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Opinion & Analysis

Wedge Guy: Survey your options for better scoring

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I always find it amazing to watch the pros selection of shots around the greens. Most amateurs I play with don’t use nearly as much imagination in their scoring shots, and their scores suffer because of it.

A few years ago, I got this request from a reader

“An article about options around the greens, suggested clubs, when to use these shots and even how to practice them would be awesome.”

So let’s get to it.

We all have our “go-to” club for recovery shots when we miss the green. For many, it’s the sand or lob wedge, while others might always go to their pitching wedge or even 8- or 9-irons because they are “afraid’ of their wedges. But I suggest that your scores will benefit if you let your imagination run a little wild and open your mind to all the shot options available to you.

For example, if you are not far off the fringe and have some green to work with, a highly-probably shot is what I call the “putt-chip”. Very simply, you just take a middle iron, play the ball back a little in your stance, and use your normal putting grip and stroke. Solid contact is all but assured, and your touch will be similar to that with your putter. The ball gets airborne just enough to carry to the green surface but has minimal spin so it then rolls out to the hole. Tips for executing the “putt-chip” are to grip the club lightly, as it is an overall lighter club than your putter, and to slightly forward press so that you make clean contact. Try this shot and I think you will find it becoming another of your “go-to” shots around the greens.

I often find that the gap or pitching wedge is a better option for a straightforward pitch than either the sand or lob wedges. Situations that scream out for that selection and shot is when you have quite a bit of green to cover after the ball flight, or if you are chipping uphill and want the ball to release some after it lands. To get the lower ball flight and reduced spin you are seeking on this shot, simply play the ball slightly to the rear of your stance, and make your takeaway lower, slower and longer than normal, and your forward swing the same way – low, slow and long. That produces less clubhead speed and reduced spin, along with a lower ball flight. Keep your hands quiet and take the club away with a one-piece rotation of your body core, with an extended arm swing. Don’t set the wrists as much as you would for a bunker shot or normal pitch.

And I’ll give you a third shot that can be your only hope sometimes.

You find yourself short-sided, with a closely mown upslope to a near-cut pin position. A lob shot is low percentage, so trying to run it up the slope is your only hope of getting it close enough to have a chance at par, but you don’t want to get “cute” with a wedge and leave yourself this shot again.

The answer here is to “putt-chip” it with a fairway wood or hybrid. Just take your putting stance and grip on the club, which will tilt the longer club up on its toe a bit – that’s OK. Grip it lightly as these clubs are considerably lighter than your putter and that improves feel. Then just “putt” the ball up the hill and onto the green. And on this shot, make sure the ball gets to the hole. When you have a tough recovery shot, your goal should be to give yourself a chance for an up and down, but make sure you don’t leave yourself the tough chip all over again by being timid or cute.

So, I hope these three shots can find their way into your scoring arsenal. They only take a little practice and you’ll be able to call them up when you need them. When you are out for an afternoon “quick nine” drop some balls around the greens and practice these a bit – they’ll pay off quickly.

When you miss a green, exercise a little creativity and see all your options. Quite often the best shot isn’t the one that’s the most obvious.

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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.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Suncoast9

    Aug 28, 2020 at 11:58 am

    I like to look for the biggest landing area that will produce an acceptable result. Once a pick my landing area I select the appropriate club. For example, chip to a flat landing area but if I hit it too hard the ball lands on an upslope that slows it down. Or a flat landing area but if I hit it too soft it lands on a downslope and pitches forward. I call these win-win situations. The ideal situation is a landing area shaped like a wide U (win-win-win).
    I try to avoid crowned landing areas (lose-lose situations) where any miss of the landing area will exaggerate the miss.

  2. ChipNRun

    Aug 26, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Good point on #2, the “distance to cover” situation:

    “Situations that scream out for that selection and shot is when you have quite a bit of green to cover after the ball flight, or if you are chipping uphill and want the ball to release some after it lands.”

    A related rule I have: NEVER hit a lob wedge off an uphill lie, which can translate into too much functional loft. It’s a great way to get a pop fly that stops on the fringe… or, if you try to ignore the upslope, bury the leading edge and chunk the shot.

  3. Acemandrake

    Aug 26, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    Great advice on using a lighter grip when chipping for increased feel.

    I knew about using a putting stroke for chipping but forgot that a putter is much heavier than an iron.

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Opinion & Analysis

The future of club fitting is going virtual

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Thanks to technology, you can buy everything from custom-made suits to orthotics online without ever walking into a store or working in person with an expert.

Now, with the help of video and launch monitors, along with a deeper understanding of dynamics than ever before, club fitting is quickly going virtual too, and it’s helping golfers find better equipment faster!

What really took so long?

The real advancements started in the coaching world around a decade ago. What used to require heavy cameras and tripods now simply requires a phone and you have a high-definition slow-motion video that can be sent around the world in a matter of seconds.

Beyond video, modern launch monitors and their ability to capture data have quickly turned a guessing game of “maybe this will work” into a precision step-by-step process of elimination to optimize. When you combine video and launch monitor elements with an understanding of club fitting principles and basic biomechanics, you have the ability to quickly evaluate a golfer’s equipment and make recommendations to help them play better golf.

The benefits of virtual fitting

  • Any golfer with a phone and access to a launch monitor can get high-level recommendations from a qualified fitter.
  • Time and cost-saving to and from a fitter. (This seems obvious, but one of the reasons I personally receive so many questions about club fitting is because those reaching out don’t have access to fitting facilities within a reasonable drive)
  • It’s an opportunity to get a better understanding our your equipment from an expert.

How virtual fittings really work

The key element of a virtual fitting is the deep understanding of the available products to the consumer. On an OEM level, line segmentation makes this fairly straightforward, but it becomes slightly more difficult for brand-agnostic fitters that have so many brands to work with, but it also shows their depth of knowledge and experience.

It’s from this depth of knowledge and through an interview that a fitter can help analyze strengths and weaknesses in a player’s game and use their current clubs as a starting point for building a new set—then the video and launch monitor data comes in.

But it can quickly go very high level…

One of the fastest emerging advancements in this whole process is personalized round tracking data from companies like Arccos, which gives golfers the ability to look at their data without personal bias. This allows the golfer along with any member of their “team” to get an honest assessment of where improvements can be found. The reason this is so helpful is that golfers of all skill levels often have a difficult time being critical about their own games or don’t even really understand where they are losing shots.

It’s like having a club-fitter or coach follow you around for 10 rounds of golf or more—what was once only something available to the super-elite is now sitting in your pocket. All of this comes together and boom, you have recommendations for your new clubs.

Current limitations

We can’t talk about all the benefits without pointing out some of the potential limitations of virtual club fittings, the biggest being the human element that is almost impossible to replicate by phone or through video chat.

The other key factor is how a player interprets feel, and when speaking with an experienced fitter recently while conducting a “trial fitting” the biggest discussion point was how to communicate with golfers about what they feel in their current clubs. Video and data can help draw some quick conclusions but what a player perceives is still important and this is where the conversation and interview process is vital.

Who is offering virtual club fittings?

There are a lot of companies offering virtual fittings or fitting consultations over the phone. One of the biggest programs is from Ping and their Tele-Fitting process, but other companies like TaylorMade and PXG also have this service available to golfers looking for new equipment.

Smaller direct-to-consumer brands like New level, Sub 70, and Haywood Golf have offered these services since their inception as a way to work with consumers who had limited experience with their products but wanted to opportunity to get the most out of their gear and their growth has proven this model to work.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Breakthrough mental tools to play the golf of your dreams

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Incredibly important talk! A must listen to the words of Dr. Karl Morris, ham-and-egging with the golf imperfections trio. Like listening to top athletes around a campfire. This talk will helps all ages and skills in any sport.

 

 

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