Opinion & Analysis
The Wedge Guy: What’s in a name?
There was an extremely romantic line from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare that professes, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That may be so, as it implies that the name of the rose has nothing to do with its quality as a beautiful, fragrant flower.
Shakespeare aside, though, the fact is that we do assign meaning to the names of things. We know what “beer” is (or at least should be). Likewise, the words shovel, hammer, water, and so on pretty clearly tell us what to expect when we see it and use it. A rake cannot pass for a shovel, a hair brush makes a pretty poor hammer, and a tall glass of sand wouldn’t really quench your thirst, would it?
But when it comes to names of things, the golf club industry has ventured far afield, especially when comes to the “pitching wedge.” Hear me out and you just might improve your scoring range performance.
This week’s post was “inspired” by a long-time golf industry friend of mine — a former PGA Professional and industry rep — who was coming back into golf after a few years off to tend to a young family. I was flattered that he called me to chat about wedges, leading with “What the h— has happened to irons?”
He went on to explain that he had just been through a fitting and was “prescribed” one of the new iron models from a major brand (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty). He was floored that the “P-club” which most people call a “pitching wedge” was built to 42 degrees of loft.
Let’s venture back a few decades when iron sets took on numbers. That last club after the 9-iron – the one with the highest loft of 50 to 52 degrees – eventually came to be known as the “pitching wedge.” MacGregor often numbered that iron “10”, and others simply put “W” on it, but the club was the same, about 35 inches long and loft of 50 to 52 degrees.
Those professionals of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s learned to be masters with their “pitching wedges,” hitting all kinds of magical scoring shots from about 115-120 yards and in. They could hit them low, high, and in between. They could turn the ball over or hit a little cut. They could make the ball hit and stop on a dime, or release and roll out a bit.
Even though they all carried a “sand wedge,” the legends recognized it as a specialized tool for bunker play and only certain shots around the green where the enhanced bounce and loft would give them a bit more flexibility with their creative shotmaking. For most, the “pitching wedge” was the prime scoring club.
But as perimeter weighting evolved, iron lofts began a path of constant strengthening, to a point where the “P-club” really wasn’t a wedge at all. It can be argued — no, proven — that true “pitching” capability ended when the loft of that club dipped below 48 degrees. By the way, those legendary pros and elite players also mastered bump-and-run shots, most often turning to their 8-iron or 9-iron, which had loft of, you guessed it, about 42-44 degrees of loft.
So, here we are in the 2020s. Golf hasn’t changed all that much, but your bag of tools sure has. You certainly need a selection of clubs in your bag in a range of lofts from 20 to about 45 degrees for your full-swing approach shots to give you consistent distance gapping so your approach play can be optimized. It’s your preference as to how many of those are irons, hybrids, or high-loft fairway woods – whatever makes you better.
But you also need a true “pitching wedge” of 49-53 degrees of loft, in addition to one or two wedges of more loft for those more challenging greenside recoveries. In modern golf club parlance, you might call that club your “gap wedge,” but it can be so much more than just the club you use when you are inside “P-club” range.
Our research indicates most golfers will see more consistent distance control and improved spin if you will learn to hit your less-than-full wedge shots with your “true pitching wedge” of 49-53 degrees of loft. The dynamics of that club greatly reduce the ball’s tendency to slide up the clubface, which always costs you distance control and spin. And it is actually more forgiving of shots hit slightly fat or thin. So there’s that, too.
I’ve been accused of being “old school”, and maybe I am, but calling a golf club one thing doesn’t make it something it isn’t. And your “P-club” is no longer a true pitching wedge any more than calling your 5-iron a driver makes it one.
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Opinion & Analysis
The Wedge Guy: Are you making the game too hard?
In earlier posts, I’ve put forth the notion that most of us are playing golf courses that are much, much tougher on us than the weekly PGA Tour courses are on those elite players. This game is supposed to be fun and reasonably fair, so please hear me out…it might change the way you think of the “forward tees.”
This topic was stimulated by a conversation our golf committee had this past week regarding the course setup for our fall member-guest tournament, punctuated by the “whining” we heard from the tour players as they challenged a very tough Oak Hill Country Club in the PGA Championship.
The “third nail” was a statistic I saw a day or two ago that in a recent PGA Tour season – for the entire season — Dustin Johnson only hit one approach shot on a par-4 hole with more than a 7-iron! Imagine that — going a whole season (or even nine holes) without hitting more than a 7-iron to a par-4 hole.
Now, back to the conversation in the golf committee meeting about having all players in the member-guest play our regular white tees. These are my tees of choice because at my distance profile, they present a variety of approach shot challenges. For perspective, I’ll share that at 71 years old, I still average about 245-250 off the tee, and a “stock” 7-iron shot is 145-148 (I still play the Hogan blades I designed in 2015, and that is a 33-degree club).
Of our three par-5s, one is an honest three-shot challenge, one is often reachable with a 4-wood or 3-iron if I choose to challenge the water bordering the green on the right, and the other one plays straight into the prevailing wind, so reaching it with a 4-wood is a rare occurrence. The par-3s present me with an 8-iron to wedge, two 6- or 7-iron shots, and a full 3-iron or 4-wood. Of the remaining 11 par four holes, I’ll typically hit four to five wedges, and run through the entire set of irons for the others.
Now, let’s contrast that with many of the guys I play with. From the forward gold tees, some of them are playing what effectively amounts to six to eight par 5s (three shots to get home) and a par 6, and they rarely get an approach shot with less than a 6- or 7-iron. So, respectful to their strength profiles, they are playing a course that is brutally longer than anything the PGA Tour players ever see.
Add to that the fact that most of us do not play courses with fairways anywhere near as consistent and smooth as those on the PGA Tour, so our typical lie is much different from the tour players. Our sand texture varies from hole to hole, as opposed to “PGA Tour sand” that these guys see week in and week out.
So, I’ll give you this thought and challenge about what tees you should play to make the game more interesting and still challenging. Think about the course you play most often and process it hole by hole from the green backward. Which tees should you play to give yourself the following challenges?
- At least one reachable par 5, and the others requiring no more than a wedge or 9-iron third shot.
- Par-3 approaches with one short iron or wedge, one long iron, hybrid or fairway wood, and two that present you with a 6- to 8-iron approach.
- Of the par 4s, an assortment that gives you several wedges and short iron approaches and no more than two that put a longer club than a 5-iron in your hands.
My bet is that almost all of you will find yourselves needing to move up at least one set of tees, if not two, in order to play the course like this. But wouldn’t golf be more fun if you had a reasonable chance to have a birdie putt on most holes if you hit two good shots? And if you weren’t wearing out your fairway woods and hybrids all the way around?
Just food for thought, so share yours…
More from the Wedge Guy
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Opinion & Analysis
2023 Charles Schwab Betting Tips: Fan favorite ready to dominate at Colonial
It is doubtful that even the most optimistic golf fan could have envisaged the field at Colonial this week.
In an era where elevated events secure the very best players, the undecorated Charles Schwab Challenge sees the re-appearance of both runners-up at Oak Hill. Scottie Scheffler’s impressive last round push once again secured his place at the top of the rankings, whilst Viktor Hovland seeks to avenge an unfortunate 16th hole, where his dreams of a first major were dashed by one single shot.
Colonial favours no ‘type’ of player other than one that is currently strong with approach play and can take advantage of finding these small greens. In that regard, the old-fashioned ‘greens-in-regulation’ stat becomes more important than usual, offering better chances of putting – after all, finding the short stuff but three-putting from 65 feet means little compared to landing the ball 20-odd feet from the pin and making half of them.
With such a strong representation from the world’s top 20 players, it is tough to find any long-shots that might compete. In that regard, I’ll play it light (as I have at the Dutch Open) and just watch re-runs of the 16th at the PGA at the ad breaks.
Clear favourite Scottie Scheffler trumps the man I consider his biggest rival in Viktor Hovland in a few ways. The 26-year-old was far less bothered about his second place last week, having re-ignited after a poor third round, and has last year’s runner-up finish to boost his chance. That he should have beaten Sam Burns is neither here nor there considering his two wins and numerous placings since, and he comes here leading the 12-week stats for greens and in a top five position for putting average. At 4/1 though, he is very hard to be with.
Hovland may well suffer a post-major hangover whilst all my Spieth bullets are lined up for Royal Liverpool in July, leaving our Mexico Open hero, Tony Finau, to take the main stage.
After four wins in 44 starts, the affable 33-year-old has long since shred his reputation of ‘not doing it’ with the start of his winning streak being at the 2021 Northern Trust where he beat Cam Smith in a play-off with Rahm in third, and a host of major contenders further behind. Flying finishes then saw the 33-year-old finish runner-up to Rahm here, and to Rory McIlroy in Canada, before beating lesser field by three shots at the 3M, Patrick Cantlay et al by five at the Rocket Mortgage and a Houston Open field containing Sheffler and Sam Burns by an easy four strokes last November.
It was hard to be too disapointed with 2023 after nine consective cuts, including top 10 finishes at Kapalua and Torrey Pines, and his victory over the then world number one, Jon Rahm, in Mexico was richly deserved.
For the eighth time this year, Finau ranked top-15 for tee-to-green, all off solid iron play, and I’ll ignore his last two being that he’s never taken to Quail Hollow and the finish just outside the top-20 is perfectly acceptable, while he never figured at Oak Hill, compiling some of his worst figures for a while.
In this week’s field he is top-10 for all of ball-striking, approaches and tee-to-green, whilst he brings vital course form to the table with seven cuts that include a runner-up in 2019 and fourth last season. Comp form is good, with four improving top-25s at a similar track in River Highlands, whilst his Texas form works out nicely with an easy win at the Houston Open.
For his last six appearances Big Tone averages just about fifth for off-the-tee, has three outings of 16th or better for iron play and averages better than 20th for tee-to-green.
Having been well away from the pressures of last week, Finau can make it a nap hand of wins inside 50 outings.
Respect to the likes of Sungjae Im and Russell Henley, but they plod rather than kick-on in contention, and I’m not sure that will work with such a top end. Instead I’ll take a chance with Brian Harman, a player for whom we can rule out half the events in a season and jump on when conditions are right.
Now 36, it’s easy to forget what the Sea Island resident does on the course, but the last two seasons have been impressive enough to have him well inside the top-50, and assurances of playing in all four majors.
2022 saw the diminutive former US Amateur run up two second place finishes at Mayakoba and Hilton Head, a track facing similar conditions to this week’s. To bolster his claims he finished third at the American Express and the higher-class St.Jude, confirming his top-10s at the Valspar, Wells Fargo, Travelers and The Open to be no fluke.
Of that lot, Copperhead links us nicely to Sam Burns, back-to-back winner of the Valspar and defending champ this week, whilst his eighth place at River Highlands was the lefty’s fifth top-10 in his last eight outings around the Connecticut track.
Harman tends to repeat form at tracks, so note his streak of cuts here from 2014 to 2021, and his three top-10 finishes. As for his miss last year, he fought back from an opening 77 to record 11 shots better in his second round.
The missed cuts at Quail and Oak Hill were by no means horrendous, if probably expected, and concentrate on the positive figures he records from being accurate. Harman finds something here, and could easily repeat his effort at Harbour Town in April when landing his first top-10 of the season.
Finally, have a shekel or two on Carson Young, a steadily progressive 28-year-old that has worked his way through the ranks via wins on the South America and Korn Ferry tours.
Now settling down after a rough start to his rookie year, he led the Honda Classic after the first round, and followed a week later leading the Puerto Rico Open until halfway, eventually finishing in third.
Results have been mixed but his last six efforts have seen missed cuts followed by top-20s at the Heritage, Mexico and Byron Nelson, all performances that have seen him in the top echelons for accuracy and green-finding.
This may be a tough ask on debut, but he’s coming off Tuesday’s impressive five-shot victory at US Open qualifying in Dallas, making nine 3’s in a row and thrashing the likes of Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell, making the prices for top-10 and top-20 very attractive.
- Tony Finau – WIN
- Brian Harman – WIN/T5
- Carson Young – WIN/T5
- Carson Young – Top-20
Opinion & Analysis
The best bets for the 2023 KLM Dutch Open
It could have been an awful lot worse.
After a thrilling PGA Championship, we could have expected the quality threshold to drop a fair bit on both sides of the pond. Instead, at Colonial, we will be treated to the sight of the new world number one Scottie Scheffler; the man who maybe should have won his first major last week, Viktor Hovland; local hero Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau. That’s not to mention the rest of the world’s top-20.
The KLM Dutch Open can’t boast such a field, but the very top of the market contains the defending champion, Victor Perez, an excellent 12th at Oak Hill, and equally in-form Adrian Meronk, winner in Italy two starts ago and 40th last week in his second consectutive US major.
Once a highlight of the European Tour – think Seve, Langer, Monty, Miguel and Westwood – we have now lost the much-loved tight tracks that called for guile, replaced by Bernardus Golf, a newish, not-quite-formed, not links-not-parkland, course and a field, the like of which we see every single week.
In the end, does it matter? The job is to identify the winner, and even though the last two winners have done the job in contrasting styles, there are some very obvious clues about the top of the board at both the 2022 and ’23 runnings.
Inaugural Bernardus champ, Kristoffer Broberg, came into the event off some slight promise. After long-term loss of form and injury, he snuck into notice at the Scandinavian Mixed, but it was the tournament after his emotional victory that catches the eye.
The Swede has only one other top-10 finish in over 30 outings since winning here, that coming at the Alfred Dunhill Links, where he shared a ninth place with Matti Schmid, the German he beat into second place in the Netherlands.
Fast-forward a year, and the defending champion, Perez, has his most notable victory at the 2019 Links, whilst his defeated play-off rival Ryan Fox also won at the same pro-am three years later.
The link (sorry) is very clear. Bernardus continues the theme adopted by designer Kyle Phillips. Responsible for the likes of Kingsbarns, Dundonald Links (home of the Scottish Open 2017), Yas Links (current host of the Abu Dhabi Championship) and the former home of this event, Hilversumsche Golf Club, it’s a surprise he did not have a hand in Rinkven Golf Club in Belgium, where Fox, Meronk and Marcel Schneider – all within two shots of Perez around here – finished in second, sixth and seventh at the Soudal Open a year previous.
Last season, Fox showed that coming off the PGA was not much of a hardship, but despite the nagging feeling that 6/1 coupled is actually a bit of value, I’ll just about ignore the jollies with the other side of the brain thinking this comes too quickly.
Others to catch the eye across the two events include Aaron Cockerill, Thomas’s Detry and Pieters, and my favourite of all for the week, Alexander Bjork, for whom a victory is very much overdue.
The Swede catches in the eye in more ways than just his 2023 form, but that has plenty to recommend him.
Bjork’s runner-up at Al Hamra in April saw him just in front of Meronk, with earlier Ras champion Fox a couple of shots ahead of Marcus Helligkilde (prominent for three rounds of the Dutch Open in 2021), Perez and Matt Jordan, a frustrating player but with a top five finish at the Links.
That was to be the third of nine successive cuts that include top five finishes in Italy (winner – Meronk – top 10 finish for Perez) and in Belgium, where on each occasion he put up some of the best stats in the field for irons and putting.
After ticking that off, look at his sixth place finish at what might as well be called Broberg’s Scandi Mixed, tied-third at the 2022 Hero Open – won by 2022 Soudal Open champion Sam Horsfield – and his seventh place here last season, when never out of the top 10.
The figures may prompt a negative comment about distance off the tee, but he has plenty of form in the desert (20/28 at Yas Links) where second shot control is more important, as well as in Himmerland, where iron players dominated. Find anything else? nah, me neither.
After a tough week, it was tempting to leave Bjork as a one-and-done but the designer-led theme leads me to Shubhankar Sharma, a player that would look to suit the old-style Dutch Open but improved from a debut 27th here to 14th last season, the best effort coming after three consecutive missed-cuts.
Best efforts over the years are all on the tighter, tree-lined courses of Malaysia, Joburg and Wentworth, but amongst those are a further two outings at a Phillips course – runner-up and seventh in Abu Dhabi – the former when a shot behind Pieters (two top 10 finishes here) and tied with Rafa Cabrera-Bello, winner of the 2017 Scottish Open.
Recent results appear worse than they are, lying inside the top-25 at halfway in Korea and 18th after round one of the Soudal in Belgium.
Scott Jamieson was tempting after a solid run of results and past results in the desert, but, for the last pick, I’ll row in again on still-progressive Clement Sordet.
The 30-year-old Frenchman went into the Soudal Open a popular fancy after a pair of top-10 finishes in Korea and Italy, but blew his chance with an opening 77 before rallying with a second-round six-under 65. That effort confirmed he was still striking the ball well and continued his top-20 figures for approaches and tee-to-green.
With the added advantage of length, Sordet very much reminds me of the likes of Meronk, and it may be that he just needs that slice of luck to get over the line in this company.
It appears that punters are asked to forgive quite a lot when looking away from the top of the market, and whilst the likes Helligkilde, Pepperrell, Mansell et al will understandably have their fans, I’ll keep it very light this week.
- Alexander Bjork
- Shubhankar Sharma
- Clement Sordet
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May 20, 2023 at 12:36 am
Personally, I was saddened to see the Ben Hogan Company go out of business (again!) as they were about the only OEM that typically started their iron sets at around 22* and then proceeded in even 4* increments. This gave consistent gapping and you ended up with a 46* PW and a 50* Utility/Gap Wedge, with Sand Wedges then available in the 55* – 60* range.
If I was to buy a newer set of irons with the stronger lofts prevalent today, I’d have to have a cheat sheet to remember what irons are for what distance.
May 4, 2023 at 4:12 pm
Terry, why are you so partial to the name of the club?
I disagree with you on three points. If TLDR: let’s just name it a 10 iron like Honma and move on, who cares.
1. You want to emphasize that it’s a Pitching wedge because that’s it’s name, but undermine your own argument when you mention that the club had varying names historically:
“And your “P-club” is no longer a true pitching wedge any more than calling your 5-iron a driver makes it one.”…”MacGregor often numbered that iron “10””. If all manufactures stamped it as a 10 iron, would you be happy?
2. You argue that golf is the same, but our equipment has changed. “So, here we are in the 2020s. Golf hasn’t changed all that much, but your bag of tools sure has.”
I agree the equipment is hugely different, but so too is the game. The courses are hundreds (if not near a thousand) of yards longer. The agronomy can be much more extreme with faster greens, tighter fairways and aprons. Longer, thicker rough. The top level pro/amateur players are stronger and smarter with advanced analytics that trickle down into the regular game. So no, I don’t believe the game is the same, no game is the same compared to 75 years ago. That little chippy 8iron you mention wouldn’t be playable for 98% of the shots I hit in tournaments.
3. You note golfers are best with partial wedge shots: “Our research indicates most golfers will see more consistent distance control and improved spin if you will learn to hit your less-than-full wedge shots with your “true pitching wedge” of 49-53 degrees of loft.”
This finding is opposite to Dave Pelz’s, that golfers can more easily replicate consistent distances with full swings. He notes this as the catalyst of his invention of the lob wedge, it was easier for players to make a full swing 80 (or whatever) yard shot than a partial swing to produce the same distance.
May 15, 2023 at 9:57 pm
LOL – “that little chippy 8 iron wouldn’t play on 98% of my tourney rounds.”
You might want to tell that to Jim Furyk, who made a career (and won a major, and shot 58 on tour) by being deadly around the greens with a toe down chipping motion where he used all the irons in the bag to roll chips up to the cup.
But you’re such a baller, do tell us again how the game has changed and you can’t play that way anymore.
May 18, 2023 at 9:25 am
I like Furyk’s suggestion for a solid chipping technique, but this article is referring to pitch shots, not chipping. And for those, you need a different technique and a club that is at least 49-30 degrees of loft. Every golfer’s arsenal should include good chipping and good pitching techniques and tools.
May 23, 2023 at 1:56 pm
“By the way, those legendary pros and elite players also mastered bump-and-run shots, most often turning to their 8-iron or 9-iron, which had loft of, you guessed it, about 42-44 degrees of loft.”
I get what you are saying – but truly, I think it’s abit odd to make these bright line designations between chips, pitches, lobs, bump and runs, etc. The reality is that golfers are faced with a variety of short game situations and a good deal of creativity is required. I very much agree with what you said in the article, and completely disagree with Pickles. There are a lot of ways to go about things, and just because one player uses a high lofted wedges inside 80 yards, it does not mean that is the only way to do things.
May 4, 2023 at 12:02 am
So true! It became much more difficult to chip the modern urethane covered golf balls with anything less than a club with at least 52 degrees!