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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

WRX Spotted: New TaylorMade P790 UDI

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It’s Open Championship week and that means course conditions are the talk of the town. Firm, fast, and windy conditions are expected on the links of Portrush, so we will be seeing a lot of players using driving irons that they might not otherwise play with week to week on the PGA Tour.

Not only are driving irons a hot item for players, but for OEMs launching new and prototype versions including TaylorMade, which has a new P790 UDI in some bags including Mr. Tiger Woods (credit to Rob Brooks on Instagram for the spot).

Like with many clubs just being seeded to tour, we don’t have official comment from the team at TaylorMade…but, like many times before, we have a couple of ideas based off the cosmetics of what might be in store if and when this thing comes to retail.

Some history: It’s been a while since TaylorMade introduced a new UDI (Ultimate Driving Iron) to its lineup.  There was the GAPR Low, which was very UDI “like” but the UDI as a whole never had an adjustable hosel. (There were Tour Issue versions of the GAPR Lo that had a fixed hosel and no adjustability)

The original (2017) P790 UDI

The “just-spotted 2020 (?)” version

The most recent UDI was the original P-790, but this new version has some distinct differences

  • Thinner sole. Based off the pictures, this new P-790 UDI has a thinner sole with more camber to help improve turf interaction. More camber and well-utilized bounce make any club more playable in varying conditions.
  • Shorter blade length. There is no such thing as computer screen calipers but from what we can tell when comparing side by side the new version is shorter. A shorter blade length means a CG closer to the hosel and more workability.
  • Higher toe. Just like the shorter blade length, a higher toe is often more appealing to more players (better players are generally the target for these types of clubs) and what that also “potentially” does is raise the CG. A higher CG will produce lower launching shots BUT with more spin (workability). To counter act the potential extra spin loft adjustments can be made pretty easily, since loft is one of the biggest factors in creating spin.

The one thing that is harder to compared is whats going on inside of this UDI (obviously). There is a screw in the toe, so it can be assumed that there is some sort of foam or material that helps support the face and improve the acoustics of this face thin-faced iron.

Just like we wait for the first group off early Thursday morning at Portrush, we’re just going to have to wait to see what’s really going on this new UDI too.

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Forum Thread of the Day: “Tiger Woods with a new Scotty Cameron at The Open”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from No Gimmes who was quick to spot Tiger Woods preparing for this week’s Open Championship with a new Scotty putter. Woods has also been seen warming up for this week’s event at Royal Portrush with his old faithful on the greens, but our members have been discussing the thinking behind the 15-time-major champion’s potential change, as well as the putter itself.

*Photos from Golf Central’s ‘Live From The Open’ coverage

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

  • TheMoneyShot: “I’m really surprised he is making the switch. Let’s see if it’s in the bag come Thursday.”
  • Hedgehog: “That topline and the alignment aid and all the smooth lines, gorgeous!”
  • MuniPukeLife: “Makes sense as his trusty NP2 is super light by today’s putter standards.”

Entire Thread: “Tiger Woods with a new Scotty Cameron at The Open”

 

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Equipment

Mizuno T20 wedges: Let’s get spinning

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Spin.

We’re always trying to reduce it with our driver and increase it with our wedges for maximum control, but with the rules of golf being so strict, how do actually achieve a performance gain? Simple engineering…

This is the Mizuno T20 wedge.

It’s been a few years since we have seen a T (teardrop) wedge from our friends at Mizuno, and there is good reason.

Let’ get into a quick history lesson: before the JPX900 series was introduced, Mizuno had quietly been realigning the product cycles of the MP and JPX lines. You might remember back a few years ago now before the MP18s hit the scene that there was a bit of a lull in the MP line—so much, in fact, there was even a thread here on GolfWRX asking “Is Mizuno not making MP irons anymore?”

It was a naturally curious question to a company that always had very standardized release cycles, but it was a long-term play that has paid off tremendously. We now get “T” wedges with MP irons (MP20s to be exact), and we should (from everything I know) continue to see “S” Silhouette (more rounded profile) wedges with future JPX lines.

Before we get to what’s new, how about we first talk about what will be staying the same

  • Grain Flow Forged HD – like all new Mizuno irons, the T20s are made using the same forging process to increase the density of the material in the clubhead for an improved solid feel.
  • Boron – this little element when added to the 1025e mild carbon steel used in the wedges (we’re talking trace amounts equating to 3ppm – parts per million) increases the strength of the material by 30 percent—how crazy is that for chemistry? This improves groove life and has ZERO effect on club feel.
  • Variable Width & Depth Quad Cut Grooves – Like previous T and S wedges, the T20s will have quad cut grooves that will vary in shape based on the loft of the club. Lower lofted wedges are more narrow and deeper, while higher lofted wedges are wider and more shallow since impact happens at lower speeds this increases spin consistency.
  • Same beautiful Teardrop profile from address

So what’s new?

Flow. Just like the MP20s, engineers are bringing more a more extreme CG (center of gravity) shifting philosophy, or as Mizuno explains it, increased vertical moment of inertia to the wedges. As much as you (well maybe not “you,” depending on who you are) might think “a wedge is just a wedge” and loft is the only deciding factor for spin, you couldn’t be further from the truth. By relocating the CG throughout the set and changing the sweet spot height, engineers can further alter the launch and spin precisely for each loft.

It’s about gear effect—the higher you hit above the CG the less spin the ball with have, and the closer to or lower you make impact compared to the CG the more spin you will create. Either way these are wedges, so a 50 degree, for example, is still going to spin, but it is now more controllable (think less likely to ballon or get too high on full shots). On the other side of the equation, a 60-degree wedge will allow for even MORE trajectory and spin control for the low flying quick checkers with zip.

Now about that spin.

By the Rules of Golf, you can’t make grooves sharper, you can’t increase their volume, and you can only have so much surface roughness (sorry but that old Spin Doctor wedge is HIGHLY NON-conforming). So what do you do? You change the way you think about that surface roughness…

Hydroflow Micro Grooves

Instead of traditional laser etching parallel to the grooves, Mizuno engineers took a concept from the high-performance tire world and went perpendicular to the grooves and parallel to the direction the ball moves up the face to channel moisture away. This directional tread has proven to increase spin on shots especially in conditions with moisture up to 1,200 RPM (on a 60-yard shot), that’s a very tangible number. It’s not just about spin either: the more the friction that can be created also means more control on launch angle and less of a “floating” ball flight. That’s how those low zippers keep zippin’!

Don’t think for a second that Mizuno just changed the etching and was done with it. The process went through multiple iterations to figure out how they could improve its life (beyond the boron) and the solution was to etch before the chroming process to elongate the lifespan. The other groovy take for the T20s is the actual reconfiguration of the grooves. To get the bottom groove closer to the leading edge without having it disorient the overall look of the club and making it appear that the heel or toe is thinner on one side. The lowest groove has been shortened and centered.

All of these refinements; CG, micro-grooves, and reconfigured scoring lines add up to one thing: more control and improved shotmaking with your wedges.

Finishes, specs, and grinds

The wishes of many have been answered when it comes to the T20s, there will be a RAW finish (happy dance time) along with traditional chrome and the signature blue ion. Leftys will only be able to get chrome, but all the same options will be available as far as lofts and grinds.

Coming in lofts from 46-60 degrees, the grind options progress depending on the loft and bounce. Going from full-soled in the lower lofts to more aggressive back edge, and heel-toe relief in the 60 degree. These sole shapes came directly from Mizuno’s craftsman that worked with players and prototypes to determine exactly how the bounce and sole shapes should work in harmony.

All of this has come together to create Mizuno’s finest wedge to date.

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