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The Wedge Guy: Maybe you play harder golf courses than the pros

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Watching PGA Tour golf has become something I don’t do a lot these days. Why? Well, for two reasons.

First, watching the best players in the world regularly run roughshod over pussycat golf courses just isn’t that entertaining for me. Did you realize that the top five players finished 101 under par at the Northern Trust? And the 70 players who made the cut totaled 673 under par!

Just proves that if you give them wide soft fairways, receptive and smooth greens, and no wind, they can simply tear it up.

The other is when they run into a “US Open-like” golf course like Olympia Fields this past weekend, it seems to become a putting contest as the field struggles mightily to break par.

The puzzling thing to me is just what was it that made Olympia Fields so tough?

From what I read, the fairways are “as narrow as 30 yards” on some holes. So . . . aren’t these guys supposed to be the best shotmakers in the world? From the stats I’ve reviewed, very few of these guys were able to hit even half the fairways. Just to share my perspective on this, my own little country club has fairways much narrower – some as slender as 17 yards, and only 3-4 as wide as 30.

For the best players in the world, 30 yards seems pretty generous.

But then there’s the length thing. For such a “difficult” golf course, they were able to reach both par five holes in two – if they could hit a solid drive in the fairway. And of the other 16 holes, only two of them required approach shots with more than a 7- or 8-iron, and at least 6-7 of those holes routinely gave them approach shots of less than 120 yards. That’s sand wedge range for these guys.

So, with each reachable par-fives, and at least 20-25 other wedge approaches, 4 under wins? Of course, we saw our share of approach shots that covered flags, but we also witnessed a large number of short irons and wedge shots that were uninspiring, in addition to drives that found uncharted zip codes.

It seems to me these guys would be much more precise in their shotmaking. Guess I was spoiled by growing up watching Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and the like, shooting great scores while routinely hitting long and middle irons into greens.

But here’s the point of today’s post. I think most of you are playing a tougher golf course than these PGA Tour professionals regularly encounter, if you measure a course’s difficulty by the length of your approach shots.

Think back to your most recent rounds and count how many approach shots you hit with a short iron or wedge? Not nearly as many as you saw this past weekend, I’ll bet. If you think about it this way, you’ll realize you are really playing a much tougher course day in and day out than these guys do. So give yourself a break, OK?

Oh, and one other thing that really puzzled me about Olympia Fields–did you notice how many putts kept coming up short? I was shocked by that, as none of the pin placements seemed to be that treacherous that a putt that passed the hole would get away from them.

But in the end, it turned into a putting bomb contest, with Dustin Johnson draining a long one to get into a playoff, and Jon Rahm doing it right back to him on the first playoff hole. Guess if you really like to watch putting, these guys do put on a helluva show.

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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.

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Don Ho

    Sep 16, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    I always say all courses scoring and playability is relative. If one says the course is easy and not a challenge well then that person should be scoring in the 70s or par golf (for amateurs).If one takes this view then all courses are playable no matter what tee box or length. Bottom line you have to have “game”, scrambling, putting, GIRs etc.

  2. Terry Koehler

    Sep 8, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    A healthy male below age 40 should be able to hit the ball 250+ yards. Only about 20% can. Gross

  3. Jeff Williams

    Sep 5, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    Wouldn’t you think someone in golf business would keep it to himself and certainly not write an article about NOT watching golf on TV.

    • Shallowface

      Sep 14, 2020 at 3:01 pm

      Most of the players speak the same way, which is interesting because if we all felt that way (and I do), professional golf would cease to exist in its current form. The players would have to put up and play for their own money. Which might rekindle my interest.

  4. Lanh Le

    Sep 5, 2020 at 10:20 am

    DUMB ARTICLE. PLAY OLYMPIA and tell me its easier LOL.

  5. Evan

    Sep 5, 2020 at 5:14 am

    Interesting article Terry. Given the fairly unimpressive tour average of 60% fairways hit you have to question how penal courses are set up for regular tour stops. Looking at the stats it seems like players are hitting less fairways than years back, which given the big improvements clubs and the ball, is surprisingly. Players have maybe worked out that power trumps accuracy and developed their games accordingly. It would be interesting to see who would prosper from the tour having a policy of tightening up courses and putting more of a premium on accuracy from the tee.

    • Bob.

      Sep 8, 2020 at 6:11 pm

      The people that would benefit are the golfers with upright swings. Ala jack back in the day.

  6. Simms

    Sep 5, 2020 at 2:49 am

    Two choices enjoy the heck out of golf or work your rear off and be as gifted as all PRO athletes are. 99.99% of us are not PRO golf gifted, not even close and if your over 25 your chance of being good enough to be called a PRO are about 1 in ten million (OK better odds then the lottery) that said please you and all your friends on the public courses please play tee box’s that fit your ability and for most men that is the white or middle tees, over 55 move up to the gold on the harder courses so we all can enjoy less then 4 and half hour rounds.

  7. Jeff

    Sep 5, 2020 at 12:52 am

    When talking about conditions, a run of the mill amateur course might be tougher in the sense that the greens aren’t as true, the fairways don’t roll the same and have more divots etc. However, those things aside, length of club into the green on your second shot has nothing to do with course difficulty. It isn’t like the pros are hitting wedges because they play short courses. They are hitting wedges because they have learned that if they get really good at scrambling and putting, a wayward tee shot that goes 330yards is recoverable. A lot of the PGA players can overpower courses because of the fitness, the equipment and the golf balls. Make no mistake, our courses aren’t tougher, they are tough for different reasons. I have a driver swing speed of 115-118mph. Length isn’t my problem. I could play pro courses and be hitting 8i-LW in on many of my second shots on their courses. I’d still get eaten alive any time I missed a fairway or a GIR on their courses where as they save par after most of their bad shots. They aren’t even playing the same game as us regardless of what course they’re on.

  8. TS

    Sep 4, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    Long course, hard fairways, long rough, and especially rock hard greens that don’t hold shots from the rough and traps.

    Bay Hill, Presidents Cup. Same thing.

  9. Jeff

    Sep 4, 2020 at 10:57 am

    Any tour player will confirm, they would rather hit an #8 iron from the rough than a #6 iron from the middle of the fairway!

    • Frank

      Sep 5, 2020 at 6:57 pm

      Ok, according to TrackMan averages, the average 8 iron vs 6 iron for pros is 183 yards vs 160 yards. Now let’s go to Mark Broadie’s strokes gained distance chart for 183 yards from fairway vs 160 yards from rough. How about that, pros average 3.23 strokes from 160 yards in the rough compared to 3.09 strokes from 183 yards in the fairway! Turns out your opinion is wrong.

      • geohogan

        Sep 8, 2020 at 10:25 am

        Im guessing AVERAGE doesnt mean Olympia Fields or US Open “rough”
        but the average course they play on the PGA.

      • Jeremy

        Sep 18, 2020 at 8:20 pm

        His opinion isn’t wrong, nor is it an opinion. It is an unconfirmed statement. He said tour players would rather hit a shot. Not that trackman would rather hit a shot. If you’re gonna come in here all lawyer style, get your ducks in order.

    • Prime21

      Sep 8, 2020 at 12:57 am

      18th hole, Sunday, US Open, given this choice EVERY player would choose the 6 iron from the fairway. This take couldn’t be more wrong.

      • Brian

        Sep 23, 2020 at 4:55 pm

        “I’m hitting it as far as I possibly can up there,” he said after a practice round Tuesday at the U.S. Open. “Even if it’s in the rough, I can still get it to the front edge or the middle of the green with pitching wedges or 9-irons. That’s the beauty of my length and that advantage.”

        “There’s this point of no return where if you’re around 180 and you try and get faster, but it gets that much more drastically off-line, it really doesn’t help you that much. You don’t gain that much. But once you start getting 195 to 200 to 205, even though you’re missing it that far off-line, you’re so far up close to the green, it’s too big of an advantage to take away.” – U.S. Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau

  10. Jeff

    Sep 4, 2020 at 10:50 am

    He started all these companies. Besides Ben Hogan and they went bankrupt. Are any still around? Any PGA pros playing his product?

  11. Terry Koehler

    Sep 4, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Thanks to all of you for these comments. Quite apparently I missed the mark in making my point, as I was certainly not comparing “our” games to the skill and talent the pros exhibit every week. That would be foolish as these guys have power, skill and talent that is borderline mystical. That said, the data published on PGATour.com verifies that they are not fairways-hit and GIR machines. But then, with these short games and putting skills, it is quite apparent they don’t have to be.

    The point I apparently failed to make is that these guys are so long and powerful — and have such magical short games and deadly putting skills — they can reduce most any golf course to a driver/wedge contest to a degree. I was also trying to bring to attention that, for the golfers who made the cut, Olympia Fields was nearly a thousand shots harder, collectively. I found that fascinating . . . I’m just sayin’.

    I was also trying to point out that, in contrast, we recreational golfers routinely hit mid-irons or longer into the green, which is much harder to do, based merely on the physics of golf clubs that have longer shafts and less loft than wedges and short irons. So, yes, in respect to your strength/length profile, you ARE playing a more challenging course than these guys do week in and week out.

    Thanks to those of you who “got it” as to the point I was trying to make, and my apologies to those of you who didn’t.

    • HP

      Sep 4, 2020 at 11:57 am

      Got it and also most trouble is in play for us.

    • Jay

      Sep 14, 2020 at 6:52 pm

      Great observation Terry, spot on. Your point wasn’t lost on me buddy.

  12. golfer

    Sep 4, 2020 at 10:40 am

    LOL 160 shanks.. says it all

  13. geohogan

    Sep 4, 2020 at 8:26 am

    IMO, most are missing the point; that being toughness of the course is relative to your ability.

    When a 10 hdcp plays a course where he or she is hitting mid to long irons to par 4
    it is a tougher test than for a pro who it hitting wedge on most par 4.

    The writer isnt saying ams are better than pros. He isnt even saying courses ams play are tougher than courses pros play. IMO the writer is talking about relative difficulty relative to the golfers abilty. Its nuance thinking beyond the abilty of most, unfortunately.

    • Conner

      Sep 4, 2020 at 11:21 am

      It would be a lot easier to say “golfing is more difficult for someone that sucks compared to a pro”

  14. Eric

    Sep 4, 2020 at 12:01 am

    was this satire? Let me guess, the guy who wrote this article is the first to tell you to tuck your shirt in or turn your music down on the course? Absolutely painful read.

    • Shallowface

      Sep 14, 2020 at 3:06 pm

      How you can play with that music blaring is beyond me. Oh, you’re not out there to play any kind of decent golf. My bad!

      Take the music to the park, save your money and stay out of the way of those of us who are out there to actually play some golf.

      And yeah, stay off my lawn. Did it for you. For the one zillionth time.

  15. Ivan

    Sep 3, 2020 at 11:49 pm

    Another example of the pure failure to have developed sufficient analytical skills to make a reasonable conclusion. Here, it’s innocent enough as it’s just golf and this is just a bad golf article. Elsewhere this problem is more dire.

    We don’t need everyone to be PhDs, but even high schools should turn out better thinkers than this.

    • Bob Pegram

      Sep 26, 2020 at 2:55 am

      A good conclusion from Terry’s analysis is to make the rough severe enough at PGA Tour events that hitting a drive in it is a disincentive. It needs to be more of a penalty than it is on many PGA Tour courses. Making the fairways narrower would help too. Terry’s other conclusion is that we should all practice our short games a lot more. That takes pressure off of shots into the greens. A shot that misses the green doesn’t lead to a bogey when you have sharp short game.
      By the way, Terry makes good clubs. Breaking into the existing golf market with a new golf club company is not easy no matter how good your clubs are.

  16. Bill

    Sep 3, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    So basically tour courses are easier because the guys that play them are better at golf? Horrible take.

  17. Teddy

    Sep 3, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    SO its no good when they tear the course up, but also no good when its too tough and becomes a putting contest?? DO you only watch football games where the teems combine for between 27 and 29 points??

  18. Alex

    Sep 3, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    You are so far off it’s unbelievable. Any tour player would beat the tar out of the best am at any country club. Here’s the long and short of it. Brooks tore the hardest public course apart for 3 of 4 days last year. Tiger routinely brought big boy tracks to their knees. Every week someone you’ve never heard of shoots 60 something where plus 3s and 4s would hope to break 80. Bad lies and perfect lies aside, there’s no comparison. Ever see where a pga missed green ends up? The hardest collection area possible. Not to mention none of us hit 4 iron 240 and can hit 1/10 the shots they can. It’s a different game and those guys are so much more skilled I think I’d have just as good of a chance playing in the NFL as on tour as a scratch player. They are so much better than the average club scratch that it’s chess and checkers. The only advantage they have is pre covid having spectators find errant tee shots. Can’t believe you’d be naive enough to spit in the face of greatness and neglect how much more talented those guys are. 1 word Bellerive…2018 PGA. I looked at my buddy and said this place would chew me up and spit me out. That wasn’t even a US Open.

    • Factsarebiased

      Sep 4, 2020 at 10:56 am

      You are very mistaken if you think any tour player will beat the tar out of the best am at their club. There are some very very very good ams out there in the world with plus handicaps as good or better then a number of tour pros. Am at the club I work at got to a +6.4. He could put a whooping on say a Zach Johnson or a Every.

  19. Jared Allen

    Sep 3, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    I cant believe this article became published. This sounds like a high schooler wrote it who realizes he won’t be as good as the pros, so he puts the people ahead of them down.

  20. Brian

    Sep 3, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    Agree 100% with this article. Nothing more boring than watching a tournament where 10-15 players are -20 or better. Huge difference between having pro talent and the ability to just overpower a golf course.

    Watching Driver/Gap Wedge on every hole equals ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz…

  21. John

    Sep 3, 2020 at 4:44 pm

    Wow. As other comments have pointed out, this is a ridiculously terrible take. No golfer should ever base a course’s difficulty off of how long the approach shots are. That’s just an absurd standard that disregards literally every single factor of what makes a course difficult. I seriously hope you weren’t paid to miss the mark this badly.

  22. Matt

    Sep 3, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    I skimmed thru this thinking it was another swing-and-miss attempt at satire. I went back to confirm it is and…. it’s not.

  23. Roy

    Sep 3, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    About the worst article I have ever read on here and pretty sure the author knows little about golf and less about data abalysis

    “And the 70 players who made the cut totaled 673 under par” – WOW – so the people playing good shot good scores?? But how good?? 673 under par for 70 players equals 9.6 under par per player, over 4 rounds. So just below 2.5 under par per round. Add in the players who didnt make the cut and you will get a per round average of 1.5 under par.

    So the best players in the world – those playing in the playoffs – average right about 1.5 under par over 4 days and his point is the course is too easy?? That its not as hard as what “we” play……

  24. Alex

    Sep 3, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    This is one of the worst takes I have read in a long time.

  25. John

    Sep 3, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    I dont like watching formula 1. The roads dont have pedestrians and stoplights. If they had to drive in my conditions I would for sure be a better driver. The roads by my house have potholes, and I drive them every day. Id like to see the foumula one drivers do that with their sissy cars and lack of clearance. Heaven forbid we optimize a track a course where they could showcase their otherworldly talent…..

  26. Shallowface

    Sep 3, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    It’s certainly true when it comes to pin placements and how difficult short putts are as a result. The USGA advises that holes should be cut in an area “as flat as possible” 3 feet around the cup, but what we see are holes cut right on the edge of ridges on two tiered greens. I often have what I call “McDonald’s Putts” from 3 or 4 feet because the line I have to play resembles an arch. You never see this on television. In fact, when they use a feature that shows the line, I am struck by how straight most 20 footers are on Tour. SV677 is right on the money when it comes to rough and bunkers, and most of the places I play I’m plugging tee shots in drowned fairways even in August. The game would be a lot easier if I got 50 yards of roll as I routinely see on Tour. Throw in “optimized” equipment and one concludes the pros are not only not playing the same game we play, they are playing a MUCH easier game. And it’s one I am not impressed with nor have any interest in watching.

  27. SV677

    Sep 3, 2020 at 11:56 am

    The fact amateurs hit longer clubs into a green goes to the question of playing the right length tees. However, were amateurs do play harder courses is the rough and bunkers. How often have you been in the rough with the ball down and the ground as hard as a cart path? Yes, it’s easy to hit a recovery out of that. Or, as I did today, try hitting bunker shots where again the ground is like a cart path with a thin layer of sand on it. Now I realize not all courses are like the above. However, there are more courses with these conditions than high end country clubs like pros play that are immaculate.

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