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The Wedge Guy: Take 2 – Do you play the right tees?

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Based on the feedback I got last week, I really missed my mark. I apologize to all who took offense to my “comparison” of the game you play each round to the way PGA Tour professionals display for us every week.

Please allow me a “mulligan” on that topic, if you don’t mind.

The singular point I was trying to make—and to which I hope we will all agree—is that this crazy game is much more enjoyable and rewarding (in terms of scoring) if we are hitting shorter clubs into the greens. Regardless of your skill level, hitting an 8-iron approach is going to typically give you a smaller margin of error than hitting a mid-iron or hybrid.

What I was trying to communicate last week is that the PGA Tour professionals are so strong and developed, they routinely play courses where they can reach almost all the par-five holes with a mid-iron, and over half their remaining approach shots are with short irons and wedges, even on the toughest courses.

This is a stark comparison to the golf we “older guys” played and watched on TV prior to the 1990s or so. In those days, the game at the highest level was played on courses that demanded outstanding driving accuracy, because approach shots were typically hit with middle and long irons, especially on championship tracks. You can’t do that well from the rough.

Please allow me to reference my own club as an example. Like so many, we have five sets of tees, with recommendation that you allow your age to determine which you play. Our back tees (flat bellies) are about 6,900, “regular” tees at 6450, “senior” at about 5900, and so on. At 68 years old, I still can get the ball out there pretty good, so I find the regular tees typically challenge me to hit every club in my bag. I can sometimes elect to go for two of the par fives with a 4-wood or hybrid following a good tee shot, with the other two always being “three shot holes”, a rarity on the PGA Tour. The other 14 holes require me to hit a balance of approach shots with long irons to wedges.

The back tees are fun sometimes, but I find the “senior” tees just too short to be really enjoyable.

In contrast, however, I see some of our older members and less-skilled players routinely unable to reach par -fours in two shots, no matter how good they hit their drives. To them I say emphatically – “move up to whatever tees allow you to reach greens in regulation!”

The game is designed to allow that it should take you three shots to reach a par five . . . two to reach a par four . . . and one to reach the par threes. If your own strength profile makes the course play longer than that, move up for Pete’s sake. Don’t let your age or sex determine the tees you play . . . let your skill level and physical ability do that.

I’ve seen high school and college girls here who routinely tackled the course from the regular or even back tees. And there are many senior male players who should be up even further than our closest set of tees to have a chance to make some birdies. The right tees are NOT about your age or gender – they are about your ability and strength profile.

I visited a course once where a sign on the first tee suggested which tees you would enjoy most based on your typical five-iron distance. It was one of the best ideas I’ve ever seen for helping their players enjoy the challenge.

Hopefully, you’ll grant me this mulligan on last week’s article. Thanks to you all for reading and letting me know when I miss the mark.

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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.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Jim K

    Sep 18, 2020 at 11:55 pm

    Playing from the appropriate tees is a great idea in theory, but it’s one that many courses make difficult to practice. I’ve seen way too many courses where the “regular” tees are 6100 yds or more (too long for many seniors, while the next shortest tees are somewhere around 5200 (too short to be challenging for many seniors). If golf courses want their customers to play the proper tees, they have to make those tees available.

  2. Ewing Philbin

    Sep 18, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Nothing worse than following or playing with guys who insist on playing blue tees but can’t find the golf course. I’d rather play golf at a good pace than look for golf balls.

  3. Joe Greenberg

    Sep 18, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Take 3 required, with due respect: shorter irons engender greater margins of error (higher chance of getting to green) than longer irons.

  4. Marshall

    Sep 17, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    I think tee blocks need to be by handicap. Of course it’s appropriate to move up at any time, but it isn’t so much about distance as it is player ability. If you’re not a 10, don’t play the tips. Better yet, you shouldn’t be *allowed* to play back there.

  5. Gene Kennedy

    Sep 17, 2020 at 10:16 am

    I think once EGO is removed from the decision, it will become a clearer choice. At 71, my choice was moving up or hitting a 5 instead of a 6. Always enjoy your game and the choice will become clear ????

  6. RobertK

    Sep 17, 2020 at 9:11 am

    I liked the first article you wrote. But this certainly makes the point clearer. I’d add that your accuracy off the tee should also be considered when selecting your tee. I have enough strength, speed, and distance to move back at my home course but I don’t currently have the accuracy or consistency to do so yet.

  7. Scott Stone

    Sep 16, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    No apology needed. Your prior comments were spot on.

    • MARK D MORTON

      Sep 17, 2020 at 12:39 pm

      What you said. I felt the only apology he needed to make was one for apologizing!

      Of course I play my version of high satisfaction golf as a mid handicapper and I’ve laid up on a par three while my remainder of my foursome is scrambling for a bogey or double bogey!

  8. Newton Hino

    Sep 16, 2020 at 9:49 pm

    Don’t do this mulligan thing, its a forum-opinion,those don’t agree fine but there’s a lot of those who did. 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 if you have to have “game”, scrambling, putting, GIRs etc. no problems just fun.

  9. Leek

    Sep 16, 2020 at 8:06 pm

    Good piece. I understood you first version and agreed with that as well. Usually weekend warriors are playing from tees that make golf courses play longer than intended for our level. I think Barney Adams posted something similar a few years back. The short version of his essay, pros were playing driver/8 iron on the average TOUR par 4 and we should be playing tees that allow us to do the same.

    I guess we will never again see Ben Hogan’s 1 iron on the 18th at Merion or Jack Nicklaus’s 1 iron knocking down the flag on the 17th at Pebble Beach again.

    • PSG

      Sep 17, 2020 at 9:04 am

      The problem is evolution > nostalgia. You also don’t see many iconic midrange jumpers in the NBA like Jordan over Ehlo (Hogan’s 1 iron) or Jordan over Russel (Nicholas’ 1 iron) simply because modern statistical analysis has shown that the mid-range jumper to tie is an awful shot (you should be trying for the 3 to win, every time).

      The game has been figured out. Distance above all. “Purists” don’t like it and will resist for a time, like they did in basketball, but in the end everyone will play and practice to maximize distance. It is so much more important than any other skill to a low golf score its crazy to care much about anything else until your distance is maxed out.

  10. Acemandrake

    Sep 16, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Play the set of tees where a 7-iron or less is used for the majority of approach shots.

    Know your average driving & 7-iron distances and pick the best set of tees to use.

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I’m betting no one saw this coming through all the build up of how Winged Foot was going to be a “true” U.S. Open test – narrow fairways, deep rough and firm, fast conditions. I’ll bet very few had Bryson DeChambeau in their list of “most likely to”, even if you are an ardent fan of the young man.

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