed my attention to the large divots I was making. Then he put a 50-degree wedge with 12 degrees of bounce in my hands and told me to hit the same shot. I was pleased to see my divots become significantly shallower.

“You’re always going to be pretty shallow on your full swings, so the bounce doesn’t matter as much,” Donahoo said. “But on your less-than-full swings, you get steeper, so you need more bounce.”

Donahoo was right. I’ve often been the victim of a good drive spoiled by a fat half-wedge shot. With more bounce, the flight of my less-than-full shots with the 50-degree wedge was more consistent, and it was a lot harder for me to hit a shot fat.

The fitting for my 55-degree wedge was similar. Vokey’s current SM4 wedge lineup is available in two-degree increments, from 46 to 64 degrees. This meant that I had the option of choosing a 54-degree bent 1 degree weak or a 56-degree bent 1 degree strong. Donahoo and I decided on the 54-degree with 14 degrees of bounce instead of the 56-degree with the same amount of bounce, because adding a degree of loft to the 54 also added a degree of bounce, whereas subtracting a degree of loft from the 56-degree subtracted a degree of bounce. As with the 50-degree, the extra bounce helped the trailing edge of the wedge hit and keep moving forward, keeping my divots smooth and shallow.

Donahoo also recommended that I try a different shaft in my 55-degree wedge. Instead of a Project X shaft, which offers a stiff tip section for a penetrating ball flight, he had me try a Dynamic Gold S400 shaft, which plays slightly heavier and has a softer tip.

“You’re going to hit mostly full shots with your 50-degree wedge, so it makes sense to use the same shaft you use with your irons,” Donahoo said. “But most of your shots are going to be less-than-full with your 55- and 60-degree, so a softer shaft makes sense.”

Finding the proper sole configuration in a 60-degree wedge proved to be the most time consuming process. Like the other two wedges, Donahoo and I agreed that the highest bounce options – a 60-degree with 10 degrees of bounce – was the best choice. But unlike my 50- and 55-degree wedges, my 60-degree would be used primarily around the greens and in bunkers.

Donahoo had me hit several different 60-degree wedges from a bunker that surrounded one of TPI’s perfectly manicured practice greens. I liked all of them, but there was one that I felt was slightly better than the rest. Donahoo smiled, and dropped a few balls for me to hit behind the bunker. He wanted me to hit lob shots with the club to a pin that was 15 yards away, tucked close to the bunker’s lip. I chunked the first one into the middle of the bunker.

“I hit it fat,” I said, for some reason feeling the need to explain what I though was completely obvious.

“Don’t change anything,” Donahoo said. “Hit another one.”

The same thing happened again, at which point Donahoo rushed in with another wedge — the 60-degree with 10 degrees of bounce, an “M” grind.

“Don’t change anything,” he repeated.

So I didn’t, and my next shot came off crisp – it landed high and soft, and landed close to the pin.

Fitting to a miss

The wedge I chunked twice was a 60-degree with 4 degrees of bounce — an “L grind” — the same model played by Rory McIlroy. The wedge has very little camber (read flat sole) and a narrow forward bounce section, making it good for players like McIlroy who have great hands and a shallow angle of attack with their wedges. But there’s another reason why McIlroy plays a wedge with only 4 degrees of bounce – he grew up in Northern Ireland, an area of the world with firm golf courses that require low-bounce wedges.

The 60-degree with 4 degrees of bounce was great for me out of the bunker because its bounce is situated in the rear portion of the sole, the part I was using to hit bunker shots. But when it came to hitting pitch shots that brought the leading edge into play, I was sunk.

Donahoo saw that I shifted my weight on pitch shots more than most good wedge players he works with, which is one of the reasons why I require so much bounce. But he also pointed out that I grew up playing courses with very soft conditions in Michigan, which is where I currently reside. Because of where I live, the extra bounce doesn’t hurt me. And even as I work to improve my wedge mechanics, Donahoo said that my wedge needs are not likely to change.

“With wedges, we’re fitting to a miss,” he said. “Most of your good shots are going to be good with most wedges, so we need to find the wedge that helps you with the bad shots. Almost all of your bad shots are going to be steep, so more bounce is going to help you.”

 
Team Vokey uses these models to make new wedges for Steve Stricker, who has a very shallow angle of attach with little wrist action. He prefers an “S” grind on his 60-degree wedge, which offers a medium amount of bounce and is available on Vokey models 58-09 and 60-07.

Doing better

One of the most important advancements in wedge design since Vokey’s arrival at Titleist were the aggressive grooves that the USGA and R&A outlawed for professional golfers in 2010. Although the spin of Vokey’s most recent line of wedges is essentially unchanged on dry lies in the fairway, they’ve lost performance in wet conditions and in the rough because of the mandatory reduction on groove volume and sharpness.

Vokey said testing showed that his first conforming models, the SM3 wedges, added 5 degrees of launch angle and lost 3000 rpm of spin out of the rough. The SM4 wedges added three grooves to the face (from 14 to 17) to return the launch angle back to where it was with the now non-conforming SM2 wedges. But the SM4s are still 1500 rpm short of the SM2’s spin standard out of the rough.

“We’re always looking at different metals, different shapes and different face textures and patterns to get the spin back,” Vokey said. “But the USGA and R&A did their homework.”

Even though shots hit with wedges with the new grooves have less spin, they react more consistently for talented wedge players. This has forced players to plan their wedge shots with a bias toward trajectory instead of spin, making sole configuration even more crucial.

One way Vokey said his wedges can improve is by offering more lofts and more sole configurations, which will help players further dial in their wedge fitting. He sees more options, not less, as a key for serious golfers to improve their score.

 “I would love to design the perfect wedge before I go to the fairway in the sky,” Vokey said. “But I don’t know if I’ll ever make it. Every wedge I look at I say, God, I know I can do better. And I keep trying.”

10 wedge tips from Bob Vokey

Bob Vokey defines a serious golfer as someone who is dedicated to the game.

“You can be a serious golfer and not break 90 or 100,” he says.

Here’s 10 tips that Vokey offered to help serious golfers. They’ll help everyone, whether you’re playing to beat your buddies or beat the world.

  1. The lofts of your wedges should have gaps of 4 to 6 degrees  — no more, no less.
  2. Golfers come in three types: diggers (high bounce), sliders (low bounce) and neutral (medium bounce). When being fit, start with a neutral wedge and go from there.
  3. You probably need more bounce.
  4. Know what wedges you really need to hit. If you play on courses with fast, elevated greens surrounded by pot bunkers, you probably need a 60-degree wedge. If you play courses with slow, flat greens, you might be able to get away with a 56-degree as your highest loft.
  5. Wedges are the only clubs that golfers use in the open position. Choose one that looks good when it sits square and when you open it up.
  6. Play a shaft in your sand and/or lob wedge that allows for the proper feedback. Vokey has had success fitting average golfers into True Temper Dynamic Gold S200 shafts, which give the right amount of feedback but are firm enough for a full shot for most golfers.
  7. Pitching wedge replacements (46, 48, 50) are designed with the loft of a pitching wedge but the versatility of a scoring wedge. They won’t go as far as the wedges from your iron set and that’s OK. If you want them to go further, opt for less loft.
  8. Wedges wear to your swing print. A new wedge will not feel the same as the old wedge because you’ve got to break it in.
  9. Practice more from 125 yards and in. Most golfers will never swing like Adam Scott, but according to Vokey, with practice they can execute the same wedge shots he can.
  10. Another reason to practice wedges — a tour player hits 13 to 14 greens per round. The average golfer hits only 6 or 7. That means wedge play is more important for average golfers than it is for tour players.

Click here to see photos from Vokey WedgeWorks. Photos include custom Vokey tour wedges and the machines used to make them.

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment” forum. 

Note: This article was edited to clarify that Vokey’s SM3 wedges lost 3000 rpm of spin out of the rough when compared to the now non-conforming SM2 wedges. The article previously stated that the SM4 lost 3000 rpm of spin when compared to the SM2 wedges. The SM4 wedges lost approximately 1500 rpm of spin when compared to the SM2 wedges.

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. ray

    Apr 29, 2013 at 10:26 am

    does anyone know of zero tolerance wedges and if anyone makes a wedge like the 1 zt made
    thanks
    ray

  2. Lou

    Mar 25, 2013 at 12:20 am

    I carry SM4 54-11 and 60-10 both bent 1* strong and a 64-07 stock loft. Best wedge setup yet. I’ve been using the 60-10 as my main greenside bunker club.

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 19, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Great post Zak,

    It’s interesting because I never would have placed much importance on bounce when it comes to wedges from 125 yards in. I have always understood it’s importance when playing bunker shots but not for general fairway wedge play.

    The right advice would be for all golfers to get this sort of testing done.

    Do you know if Titleist do this sort of testing worldwide and just for wedges and working out ideal bounce settings?

    Cheers

  4. Sean Mashinter

    Jan 18, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Great read. Gives me another excuse to head to Golftown!

  5. goodgolfer64

    Jan 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    great article only down fault being really picky is Northern ireland is SOFT :)!!!!! bar a handful of links none of which are near holywood…40 minute drive to a links track from rorys hometown……

  6. Goober

    Dec 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    What the touring pros have done to their wedges is immaterial to my game. I must buy off the rack and get no after-market tweaks free of charge.

    I have a simple test for a wedge in-store. If the leading edge doesn’t fit super-tight to the floor, it’s quickly eliminated from consideration.

    The best I found from 2012 models were the Callaway Forged. I bought the 52 & 56 degrees. Distance and finesse are excellent. No regrets whatsoever.

    • goodgolfer64

      Jan 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      surely Goober buyin wedges that have a tight leading edge gives you less bounce…goes against most of the recomedations above…..

  7. barkydog1

    Dec 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Great little article.

  8. Tony Wright

    Dec 29, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Good article. Most players can get improvement in their wedge play by playing with wedges with more bounce. I hope you will consider a similar article on the Edel wedges. You may find that they are much more forgiving on all shots that Vokey wedges are. I play with a 21 degree bounce 60 degree Edel wedge – it is the most forgiving wedge I have ever played. The Edel wedge design is much different than traditional wedge designs. Golfers also get improvement in their wedge play by improved technique…..keeping their weight on their forward foot during the swing.

  9. MARKETING

    Dec 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Looks like SCRATCH Golf has a big influence.

    Zak, did you ask the obvious question of how Scratch’s model has influenced the marketing and design of wedges for the past few years as companies offer more options for sole grinds?

  10. Peter

    Dec 28, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Agree with you on the importance of sole grind…it’s a revelation when you find one that works for you. The same swing produces very different results when you find a sole that fits your swing. Looking at PGA.com stats, tour pros don’t hit 13-14 GIR on average. More like 11-12 over a season…hence wedge play is crucial to winning/making money. First time I heard about diggers vs sliders was the Scratch Golf fitting system, which has helped me out a lot.

  11. Sean

    Dec 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Very well done Zak. Thanks for the article and an inside look.

  12. chris

    Dec 28, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    some of the worst sole grinds I have had have been from Vokey. They work for some but I find the Mizuno grinds to be much more versatile.

  13. Philip

    Dec 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Love the article! It’s nice to hear from the club making gurus of today.

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Equipment

Top 5 golf grips of all time

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Tour Velvet Cord Golf Grip

Grips might seem simple, but there is a lot that goes into making good ones. From formulating compounds, and adding color, to creating tooling to make sure they hit all of the required specs. Grips are often the most overlooked part of a golf club, and they shouldn’t be. The grip is the singular connection you as a player have with your clubs, and it should offer equal amounts of control and comfort, depending on how often you play and the weather conditions.

Yes, golfers generally pay a lot of attention to their putter grip,s but when it comes to the rest of a set, many golfers will just say “give me whatever is stock,” which is not a great idea.

These are the top-five grips of all time.

Golf Pride Tour Velvet Cord

Tour velvet Cord Grips

How could we begin to talk about great grips without starting with the Golf Pride Tour Velvet Cord? It’s the gold standard of durable all-weather performance. A soft rubber infused with a tight-weave cotton twill fiber (cord) adds additional traction that you just can’t get from an all-rubber grip on its own. It’s the most-used cord grip on tour and a favorite of golfers needing weather defying traction. (Honourable mention the classic non-corded Tour Velvet)

Winn Grips Excel

Winn Excel soft golf grip

The Winn Excel might not be the most durable or best all-weather grip ever made, but I challenge anyone to find a grip that offers greater comfort for fair-weather golfers, or players needing maximum shock absorption. The Winn Excel is Winn’s number-one selling grip of all time by a large margin, and speaking from experience, I have installed my fair share of full cases of these back in my big box retail golf days. From Winn “The Excel grip has been hailed by arthritic and hand fatigue sufferers as the reason they can still play golf.” With that in mind any product that is able to help golfers enjoy the game more belongs on the list!

Lamkin Crossline Cord

Another cord grip might seem like an odd addition to the list, but hear me out. Grip aficionados will tell you right away why they prefer the Lamkin Crossline Cord over others on the market. The taper is slightly different, the cord is a bit rougher, and for those in need of anything bigger than a standard grip—the Lamkin Crossline Cord is the ONLY full cord grip on the market that comes in an oversized option (weighing in at a whopping 76g). That alone makes it unique and earns its spot in the top five.

Iomic Sticky

Iomic Stick Golf Grips

Bold, colorful, and tacky are all words best used to describe the Iomic Sticky grip. It was one of, if not the first, mainstream grips in North America to offer a HUGE selection of color options and there’s a scientific reason why. Iomic grips are made from an elastomer resin, which is neutral in color: this means that any change to the color won’t change the weight of the grip, and that means you can mix and match up your set without having to worry about changing feel. It also gives grip designers endless freedom to come up with wild combinations too. According to Iomic, the elastomer resin offers a number of distinct advantages over rubber which includes lower torque, greater durability, and all-weather traction.

Golf Pride New Decade Multi-Compound

Golf Pride New Decade golf grips

Easily making its way into the top five is the Multi-Compound or as many call them the NDMCs. This grip was a game-changer for Golf Pride and the industry as a whole. It made grips “show up” on TV and got regular golfers to rethink their grip buying habits from just plain rubber to multi-material colorful options. From a performance perspective, the NDMC offers the best of both worlds, cord on the top (gloved hand) and a softer material under the bottom hand for additional traction and comfort.  Still considered a premium option, you can find New Decade grips on a lot of OEM stock products.

What do you think GolfWRXers? Are their any grips you think belong in the top five that aren’t included? Any that are included you don’t think should be?

 

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Equipment

Forum Thread of the Day: “Tour professionals and their Vokey wedges”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from SMAC43 who created a topic dedicated to Tour player’s love of Vokey wedges. SMAC43 asks fellow members just why so many Tour pros choose to play Vokey wedges, and WRXers weigh in with their reasoning.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say on the topic at the link below.

  • Downtown_Brown_4: “I think it has a lot to do with Aaron Dill. He’s able to take feedback from the players and custom grind anything they could ever want.”
  • straightshot7: “Vokey is probably what most of them played with as a junior and in college. Some guys don’t like to tinker with their short game equipment. Vokey is tried and true.”
  • Matty01984: “Vokey’s definitely seem to be the most popular wedge out there, and they have been for some time. The grind options and the guys that Titleist have working for them are definitely a big part of that. Interesting to see them cropping up in bags of guys that are on staff with other companies.”
  • Pepperturbo: “Remember, next to putters, wedges are the most used clubs on the PGA Tour. For that reason, Tour players replace wedges multiple times per year. A few players with contracts have been known to replace them every two-three months. However, if a tour player uses forged wedges, they are replaced more often because the sole and grooves wear quite fast with excessive use; cast not so much. I played forged for years before switching to Vokey SM6 when they were introduced; still have them in the bag too, even though I practice near daily with the LW. Last but just as important. Even though wedge grooves wear a good player can still spin the ball. Spin is about how you impact the ball and speed.”

Entire Thread: “Tour professionals and their Vokey wedges”

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Whats in the Bag

Henrik Stenson WITB 2019

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henrik stenson witb 2019

Equipment is accurate as of the 2019 Houston Open.

Driver: Callaway Epic Flash (9 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Yellow Prototype 6.5 62 (unconfirmed)

henrik stenson witb 2019-driver

3-wood: Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero (13.5 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Yellow Prototype 6.5 62

henrik stenson witb 2019-3-wood

5-wood: Callaway Rogue Sub Zero (18 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Blue 80 TX

henrik stenson witb 2019-3-wood

Irons: Callaway Legacy Black (3-PW)
Shafts: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour120 X

henrik stenson witb 2019-3-wood

Wedges: Callaway MD3 (46-08S), Callaway Jaws MD5 (52-10S, 58-08C)
Shafts: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour120 X

henrik stenson witb 2019-3-wood

Putter: Odyssey O Works #7
Grip: Garsen Max

Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Wrap Cord

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