Based on my 25+ years as a wedge designer and marketer, I can easily say that ‘bounce’ is the most mis-understood aspect of wedges and wedge-fitting. I’ve learned that a great number of golfers are totally confused about this very important design feature of wedges. So here goes.
A primer: What is bounce?
Very simply, “bounce” is the design feature of the sole of a wedge (or actually, any golf club) that helps it perform properly when it makes contact with the turf. A “worm’s eye view” of any wedge shows that the sole of the club has a downward angle from the leading edge back to the trailing edge. That angle, in relation to the horizontal line of the turf is what is defined as the “bounce angle”.
In general, the higher that angle (measured in degrees from the horizontal plane of the turf), the more the club will tend to be “rejected” by the turf upon impact. Conversely, the lower the angle the less “rejection force” will be experienced. But also realize that the width of the sole and the bounce angle combine to produce a certain playability. A wide sole with a low bounce angle might perform very similar to (but also very differently than) a narrow sole with a higher bounce angle. Bounce is just not a simple subject.
How do I pick the right bounce?
To further compound the confusion you might have, the wedge marketplace offers hundreds of choices of loft/bounce combinations, and the industry has settled on this basic advice to help you navigate through this maze.
- For soft turf or fluffier lies, you want a higher bounce angle.
- For firm turf or tighter, you want a lower bounce angle.
- If you have a steep angle of attack, you want a high bounce.
- If you have a shallower angle of attack, you want a lower bounce.
Here is where I’ll call on my analysis of over 40,000 wedge-fitting “interviews” through the online fitting tools I have designed to share a couple of interesting facts that challenge that entire line of reasoning
- Over 80 percent of golfers of all skill levels say that the turf they play on is varying in its firmness (I can’t imagine the golf course the other 20% play that they think has the same turf quality throughout), and
- Over 75 percent of golfers of all skill levels say they vary their swing path; either on purpose to hit various shots…or unintentionally because they are not tour pros! (Again, I am suspect that 25 percent of golfers take the same divot all the time.)
Here is where my “respectful irreverence” to the industry’s reasoning about bounce fitting comes out, and I offer a few more examples of why I challenge the entire concept
- What if I have a tight lie on soft turf?
- What if I have a fluffy lie on firm turf? (And just where are these courses that have the same kind of turf conditions everywhere on them?)
- What if I have a shallower angle of attack, but the lie is on soft turf?
- Conversely, what if I have a steep angle of attack but the shot is on firm turf?
- Wait, I’m a good player and vary my angle of approach based on the shot I’m facing; what kind of bounce should I play?
And the biggest one: I’m not a tour pro, but a mid- to high-handicapper. The courses I play have every kind of lie, turf firmness and sand texture imaginable (and some that aren’t). My angle of approach is not consistent (duh, I’m a mid- to high handicapper). How the heck do I sort through this?
Bear with me, because I’m going to offer you some advice after I cover this last piece of the puzzle.
This seems to be a growing trend offered by some wedge brands, always at a premium price over their standard offerings. But who really needs a “custom grind” and how would you know what you need?
Understand that tour players typically spend lots of time with their equipment sponsors to have their wedges custom ground because they spend hundreds of hours and hit thousands of shots perfecting their skills. They have the most highly refined set of skills and sense of touch . . . you can’t even imagine. As a result, they can do things with a wedge that your best local club players don’t even dream of. Even more importantly, if they get to a tournament where course conditions change, all they have to do is go to the equipment trailer and get some more grinding, or even new wedges that are right for that particular course that particular week. Oh, and they are F-R-E-E.
Tour players have their wedges made so that the sole gets “out of the way” of their skills. Amateurs need wedges that have a sole that gets in the way, to help compensate for the fact that they didn’t hit 2-300 wedge shots since their last round of golf.
So, what do you do?
In my opinion, you simply cannot select a wedge out of a retail display and expect to be satisfied. You cannot test wedges on a hitting mat in a store and learn anything about how they are going to perform for you on the courses you play. I’ll apply that same advice to selecting wedges based on a driving range session.
I firmly believe the only way to figure out what wedge sole configuration works best for you is through trial-and-error…on YOUR golf course(s), with the shots YOU face on a round-by-round basis. You simply must take demo wedges onto the course and hit the shots you know you will have, from the lies you will be required to navigate and the sand you will play from.
If you cannot demo the exact wedges you are considering, then you might think about moving on until you can. My bet is that your golf professional will have demo wedges you can take out on the course to see how they work for you. And he or she can also help you learn some wedge techniques and skills that will broaden your short-range options to quickly impact your scoring.
I hope that helps, and I look forward to sharing more equipment industry insight and opinions with you next week.
Ways to Win: Hideki Matsuyama from Low Am to low man at the Masters
They say the Masters does not start until the back nine on Sunday, but by that time, this year’s iteration was all but wrapped up. Hideki Matsuyama stepped onto the 10th tee with a five-stroke lead and the volatile back nine in front of him. The Augusta pines would be void of roars, though, as Matsuyama’s pursuers near the top of the leaderboard struggled to mount a significant charge. The closest challenger was a late-charging Xander Schauffele, who made four straight birdies to get to within two of the lead heading to the 16th tee. His hopes were then quickly dashed when he dunked his tee shot in the water and eventually made a triple-bogey. Augusta National Golf Club played difficult this spring. Contrary to the record-setting November version, the greens were more brown and firm than typical and required precision. Luckily for Matsuyama, precision has made him one of the elite golfers in the world. He earned this green jacket. He just happened to earn it on Saturday where his 65 was three strokes better than the next-best round. Using V1 Game to analyze his Strokes Gained performance shows Matsuyama gained 6.7 strokes on the average PGA Tour field on Saturday and 4.2 of those were from his iron game.
Matsuyama has always been a premier ball striker and, if anything, poor putting has held him back from winning more. Augusta National is no place for a balky putter and Matsuyama has made some significant strides in that category. While he did not gain strokes on the field in putting this week, he managed to get to average and, with his elite ballstriking, that was enough. Augusta National’s lightning-quick, undulated greens reward a properly-struck shot and punish even the slightest mishit. Matsuyama made 96 feet of putts Saturday (the PGA TOUR average is around 70 feet), including birdie putts of five, 19, 10, four and 10 feet. He also made a six-foot eagle putt on 15. You don’t have to be an elite putter when you have opportunities that close. Good for Matsuyama, because while he filled it up on Saturday, for the week, his putting was sub-standard.
V1 Game breaks down putting performance by distance from the hole, where we can see that Matsuyama lost strokes to the field in all but four distance buckets. He gave significant strokes back to the field from 4-6 feet, 11-15 ft, and 31-50 feet. Matsuyama had four 3-putts on the week, including one on Saturday and one Sunday. That’s progressing in the right direction, but still with room for improvement for the 29-year-old Matsuyama.
If you are going to win the Masters, it always starts with the par 5s and Matsuyama took advantage, playing them in 11-under for the week. He played the par 3s in +1 and the par 4s in even par for the week. Clearly, the par 5s were vital to him being able to get to the required -10 to win the tournament by just a single stroke. Augusta National has arguably the finest set of par fives in golf, each of them scorable and each of them dangerous. With V1 Game’s Hole History, Hideki played the 13th the best at -4 and the 8th the next-best at -3. Hideki made three eagles on the par 5s and averaged 4.3 strokes on the par 5s. That even includes the near-disaster on 15 on Sunday. Matsuyama was consistently in play off the tee and able to challenge the greens with his approach shots throughout the week.
All of the above added up to a healthy lead and afforded Matsuyama some cushion coming down the stretch, cushion that he needed as he got closer to earning his first green jacket. The golf tournament could have turned out significantly differently if young Will Zalatoris could have found a way to play better around Amen Corner, but instead Matsuyama was able to stumble a bit down the stretch and still maintain a two-stroke cushion until the final putt was holed. The Strokes Gained Heatmap from V1 Game for his final round scorecard shows exactly which part of his game became unsteady. Matsuyama overshot the 15th green into the lake and made bogey (Approach). Then three-putted the 16th green and missed a short putt on 18 (putting), knowing bogey was enough to win the golf tournament.
Still, a well-earned victory for Matsuyama. He struck the ball better than anyone else this week and did enough to claim the victory. Augusta National showed its teeth with firmer, faster greens and challenged the field to be precise. Matsuyama has made a career out of being precise. The same strength that brought Hideki Low Amateur honors more than 10 years ago brought him the green jacket as low man in the 2021 Masters.
Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Starting the outdoor golf season with minimal damage
With all the courses opening in the Northeast and the Northwest, we are transitioning from the indoor training facilities to the great outdoor abyss. This talk will help you stick to your guns with conviction and avoid all the new distractions that are going to come your way.
On Spec: Hideki Matsuyama wins the Masters!
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