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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Take 2 – Do you play the right tees?

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Based on the feedback I got last week, I really missed my mark. I apologize to all who took offense to my “comparison” of the game you play each round to the way PGA Tour professionals display for us every week.

Please allow me a “mulligan” on that topic, if you don’t mind.

The singular point I was trying to make—and to which I hope we will all agree—is that this crazy game is much more enjoyable and rewarding (in terms of scoring) if we are hitting shorter clubs into the greens. Regardless of your skill level, hitting an 8-iron approach is going to typically give you a smaller margin of error than hitting a mid-iron or hybrid.

What I was trying to communicate last week is that the PGA Tour professionals are so strong and developed, they routinely play courses where they can reach almost all the par-five holes with a mid-iron, and over half their remaining approach shots are with short irons and wedges, even on the toughest courses.

This is a stark comparison to the golf we “older guys” played and watched on TV prior to the 1990s or so. In those days, the game at the highest level was played on courses that demanded outstanding driving accuracy, because approach shots were typically hit with middle and long irons, especially on championship tracks. You can’t do that well from the rough.

Please allow me to reference my own club as an example. Like so many, we have five sets of tees, with recommendation that you allow your age to determine which you play. Our back tees (flat bellies) are about 6,900, “regular” tees at 6450, “senior” at about 5900, and so on. At 68 years old, I still can get the ball out there pretty good, so I find the regular tees typically challenge me to hit every club in my bag. I can sometimes elect to go for two of the par fives with a 4-wood or hybrid following a good tee shot, with the other two always being “three shot holes”, a rarity on the PGA Tour. The other 14 holes require me to hit a balance of approach shots with long irons to wedges.

The back tees are fun sometimes, but I find the “senior” tees just too short to be really enjoyable.

In contrast, however, I see some of our older members and less-skilled players routinely unable to reach par -fours in two shots, no matter how good they hit their drives. To them I say emphatically – “move up to whatever tees allow you to reach greens in regulation!”

The game is designed to allow that it should take you three shots to reach a par five . . . two to reach a par four . . . and one to reach the par threes. If your own strength profile makes the course play longer than that, move up for Pete’s sake. Don’t let your age or sex determine the tees you play . . . let your skill level and physical ability do that.

I’ve seen high school and college girls here who routinely tackled the course from the regular or even back tees. And there are many senior male players who should be up even further than our closest set of tees to have a chance to make some birdies. The right tees are NOT about your age or gender – they are about your ability and strength profile.

I visited a course once where a sign on the first tee suggested which tees you would enjoy most based on your typical five-iron distance. It was one of the best ideas I’ve ever seen for helping their players enjoy the challenge.

Hopefully, you’ll grant me this mulligan on last week’s article. Thanks to you all for reading and letting me know when I miss the mark.

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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.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Kristin Nepean

    Oct 5, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Hi, I’m not sure if I have the right website, but do you happen to sell anything like this https://amzn.to/30v5zNc ? I’d rather buy local, if possible.

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  2. Jim K

    Sep 18, 2020 at 11:55 pm

    Playing from the appropriate tees is a great idea in theory, but it’s one that many courses make difficult to practice. I’ve seen way too many courses where the “regular” tees are 6100 yds or more (too long for many seniors, while the next shortest tees are somewhere around 5200 (too short to be challenging for many seniors). If golf courses want their customers to play the proper tees, they have to make those tees available.

  3. Ewing Philbin

    Sep 18, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Nothing worse than following or playing with guys who insist on playing blue tees but can’t find the golf course. I’d rather play golf at a good pace than look for golf balls.

  4. Joe Greenberg

    Sep 18, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Take 3 required, with due respect: shorter irons engender greater margins of error (higher chance of getting to green) than longer irons.

  5. Marshall

    Sep 17, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    I think tee blocks need to be by handicap. Of course it’s appropriate to move up at any time, but it isn’t so much about distance as it is player ability. If you’re not a 10, don’t play the tips. Better yet, you shouldn’t be *allowed* to play back there.

  6. Gene Kennedy

    Sep 17, 2020 at 10:16 am

    I think once EGO is removed from the decision, it will become a clearer choice. At 71, my choice was moving up or hitting a 5 instead of a 6. Always enjoy your game and the choice will become clear ????

  7. RobertK

    Sep 17, 2020 at 9:11 am

    I liked the first article you wrote. But this certainly makes the point clearer. I’d add that your accuracy off the tee should also be considered when selecting your tee. I have enough strength, speed, and distance to move back at my home course but I don’t currently have the accuracy or consistency to do so yet.

  8. Scott Stone

    Sep 16, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    No apology needed. Your prior comments were spot on.

    • MARK D MORTON

      Sep 17, 2020 at 12:39 pm

      What you said. I felt the only apology he needed to make was one for apologizing!

      Of course I play my version of high satisfaction golf as a mid handicapper and I’ve laid up on a par three while my remainder of my foursome is scrambling for a bogey or double bogey!

  9. Newton Hino

    Sep 16, 2020 at 9:49 pm

    Don’t do this mulligan thing, its a forum-opinion,those don’t agree fine but there’s a lot of those who did. I always say all courses scoring and playability is relative. If one says the course is easy and not a challenge well then that person should be scoring in the 70s or par golf (for amateurs).If one takes this view then all courses are playable no matter what tee box or length;bottom line if you have to have “game”, scrambling, putting, GIRs etc. no problems just fun.

  10. Leek

    Sep 16, 2020 at 8:06 pm

    Good piece. I understood you first version and agreed with that as well. Usually weekend warriors are playing from tees that make golf courses play longer than intended for our level. I think Barney Adams posted something similar a few years back. The short version of his essay, pros were playing driver/8 iron on the average TOUR par 4 and we should be playing tees that allow us to do the same.

    I guess we will never again see Ben Hogan’s 1 iron on the 18th at Merion or Jack Nicklaus’s 1 iron knocking down the flag on the 17th at Pebble Beach again.

    • PSG

      Sep 17, 2020 at 9:04 am

      The problem is evolution > nostalgia. You also don’t see many iconic midrange jumpers in the NBA like Jordan over Ehlo (Hogan’s 1 iron) or Jordan over Russel (Nicholas’ 1 iron) simply because modern statistical analysis has shown that the mid-range jumper to tie is an awful shot (you should be trying for the 3 to win, every time).

      The game has been figured out. Distance above all. “Purists” don’t like it and will resist for a time, like they did in basketball, but in the end everyone will play and practice to maximize distance. It is so much more important than any other skill to a low golf score its crazy to care much about anything else until your distance is maxed out.

  11. Acemandrake

    Sep 16, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Play the set of tees where a 7-iron or less is used for the majority of approach shots.

    Know your average driving & 7-iron distances and pick the best set of tees to use.

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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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