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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A tale of two tours

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If any of you watched much golf on TV this past weekend, you could have seen a complete contradiction of what golf was, is, and has become. I’m talking about the stark difference between the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour. This reflection is somewhat of a follow up to what I’ve been writing about the past couple of weeks. I promise to move on to more tips to help you improve your scoring next week!

On the one hand, we saw the PGA Tour professionals simply pummel TPC Summerlin. The winning score was 23 under par, and three players tied at that figure. If you watched, these amazingly long-hitting professionals made mincemeat of what is not an overly easy track. But is it really “23 under par” when all par fives were reachable in two with a mid- or short iron? Or when two of the par fours are driveable? Even with an iron in one case for DeChambeau?

We now are witnessing an acceleration of the evolution of golf at the highest level. It is no longer about controlling the flight of the golf ball, hitting fairways and greens. No, now the game belongs to the most powerful. These are highly tuned athletes who generate enormous clubhead speeds…throughout the bag. They can drive it out of sight, muscle wedges out of deep rough, their short games are magical, and the greens roll as smooth as pool tables. Give them green-reading books and caddies, and there is no end in sight into how they can bring any golf course to its knees, apparently.

It will certainly be interesting to watch how Augusta National holds up to this “new game” in only a few weeks.

In contrast, the LPGA stars took on a classic example of golf course architecture in Aronimink, outside Philadelphia. In the lead up to the event, many were talking about hitting fairway woods and hybrids to many par fours and even some par-threes. There was no question they had to use every club in their bags to challenge this fabulous Donald Ross layout.

And the winner, Sei Young Kim, put on a simply amazing display of shotmaking and ball control–I hope you got to see some of it. Over and over again, she hit approach shots that covered the flag, and it didn’t seem to matter whether she was hitting wedge, 7-iron, or even longer. She was on fire with ball control we just don’t see much of anymore.

The point of this comparison is not to throw shade on the PGA Tour or its professionals. The TV audience apparently wants to see this kind of pummeling of golf courses every week. I just don’t see how we rank-and-file golfers can learn anything from watching this. Unless you are going to go to the gym and change your body like Bryson and all the others are doing . . . Unless you are going to spend countless hours fine-tuning your short game . . . unless you are going to spend endless practice time on the putting green . . . well, this just isn’t the game we all play, no more than NASCAR represents our daily driving.

Again, if that appeals to you, get after it. But if you really want to see golf played masterfully at a level closer to your own, I suggest you tune in to the LPGA and watch these ladies showcase their skills.

You will see methodical pre-shot routines, swing rhythm, pacing, and sequencing that is almost perfect. And you will see just as magical scoring skills around the greens, executed by female athletes who have club-to-club distances much closer to your own.

Honestly, it’s the way the men’s game was played not all that long ago. Did you know, for example, Johnny Miller shot 63 on the last day to win the 1973 U.S. Open, hitting only a few approach shots with less than a 6-iron. I remember it like it was yesterday… Masterful.

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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.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Rwj

    Oct 14, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    The first couple days of the LPGA tourny was setup difficult. The weekend was lightened up for a major. They moved up tee boxes and flags werent as tucked. The wet conditions should have made it long and over par, but they adjusted to help

  2. 8thehardway

    Oct 14, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    Bryson’s Augusta bag (happy caddy!): driver, putter, 4 iron & wedge, maybe a mid-iron for the unexpected. If the USGA doesn’t rule his body non-conforming, Augusta’s only hope is to start planting sequoias; once records fall and the novelty wears off, I’m not sure this level of Bomb & Gouging will be worth watching.

  3. This site is so mediocre

    Oct 14, 2020 at 11:44 am

    I feel like you had no one to tell this too so you wrote this “article.”

  4. Tom

    Oct 14, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Big difference yes, BUT PGA tour was a mid tier event at best while the LPGA was a major championship. The scores for the majors on the PGA are not in the 23 under range.

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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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