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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Power vs. accuracy

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It is an argument that may never be resolved, but I thought I would toss this out for cogitation today. That is, which is the quicker path to lower scores – adding distance or improving your accuracy through the bag?

Every week, we see the PGA Tour dominated by outlandish distances off the tee and towering iron shots from distances most of us “mere mortals” cannot even closely fathom. Golf course architects have become all but powerless to hold back the modern tour professional, short of building 8,000-yard golf courses. About the only “defense” the game has against these modern athletes is when Mother Nature decides to grace a tour event with 15-25 mph winds. Wind is a great equalizer to the power game that dominates today.

But what does that have to do with the rest of us?

Based on various research into the golfer population of the United States, it is likely that your driving distance is a lot closer to 200 yards than 300 and that a 150-yard approach is calling for at least a 6- or 7-iron — not a pitching wedge like you see the pros hit.

So, which do you think would lower your scores more – learning to hit more fairways and greens or adding 5-10 yard to your drives and iron shots? Here’s a little exercise I devised years ago to help you accurately and realistically come up with the right answer.

It requires you to devote 2-3 rounds of golf to really learning what would help you the most, so you might have to take a break from a regular competitive game you play every week, but I’ll guarantee you that this little “game” will reveal that answer very clearly. Here’s how it goes.

For round #1, hit your drive and go find it. Then, pick up the ball and walk it another 10 yards (likely the maximum distance gain you’ll get from a new driver). But don’t walk it toward the green unless it finds the fairway . . . to be fair and accurate, you have to continue on the line it was taking from the tee. If it was headed OB and stopped 3 yards short . . . you just hit it OB with that “possible new driver”. Do this on every driving hole and see how your scores turn out.

For round #2, hit your drive and again go find it. Then, pick up your ball and “improve your lie”, either to the nearest edge of the fairway or to the preferred spot in the fairway if you didn’t hit it there. But here’s the kicker . . . any drive you move to its new preferred spot, also walk it back ten yards. Again, play it out and see what happens to your scores when you gave up a few yards for better accuracy.

If those two rounds of golf don’t accurately show you which is more influential on better scores, I’ve got another one for you.

For round #3, play your drives and iron shots just like you always do, but for every green you miss, do the following. If you didn’t hit your chip or pitch shot within 10 feet of the hole, play your ball out, but also drop another ball somewhere in the 5-10 foot range (vary it up) and see if you make the putt. Keep track of the difference of the scores you shoot with your “gamer ball,” and the score you would have made with the “one-chip mulligans.”

I’ve always approached golf as a game of continual learning, but that certainly isn’t limited to learning more about your swing or the courses you play. It’s also about learning where your own game really needs the most work and improvement, and just what that improvement can do for your weekly scores.

I hope many of you will dive into this learning exercise with gusto and share your experiences with all of us in the coming weeks.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan and a graduate of Texas A&M University. Over his 40-year career in the golf industry, he has created over 100 putter designs, sets of irons and drivers, and in 2014, he put together the team that reintroduced the Ben Hogan brand to the golf equipment industry. Since the early 2000s, Terry has been a prolific writer, sharing his knowledge as “The Wedge Guy”.   But his most compelling work is in the wedge category. Since he first patented his “Koehler Sole” in the early 1990s, he has been challenging “conventional wisdom” reflected in ‘tour design’ wedges. The performance of his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to move slightly more mass toward the top of the blade in their wedges, but none approach the dramatic design of his 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 – check it out at www.EdisonWedges.com.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. gunmetal

    Oct 6, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    “So, which do you think would lower your scores more – learning to hit more fairways and greens or adding 5-10 yard to your drives and iron shots?”

    Fairways are pretty much irrelevant UNLESS you’re playing in an event where the rough is legitimately a hack out, a la US Open (I’ve played in only one event with legit penal rough this year). As long as I am IN PLAY, I would take a 7 iron from the “rough” over a 5 iron from the fairway all day. I will absolutely hit more GIR because distance gets me closer to the green and it’s easier to hit things that are closer.

    The premise of adding distance through a “new driver” is kind of dated. Most golfers looking for distance aren’t looking to add 5-10 yards, but rather 20 or 30 yards. Things like speed training, exercising, and getting properly fit are adding a lot more than 10 yards. I wonder if Mr Wedge Guy’s thoughts would be different if he said “hit more fairways or gain 25 – 30 yards?” because that’s what I think of when I think of distance gains. And that’s a no brainer. So is getting good at putts inside of 8 feet.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie reviews: Ping’s new i230 irons

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Reviewing the new Ping i210 irons was something I was very excited to do. After all the success with the i210 irons, on tour and in amateur bags, Ping had some large shoes to fill. But in the early stages of the release they seem to have filled those shoes quite nicely. For the full review listen to the Club Junkie podcast below or on your favorite podcast platform, just search GolfWRX Radio.

The i230 irons are engineered for distance control and tight dispersion for aspiring golfers. They aren’t as demanding as the Blueprint or i59 but offer a lower flight and more workability compared to the G425. This class of irons that the i210 is in fits my game as a barely single digit handicap who is looking for some forgiveness in a smaller package.

Out of the box the i210 looks great. The look from the back is sleek and if you didn’t look closely wouldn’t even notice the badge in the cavity. That badge is matching silver and has just a couple subtle lines in it, almost giving the look of a smaller players cavity back. The head size is a little larger than a Titleist T100s or a PXG 0311T but still looks good because Ping kept everything in proportion. The blade length is a little longer but you don’t notice it much with the slightly thicker topline and small amount of offset. To me the i230 looks like a players club that also gives you the confidence that you don’t have to strike the dead center in order to hit a solid shot.

Ping added a large elastomer insert behind the badge to dial in the sound and feel of the i230 irons and that technology seems to work. The feel is solid and responsive while still be a little firmer at impact. You can hear a little click as the club connects with the ball, but the vibration that gets to your hands in minimal and far from harsh. Responsiveness is really good and you get ample feed back on how good, or not so good, your contact on the face was.

Well struck shots launch pretty easily into the air and fly with a flat apex towards your target. My expectations for the i230 were that they would be low launch and spin, but they were much more playable than that. The i230 launched almost 2 degrees higher than my PXG 0311T Gen5 irons that I have been gaming most of this year. The overall apex was also lower and flatter with the i230 cruising at 76.7 feet above the grass compared to 82.8 feet for the PXG. The i230 were very forgiving and dispersion was very tight. I felt like there was a little less left in my misses and the ball started out on a straighter path.

If I brought a terrible swing I could still get the ball to go left, but on good and decent swings shots stayed online and at the target. My miss recently has been out on the toe and the ball speed and height on shots out there were very playable. Shots that were low on the face didn’t get up as high and as fast as some other irons, but still carried a decent amount and total distance would have depended on the roll.

Ping doesn’t really jump up and down to say that the i230 are wildly long but they added about 2 yards compared to my gamer irons. They also spun about 300 RPM more than the 0311T irons but still produced a really boring trajectory, even into a pretty strong wind. There was no rise or ballooning of any sort, even with shots that had some fade to them.

Overall the new Ping i230 irons are really good and we should see them in a lot of bags. The lower launch, distance control, and forgiveness will open these up to a wide range of players and provide excellent performance.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A bunker experiment

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Based on my observations and feedback from recreational golfers of all skill levels, I believe one of the most puzzling and challenging of all shots for most golfers is the greenside bunker “explosion” shot. Far too many times, the result is either making a swing that is way too steep and plows the clubhead into the sand, or it’s the exact opposite – catching the ball right “in the forehead” and skulling it across the green into who-knows-what kind of new trouble. In either case, the end result is a blow-up hole that puts a double bogey or worse on the card.

And the damage to your psyche is much worse than that done to your card.

Besides the visual and mental intimidation of finding your ball in the bunker, we recreational golfers are faced with a super-wide variety of lies and sand textures, unlike the tour players who see essentially the same bunker texture week after week. In contrast, on my own private club course, for example, we have bunkers ranging from wet packed sand (almost mud) to dry fluffy sand several inches thick. In contrast to the tour professionals, we “mere mortals” have a constantly changing set of obstacles in the bunkers, each requiring a different approach.

Let’s start with the basic premise of the bunker shot we have all been taught. While there are slightly varying instructional directions for the execution of the swing, most teach that you should make contact about two inches behind the ball. And it’s often taught that this is the easiest shot in golf, because you don’t even have to hit the ball. I’ve always challenged that notion, because on EVERY OTHER SHOT I face, I am trying to make precise contact with the ball, from driver to putter. So, since those few bunker shots in a round require me to abandon my primary objective . . . couldn’t that possibly make bunker shots the hardest?

Anyway, back to the topic at hand . . . is there a different way to approach bunker shots that might help you improve your up-and-down percentage and significantly reduce those left-in-the-sand or skulled-over-the-green disasters? I believe there is, and I’ve been doing some experimenting with a different approach lately that is showing great promise.

What I’ve been doing is approaching bunker shots in very much the same way I execute any delicate greenside pitch, that is to view it as just another pitch shot, albeit from a more challenging lie than if the ball were sitting on the fairway or light rough. My goal is to make the wedge contact the ball and the sand at just about the same time, and just vary my swing power based on the texture of the sand – wet sand will “reject” the club more than dry, softer sand, requiring less power, much as tight firm turf will reject the club more than a softer lie in the rough.

As I play around with this approach, it seems much easier than trying to actually hit the sand some “measured” distance behind the ball, which also makes it easier for me to judge the distance I need the ball to fly and how much roll out I can expect. What’s most interesting for me is that as I began to experiment with this technique in the practice bunker, I paid close attention to where it “looked like” I was making contact with the sand. I put that in quotes because the sole of the wedge splashes out a large and clearly defined divot, so it really does look like I’m making contact further behind the ball than I really am.

If you are already an accomplished bunker player, my bet is that you are actually making contact much closer to the ball than the proverbial “two inch rule”, and kudos to you for figuring this out.

But for the majority of you out there who find a bunker shot a bit more challenging and fear-inducing, I highly recommend spending even a half hour in the practice bunker giving this “new” method a try. You still want to make a deliberate but relaxed swing and keep your angle of attack as shallow as possible so the bounce in your sand wedge’s sole can do what it was designed to do.

I’m sure we all would appreciate you sharing your own results and discovery with the rest of us.

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Opinion & Analysis

Kelley: Learn when to train and when to perform

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Regardless of what you may be working on in your swing, it is imperative to understand when to train your swing and game and when to perform on the golf course. Being able to switch mindsets and understand where to place your attention when training your technique and playing on the course will dramatically improve your scores.

Training Your Technique

To start, go to the driving range with a plan. Rather than hitting countless seven irons with no structure in mind, decide where you are going to place your attention on and what your intent is when practicing. If training a new technique, be mindful of your body and club with each swing. This usually should be done slowly. Remember you have to learn a new movement slowly, before fast. This requires discipline and understanding contact may not be ideal when so thoughtful.

On top of slow, training the “technique based swings”, practice hitting different ball-flight shots. (This will be discussed more on performance). If you normally slice the ball from left to right, place an alignment stick five yards in front of you and learn to hit golf balls right to left, drawing the ball around the stick. This will develop shaft and face awareness.

You can also simply place your attention on good contact. With each shot, note where on the clubhead the ball is struck. Practice off-speed shots making contact on the center, heel and toe of the face. Research shows intentionally practicing hitting the ball off center will actually facilitate center contact.

With most golfers having limited time to practice, don’t undervalue the importance of practicing at home. Simply grab a club and train your swing inside or outside your home. This is a great opportunity to slow down the swing, programming the brain with the new movement. If you have a mirror, practice looking into the mirror face-on to get feedback on how your body is moving. If you are outside and the sun is out, simply stand with your shadow directly in front of you at 12 o’clock, noting the shape of the shadow (your body) as you swing.

Learning to Perform

When on the golf course, it is a time to shoot the lowest score possible. This sounds like an obvious statement, although it is a simple concept that is often overlooked. The work you have done on your swing on the driving range and at home will morph into your swing on the golf course. This is also a time to focus more on the ball flight, not what your swing looks like.

“Ask what is wrong with your golf shot, not your golf swing“ – Karl Morris, The Mind Factor. This is a powerful and very effective question you can ask yourself on the golf course. Your post-shot routine is just as important as the pre-shot routine. Paying attention to what your ball is doing will give you a clear understanding of where to place your mind on each shot. Being able to adapt on the golf course with what you have that day and what to slightly change is critical to playing great golf.

Rather than trying to create the swing to create the shot on the golf course, which can lead to frustration, let the shot create the swing. In other words, ask yourself, “What does this shot feel like?” in order to get the ball from point A to point B. This is inclusive to the individual, and where practicing shaping the ball in your practice session plays dividends, so you can adapt on the course. This question may develop a certain feel or simple technical thought that has been developed with your coach.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of your attitude. Remember that having the chance to be on a golf course playing this great game is a privilege. Embrace the fact that Golf will never be mastered, and there is always a learning curve, even for the best players in the world. Embracing this challenge will make your good shots better and your bad shots not as bad.

http://www.kelleygolf.com

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