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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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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Speed release patterns and restriction removals for the best golf of your life

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If you’ve been keeping your head or practicing to steer your golf club towards the target. Or worse, restricting your backswing because you feel a loss of control, you are setting yourself up for constant disappointment because your anatomy was designed to yield.

 

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On Spec: Club fitting isn’t magic! Also, Lydia Ko and Stewart Cink win again

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On this week’s episode, host Ryan Barath covers everything from Lydia Ko’s comeback win on the LPGA tour, to why club fittings aren’t some magical thing that’s going to instantly lower scores.

It also covers Stewart Cink’s win at the RBC Heritage and offers a sneak peek at the GolfWRX Best Iron list of 2021.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) here

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Opinion & Analysis

Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others. 

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.

Step 1 – The Importance of Assessment

Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab

Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns

Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury

Introduction

Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track. 

In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!

– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back

– Poor Posture

– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances

– Weak Core Muscles

Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.

With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.

Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility

1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side

2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side

Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds

2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds

3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side

Step 2.2 – Improving Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.

Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles

1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs

2) Posture Cue – 60 secs

3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side

4) Arm Press – 15 reps

Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.

For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.

In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.

If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:

Articles
Golf Fit Pro App (iOS)
Online Training
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