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.”
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.
Wedge fitting at TPI
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.
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.
- The lofts of your wedges should have gaps of 4 to 6 degrees — no more, no less.
- 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.
- You probably need more bounce.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020
As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.
Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.
Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.
Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.
Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.
PXG leaned in
Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.
The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.
Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.
In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.
Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.
The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.
Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled
Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.
There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.
Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.
Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.
Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”
Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.
It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.
What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.
Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.
It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.
The Titleist train chugged on
I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.
So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.
It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.
Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to
Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.
The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.
As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.
Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball
Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.
However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.
Tour Edge EXS Pro Forged irons launched
Tour Edge is expanding its better player targeted EXS Pro line with the addition of the all-new EXS Pro Forged irons—a tour-inspired design developed with multi-material technology, and looks to match.
Just like the limited edition EXP Pro driver, the EXS Pro Forged irons utilize the highest quality materials and processes to deliver a golf club built for the most discerning players. The goal of designer David Glod was to produce the most forgiving distance iron possible in a player-preferred package and the EXS Pro Forged live up to the lofty challenge.
“As a club designer, I love player iron designs that are as beautiful as they are playable. These three designs were made to be irons that are drooled over by the core golfer, not only in looks and feel, but in how they perform.” David Glod – Tour Edge Lead Designer
“I believe that the milled forged iron connoisseurs out there are going to be very impressed with the playability we were able to combine with a traditional forged feel.”
Inside the Exotics EXS Pro forged irons
The EXS Pro Forged cavity iron is constructed of Japanese S25C mild carbon steel to offer an extremely soft feel to the golfer. After the forging process, the faces are CNC milled to precise tolerances and the grooves are designed to maximize performance throughout the set. The CNC milling of the EXS Pro doesn’t stop at the face either—the cavity is designed to boost MOI as much as possible in the compact clubhead, so the back of the club is also CNC milled to offer the thinnest face possible without sacrificing feel.
Speaking of feel, the term forged can be overused in the world of golf club construction with some lesser companies only stamping precast pieces once and calling them forged, but the EXS are not those clubs. The S25C club heads are triple-forged (struck 3 times at very high-pressure) to offer a thinner, stronger clubhead that allows the designer to push more mass to the toe and heel weight pads for more forgiveness and more consistent ball speeds across the face. To further improve feedback, the iron has an acoustic engineered cavity insert consisting of a polymer and a dampening gel to provide the best possible sound and feel.
Now about ball speeds and technology: The 3- 6-irons in the EXS Pro Forged cavity have a concealed 10g tungsten toe weight to push more mass away from the hosel and make the clubs more forgiving on heel and toe misses in the longer irons. This is similar technology to irons that are priced much higher in the market.
Availability, Specs & Pricing
The new Exotics EXS Pro Forged irons will be available for purchase on June 1, 2020 through select Tour Edge retailers and custom club fitting locations.
The stock shafts are: True Temper Elevate Tour VSS Pro—available in regular and stiff flex—as well as True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 in R300, S300.
The stock grip will be the Golf Pride Tour Velvet 360.
$149.99 per iron.
New limited-edition Tour Edge Exotics EXS Blade irons and wedges unveiled
Tour Edge has unveiled its new limited-edition “Straight From the Tour Van” Exotics EXS Blade irons and wedges featuring forged designs with CNC milling.
Per Tour Edge, the Exotics EXS Blade irons combine “tour-level inspired looks and feel with advanced materials and innovation to produce the most forgiveness and distance possible in a player’s iron.”
Each iron and wedge are individually milled from carbon steel and “engineered for players who look for the ultimate in control and shot shaping.”
Tour Edge Exotics EXS blade irons
The new Tour Edge EXS Blade irons feature a narrow sole, a thin top line, and a beveled leading edge and square toe design. The irons also contain a shorter blade length and a cambered top line in a bid to provide golfers with a more compact scoring iron.
Designed with advanced CAD technology and pure milled forging, the new additions from Tour Edge feature micro-cavity face and scoring lines that are all individually CNC milled and designed to offer maximum responsiveness and control.
Fully USGA conforming, the blades are CNC milled on both sides, which aims to offer golfers a club that has extremely tight tolerance and consistency from iron to iron.
The clubs feature Japanese S25C carbon steel, which is chrome plated with a dual finish. The irons contain a high polish and a satin finish in all the milled areas of the clubhead.
The sole of the EXS Pro Blade iron head features a rounded radius on the leading edge of the clubhead – a design which seeks to significantly reduce drag and turf interaction through impact to provide ultimate consistency on every shot.
Specs, Availability and Pricing
- Stock Shafts: True Temper Elevate Tour VSS Pro: R-flex, S-flex, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105: R300, S300
- Grip: GolfPride Tour 360
- Price: $149.99 per iron
- Availability: June 1, 2020
Tour Edge Exotics EXS Blade wedges
Designed from Japanese S25C Carbon Steel, the new blade wedges from Tour Edge are individually CNC milled on the face and grooves in design to create maximum spin from advanced groove engineering.
The EXS Milled Forged wedges utilize dual-groove construction, with the lower loft (50° – 52°) wedges designed with deeper, narrower grooves while the higher lofts (54° – 60°) have wider grooves.
The Exotics EXS Blade wedges feature a Center of Gravity (CG) that has been moved up in the clubhead with a milled-out center design. The milled-out center on the wedges leads to more weight being positioned both up and down in design for greater distance control on shots higher and lower on the face.
The EXS Pro’s sole grind on the new blade wedges seeks to reduce bounce from the heel and toe for greater versatility when hitting a variety of shots, especially from difficult lies.
The blade wedges contain a Flare Toe design which places the center of gravity higher in order to provide for lower launch and more spin. A chamfer was also added to the trailing top line of the wedge for a slightly thicker top line that moves weight up without affecting the aesthetics of the top line at address.
As with the blade irons, the wedges are 100 percent conforming to the USGA rules.
Specs, Availability and Pricing
Stock Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold 115 Wedge Flex
Grip: GolfPride Tour 360
Price: $149.99 per wedge
Availability: June 1, 2020
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