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The Wedge Guy: Musings from the Masters

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Well, another Masters has come and gone and, as always, left me with some observations and ponderings that I thought I would share. I hope you all will add yours to the comments this week, so that we can all get to know one another better.

First, I have to begin by congratulating Dustin Johnson for a masterful display of golf. Setting a new scoring record, playing mostly flawless golf for four days, and taking what Augusta National was willing to serve up. What impressed me the most about his golf for four days is the rarity of a poorly struck golf shot. DJ hit fairways and greens with regularity and precision, and never hit any of “those shots that can lose it for you” that I observed. Congrats, DJ!

Here are some observations that I made . . .

It’s not the great shots as much as the awful ones. To a player, almost all who fell short hit one or more just awful shots that cost them dearly. It was actually amazing to see how far from center they can spray it, actually. Even DJ wasn’t immune, chunking a short pitch to #2. To that end, Augusta National is much like any other golf course, including the ones you play regularly. Solid, not spectacular, shotmaking will keep you “in it”, whether that means winning the Masters or breaking 90. Get rid of your worst shots and the average-to-great ones can shine and save you.

Bunkers are too easy for these guys. The best example of that was DJ on the second hole. Faced with a delicate pitch over a bunker from a tight lie, he chunks it in the bunker. Then he blasts out to two feet or so to save par. These guys are amazing from the bunkers, hitting it close more often than not it seems. Maybe it’s time to remove rakes or something to make bunkers the hazards architects designed them to be, before the invention of the sand wedge.

But they are amazing short game wizards. Watching the best players in the world get up and down from nowhere, time and again, is impressive. The chip that Sungjae Im hit from behind the green on 15 was brilliant. But we saw it time and again from the entire field. The key is that they are all skilled enough to hit a vast array of shots with just the right trajectory and spin, and land the ball very close to the exact spot required. Maybe we should all spend the vast majority of our practice time hitting chips and pitches of all kinds…

Long and middle iron play is almost a relic of a bygone era. You just do not see these guys hitting those clubs very often. Even “Par 5s” are often reached with a short iron nowadays. We are long past the days of Hogan’s famous 1-iron at Merion or Johnny Miller’s precise dismantling of Oakmont in 1973, when he hit 5-iron or longer to at least 13 or 14 greens, and only let the ball get above the hole twice.

Bernhard Langer is amazing. At 63 years old, Mr. Langer ties for 29th, beating more than half the field of players half his age, while giving up 50-75 yards or more to his younger competitors. On Sunday, he hit hybrid or fairway wood to eight of the 12 par four holes, and at least one of the par three holes. And shoots 71! What’s even more remarkable is that less than fifteen of the world’s best players managed to tour four rounds at Augusta National without shooting at least one score higher than Mr. Langer’s two 73s.

Let’s quit “faking it” with par. Mr. Langer’s accomplishments aside, there are really very few true three-shot holes for these players anymore, if they hit a suitable drive. When Bryson DeChambeau declared Augusta National to be “par 67” for him, he was only being genuine. It would be for all these guys if they hit their drives in the right place in the fairway.

Those are my “top six” observations from the rather strange 2020 Masters. What are yours?

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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Northandleft

    Nov 22, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Golf is a mostly difficult game that partially due to advancements is becoming mastered at the elite level, but let’s not forget the conditioning, discipline and talent that the top players have achieved. To parlay this thread to the grand debate about the golf ball vs the golf course I fear the average golfer will suffer if either are changed. We all compare ourselves to the best because once or more a round we all hit a shot as good as they do. The average golfer survives the game trying to achieve excellence. Placing an additional barrier between the elite and weekender with bifurcation or monster courses is a shot to the heart of the game. The champion every week shoots 6 under 4 days in a row and I keep trying to break 80. No one shoots 59 every week and Very few repeat victory. Let the masters of the game be dragon slayers and let us all make a few par 5’s in 2. There is a lot riding on it.

  2. Johnny Penso

    Nov 21, 2020 at 10:06 am

    It’s true that par is really meaningless but let’s face it, the crowd is going to cheer harder and television announcers are going to freak out much harder for an “eagle” on a 535 yard par “5” than a birdie on the same hole were we to re-par it. Par 5s are never going away.

  3. Acemandrake

    Nov 20, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    Bunkers: Just call them all “waste areas” & stop raking them then you’ll see players work to avoid them

    Short game practice: Cameron Tringale once said he only practices shots that are <100 yds.

  4. Evan

    Nov 20, 2020 at 4:33 am

    Yes Augusta is a generous par 72, but the par 5s, especially 13 and 15, are so iconic and have produced so much drama over the years – and that would be lost if they were long par 4s. They’re brilliant risk and reward 5s- short enough that nearly all the field will take them on in two- a chance for an eagle, but also the risk of a high number too.

  5. Boyo

    Nov 19, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    Maybe we should all spend the vast majority of our practice time hitting chips and pitches of all kinds…

    Duh!

  6. Pingback: Morning 9: Tiger’s predicament | A world No. 1 is back in action | Bryson breaks Augusta? Not so much…. – GolfWRX

  7. Mike

    Nov 19, 2020 at 7:57 am

    The concept of par really has no meaning for the pros. The player w/ the LEAST number of strokes wins every week. So who cares what the par is at any course they play? The ‘under-par’ concept was a TV invention that made it much easier to show who was in the lead.

    • G daddy

      Nov 19, 2020 at 3:32 pm

      At the end of the day you’re absolutely correct – but the concept of par has been around since way before TV. And as it relates to the difficulty of the course, it’s interesting to examine and talk about. Do we really want major championships decided at executive course, no of course not.

  8. G daddy

    Nov 18, 2020 at 11:18 am

    I totally agree with the “par” observation. The PGA tour plays essentially par 66 to 68 courses every week. The US Open is the only course that comes close to a true par, since they usually play par 70 on usually very long courses where the 2 par fives are usually longer than these guys play all year and the par 4’s are usually stretched out. Chamber’s bay was probably the truest to par course the pga tour has played in 10 years – there the par 5’s could all play around 600 yards and the par 4’s were mostly right around 500 yards.

    I don’t mind them playing the par 66 to 68 courses, but let’s call it that. Otherwise the concept of par on the PGA tour has no meaning.

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One of the continuing trends in golf clubs – particularly drivers – is the pursuit of increasingly lighter shafts; this obsessive goal has given us the premise that the lighter the club, the faster you can swing it. And that idea is driven by the relentless pursuit of distance at all levels, and for all golfers.

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Let me begin by saying that “recreational” doesn’t mean any lack of seriousness or dedication to the game. Hitting better shots and shooting lower scores is the goal for all of us who care about our golf games, right? What I mean is that we do not make our living playing the game. We do not practice incessantly. We do not spend hours at the gym every day specifically preparing our bodies to optimize our golf skills.

Today I’m going to put on my “contrarian” cap and challenge this assumption of “lighter is longer” on a couple of bases.
First, if you watch every accomplished player, you will see that the body core rotation is fast enough to “beat” the hands and clubhead to the ball. All instructors agree that the big muscles of the legs and body core are the key to power and repeatability in the golf swing. The faster you can rotate your body through impact, the more power you generate, which flows down the arms, through the hands and shaft and to the clubhead. This is a basic law of “golf swing physics”.

The simple fact is, the speed at which you can fire these big muscles is not going to be measurably impacted by removing another half ounce or less of weight from your driver. But what that removal of weight can do is to possibly allow for your hands to be faster, which would aggravate the problem I see in most mid- to high-handicap players. That problem is that their body core is not leading the swing, but rather it is following the arms and hands through impact.

Secondly, speed without precision is essentially worthless to you, and likely even counter-productive to your goal of playing better golf. Even with the big 460cc drivers, a miss of the sweet spot by just a half inch can cost you 8-12% of your optimum distance. You could never remove enough weight from the driver to increase your club speed by that amount. So, the key to consistently longer drives is to figure out how to make consistently more precise impact with the ball.

No golf adage is always true, but my experience and observation of thousands of golfers indicates to me that the fastest route to better driver distance is to get more precise with your impact and swing path, and not necessarily increasing your clubhead speed. And that may well be served by moving to a slightly heavier driver, not a lighter one.

I’ll end this by offering that this is not an experiment to conduct in a hitting bay with a launch monitor, but rather by playing a few rounds with a driver that is heavier than your current “gamer”.

Continuing with my “contrarian” outlook on many aspects of golf equipment, the typical driver “fitting” is built around an intense session on a launch monitor, where you might hit 30-40 or more drives in an hour or so. But the reality of golf is that your typical round of golf involves only 12-13 drives hit over a four-hour period, each one affected by a number of outside influences. But that’s an article for another time.

For this week, think about pulling an older, heavier driver from your closet or garage and giving it a go for a round or two and see what happens.

I would like to end today’s post by wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. It’s been a helluva year for all of us, so let’s take some time this week to count our individual and collective blessings.

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