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The Wedge Guy: Getting more out of your wedges

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When I started SCOR Golf in 2011 and completely re-engineered the short end of the set, I took on “the establishment” and referred to our line of clubs not as “wedges” but as “scoring clubs”—I felt like the term “wedge” had become over-applied to clubs that really weren’t. While I’ve tempered my “respectful irreverence” a bit since then, I still think we are shackled by the terms applied to those high-loft clubs at the short end of our sets.

Think about this for a moment.

It all started with the invention of the sand wedge back in the late 1930s. This invention is generally credited to Gene Sarazen, who famously had metal welded onto the bottom of a niblick to give it bounce, and introduced the basic “explosion” sand shot. Over the next few decades, the sand wedge “matured” to a loft of 55-56 degrees and was a go-to staple in any serious golfer’s bag. In his 1949 book, “Power Golf”, Ben Hogan described the sand wedge as a very versatile tool “for certain shots” around the greens, and listed his maximum distance with a sand wedge as 55 yards.

Even into the 1970s, the pitching wedge was considered the ‘go-to’ club for short recovery shots around the greens. And because the typical pitching wedge was 50-52 degrees in loft, it was very versatile for that purpose. I remember that even as a scratch player in the 60s and early 70s, I would go days or weeks without pulling the “sand wedge” out of my bag—we didn’t have bunkers on that little 9-hole course so I didn’t feel like I needed one very often.

Fast forward into the 1980s and 1990s, people were hitting sand wedges from everywhere and the wedge makers began to add “lob wedges” in the 60-degree range and then “gap wedges” of 48 degrees or so to fill in for the evolutional strengthening of iron lofts to a point where the set match pitching wedge (or P-club as I call it) was 44-45 degrees typically. Along the way, the designation “G”, “S”, “L” and “P” were dropped and almost all wedges carried the actual loft number of the club. I think this was a positive development, but it seems we cannot get away from the pigeon-holing our wedges into “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” nomenclature.

So that history lesson was a set-up for suggesting that you look at all your wedges as just “wedges” with no further limitations as to their use. I think that will free you up to use your creativity with each club to increase your repertoire of shots you have in your bag…more arrows in your quiver, so to speak.

For example, long bunker shots are much easier if you open the face of your 50- 54-degree wedge so you don’t have to swing as hard to get the ball to fly further. You’ll still get plenty of spin, but your results will become much more consistent. Likewise, that super-short delicate bunker shot can be hit more easily with your higher lofted wedge of 58-60 degrees.

When you get out further, and are facing mid-range shots of 40-75 yards, don’t automatically reach for your “sand wedge” out of habit, but think about the trajectory and spin needs for that shot. Very often a softened swing with your “gap” wedge will deliver much more consistent results. You’ll reduce the likelihood of making contact high on the face and coming up short, and you can even open the face a bit to impart additional spin if you need it.

Around the greens, your lower-lofted wedges will allow you to achieve more balance between carry and roll, as almost all instructors encourage you to get the ball on the ground more quickly to improve greenside scoring. For the vast majority of recreational/weekend golfers, simply changing clubs is a lot easier than trying to manipulate technique to hit low shots with clubs designed to hit the ball high.

Finally, on any shots into the wind, you are almost always better off “lofting down” and swinging easier to help make more solid contact and reduce spin that will cause the ball to up-shoot and come up short. Too often I watch my friends try to hit hard full wedge shots into our all-too-common 12-20 mph winds and continually come up short. My preference is to loft down even as much as two clubs, grip down a bit and swing much more easily, which ensures a lower trajectory with less spin…and much more consistent outcomes. It is not uncommon for me to choose a 45-degree wedge for a shot as short as 75-80 yards into a breeze, when my stock distance for that club is about 115. I get consistently positive results doing that.

So, if you can wean yourself from referring to your wedges by their names and zero in on what each can do because of their numbers, you will expand your arsenal of shots you can call on when you are in prime scoring range and hit it close to the flag much more often. And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. MJB-Golf

    Oct 24, 2019 at 6:08 am

    Good article Terry, Recreational golfers has a great potential of lowering their scores if they manage to get their head around not applying full swings to shots within 100 yards. A proper wedge fitting and a thorough putter fitting, complimented with smooth tempo 1/2 and 3/4 swings, will get them on route to improving their game and eventually get more joy out of their W/E rounds.

  2. Greg

    Oct 23, 2019 at 9:44 am

    Terry, yes the scoring clubs, because in public golf distance is over rated. These are the clubs most useful for lowering scores.

  3. Acemandrake

    Oct 22, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Good piece. Players get too wrapped in the “numbers” of the game to the detriment of playing by feel.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Callaway Golf Tour Rep Simon Wood

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny sits down with Callaway Golf Tour Rep Simon Wood on MD5, his Top 3 Callaway wedges of all time and the excitement of launching Jaws on Tour.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Birdie holes and other myths

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I am an ardent observer of self-destructive things I see golfers do and hear golfers say, and one that really gets me is when I hear someone stand on the tee and proclaim, “This is a birdie hole.”
Really? How do you know when you haven’t even hit your drive yet, much less your approach? If you’re a 12 handicap, let’s say, there are really only 5-6 “par” holes out here; how can you think this one is a “birdie hole”?

This game is tough, and making birdies is the toughest achievement out there. Very few are made without hitting two better-than-average shots, or at least one remarkable one, whether the approach or the putt. Think about that for a minute. You could be a scratch golfer and never make one! Eighteen pars and a bogey or or two will get you to scratch on most courses. If you are an 8 handicap, that means you average about 82 or so, which equates to 8 pars and 10 bogeys in a round – what are you doing thinking about making a birdie at all, much less while on the tee?

My advice is that if you are a 10 handicap or higher, your singular thought on the tee should be to not make a double or higher. Chances are you don’t hit the driver 280-plus and you don’t hit even half the fairways. If you track your rounds, I’d bet you will find a high relativity of drives out of the fairway to doubles (or worse) put on the scorecard.

So let’s assume you got off the tee well, now what? When you face your approach shot, my advice is to figure out which side of the green gives you the best chance of getting up and down and the least odds of facing a short-side difficult pitch. And there’s never anything wrong with targeting the fat middle of the green, regardless of where the pin is located. On most courses, a ball in the dead center of the green will give you a half dozen or more reasonable putts, and the rest will not be overly long or difficult. The next round you play, just stand in the middle of the green after you are done and survey the putt that ball position would have given you.

Here’s another interesting and enlightening drill for you if you find yourself out for a day of learning on the golf course. On each hole, after your drive and approach, play a second ball from the “safe” side of the green, just as if you had missed your approach to this safe side. Then hit a pitch or chip and putt it out. Keep that score on along with the score you actually made and see how you come out.

I’ve been blessed to have played to a low handicap my whole life, and I am an entrepreneur…but I really do not have a gambler personality. On the golf course, I want to have fun, and I’ve learned that trying to save pars from the short side really doesn’t deliver that. If I’m tuned in to my game, I play the safe side of fairways off the tee and the safe side of the hole with my approaches. I make my share of birdies, and keep big numbers and bogeys on short holes to a minimum by taking this approach.

Of course, I find a 73 or 74 with only one or two birdies more fun than a 78 with 3 or 4. You might not.

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Opinion & Analysis

Requiem for a push cart

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I can’t believe it’s over. In the last four years, you have been with me for 3,686 holes. But I understand you are just too tired to go on. Your break is busted. Your wheels rattle. It’s time for you to retire, I understand, but it makes me sad nonetheless; Hogan, my trusted push cart.

It is hard to believe that was 4 years ago! Oh, how the time has passed! How many great memories we have! Hundreds of rounds and thousands of miles. Our amazing travels, playing with great friends, meeting new people, and of course love! I will never forget the first time you meet Mary ClickGear. The way she rolled up, four wheels, wearing that beautiful pink trimmed outfit. How your umbrella all of a sudden burst open and how embarrassed you were. HA! It was amazing, my friend, and I am so glad we got to share the moments together.

There were also the bad times: my struggles with putting yips, then chipping yips, then putting and chipping yips together. Yet through it, you stood resolute beside me.

I also remember your dark times, like when you got called “overweight” at the airport or shortly after how you tried to thrust yourself in a lake (destroying my brand new rangefinder). In these times, I tried to be a source of strength for you and show you how much our time together meant to me.

What I will remember most is your enduring love. During the past four years, many have come and gone (including the M5 irons, the Ping G500 irons, Apex irons, a Ping putter, an Odyssey putter, a long putter, belly putter, three Scotty Camerons, and another Ping putter) but through good and bad, there was one thing I could count on: you. Always steads. Quick to hold my drink or my umbrella. Never judging when I took time for ball-hawking. Always down for a walk, regardless of the weather! A true friend!

That’s why yesterday, our last round together, was so special. I know you were hurting, that right wheel barely holding on and the lingering joint pain, but you never complained. Until the end; you were there for every shot and for that I am truly grateful. I hope you noticed the tears going up 18. They were real and deserved; you were the best push cart ever, my friend!

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