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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: “How I learned to stop worrying and love single length irons”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from pinestreetgolf who shared his experience using single length irons. In pinestreetgolf’s excellent and thorough write-up, he explains just how single length irons worked for him, despite his previous suspects, and why he feels others should considering making the move to single length clubs in the future.

“First, I made a mistake I am constantly on others for making. I thought all-or-none. The whole “same stance, same swing, same plane” thing isn’t true. However, I decided that since one of them wasn’t true (if the lie changes, it all changes), then none of it was true. That was dumb. It’s about 80% true, and that is a lot. What I mean by that is that I struggle with ball position. Now I don’t. The club always feels the same, so you always just sort of start lining up the same all the time. It’s hard to describe, exactly. When my ball position creeps back, I start to get stuck. Now it doesn’t creep back. I grab the club, and the address position feels natural and easy.

Second, I made the mistake of thinking yardage gaps have to be consistent to be useful. They don’t. As my SL set tends towards its extremes, my gaps get larger. My 5 iron isn’t 10 yards behind my 6. But I know how far it is behind my six and I know I hit the center more often, so effectively, because I get much better contact, my gap is much more consistent even though it is smaller.

Third, I learned to hit a hybrid. I play them through 4 iron. I cannot get a SL 4 iron off the ground consistently, but my gaggle of G30 hybrids from the 2nd swing is fantastic.

Fourth, I kept my PM Grind for in and around the green complex.
Fifth, it makes practice MUCH more effective. Swap them out all the time. Hit a 6, hit a SW, hit a 9, hit a 7, rapid fire.

It took me a long time to get used to them, but the two massive pros are the setup/stance and practice. You set up the same way almost instinctively, and that is HUGE. I also feel like I get a ton more out of practice AND that my practice feels like the course a lot more.

There are some drawbacks. I found three specialty shots I had to add clubs at top and bottom to pull off:
1. A short-game only club, like a PM Grind.
2. Where the last SL doesn’t get airborne anymore. I used 3 hybrids below it. They hit middles of greens.
3. Ground balls – I can’t punch out nearly as well with a SL 5 as a CB 3 or 4. I’ve learned to use my driver on this shot.

If you are thinking about something new for irons and have some cash, I would recommend trying SL. It grew on me. I was wrong about it. The key is to stick with it. Just throw them in the bag for two months and when practicing switch up irons constantly – do NOT just bang one iron with an SL set.

Finally, either get fit or play with lie angle a lot. Mine are +3 up, and I’m only 6′. Feel great, dead even dirt line. But since they are all the same, they better be right. Just my thoughts on SL. They’ll be in my bag for the May – Sept. tournaments. I would highly recommend 1. ignoring my earlier posts on them and 2. trying them.”

Here are what a few of our members have said in response to pinestreetgolf’s post, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • snowman9000: “Some people get hung up on thinking that they aren’t supposed to have a shorter wedge. I kept one, no big deal. As to hybrids, that’s no biggie either. I mean, it’d be great if we could get good results with 13 clubs the same length, but that’s just not possible. Having SL irons is a huge simplification of the game, regardless of the rest of the bag.”
  • ChrisLC40: “OP I love how you summed everything up. I made the switch a little over two years ago and have made huge improvements. At times I think about going back to variable length irons because of the offerings, but OL is so repeatable, and I feel I may go backwards and need to relearn some things.”
  • LONGBALL777: “Welcome to the Dark Side!”

Entire Thread: “How I learned to stop worrying and love single length irons”

 

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Equipment

WRX Spotted: A pair of custom putters

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This week’s Zurich Classic is all about pairs — that goes for the two-man teams competing for the winner’s check(s), and in the case of notable putters we spotted, a pair of new one-off customs in bags this week: Abraham Ancer’s personal Bettinardi and Danny Lee’s new Scotty Cameron Super Rat.

Let’s start with the Danny Lee’s because there is a LOT going on with that club including first and foremost – it’s one nasty wand:

  • Super Rat head shape with a single sight line
  • The milled (actual) loft appears to be pretty standard for Cameron Putters
  • The hosel has been bent to accommodate Danny’s “armlock” style. This keeps the loft of the head where it should be while forward pressing. This kind of adjustment would need to be made to any standard putter if you were to try the armlock, or else you would deliver negative loft at impact
  • The shaft is LA Golf Shaft OZIK TP — a shaft designed to remove undesirable vibration through the shaft, while also reducing putter head oscillation at impact. Not a surprise considering the number of multi material/graphite putter shafts that are available right now to help improve consistency.
  • Last but not least a SuperStroke Flatso grip installed with the flat part of the grip aligned parallel to the putter face! This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this, and it makes sense – Utilizing the orientation of the grip to create greater awareness of the face angle can help players of all skill levels create more consistent results, even tour pros.

Danny has had an interesting golf bag to follow this season with a number of changes coming almost weekly from irons to putters. Maybe this change could help turn his putting around (currently ranked 116th in strokes gained: putting), all while still being inside the top 50 in the FedEx Cup.

Now to Abraham Ancer’s new Custom DASS BBZero Tour Dept. Putter.

  • This putter is based off of the BBZerostyle head with rounded bumpers and a plumbers neck
  • Compared to the BBZero though, the heel is thicker and it could have a slightly shorter blade length (TBD)
  • It has a recessed sight line on the top that runs perpendicular to the sight line in the flange to form a “T.” This is interesting for a couple of reasons including that it looks to be the width of a golf ball, which could help Abraham find the center better. Also as a right-handed golfer, this type of alignment is an indication that he is most likely right-eye dominant and uses the face of the putter to align to the target as much if not more than the flange line.
  • Just like Danny’s above, this putter is also shafted with the LA Golf Shaft OZIK TP — there must be something about that that has more players testing it out.
  • And finally, the grip is the SuperStroke Claw. Judging by the cleanliness of both these grips these are both new to the players and testing will prove what ends up come tournament time.

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Forum Thread of the Day: “Iron type for controlling shots into the wind?”

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Today’s Forum Thread of the Day comes from eckmanjp who is on the hunt for irons to help with controlling shots played into the wind. Our members give their opinions on what are the best options for eckmanjp, with plenty of different clubs and shafts recommended.

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.

  • driveandputtmachine: “Into the wind, spin is NOT your friend. No matter how low launching it will balloon. I was an extremely high spin player, in my search for something lower spinning my three best were…. TM P 790, Cobra Forged TEC, and Ping i500.The final piece is a shaft that spins high enough to hold greens, but not too high to balloon into the wind.”
  • mogc60: “Sounds like you have good clubs and shaft combo for reducing spin. Shafts do make a difference…but don’t cure the upshoot into the wind. Good advice above about more club and swinging slower…speed equals spin. I find the biggest mistake people make into the wind is playing the ball too far back and hitting down too hard. The key is smooth through impact and finishing low in your follow through…not pounding it down…that creates that upshooting shot that the wind destroys.”
  • dpb5031: “Technique plays the major role here, not equipment. Generally, anywhere from 1 to 3 extra club, grip down on the handle, and use what I call a wide-to-wide swing at 3/4 speed. Think limited arm swing (no longer than left arm parallel with the ground in BS) and then cover the ball, keep body turning through it, and finish wide & low, with handle following your rotating trunk around to the left.”
  • rxk9fan: “I think the head/shaft combo can make a huge difference of course along with how you deliver the clubhead into the ball. Take a look at the Titleist shaft chart and see what they are showing. FWIW though, the OP’s current shaft should not be a high launch/high spin shaft. I found both the 716 AP2 and CB to be tough to control spin with, but as suggested it was 100% my delivery at impact. I found the Srixon Z9xx series to spin less but the best thing I did was get to a quality teacher, and we improved a pretty tiny swing flaw that had a big impact on spin. Good luck. I can say I tried to “new club” my way through the spin problem, but three lessons is what it took to fix it.”

Entire Thread: “Iron type for controlling shots into the wind?”

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