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The Wedge Guy: Distance control is the key to iron play

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You can watch nearly every PGA Tour event and quickly appreciate the vital importance of distance control with your iron shots. For the most part, these elite players are masterful at “dissecting” their distances into very manageable “bites,” because a “textbook” 7-iron or gap wedge is a rarity in this game.

As I was reviewing old Wedge Guy articles I’ve written, I came across an interesting anecdote from a reader who shared his story:

“Recently, I wanted to work on my GIR, so I decided to adjust my club selection based on distance. Instead of picking the club that would reach the desired distance with a full shot, I went up a club and played roughly a 75% shot with a slow smooth swing.

“In the first round with my new approach, I shot a 77 (on a par 70), and in the second round I shot a 77 (par 72). I hit a ton of greens, and both are all-time low scores for me.

“My question is….Is this the approach I should always use? Should I always try to use a 75% swing for 5 – 9 iron approach shots? Should the 75% shot be my normal swing?”

My advice to this reader was to let the results speak for themselves. It was pretty obvious what he perceived to be his “75% swing” was producing much more reliable distances for him.

While it might not have actually been a measured “75 percent,” I’m personally a big fan of this “throttled back” approach to iron play. I interact with many golfers who tell me their iron distances and I’m often amazed at what they claim. We often hear of tour players hitting an 8-iron from 175 or a 5-iron from 230, but that’s not the norm by any means, even for them. And it certainly shouldn’t be for the rest of us.

As I often do, I would like to share some wisdom from Ben Hogan, who, in his 1949 book, “Power Golf,” listed his yardages with each iron. In this chart, he showed a normal/minimum/maximum yardage with each iron. While you can discount the actual numbers because of technology, what you should focus on is that with each iron he had 20 yards “in reserve” for when he really needed it. Do you? I mean do you have what you consider your normal range with a 7-iron, and another 20 yards when you want? Or are your “maximum” and “normal” distances about the same?

What this golfer I mentioned earlier discovered is that when he throttles back with his irons, his accuracy and distance control improved dramatically, and I would bet it would be the same for 95 percent of us. Your iron play will improve dramatically if you relearn a more relaxed “normal” swing with your irons, and let the distances be what they are. My favorite analogy to swing speed is to relate it to driving. Drivers get freeway speed—as fast as you can drive safely.

Fairway woods and hybrids are a notch below that, as you don’t have the ball sitting on the tee. But when an iron is in my hands, I think “drive 55”, the old country road speed limit. Fast enough to get where you’re going, but slow enough to stay between the lines on a two-lane road with no shoulder.

And I’m a big fan of gripping down on my irons most of the time to gain even a little more control. Even a half-inch or so down on an iron gives you more control than when you grip it to the end. And most golfers will be more accurate and consistent with a 7-iron gripped down and swung easy than with an 8-iron “ripped.”

There is no room in those little boxes on the scorecard for explanations, only for the numbers. A shot to 10 feet with a throttled-back 7-iron is always better than a nuked 8 that’s wide left or right, long or short.

It can even be fun to jack with your testosterone-pumped buddies who are standing on the par-3 tee deciding between and 8- and 9-iron, when you hit it close and answer their inquiry, “What’d you hit?” with “a little 7-iron.”
It makes their head spin, and it’s fun.

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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.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. iutodd

    Aug 20, 2020 at 9:57 pm

    It’s a fine line though I think. Because “swing easy/throttle back” can turn into giving up on the swing. Like – it makes sense that this makes sense…but you still have to execute and focus.

    I tell myself to “swing with purpose”. And then I ignore the pin and take whatever the middle of the green yardage is with anything that isn’t a wedge. It’s why I don’t like laser rangefinders and use GPS which gives me front/middle/back. If I’ve got less than 115 I’ll pay more attention to where the pin is.

    • Acemandrake

      Aug 21, 2020 at 2:08 pm

      A rangefinder helps me most with short shots.

      “Aggressive (not hard, not decelerating either) swings to conservative targets”

  2. Mike R

    Aug 20, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Ego-less golf for the win!

  3. Mike

    Aug 20, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    I like much of want you present. A player needs to recognized that it good shots that go over a green. Club selection is always paramount. The merit of taking more and swinging less than full results in too many bad shots. Due in part of the player being indecisive. I took a simple approach: In between two clubs?…take you 7 iron and your 8 iron and put them side by side and grip your 8 iron. Then place your hands on the 7 at the same length it was on the 8.

    Now swing like you would your 8 iron….all you have done is created an 8 iron with less loft, but you are not gusiessing on what 75% power is….worse thing a player can do is, think that they have to ” take something off”

  4. Acemandrake

    Aug 20, 2020 at 11:47 am

    Hogan said he always used more club on his approach shots.

    That way his swing never changed.

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Opinion & Analysis

The death of the 3-iron and what it means for your bag setup

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The 3-iron is almost extinct. It sounds like an odd statement, but it’s very true. Don’t believe me? Go try and buy one in a set. They are not easily found.

As we evaluate this topic, I’ll refrain from specs from “players” clubs as these are not the irons normally purchased. Yeah, it might skew the data, but even the players capable of playing the long irons are opting out of the 3 iron. And let’s be honest, should any of us be playing a blade 3-iron?

Mizuno only offers 4-PW in the JPX line now. Titleist only offers a 3-iron in T100s, while the rest are void of 3-irons. TaylorMade provides 4-PW in the P790, P790Ti, and P770. Callaway has done the same, only offering a 3-iron in the “players line” of clubs, while the rest is again void of the-iron. Cobra golf has also followed suit.

So are 3-irons just too hard to hit? Is that why no one is buying them, thus causing the OEMs to stop making them? The only ones left to buy are the “players” 3 irons, and those aren’t even reasonable unless you’re a professional.

What if I told you we were being deceived? What if I told you the 3-iron is still very much alive in all the iron sets available but under the guise of a different number?

Let’s hop into the “wayback machine” and take a quick look at the history of iron lofts.

The year is 1970, and the vast majority of irons available are blades. You know, the razor-sharp leading edges that are ready to break your wrist with a deep divot.

The image above is an actual snippet from a catalog from the ’70s. At this point, the 1-iron was virtually extinct, and in 1975, Lee Trevino was immortalized by his joke about how God couldn’t hit a 1-iron, which typically fell in the 18-degree range at the time. 2-irons were standard issue in the set, and the lowest loft you might find is 20 degrees.

Then the ’80s came, and things started to progress. As you might expect, lofts started to decrease. It wasn’t because of flight windows, or launch numbers, because they didn’t have that kind of technology readily available to measure those attributes. It was simply a quest for distance.

Then in the ’90s, you’d pretty much see all iron sets with 21-degree 3-irons, down to 48-degree PW’s, and 21 degrees being the norm for the lowest lofted 3-iron. 2-irons at this time were typically 18 degrees and available by request only.

Then came the 2000’s, an era we all should be familiar with. This is where things started to get interesting. Not only because lofts continued to be strengthened, but because the hybrid became a new option to replace the long irons. Adams Golf made a killing as it perfected this golf club, creating the Idea line that was in the bags of most of the senior tour players and many of the PGA Tour players. These were a fan favorite at retail too. The hybrid was an easy long iron to hit and quickly started to replace 3-irons in golf bags across the country and even on tour.

By this time the pitching wedge lofts started to get pushed to 46 degrees, which was a big jump, to be honest. In the 1970s, MacGregor was making pitching wedges with 49 degrees of loft. So, for the 90’s to be around 48 degrees, it wasn’t too much of a shock. But in the 2000s, we now saw PW’s drop to 46 degrees; a half club stronger. This is where the downfall began, in my opinion.

The first decade of the 21st century needed the gap wedge, also known as the approach wedge or utility wedge or just plain old “wedge.” Now, keep in mind, this club wasn’t anything new. The gap wedge existed ever since the beginning because at 50-52 degrees it was simply a pitching wedge from the ’70s. But it became a necessary element for the bag since the lofts of every iron were starting to move farther and farther away from the sand wedge.

Now in 2020, the average loft of the PW is 43.5 degrees, and the average 4-iron loft is 20.6 degrees. Turns out, the 4-iron from 2020 is .3 degrees stronger than the average 2-iron (20.9 degrees) from 1970. We have come full circle! Instead of maintaining those classic numbers, of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW, the new sets are labeled 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, P, G.

I wonder how many golfers out there carry a 4-iron thinking it’s a club they can hit? Probably too many! Obviously, the 3-iron is dead at this point, since it would actually carry the loft of the elusive 1-iron Trevino claimed was unhittable!

Now, it’s time to discuss how we got to this point. You’ll hear a lot of companies talk about “flight windows” or “launch angles” and how it was changed by engineering, lowering CG’s, and increasing speed through thin faces. Some will talk about how the ball has changed, and it just launches higher, and it requires the lofts to be strengthened, or it will just go too high!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is all a bunch of baloney, and here is why: They started making gap wedges as part of the set. If the launch was too high or the window was too different, why make a matching gap wedge with the same technology and have the loft of a pitching wedge from the 1990s? Wouldn’t that launch or window then be too high for that club too? And yet you still need to buy another gap wedge to fit the 52-degree range. If the average golfer bought a 2020 game improvement set today, they would find the set make up to be 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW (43.5 degrees), Gap #1 (48.6 degrees), Gap #2 (52 degrees). That means if you happen to carry a 56 and a 60 degree, you now have the same amount of label wedges (5) as you do irons (5)!

Five wedges in the bag! Does anyone think this is weird?

Furthermore, when was a higher launching iron shot a bad thing? Wouldn’t average golfers benefit from a steeper angle of descent so the golf ball stops quicker on the green?

I conducted a study where I tested a Titleist 716 MB 8-iron with 39 degrees of loft to a TaylorMade P790 9-iron with 40 degrees of loft. All the data was captured on the Foresight GC2 launch monitor. It wasn’t a perfect test since they didn’t have the same shaft or loft, but my findings were surprising none the less. They went the same distance, almost down to the decimal. The Titleist went 165.2 yards, and the TaylorMade went 165.1 yards. Launch was only .6 degrees different while peak height was less than four feet different. So, unless you are Tiger Woods, you are not noticing a difference out on the golf course.

Some of you might think, “so, the label on the bottom of the club changed, it’s all going the same distance. So, what’s the big deal?” To me, it’s the confusion it creates more than anything. By decreasing the lofts, you’re just making the numbered iron go farther, and you are creating even bigger problems by having large gaps with the sand wedge when all amateurs need those clubs. It’s also putting clubs into the hands of golfers when they have no business hitting, like the 4-iron with 20 degrees of loft. Titleist has already made a T400 5-iron with 20 degrees of loft, and that’s just silly.

There also is the argument that golfers love distance, and when they start playing and can hit a 7-iron relatively far, it helps grow the game. Growing the game isn’t a bad thing, but if they are new to the game, they shouldn’t have any preconceived notions of how far to hit a 7-iron, and that means loft at that point becomes irrelevant.

I will not refute that a 40-degree lofted game improvement iron will be slightly longer than an identical lofted players club, but I think you’d be surprised to see the actual difference is a maximum of about three yards longer. The technology works, but by no means is it so substantial that we need to change the label on the bottom of the golf club.

The bottom line is that loft is king, regardless of the technology involved, and I have seen, but one equipment company make a change backwards! This is TaylorMade with their P770 irons. In comparison the P790, they increased the loft by one degree in the short irons and up to two degrees in the long irons, to add height and spin to the irons to improve performance. Imagine that, more spin and height are an advantage! And that was backed by their testing and their data.

Now to even further nail down my point, it is worth noting that TaylorMade Golf offers the highest lofted Pitching Wedge in the industry at 49 degree, which are in the Tiger lofts of the P7TW irons. That same iron set has a 22.5-degree 3-iron. At 22.5 degrees, it is typically the lowest-lofted iron in the golf bag of the best iron player on the PGA Tour in 2019. Of course, he has the skill to play an iron with lower loft, but the point that history reveals to us is that the effective loft of playability for an iron is about 22 degrees and higher. Anything lower lofted than that is typically replaced with a hybrid. This is not just a trend for the amateur golfer either, and it is even happening on tour with the best players in the world.

We will probably never see the lofts rolled back, but the least we can do is update Lee Trevino’s quote, “if you ever find yourself in a thunderstorm, lift up your 4-iron, because not even God can hit a 4-iron.”

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The Gear Dive: Going scorched earth on Tiger documentary

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On this episode of TGD, Johnny goes in hard on the HBO documentary Tiger.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: My favorite G425 driver? Reviewing Ping’s NEW G425 lineup!

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Ping’s new G425 line of clubs was just released this week and I have had them out on the range! Comparing the G425 LST driver to the Max and what one worked best for me. The rest of the lineup is just really easy to hit and very forgiving. Ping has crafted a great lineup of clubs that are easy to hit and will make the game more enjoyable for those who play them!

 

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