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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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The 19th Hole (Ep. 165): One-on-one with Shane Bacon

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Host Michael Williams talks with the co-host of the Golf Channel’s Golf Today about the Open Championship and Collin Morikawa’s place in the history books.

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What’s old is new again

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All of a sudden, today’s newest trend in golf is yesterday’s clubs.

Golfers are making a move towards old classics the way car enthusiasts would ogle a classic Porsche 911 before they would look twice at a new Tesla Model 3. On the spectrum of art to science, Tesla is peak science and focused on efficiency in every fathomable way. The other will absolutely get you from A to B, but you are more likely to have a smile on your face while you take the detour along the water while enjoying the journey to get there. It is the second type of club that is enjoying this latest resurgence, and I can’t get enough.

New businesses are springing up to refurbish old clubs such as @mulligansclubmakers and @twirledclubs with price tags approaching (and exceeding) the RRP at the time of release of many of the clubs in question. These old clubs are often found in pictures of major champions being used in the 1970s and 1980s, which serves to make them more valuable and interesting to enthusiasts. Other clubs are simply polished examples of the clubs many of us owned 25 years ago and now regret selling. The more polish on an old blade, the better, with classic designs from brands like Wilson Staff, Mizuno, or MacGregor seeing demand and prices increase every month. Seeing these old clubs reimagined with shiny BB&F co ferrules, updated shafts, and grips can get some golfers hot and bothered, and they will open their wallets accordingly.

Around 15 years ago, I bought an old set of blades from the brand Wood Brothers. For many years, I was unable to find out a single thing about those clubs, until @woodbrosgolf came out of hibernation this year onto Instagram and into a frothing market for handmade classic clubs from a forgotten past. I was able to get information that the blades had come out of the Endo forging house in Japan, and my decision to keep the clubs in the garage all these years was vindicated. Now I just need an irrationally expensive matching Wood Bros persimmon driver and fairway wood to complete the set…

Among other boutique brands, National Custom Works (@nationalcustom) has been making pure persimmon woods with the help of Tad Moore to match their incredible irons, wedges, and putters for some time, and now the market is catching up to the joy that can be experienced from striking a ball with the materials of the past. There is an illicit series of pictures of persimmon woods in all states of creation/undress from single blocks of wood through to the final polished and laminated artworks that are making their way into retro leather golf bags all over the world.

There are other accounts which triumph historic images and sets of clubs such as @oldsaltygolf. This account has reimagined the ‘What’s in the Bag’ of tour pros in magazines and made it cool to have a set of clubs from the same year that shows on your driver’s license. I hold them wholly to blame for an impulse buy of some BeCu Ping Eye 2 irons with matching Ping Zing woods… The joy to be found in their image feed from the 70s and 80s will get many golfers reminiscing and wishing they could go back and save those clubs, bags and accessories from their school days. If you want to see more moving pictures from the era, @classicgolfreplays is another account which shows this generation of clubs being used by the best of the best in their heyday. Even better than the clubs are the outfits, haircuts and all leather tour bags to match.

It seems that this new generation of golfer – partially borne out of COVID-19 — is in need of clubs that can’t be sourced fast enough from the major OEMs, so they have gone trawling for clubs that were cool in a different time, and they want them now. Those golfers who match the age of the clubs are also experiencing a golfing rebirth, as the technology gains from the OEMs become incremental, many are now finding enjoyment from the classic feel of clubs as much as they are searching for an extra couple of yards off the tee.

Either way, the result is the same, and people are dusting off the old blades and cavities from years past and hitting the fairways more than ever before. With the desire shifting towards fun over challenge, they are even creeping forward to the tees that their clubs were designed to be played from and finding even more enjoyment from the game. If only I hadn’t got rid of those old persimmons in high school…

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The Wedge Guy: Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better

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A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number one reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better!

So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? I have my rationale, so put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Top 4 Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve

  1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and you practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” But pick any good one and READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match the drawings and photos. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.
  2. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint, and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll never accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and setup. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing motion properly. With a good grip and a sound setup posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.
  3. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far, if it’s too far forward or backward, if you are aligned right or left of your intended line, your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5-inches wide. If you vary in your setup by even 3/4 inch, you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game, learn how to set up the same way every time.
  4. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action: it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye-hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.

Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself.

Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only 1/4 inch or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top-of-backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow-motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my four reasons golfers don’t get better. We all have our own little “personalization” in our golf swing, but these sound fundamentals apply to everyone who’s ever tried to move a little white ball a quarter-mile into a four-inch hole. Working on these basics will make that task much easier!

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