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Q&A with Fourteen Golf’s Rusty Estes

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Twenty years ago, Rusty Estes couldn’t hit a wedge shot.

Actually, he was a 16-year-old who could hit a lot of different wedge shots for a boy his age, but there was one shot in particular he couldn’t hit.

Estes noticed that when he attempted to hit low-flying, high-spinning chip shots around the greens, which he tried to do with a square club face and a short, speedy action, that the trailing edge on the toe of his wedge would catch the grass, which slowed the club down.

That loss of speed cost Estes the spin he was looking for, which is why he took his wedge to the maintenance facility at the course where he worked at a began grinding down the troublesome area of the sole with a stone grinder (the same grinder the maintenance staff used to sharpen the blades of its equipment), until the wedge slid through the grass the way he wanted.

Estes didn’t know it then, but that day was an important one for him. He’s now one of the most respected grinders on the PGA Tour, and has spent most of the last eight years as the director of Tour operations for Fourteen Golf, a Japanese golf equipment manufacturer known for its high-quality wedges and irons.

Our Zak Kozuchowski had a chance to talk to Estes about Fourteen Golf, the difference between cast and forged clubs and what he’s learned about wedges in the last 20 years.

ZK: You’ve come a long way from that stone grinder, Rusty. What are you using now to shape clubs?

RE: I have a several different tools that I use to achieve the shapes that I am looking for in creating our wedges. I do the majority of my shaping on a variable speed Burr King (1.5 inches by 60 inches), using sanding belts ranging from as low as 40 grit to as high as 200 grit. The sanding belts get me the overall shape that I am looking for and I use four different versions of 3M scotchbrite belts for the polishing aspect. From there, I hand finish each of my custom grinds by hand, assuring the finish that the player is looking for.

ZK: Your company, Fourteen Golf, gained notoriety in the United States in 2002 when its HI-858 driving iron was used by Ernie Els to win the British Open. The HI-858 and its follow up, the HI-660, also found its way into the bags of many other Tour players, including major champions David Duval and Justin Leonard around that time.

Just a few years later, however, the company decided that it wanted to focus on wedges. Why?

RE: Trends of new product development. At the time of the introduction of the HI utility irons, very few OEMs offered a true long iron replacement club. The replacement was often found in the form of a high-lofted fairway metal. The HI provided an option that allowed players a replacement that was easier to hit and control versus the fairway metal.

Since the HI’s introduction to the Tour, several OEMs developed a “hybrid wood,” and those products have become extremely popular among professionals and amateurs. With this new trend, we had an opportunity to redirect our focus and efforts into our wedges — wedges that already had a huge following on the Japanese and Asian tours.

We worked extensively with our R&D team in Japan to design and develop a series of wedges that PGA Tour players would find appealing and carried tremendous performance. Plus, Fourteen Golf is a full-line equipment company. Wedge provided us an avenue to further introduce our products and develop our brand as a full-line OEM.

ZK: Aside from grinding, one of the most important parts of your job as director tour operations is identifying talented players on the tours who can serve as ambassadors for the Fourteen brand. What makes you favor one player over another?

RE: A staff player is a personal reflection of the brand. Our staff carries a wide variety of personalities and demeanors, however, they all carry traits that we embrace at Fourteen Golf — style, professionalism and hard work.

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.


John Mallinger’s wedges, shot at the Honda Classic. 

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.

ZK: The newest member of Fourteen’s tour staff is John Mallinger, who is one of the most accurate players on the PGA Tour this year from inside 125 yards. Staffers Arjun Atwal and Ryuji Imada are also very good wedge players. What can golfers learn from the clubs these players use and how they use them?

RE: You’ll find a lot of uniqueness to how each of them play and practice.

Mallinger has a very consistent routine, and his wedges are ground and bent to his eye specifically. His clubs are bent to specific lofts that will fill the voids in the lower aspect of his bag, especially. He is very particular with turf interaction and how the club appears at address.

Atwal has a less structured approach to short game, hitting shots primarily with feel. His wedges are made to be very versatile, allowing him to the ability to hit  a wide variety of shots.

Imada possesses a tremendous amount of creativity and shot making skills in his wedge game. His wedges have been heavily modified and ground to get him the most versatile soles and bounce configurations of the three guys.

I wouldn’t recommend any of their wedges to the average consumer, because they’re too unique. But what golfers can learn from them is that each golfer has to identify what they want out of their wedge games and pick a wedge accordingly. Ultimately, the product has to look good to them at address and provide performance for their level of ability.

ZK: Throughout the years, there has been a lot of heated discussion in the GolfWRX Forums about the trade-off between cast and forged clubs. You’ve been grinding clubs for Fourteen’s Tour Staff for the last eight years, as well as a lot of other Tour players. What do they say is the difference between cast and forged?

RE: The main feedback I’ve received is based primarily on feel, both the actual sensation of the strike and the enhanced feel around the greens. The majority of players feel that they have more control over both their distances and trajectory with forged clubs.

ZK: Your thoughts?

RE: From all of the testing, both in consumer and professional arenas, I feel that forged products tend to have a tighter dispersion and more consistent spin and trajectory on center-face strikes versus cast products.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the development of both cast and forged products over the years. Casting has made tremendous strides in its process, feel and performance, and many cast clubs are great parts. However, in a game of inches, I would prefer to have a club in my bag that has the advantage, no matter how small or large.

ZK: Fourteen seems limited is the amount of wedge grinds that it currently offers to consumers — only its 56- and 58-degree wedges offer more than one stock sole grind. Are there plans to release a wider variety?

[youtube id=”xrUHcX7H3b8″ width=”620″ height=”360″]

RE: The development process is ongoing, and we currently have several prototype models in play and in the testing phase on Tour. We believe that the Tour is a proving ground and want to assure that each product is Tour worthy prior before it is released to consumers.

ZK: What’s more important in a wedge, fresh grooves or the proper sole grind?

RE: Neither. Center of gravity trumps them both, however fresh grooves outweigh the importance of sole grind.

ZK: Really?

RE: Yes. Center of gravity is a constant, an imperative.

Think about it. Grooves wear down, get dirty and collect debris. Plus, golfers have to take into consideration the type of ball (compression, launch and spin characteristics) they’re playing, the weather (which should include but not be limited to temperature, elevation, wind) as well as the type of lie, turf type, turf height and sub layers of turf.

The sole and its interaction will change depending on ball position, angle of attack, face angle, lie angle, hand position and swing/shaft plane. In all of the scenarios, however, the club’s center of gravity hasn’t dramatically changed — it remains fairly constant.

And golfers can create spin without grooves. Just think of the spin you create when you hit a shot in the center of your driver, which probably doesn’t have grooves.

ZK: That being said, what should golfers look for when they’re buying a new wedge?

RE: Golfers need to identify the characteristics of a wedges that give them the most confidence and fills the voids in their games. Confidence goes a long way in creativity and execution — again, it’s a game of inches. From there, find the lofts that fill distance gaps and do not beafraid of bounce. And always, when in doubt, ask your local PGA professional or certified club fitter.

ZK: Thank you for your time, Rusty. 

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.

Check out the photos of the Fourteen wedges Rusty was grinding before he took them the wheel in the gallery below.

 

Click here to see more discussion in the forums.

 

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Equipment

Forum Thread of the Day: “3+ wedge users – the more, the merrier or certain wedge for certain shots?”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from BetterAtBingo who has asked WRXers the merits of having 3+ wedges in their bag. Our members discuss what they feel is the optimal wedge set-up and how they decide on a specific wedge for a particular shot.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • gioguy21: “I carry a 47* PW (it’s apex MB, or a ‘set’ PW); 52/56/60* MD4’s. When playing, i actually use them for specific purposes mostly: PW and 52 are predominantly for full shots or longer pitch shots off fairways, 56 is used for inside 100y, pitches, chips, around the green and bunker shots, 60 is used for around the green in higher grass, or near-side bunker shots (where you have to get it up quickly) or when a lob shot is needed with some higher spin. Hope this helps. I carried a three wedge system (PW, 52, 59) for the entire year, and always felt like I needed something between the 52 and 59; specifically with spinny pitches/chips and bunker shots.”
  • lenman73: “I am similar to gioguy. I have 44, 50, 56, 60. The 44 and 50 are full shots. The 56 and 60 are for close range. For whatever reason, in my area elevated greens are the norm, so unless you miss short in the front, playing the low ball isn’t the best decision. It’s not always from the front either. So since I started playing 30 years ago and have lived in the same area, the aerial assault has always been my go-to game plan near the greens. So for me, it causes no confusion; it is lie and length-dependent. Anything within 10 yards of the green is my 60 and adjust from there.”
  • gwelfgulfer: “I don’t think that gapping at the bottom of the bag really means much as that is more for full swings. Shots under 100y usually aren’t ‘stock yardage’ full swings (obviously depends on individual yardages) and are likely going to be club manipulated swings (ball position, choke down, 3/4-1/2, flighted). I roll with a three wedge set up unless I have my i20’s in the bag (I just like the UW enough to carry it) as most of these sets have 47-48 degree PW’s, so going 54/58 or 53/58 isn’t much of an issue. Most greenside play is done with either my 53/54 as I prefer to get the ball rolling quicker and just read it all like a put. Bunker play is with either club as situation dictates.”
  • Warrior42111: “PW (45) Full shots – and some bump and run. 50 Full shots – and some bump and run. 56* anything inside 100. 62* short siding and I love it out of a bunker, can full swing and not worry about overshooting”

Entire Thread: “3+ wedge users – the more, the merrier or certain wedge for certain shots?”

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Forum Thread of the Day: “Maverick McNealy’s custom Odyssey/Toulon putter cover”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day showcases Maverick McNealy’s custom Odyssey/Toulon putter cover. The eye-catching cover has got our members talking in our forums, and the reaction to the cover has been very positive.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • Fritzer: “Sick cover, love the SJ logo considering he played for the Jr sharks.”
  • chafita: “Awesome cover.”
  • tdk8180: “You better win with a cover like that…ballsy putting a San Jose logo on there….jeez”

Entire Thread: “Maverick McNealy’s custom Odyssey/Toulon cover”

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Equipment

New 2020 Cleveland Launcher UHX irons feature a combination of hollow and cavity back irons

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Cleveland Golf has introduced Cleveland Launcher UHX irons, which incorporate hollow back long irons with cavity back short irons.

The unique approach looks to provide maximum distance and forgiveness in the long irons (4- 7-irons) through lower and deeper weighting in the hollow back construction while focusing on precision and control from the 8-iron to PW with a cavity back design in this addition to the 2020 Cleveland iron lineup.

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2020 Cleveland Launcher UHX irons: Details

The new additions also contain a high-strength, HT1770M variable steel face insert in each long iron. According to the company, improved mass distribution in the face insert is designed to deliver higher ball speeds and more distance on each shot.

Speaking on the new Launcher UHX irons, Director of Engineering, Research and Development at Cleveland, Dustin Brekke stated

“This combination of cavity back and utility irons into one set offers the perfect blend of distance and accuracy. A new variable face pattern delivers more distance due to hotter faces with better mass distribution.”

new-cleveland-launcher-irons-7 cleveland-launcher-uhx-3 cleveland-launcher-uhx-7-2

Both the hollow and cavity back irons feature a V-Shaped Sole which is designed to offer both improved speed retention and forgiveness through improved turf interaction. The company’s Tour Zip Grooves and enhanced Laser Milling aim to provide maximum spin on each Launcher UHX short iron.

Arriving in both left and right-handed options, Cleveland’s Launcher UHX Irons officially launch on October 4 and are priced at $799.99 MAP for a seven-piece steel set and $899.99 MAP for a seven-piece graphite set.

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