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“We are past the time of superior and inferior product lines”

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What was true, still is true and is likely becoming even more true is this: equipment doesn’t make any difference. Or perhaps more correctly, when analyzed with a single criteria of performance, the consumer has more choices now than ever before, all of which are top-shelf options.

You may decide to file that little bit of wisdom in the “duh” file. I know I’m treading on hallowed ground here and I’m certainly not one to claim I haven’t fallen victim to a marketing scheme or two. But if we look at the golf industry at a macro level, the real story is parity. No one makes a bad product and in fact, pretty much every major original equipment manufacturer turns out high-quality products worthy of play by the most demanding players in the world: touring professionals.

We are past the time of superior and inferior product lines. Many of us still remember Phil Mickelson’s back-handed compliment to Tiger Woods calling Tiger’s Nike equipment “inferior.” But that was 10 years ago, and my how times have changed.

Now demand for certain product lines is now largely a function of perception, customization and past behavior. As such, we’ve also witnessed market consolidation and OEM’s playing their own version of “anything you can do, I can do pretty much the same thing.” Call it shared technology or imitation, either way we certainly in a place where “it’s all good.”

Golf Balls

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In late 2000, Titleist released its ProV1 ball in Las Vegas. Its game-changing ball marked a paradigm shift from wound-core balls to solid-core balls. Billy Andrade won that event in Vegas and the race to catch up to Titleist was on. Unfortunately, for all would-be suitors, Titleist was well down the road and to this day still holds nearly 50 percent of the ball market worldwide. It’s a pretty nice complement when TaylorMade CEO Mark King commented, “We’re not going to get into a fight with Titliest, at least not for the ball. It’s what they do. They would defend it till their death.” Enough said.

Don’t let the market dominance figures lead you to believe that the performance difference is anything but razor thin. Last year’s FedExCup winner, Brandt Snedeker, is just fine with his Bridgestone Tour B330 ball and nearly $15 million in 2012 earnings. Bridgestone has been producing golf balls since 1935 and most people don’t realize that Nick Price won the 1994 PGA Championship and 1994 British Open using a solid core ball from Precept (division of Bridgestone). Currently, Bridgestone, the No. 1 ball fitter in golf, offers four Tour-level solid core balls.

Callaway got into the ball market in 2000 by hiring Chuck Yash, formerly with TaylorMade. During the last decade, Callaway has expanded its offerings partnering with aerodynamic specialists at Boeing to determine efficient and effective dimple patterns. Currently, Callaway offers a Tour-level ball for higher swing speeds (Hex Black) and one for lower swing speeds (Hex Chrome). They’ve recently also added the HEX Chrome +, which fits in between.

Wedges

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Inspired by the personal airplane of tycoon Howard Hughes, Gene Sarazen developed the blueprint for the modern sand-wedge. This was the late 1920s. In 1988, Cleveland golf introduced its fifth generation wedge, the 588. They looked basically the same. Now, most OEM’s (Titleist, Cleveland, Nike, Mizuno, etc.) offer multiple lofts, bounce options, grinds and finishes.

For those desiring a wedge-experience once reserved only for Tour pros, Titleist offers its WedgeWorks program. Wedge guru Bob Vokey and his team will build you a one-of-a-kind wedge with your choice of loft, grind, finish and stampings. Titleist launched this initiative in August of 2011, and soon thereafter Cleveland followed suit with its iteration, aptly named “My custom wedge.” Of course, this level of service isn’t anything new for customers of Scratch golf, the boutique brand which started in 2003 and whose motto “Your game customized” defines their entire business model.

Irons

Titleist AP2 710

There have always been myriad options for players wanting maximum workability and minimum forgiveness. Like many of you, I have fond memories of my Wilson staff blades, Hogan Apex blades, Mizuno MP-29s and well, you get the idea. Fast forward to the new millenium:

In 2008, Titleist introduced the AP2 (Advanced Performance) line of irons, which endeavored to broach the players category of irons buy offering tour level workability while maintaining the solid feel of a forged iron and increased forgiveness on mis-hits. In order to accomplish this, Titleist used multiple materials including forged steel (feel), tungsten weights (increased MOI) and an elastomer insert (vibration dampening and optimal sound). According to Titleist, the result is an iron with great feel, Tour-level workability and a traditional players appearance from address or in laymen’s terms, an iron any really really good golfer will love.

Titleist got the early jump in the category, but here’s a few products from other OEMs that are in the same category as the AP2’s:

Fairway Woods

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Whether you call it a fairway wood or a “fairway metal,” this category was once more about reliability than distance. It was in this environment that Tour Edge Exotics found a niche market and a cult following. The “CB” series of fairway metals featured a titanium combo-brazed face and hyper-steel body, both attributes still found in the fifth edition (CB5) of the player-oriented fairway wood. The company touted it as the longest fairway metal available, even offering a money-back guarantee. And it’s easy to offer a guarantee when you’re right. However, without a connection to a major OEM and a comparatively higher price tag, the company simply couldn’t access a majority of this newfound market.

Enter TaylorMade “RocketBallz,” or RBZ. They debuted in 2012 and promised golfers 17 yards of increased fairway metal distance. Heck, Phil Mickelson the face of Callaway, even put an RBZ 3 wood in play until Callaway could come up with something to kick it out. This year, RBZ Stage 2 fairway woods are promising 10 more yards on top of the 17 from last year, an assertion the OEM no doubt believes is “ballz-ier” than before. In addition, Callaway promotes its new X Hot line of fairway metals to be “longer from everywhere.”

Also, building on momentum from 2012 and its acquisition by TaylorMade, Adams has fixed a couple quality control issues in its distance fairway line (XTD) with the Super LS series that have a characteristic time (CT) that approaches 250. The legal limit as set by the USGA is 256.

Hybrids

Adams Super S Hybrids

In 2002, TaylorMade produced one of the first hybrids, the Rescue Mid, that gained significant acceptance on professional tours. But it has been Adams Golf that has built a loyal and significant following on the senior PGA Tour and now is the most played hybrid worldwide.

Right now, it’s impossible to find an OEM that doesn’t offer some kind of hybrid or rescue in its current line. They’re longer, more attractive and more versatile than previous models across the board.

Driver

Cobra AMP Cell drivers

TaylorMade introduced MWT (moveable weight technology) in 2004 with the R7 quad driver. Naysayers labeled the club gimmicky and over-hyped marketing snake oil. Such armchair analysts general fail to mention that the R7 was used in 50 percent of victories on the PGA Tour that year. While this was a significant departure from the rest of the driver industry, it was nothing compared to what TaylorMade did in 2011. Call it the great golfing whiteout. TaylorMade introduced the R11 with a matte white club head. Black was out and white was in. It almost seemed antithetical, or sacrilege or something, but it was definitely different.

The R11 also had MWT, ASP (an adjustable sole plate) and the ability to change effective loft, lie and shaft via its FCT (Flight Control Technology). The gauntlet had been laid down.

Again, skeptics decried the new white paint and called it uglier than sin; a fad with less shelf-life than a Kardashian marriage. TaylorMade went on to lead world-wide usage in 2011, an exclamation point on a decade of dominance. In 2013, TaylorMade debuted the its R1, a white-headed driver with crown graphics. Also into colored drivers is Cobra (blue, silver, white, red, black and orange), Nike Covert (Red), Adams LS (white) and Callaway (matte grey).

Putter

Yes! Putters

Putters are as individual as the player themselves. They’re function over form, more art than science — or so we thought. Patented on March 21, 1967, the Ping Anser putter is the most emulated putter design of all time. Scotty Cameron has had success with its similar Newport and Newport 2 putters, while Odyssey calls its version simply #2. That being said, the Anser is still the bar, still the blueprint to which all similar putters will be compared. It’s kind of like when a brand becomes so powerful, you forget to remember it’s a brand; think Band-Aid, Kleenex, ChapStick, Q-Tip and Anser.

Lately, there’s been a trend of “grooved” putter faces. What began in 1995 with C-Groove technology lead by European putter designer Harold Swash, has now led to textured or “grooved” putter faces from nearly every manufacturer.

The Takeaway

No matter how you slice this pie or skin this cat, each and every major OEM is gold-list worthy in the court of public opinion, and more importantly on the course where incomes are earned. Contrarians will say that equipment contracts are all about money, and to a degree this is true. However, money in the absence of performance simply does not jive in this game of meritocracy. The player who chases short term money in place of long term success will only realize the former. As much as some of us like to debate the minutia of spec tolerances, grinds, finishes and the endless list of what differentiates one product from another, the simple truth is you and I would have the same handicap regardless of where our OEM allegiances lie.

We know there are lies, damn lies and statistics, but consider this:

World Rankings (as of March 1, 2013) by primary OEM sponsor

1. Nike
2. Nike
3. Mizuno
4. Bridgestone
5. Ping
6. TaylorMade
7. Titleist
8. Bridgestone
9. Ping
10. Cobra
11. Ping
12. Callaway
13. Titleist
14. Nike
15. Titleist
16. Titleist
17. TaylorMade
18. Srixon/Cleveland
19. Srixon/Cleveland
20. TaylorMade
21. Ping
22. TaylorMade
23. Nike
24. Callaway
25. TaylorMade

I know the sample size isn’t ideal, so take it for what it’s worth, but based on the top-25 players in the world:

4 play Nike
2 play Srixon/Clevland
1 plays Mizuno
2 play Callaway
5 play Taylor Made
4 play Titleist
4 play Ping
1 plays Cobra
2 play Bridgestone

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Pingback: Considering A Macgregor Tourney Junior Individual Woods

  2. dg7936

    Aug 10, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    There may be MORE well-made products available today: however there are many more gimmicky products on the market also. Comparing product lines from the 80’s, most manufacturers had a small number of iron and wood models to manufacture versus the wide range of products available today..hybrids, gap and lob wedges, high-tech balls, exotic putters. So all of these may be well-made but will never create the following of the older companies who specialized in truly excellent products…hogan/macgregor/ram irons, powerbilt citation woods, etc etc. We have a more democratic market but also more marketing. Which does not really work, as the average handicap has remained the same for 20+ years. So where is the benefit to the average joe?

  3. undermined

    Apr 26, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    All this “history” and no mention of Wilson or MacGregor. Wilson is still around and makes outstanding forged irons and nice wedges.

  4. G

    Apr 12, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Except for the crap you can still buy at places like Walmart, Kmart, Target, Sports Authority, Sport Chalet, etc etc……. you know, them places where they still sell the inferior brands?

    This article is bogus.

  5. DJ Golf

    Apr 3, 2013 at 2:54 am

    When everyone is special, no one is special.

  6. Matt

    Mar 28, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Fact is Tiger switched from titleist also….everyone usually does.

    Rory will figure it out!

    Tiger did

    • PAul Roberts

      Apr 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Very true, however it took Tiger years’s to switch to a bag full of Nike (forget the putter), He went with Nike driver and ball but still used Titleist woods, irons and wedges for a few years until Nike built what he wanted/liked.

  7. lbholly

    Mar 27, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    I’m Calling BS on all the history in this article you obviously knew nothing of the golf business pre 2008

  8. gunmetal

    Mar 25, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Not to mention all of the offerings from brands that don’t pay pros to use their products…Wishon, KZG, Miura, Scratch, Scor, etc. All of that stuff is just as good as pay for play stuff, just not as recognizable.

  9. Rich

    Mar 24, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Great article. Funny how a companies like mizuno,bridgestone, and cobra are in the top 25 yet they barely pay anyone out there to play their clubs unlike other companies!

    • NG

      Mar 25, 2013 at 4:49 am

      They would too, if they could….

    • footwedge

      Mar 27, 2013 at 10:03 am

      Also, the big brands that have many players on their payroll should be winning a proportinately larger share of tourneys, buy they don’t. Equalized statistics will emphasize the fact that no brand is far superior, regardless of their marketing budget.

    • marionmg

      Feb 15, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      I wouldn’t say Bridgestone barely paid DL3 to leave Titleist…just sayin’

  10. Gabbo

    Mar 23, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Good article. While there has been a lot of innovation the past 10 years, the overwhelming majority of stuff out made the last 5 years is REALLY good. And with a soft used market, everybody has access to excellent equipment for dirt cheap.

    It’s a far cry from 20 years ago where you either ponied up big $$$ for top notch clubs or were stuck playing truly inferior discount clubs and clones.

  11. chris

    Mar 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Would agree from a pros perspective where they are fitted with the best of the best. From a retail perspective, fit and finish, quality of components (including real and made for shafts), and clubs built true to specs are miles apart. Most OEMs can’t even get the grips on straight….

  12. Todd

    Mar 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    How can you put Nike as the world #1 (Rory) when he has been anything but since the switch. He earned the spot with Titleist, he is giving it away with Nike.

    • Blanco

      Mar 23, 2013 at 11:15 pm

      The author’s made a simple list showing who sponsors each player in the top 25… not an endorsement.

      Keep beating the ‘Titleist rules/Rory’s a sellout’ to death–

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Opinion & Analysis

2023 Phoenix Open: Betting Picks & Selections

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There couldn’t be more of a contrast from the evil of Pebble Beach last week to the raucous party that will take place in Scottsdale this week.

From a depleted field to one that contains 18 of the world’s top 20 players, there is no doubt that the 2023 elevated events are attracting the biggest names in the game. Combine that with Superbowl weekend, a stadium course and one of the biggest crowds outside of the majors, and this will be one to watch all weekend.

Played for the last 36 years at Scottsdale, the course offers a mix of risk-and-reward holes as well as severe penalties for those that hit it wild. Witness the 17th, or 71st, hole over the last two runnings.

In contention, both Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele hooked their aggressive approaches into the greenside lake, handing the title to Brooks Koepka, whilst last year debutant Sahith Theegala found that luck was not with him, his tee-shot perfectly on line but finding a hard bounce, long roll, and a place next to those of the far more experienced duo.

Whilst the course offers it’s rewards, first-timers are far more likely to be put off by the enthusiastic, if slightly drunk, crowd, perhaps demonstrating why the list of recent winners includes major winners and contenders.

It’s always tough opting between the classier players at the top of the market, but world number five Patrick Cantlay makes most appeal at anything over 14/a and should be backed as such.

Understandably, there is plenty of repeat course form here, so it is testament to the 30-year-old’s class, that he contended a play-off here on debut last year.

There are few secrets from the elite of the golfing world and, like most, with Cantlay we get a solid bank of high-level form, highlighted by his efforts at the Shriners and Memorial tournaments, both included in a select group of comp courses.

It’s quite simple with Pat. At Summerlin he has recorded finishes of 1/2/2/8/2 whilst at Muirfield we get a pair of victories, third, fourth and seventh in just seven starts. I love this as a guide, particularly when looking at his numbers.

At both course, Cantlay ranks an average of around 11th off-the-tee, 22nd for approaches and 11th for tee-to-green. In last season’s play-off loss, he ranked 13th OTT, 27th SGA and 10th T2G – spot anything?

Cantlay often needs a run or two so I’m not worried about the opening 16th at the Tournament of Champions, and the 26th place at the American Express can possibly be upgraded a touch – 14th at halfway and fought back from a poor third round and 49th place – and he arrives at what looks a perfect course.

If most of the top lot are easy to read, I’m still not sure that we have reached anything like the ceiling for Tom Kim.

It’s tough to add anything new to this potential superstar other than most golf fans were waiting to see how he reacted to a stellar first full year on tour – it certainly isn’t disappointing!

17th on ‘debut’ at the Byron Nelson, the 20-year-old has done nothing but improve, and now ranks inside the top-15 thanks to victories at the Wyndham and Shriners championships, both with huge form links to the Pheonix Open, courtesy mainly to Webb Simpson and Cantlay.

If Kim was going to fall away he may have started at the seasonal opener where his lack of length would have been exposed. However, a fifth place secured his name in the minds of most for the rest of the year, enhanced by a sixth place at the American Express where a ranking of 16th in approaches was his worst for some time, the vast majority being inside the top-10.

Tom absolutely relished the party environment of the Presidents Cup and will no doubt do the same here on debut, another factor hardly worrying given his first-time efforts last year. It was close between he and compatriot Sungjae Im, but despite the latter’s course experience, there is a win factor element that gives the younger man the hard edge.

Mentioned already, Sahith Theegala is another name that should pay to follow for this year and beyond.

Once again, his profile is hardly secretive, and even if he has just that ‘unofficial’ pairs win to his name, could quite easily be sitting aside Tom Kim with two individual titles.

It’s almost impossible to ignore what the 25-year-old did on debut here last year, when even ‘star-struck’ playing with Koepka and Xander, he managed to find himself tied for the lead on payday Sunday.

However, in came the troublesome 17th, and whilst his tee shot took an awful bounce and careered his ball into the water, the highly-decorated Pepperdine graduate, came out of the event with a much higher profile and a fan club much bigger than the 100-or-so family and friends that surrounded him afterwards.

Previously, Theegala had led at the Sanderson Farms before proving a touch naive, whilst he also tried a miracle bunker shot when in contention at the last hole of the Travelers, something that caused a double-bogey and a two-shot defeat.

Add a top five at Muirfield to his collection of high finishes – an event he called ‘major tough’ – and we have a player that, like Kim, is progressing fast.

A pair of runner-finishes, third and four other top-10s have led to a place inside the top-40 of the world rankings and he has progressed from his opening two events of 2023 to finish tied-fourth at Torrey Pines, one of the classic ball-striking courses.

Ranking fourth for iron play and tee-to-green last time suggests he can attack these pins with relish, something he can build on after the usual quality driving, whilst an overall rating of 14th for greens-in-regulation over the past three months will give the opportunity for aggressive putting, something he showed in that victory alongside Tom Hoge.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Over in Singapore, the DP World Tour join the Asian Tour at ‘The Beast’, a 7400-yard course with huge undulations, and water hazards to catch out the more enthusiastic of drivers.

With little, in fact nothing, to go on for European Tour students, ante-post stakes will be lower than usual and punters, like the players, will surely learn a lot as we go through halfway.  This could be a great event for betting in-running – keep eyes peeled on the Bet Victor golf page.

It’s churlish to criticise Ryan Fox for not exploiting an opening top five last week, but after a first round 67, Ras did look open for a Fox saunter across a course that was certainly tighter than we had seen before, but had enough links-like characteristics to be right up his street.

11th is a strong finish, but at around 18/1 I need more, as I do if taking a couple of points less about favourite Robert MacIntyre.

Instead, start the card with the consistent Adrian Otaegui, who may not have the latent power of the other pair but has a guile to his game that might be a sneaky factor around a course that looks like it needs careful handling.

Winner of two match-play scenarios, he proved he could win a standard stroke-play with a win in poor conditions in Scotland, before showing the highest level of skill last October.

Coming off the LIV Golf bench, the 30-year-old (it’s that age again, the supposed peak of a golfer) won around Valderrama in record score and by a record-equalling margin of six shots, putting up figures rarely seen around what is a tough track.

It would have been almost impossible to recreate those numbers week-in week-out, but he hasn’t let his iron play slip, ranking an average of 10th for eight of his last nine outings – I’ll ignore Dubai as it was such an anomaly.

Add that to a set of scrambling stats that have the Spaniard inside the top 14 for 11 recent starts and a top-five rating for accuracy off the tee and we have a player that offers far more than hit-it-and-find-it. If this is a high scoring event, Otaegui’s placing could be valuable.

Back the four-time winner up with two maidens.

Matt Jordan has always been on the radar, particularly in links conditions, and he’s the potential value from the bigger hitters.

A pair of top-fives in Himmerland reads well, even if he should have finished better after a third round 62, whilst efforts in Foshan, Qatar and Portugal hint to being suited by this test, the middle of those the scene of a final round collapse after making his way to the front in difficult conditions once again.

The 27-year-old relishes a grind, something he’ll find over the next few days, but he makes the plan due to an upturn in putting form, something that was his nemesis over the last couple of seasons.

The trio of events since the start of the year have seen the Englishman steadily improve on the greens, finding half-a-shot, three-quarters and now over three shots on the field through Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras. Laguna National might have elements of all the places Jordan thrives, and I’ll take that chance.

Over to another Matt to complete the plan, this time Frenchman Matthieu Pavon. 

Taking a look at the 30-year-old’s best form, he was third at the links-dominated Scottish Open in 2017, runner-up alongside Lucas Bjerregaard to Thomas Pieters in Portugal, and split Jon Rahm and Min Woo Lee in Spain.

Top that with a runner-up in Mauritius, and a fifth place at the same place in 2017, both amongst big-hitters, as well as a silver medal at Foshan, and the two-time Alps Tour winner builds up a profile that should relish a test like Laguna National’s toughest track.

Over three months Pavon ranks in seventh place for total driving and top-40 for greens-in-regulation, figures he improved on last week at Ras Al Khaimah, when second in approaches, fifth tee-to-green and top-20 in greens. Take that onto Singapore and it doesn’t take that much to believe he is slightly overpriced in what looks a winnable event.

Recommended Bets:

Phoenix Open

  • Patrick Cantlay – 18/1 WIN
  • Tom Kim – 22/1 WIN
  • Sahith Theegala – 45/1 Each-way

Singapore Classic

  • Adrian Otaegui  25/1 Each-way
  • Matt Jordan 45/1 Each-way
  • Matthieu Pavon 60/1 Each-way
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Opinion & Analysis

Junior golf development 101

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So here’s a best guess: At 7-years-old, in the United States, there are about 200 junior boy golfers “trying.” That is, they are taking lessons, going to tournaments, and doing some sort of practice. In my estimation, this number doubles every year until high school. This means that at 13 there are 12,800 players trying. It also means that each and every year, it gets almost twice as tough to win. This of course continued until about 400 of these players go on to play NCAA Division 1 golf and another 1,000 or so go on to play NCAA D2, D3, NAIA, or club golf.

So why is this important? Because between 7-13 years old kids are gonna change A LOT. In particular, kids who start early and have some success are going to face infinitely better competition in three years. Likewise, students who start at 12 are going to lack experience playing competitive golf. This includes traveling, charting courses, and maybe playing in different conditions.

The difficulty with golf is that to become a college athlete the data suggest that by the end of freshman year in high school you should be able to shot about 78. Below are the scoring differentials (basically, handicaps) of players who, according to best guess are on pace to play college golf:

So what is a kid or parent to do? I would focus on the player developing at least six shots. They are:

  • go-to shot off the tee
  • stock iron shot
  • low iron shot
  • low spinning chip
  • flopper
  • bump and run

I would challenge them with games:

  • round with just even irons or odd
  • draw back; every time they miss a putt on the course, they draw the putt away from the hole a putter length
  • play the red tees and try to shoot as low as possible

The secret sauce for kids is to have the desire and internal motivation to continue to learn and grow. Kids that love golf and have a future will not only have some scoring success but will have a deep passion and interest for the game. They will spend countless hours honing different shots and trajectories, all while avoiding the dangers of adolescence (which, of course, is the real goal of youth sports).

The reality is that success, particularly in junior golf, has a ton to do with things people don’t consider. This includes when puberty happens, who your children play with at the club (other competitive players?), how much they want to compete and access to their club.

In fact, in all cases, your kid would be better off at the goat ranch down the road, without a range, with three kids of the same skill level than alone on his fancy range pounding perfect range balls.

Let that sink in.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work?

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Having been in the wedge business for over thirty years now, and having focused my entire life’s work on how to make wedges work better, one of my biggest frustrations is how under-informed most golfers are about wedges in general, and how misinformed most are about the elements of a wedge that really affect performance.

That under-informed and misinformed “double whammy” helps make the wedge category to be the least dynamic of the entire golf equipment industry. Consider this if you will. Golfers carry only one driver and only one putter, but an average of three wedges. BUT – and it’s a big “but” – every year, unit sales of both drivers and putters are more than double the unit sales of wedges.
So why is that?

Over those thirty-plus years, I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers to ask that very question, and I’ve complemented that statistical insight with hundreds of one-on-one interviews with golfers of all skill levels. My key takeaways are:

  • Most golfers have not had a track record of improved performance with new wedges that mirror their positive experience with a new driver or putter.
  • A large percentage of golfers consider their wedge play to be one of the weaker parts of their games.
  • And most golfers do not really understand that wedge play is the most challenging aspect of golf.
  • On that last point, I wrote a post almost two years ago addressing this very subject, “Why Wedge Mastery Is So Elusive” (read it here).

So now let’s dive into what really makes a wedge work. In essence, wedges are not that much different from all the other clubs in our bags. The three key elements that make any club do what it does are:

  • The distribution of mass around the clubhead
  • The shaft characteristics
  • The specifications for weight, shaft length and lie angle

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

For any golf club to perform to its optimum for a given golfer, these three key measurements must be correct. Shaft length and lie angle work together to help that golfer deliver the clubhead to the ball as accurately as possible time and again. If either spec is off even a little bit, quality contact will be sacrificed. The overall weight of the club is much more critical than the mystical “swing weight”, and I’ve always believed that in wedges, that overall weight should be slightly heavier than the set-match 9-iron, but not dramatically so.

We encounter so many golfers who have migrated to light steel or graphite shafts in their irons, but are still trying to play off-the-rack wedges with their heavy stiff steel shafts that complete prohibit the making of a consistent swing evolution from their short irons to their wedges.

That leads to the consistent observation that so many golfers completely ignore the shaft specifics in their wedges, even after undergoing a custom fitting of their irons to try to get the right shaft to optimize performance through the set. The fact is, to optimize performance your wedges need to be pretty consistent with your irons in shaft weight, material and flex.

Now it’s time to dive into the design of a wedge head, expanding on what I wrote in that post of two years ago (please go back to that link and read it again!)

The wedge “wizards” would have you believe that the only things that matter in wedge design are “grooves and grinds.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Grooves can only do so much, and their primary purpose is the same as the tread on your tires – to channel away moisture and matter to allow more of the clubface to contact the ball. In our robotic testing of Edison Forged wedges – on a dry ball – the complete absence of grooves only reduced spin by 15 percent! But, when you add moisture and/or matter, that changes dramatically.

Understand the USGA hasn’t changed the Rules of Golf that govern groove geometry in over 12 years, and every company serious about their wedge product pushes those rules to the limit. There is no story here!
For years, I have consistently taken umbrage to the constant drivel about “grinds.” The fact is that you will encounter every kind of lie and turf imaginable during the life of your wedges, and unless you are an elite tour-caliber player, it is unlikely you can discern the difference from one specialized grind to another.

Almost all wedge sole designs are pretty darn good, once you learn how to use the bounce to your advantage, but that’s a post for another time.

Now, the clubhead.

Very simply, what makes any golf club work – and wedges are no different – is the way mass is distributed around the clubhead. Period.

All modern drivers are about the same, with subtle nuanced differences from brand to brand. Likewise, there are only about four distinctly different kinds of irons: Single piece tour blades, modern distance blades with internal technologies, game improvement designs with accented perimeter weighting and whatever a “super game improvement iron” is. Fairways, hybrids, even putters are sold primarily by touting the design parameters of the clubhead.

So, why not wedges?]

This has gotten long, so next week I’ll dive into “The anatomy of a wedge head.”

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