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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Maybe it’s time to rethink your short irons

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In today’s post, I’m going to put on my “respectful irreverence” hat and challenge the notion of “matched” sets of irons that have been promoted to us since Bobby Jones and Spalding created the concept in the early 1920s. My question is simple: Should iron sets really be “matched”?

I’m going out on a limb and say “NO.”

Here’s why.

When cavity-back, perimeter-weighted irons became popular in the 1970s, long and middle irons immediately became easier to hit. But manufacturers followed industry tradition and continued to make all the irons look alike–3 through PW. Because the short irons had the same cavity as the long and middle irons, the result was excessively high ball flight and reduced spin. That’s when the absurd notion of strengthening lofts began.

Over my many years in the equipment industry, I’ve seen Iron Byron prove time and again that perimeter weighting is increasingly less influential as the loft of an iron increases. In fact, while a low center of gravity and thin face is certainly helpful with a middle or long iron in your hands, most golfers seem to have the exact opposite problem as irons approach the high 30s and 40s in loft – they hit them too high and cannot control their distances.

Most golfers will be surprised by the shotmaking performance of blade short irons, even if you play to a double-digit handicap. The reason is that the more even distribution of mass across the back of the clubhead on a blade short iron of 40 degrees or more greatly equalizes the smash factor – or efficiency of impact – vertically up and down the face. And the simple fact is that most golfers miss their short irons vertically, while long-club misses tend to run heel to toe.

What’s really always baffled me is that the design of almost all wedges exacerbates this issue for golfers, because all the mass is so low in the clubhead. Iron Byron repeatedly proves that misses even a half-inch up the face can reduce smash factor by as much as 20-22 percent on any top-brand wedges. That’s why your high-face misses come up short.

But back to the short iron—here’s what might become an eye-opening experiment for you. Talk to your club fitter or pro about trying out a set of blade demos–just the short irons–for a round or two. Choose some that have a shaft that is reasonably matched to your current irons. Hit some shots side-by-side with your short irons and the blade short irons and see if you don’t notice a measurable trajectory improvement.

Yes, you’ll notice some feel difference when you miss out toward the toe, but my bet is that you will find much more consistent distance control and accuracy.

But remember, the numbers on the bottom of irons have become essentially meaningless. That blade 9-iron might have the same loft as your “tech” pitching wedge. So keep that in mind as you do this evaluation.

Let me know how your experiments play out.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Speedy

    Aug 11, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    Thought Dave Pelz was The Wedge Guy. Retired (80)?

  2. geohogan

    Aug 2, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    IMO increased offset in cavity backed irons creates inconsistency as much as perimeter weighting.

    Bend your cavity back irons to have much less offset; consistency and accuracy will increase.

    Note: bending less offset will increase effective loft. ie closer to loft of comparable muscle back irons.

  3. Bladehunter.

    Jul 25, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    And some of us have been telling you this forever. For all handicaps. Blades in the short irons. Hybrids up top. Done.

  4. Par

    Jul 25, 2020 at 6:53 am

    I am a mid handicapper, about 12 and in my late 60’s. I fiddle around with hitting various irons. Do see better accuracy and distance with forged or pro series cast iron. Yet over much better consistency and comfort with matched clubs and cast set.

  5. Tokyo Bob

    Jul 24, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    I happened onto this just by chance/trial and error, The end result was I carry two 9 irons and two 8 irons, with 8-PW being Miura blades and the other 6-9 being PRGR GI irons , which are essentially 4-7 lofts. Numbers on the bottom just are meaningful in a general sense or reference in a single set. I like the Hogan clubs just printing the loft, not the number on the club. Useful.

    People may hate on this. But it works for me. MiHLM, mid handicap lives matter, too.

    Liked the article and learned some things on the vertical miss on wedges, etc.

  6. Shallowface

    Jul 23, 2020 at 7:55 pm

    Terry, your comment about how toe hits might feel with a blade is interesting. For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that what people interpret as “forgiveness” is actually just a reduction in vibration due to how it is distributed when a cavity back iron is mis-hit. In my experience, the actual performance differences on mis-hits between blades and cavity backs is not nearly as signifcant as has been sold to the buying public. We just feel them more with a blade. Of course, that vibration reduction may well result in a more enjoyable experience for players, even if it means very little in actual results.

    • geohogan

      Aug 10, 2020 at 12:37 pm

      Most golfers have probably not experienced the sweet feel of pure contact on the sweet spot of a soft carbon muscle back iron.
      If a golfer never knows that sweet feel, he or she will never have the opportunity to learn to repeat that proper clubface to ball contact.

      ie It may be that the lack of reward(sweet feeling) in order to learn, conditioned response restricts learning?

  7. Mike

    Jul 23, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    I’ve learned to ignore the number on the bottom of the club and just build my set based on loft. What’s the point difference in carrying 6i to gap wedge as I do or carrying a 7i to the second gap wedge. It’s still the same number of irons I’m carrying. The markings on the clothes have gotten idiotic. Always remember the TM commercial with Nick Faldo 10 years ago where he said “Wow, I’m hitting this 7i as far as my old 6i”. Duh, Nick, the loft on that 7 iron you tested was definitely stronger than your old one and it was 1/2″ longer.

  8. Osnola Kinnard

    Jul 22, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    I was fitted for a set of Edel SLS01 irons 2 years ago and have not looked back. Not only is the weighting of their irons progressive for the long middle and short irons, the Paderson shafts really do help optimize ball flight, spin, and trajectory.

    Granted I am taller and the longer short irons feel way more comfortable to me, the Edels seem to take your advice to heart in the short irons and wedges.

  9. JD Masur

    Jul 22, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    For that matter, I have a gripe with grips being identical. For the LW, GW and SW, I use reverse taper grips, for the PW-6 iron, I use 2 layers of tennis racquet white hand wrapped grips, for 4-iron hybrid and “Ginty” no taper rubber grips, and for the metal 7, 3 and driver, a tacky white tour wrap.
    The reverse taper gives me versatile options for distance control, and the white tennis wraps/no taper grips make it easier to hold the clubs in my fingers. All white grips give a visual signal on when to change them.

  10. James

    Jul 22, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    My son is a scratch junior player and just got fitted into new irons. Iron fitting by a top fitter took almost 3 hours. Ended up in cavity backs 3-6 and blades 7-PW. Accuracy and distance control is far better. This is good advice Wedge Guy.

  11. Brandon

    Jul 22, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Wait, haven’t we been told that we can’t even look at blades if we aren’t scratch?

    • Shallowface

      Jul 23, 2020 at 7:46 pm

      The lesson here is, don’t believe everything you are told. About anything.

  12. Douglas Spensley

    Jul 22, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    I agree. I recently got new cavity back irons, and love the 4 to 6, but can’t control distance and spin under 150 yards or so. I’ve put my old blades wedge and 9 back in the bag, still experimenting with 7 and 8.

  13. Acemandrake

    Jul 22, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    The turf interaction of a blade may shock some non-blade players.

    Is there such a thing as a wide-soled blade? Is there a need/demand for this?

  14. Stan The Man

    Jul 22, 2020 at 10:56 am

    Couldn’t agree more with this notion. In fact, I was fitted at a top club fitter a few years ago and to get the consistency, dispersion we needed, we ended up fitting me into a mixed set of Srixon blades to cavity back to game improvement irons throughout the set. Love them and most importantly, I trust them.

  15. juststeve

    Jul 22, 2020 at 10:25 am

    Seems that most of the OEMs are already producing sets with long irons designed to be easier to hit, whether by moving the center of gravity, by use of progressive off-set, etc., whether the design is cavity back or blade. A number have designed their clubs to be compatible as parts of split sets. Good ideas all but sort of yesterdy.

  16. drkviol801

    Jul 22, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Care to explain why a significant number of PGA tour players play with a pw that matches irons? Easily 35-40% do.

    • Roy

      Jul 22, 2020 at 11:39 am

      Doesnt that mean 60-65% don’t??? Remember, not everyone switched from persimmon to metal at the same time as well.

      But to answer your question, I would say they are far less prone to “vertical misses” as a 5 handicap is

    • MakoShark

      Jul 24, 2020 at 10:07 am

      That means 65-70% do not.

    • Terry Koehler

      Jul 24, 2020 at 10:51 am

      That’s a pretty easy question, drkviol801. That’s because most tour players are not playing a severe game improvement iron, and their 9-iron and PW are actually more accurate and more forgiving than ‘tour design’ wedges. That is another whole topic I might have to dive into in a future article.

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Opinion & Analysis

The differences between good and bad club fitters—and they’re not what you think

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
  • Lack of transparency: If you feel like you’re not getting answers to straightforward questions or a fitter tells you “not to worry about it” then that is a big no-no from me.
    Side note: It is my opinion that golfers should pay for fittings, and in a way consider it a knowledge-gathering session. Of course, the end goal for the golfer is to find newer better fitting clubs, and for the fitter to sell you them (let’s be real here), but you should never feel the information is not being shared openly.
  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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Podcasts

TG2: TaylorMade P7MB & P7MC Review | Oban CT-115 & CT-125 Steel Shafts

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Took the new TaylorMade P-7MB and P-7MC irons out on the course and the range. The new P-7MB and P-7MC are really solid forged irons for the skilled iron players. Great soft feel on both, MB flies really low, and the MC is more mid/low launch. Oban’s CT 115 & 125 steel shafts are some of the most consistent out there. Stout but smooth feel with no harsh vibration at impact.

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: Improve your transition for better wedge play

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In my opinion, one of the most misunderstood areas of the golf swing is the transition from backswing to downswing, but I don’t read much on this in the golf publications. So, here’s my take on the subject.

Whether it’s a short putt, chip or pitch, half wedge, full iron or driver swing, there is a point where the club’s motion in the backswing has to come to a complete stop–even if for just a nano-second–and reverse direction into the forward swing. What makes this even more difficult is that it is not just the club that is stopping and reversing direction, but on all but putts, the entire body from the feet up through the body core, shoulders, arms and hands.

In my observation, most golfers have a transition that is much too quick and jerky, as they are apparently in a hurry to generate clubhead speed into the downswing and through impact. But, just as you (hopefully) begin your backswing with a slow take-away from the ball, a proper start to the downswing is also a slower move, starting from this complete stop and building to maximum clubhead speed just past impact. If you will work on your transition, your ball striking and distance will improve, as will your accuracy on your short shots and putts. Let’s start there.

In your wedge play, your primary objective is to apply just the exact amount of force to propel the ball the desired distance. In order to do that, it makes sense to move the club slower, as that allows more precision. I like to think of the pendulum on a grandfather clock as a great guide to tempo and transition. As the weight goes back and forth, it comes to a complete stop at each end, and achieves maximum speed at the exact bottom of the arc. If you put that picture in your head when you chip and putt, you will develop a tempo that encourages a smooth transition at the end of the backswing.

The idea is to achieve a gradual acceleration from the end of the backswing to the point of impact, but for most golfers, this type of swing is likely much slower than yours is currently. I encourage you to not be in a hurry to force this acceleration, as that causes a quick jab with the hands, because the shoulder rotation and slight body rotation cannot move that quickly from its end-of-backswing rotation.

Here’s a drill to help you picture this kind of swing pace. Drawing on that grandfather clock visual, hold your wedge at the very end of the grip with two fingers, and get it moving like the clock pendulum–back and through. Watch the tempo and transition for a few moments, and then try to mimic that with your short or half swing tempo. No faster, no slower. You can even change how far you pull the club up to start this motion to see what happens to the pendulum tempo on longer swings.

An even better exercise is to have a friend hold a club in this manner right in front of you while you are practicing your chipping or pitching swing and try to “shadow” that motion with your swings. You will likely find that your transition is much too fast and jerky to give you the results you are after.

If you will practice this, I can practically guarantee your short-range transition will become really solid and repeatable. From there, it’s just a matter of extending the length of the swing to mid-range pitches, full short irons, mid-irons, fairway woods, and driver–all while feeling for that gradual transition that makes for great timing, sequencing, and tempo.

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