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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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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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jack Nash

    Mar 8, 2021 at 9:30 am

    My favorite clubs in the bag. Plenty of practice and “willing” to try a shot that you’re not normally comfortable with will give you confidence in the long run. One thing the Best wedge players have is a great imagination. That’s something that you can’t teach but can get close to with, again, plenty of range practice. Many times I’ll practice a min. of an hour just with 3 wedges. Practice, practice, practice.

  2. Cecil B Jansen

    Mar 1, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    So here’s the heads-up for new wedge development – particularly for the “average” golfer.
    Wedges with more oomph in the face area most likely struck by “average” golfers.
    I’m working on it…………..

  3. Aksel Nielsen

    Feb 26, 2021 at 2:13 am

    Smash factor of 1.55 om driver ? What driver are u using ?

  4. ChipNRun

    Feb 25, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    Terry,

    Good detail in article, the A-B diagram shows clearly what golf tipsters have been hint at for years.

    As for possible solutions: In 2016, the Vokey SM6 model came out with the Progressive Center of gravity. For PW and GW, Center of Gravity is about where the A is in the diagram. For SW, CoG is slightly below the B, but certainly higher on face. The LW CoG is slightly above the B.

    So, has Vokey come up with a solution to the problem?

    BUT, in 2018 when Hogan redid their Equalizer wedges, H went the other way: On 48*, 50* and 52*wedges, H went with higher center of gravity so golfers could hit more piercing full shots. Sand wedges: middle C0G… and LWs, low CoG so players could hit high shots that stop in part from high descent angle.

    So, can you say whether Vokey or Hogan has the “best ideas?”

    • ChipNRun

      Feb 25, 2021 at 2:05 pm

      P.S. Tom Wishon came up with the idea (circa 2014?) of a slightly higher CoG in one of his wedge models. But, I can’t find the discussion online.

      • Ben

        Feb 26, 2021 at 9:08 am

        Seems that the 979SS irons have a lower CoG for longer irons indeed.

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Opinion & Analysis

The 23 players who can win the Masters

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Each year for the Masters, I create a filtering process to help determine the players who are most likely to win the green jacket based on criteria that have strongly predicted outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 20-25 players.

Last year, Dustin Johnson was one of my 21 players who could win the Masters. Dustin was at 9/1 odds. The other top finishers, like Cameron Smith and Sung Jae Im, were filtered out unlike previous years where players that were in contention were typically shortlisted. My theory on that is that due to the tournament being played in November, the course was not playing as firm and as fast as it normally does, and that allowed players who typically do not get through my filter to get into contention.

Before I discuss my picks for this year’s Masters, I want to go over what I call the “critical holes” for Augusta National. The critical holes in any tournament are the ones where the top finishers typically gain the most strokes on the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in scores exist. One of the interesting aspects about critical holes is that they often change over time due to changes in the course conditions, course design or a change in player strategy, which can create a smaller deviation in scores.

This year, the projected critical holes are No. 8, 13, 14, and 15.

The 15th hole, Firethorn, should be considered the most pivotal hole on the course as over the last five Masters the top finishers in the event have gained 0.391 strokes per round on the hole.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in the inaugural event

  • Joe Long (a)
  • Robert MacIntyre
  • Carlos Ortiz
  • Charles Osborne (a)
  • Tyler Strafaci (a)
  • Will Zalatoris

Despite being first-time invitees, the data likes both Ortiz and Zalatoris as they would have gotten through all of the other filters to be selected as players that could win the Masters.

I also filtered out eight past champions I do not believe can contend at Augusta National anymore

  • Fred Couples
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Larry Mize
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Vijay Singh
  • Mike Weir
  • Ian Woosnam

The Zach Johnson debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always pointed out that I do not pick former Masters Champion Zach Johnson due to his lack of length off the tee. Augusta National greatly favors long-ball hitters. They can play the par 5s more like par 4s, and typically the longer hitters can also hit the ball higher so they can get their long approach shots to hold the green more easily.

When Johnson won the Masters in 2007, the event featured record-low temperatures in the mid-40s and wind gusts of 33 mph. This made it very hard for any player to reach the par 5s in two shots and allowed Johnson to get into a wedge contest on the par 5s, his strength.

This week the forecast is calling for high 70’s to low 80’s with winds topping out at only 10 mph. There are some scattered showers in the forecast that may soften up the greens and give shorter hitters more of a chance to win.

But I believe that it will not be enough to take the advantage away from the longer hitters.

Therefore I filtered out the following players.

  • Abraham Ancer
  • Brian Gay
  • Brian Harman
  • Mackenzie Hughes
  • Zach Johnson
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Kevin Na
  • C.T. Pan
  • Ian Poulter
  • Patrick Reed
  • Webb Simpson
  • Henrik Stenson
  • Robert Streb
  • Michael Thompson
  • Brendon Todd

A part of the game that is just as critical as distance is the trajectory height a player can create. Last year, I filtered out four players for hitting the ball too low. Out of those four players, the best finish was Patrick Reed at T10. I use a combination of max height, carry distance, and launch angle to determine if the following players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta.

  • Daniel Berger
  • Christian Bezuidenhout
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Cameron Champ
  • Harris English
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Lanto Griffin
  • Jim Herman
  • Matt Jones
  • Sebastian Munoz
  • Victor Perez
  • Xander Schauffele
  • Bernd Wiesberger
  • Lee Westwood

Since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters that have previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s filter them out as well.

  • Max Homa
  • Jason Kokrak
  • Joaquin Niemann
  • Hudson Swafford
  • Matthew Wolff

I will also filter out the players who missed the cut at San Antonio. Historically, players that miss the cut the week prior have a substantially lower likelihood of winning the following week compared to the players that made the cut in the previous week or did not play at all.

  • Tony Finau
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Danny Willett

Lastly, I have filtered out the weak performers from the “Red Zone,” approach shots from 175-225 yards. While Augusta is known for its greens, the winners are determined mostly by the quality of their approach shots throughout the event. In fact, 11 of the last 12 champions have hit at least 49 greens in regulation during the week.

  • Jason Day
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Dylan Frittelli
  • Billy Horschel
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Martin Laird
  • Scottie Scheffler
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Adam Scott
  • Cameron Smith
  • Jimmy Walker
  • Matt Wallace

That leaves the following 23 players who can win the Masters:

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Stewart Cink (450/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson DeChambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Tyrrell Hatton (45/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Sungjae Im (40/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Si Woo Kim (125/1)
  • Marc Leishman (110/1)
  • Shane Lowry (110/1)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (45/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (75/1)
  • Ryan Palmer (150/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Justin Rose (80/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
  • Justin Thomas (12/1)
  • Bubba Watson (55/1)
  • Gary Woodland (150/1)

Here are my personal top-10 picks

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson Dechambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
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On Spec

On Spec: The unexpected lesson from Jordan Spieth’s win | Plus ANWA & ANA Inspiration coverage

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In what can only be called the busiest week in golf so far in 2021, host Ryan breaks down the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the ANA Inspiration on the LPGA Tour, the Drive, Chip, and Putt, and of course Jordan Spieth’s comeback win in Texas.

All of this is leading into the Masters, and Jordan’s win comes with a very important lesson for those golfers who might be struggling with their own game.

 

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Opinion & Analysis

To Mr. Whan: Make Walker Cup Trophy Club a one-and-done

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I’ll be brief: the United States Golf Association should make the $500 Trophy Club ticket a one-and-done for the Walker Cup. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as a lead-in to its limited-spectator policy, the May 2021 edition will eliminate free access to the event. In lieu of the open-arms policy of every other playing of this team competition, the USGA has announced that only those with $500 to spare will pass through the gates of Seminole Golf Club, in Juno Beach, Florida.

I attended the 2009 playing at Merion, and the 2013 matches at National Golf Links of America. I wanted to be at Los Angeles Country Club in 2019, but the odds were not in my favor. Even though I was granted press credentials for both 2009 and 2013, I was gratified to see hundreds, if not thousands, of my fellow golf aficionados in attendance. These were lasses and lads without connections, without memberships, without any other means of access than the largesse of the governing body of golf in this country.

In 2025, the Walker Cup will return to our country, and will be held at storied Cypress Point Club, in Carmel, California. You see the trend here? These are the most historic (and most private) clubs in America. Access to the common man is unavailable, except for events like the Walker and Curtis Cups.

Mr. Whan, you and your association have pledged to expand the game of golf, to welcome people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages, and identities. Here is one small but important opportunity to put your mouth where your money isn’t. The USGA makes a lot of money at its annual Open championship. Leave the other kids alone, especially the amateur events. Free and easy access ensures that the game outlives us all, just as our foremothers and forefathers envisioned.

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