Wedge School

The wedge is more complex than we think
Cleveland 588, Cobra Trusty Rusty, TaylorMade ATV

Is there any piece of equipment to which we pay less attention? Yet no other is asked to do so many things. The wedge. It’s a great little implement, and more complex than we think.

Beware The Lie
Over the years, club manufacturers have been building ever more upright clubs, a design tweak that, all else being equal, is designed to lessen slices. CordeValle teaching professional Jon Horner estimates that today’s standard lie is equivalent to a two-degree-upright club of 30 years ago. That’s all fine and well for recreational players trying to find the fairway. But Horner says it’s "the worst thing possible for wedge play."

Wedges often are (should be) used for less-than-full shots, pitches and chips; swings that are less dynamic with hands typically dropped into a lower position. This effectively makes the wedge more upright. The tell-tale sign of a too-upright wedge is the leftward divot (for a righty) and a pulled shot. For best results, wedges should be flattened a degree or two from the configuration of your irons; some advise making some lie-angle adjustment to the 9-iron, as well.

PING Anser, Titleist Vokey Design SM4, Mizuno MP-R12

Don’t Be Put Off By Offset
"It is counterintuitive," says Cleveland Golf’s Scott Carlyle. "But there are better players, often better senior players, who like to see more offset in their wedges."

Long irons have more offset than short irons, players’ clubs have less than game-improvement clubs. Offset helps a club close at impact, which typically isn’t a problem, even for lesser-caliber players, with shorter clubs. That’s why many wedges have no offset or even face progression, which is a wisp of the leading edge protruding in front of the hosel; who wants to pull a wedge, after all?

"It’s just something they are comfortable with," adds Carlyle, mostly of players from a time when they weren’t afraid to tinker with their own clubs and before today’s ubiquitous lob wedges appeared. "It looks a bit like a gooseneck," he concludes. "It subconsciously makes players move the ball back."

The effect is achieved by taking a degree or two of loft out of a wedge on a bending bar, which coincidentally reduces the bounce, adding up to a perfect combo for those who like to hit down and through the ball for lower, higher-spinning pitches.

And it’s not just for the old guys.

The USGA’s 2010-enacted groove restriction–scaling back volume and edge sharpness–has had little practical impact, other than adding costs to manufacturers and consumers. Proximity-to-the-pin data for PGA Tour players in 2011 showed "no statistical difference" over the previous year’s old-groove numbers, says Carlyle, business unit leader for Cleveland, and his company’s stable of pros actually "prefer the new over the old because they spin the ball just a bit less, and they get better, more consistent control. Those big rip backs aren’t a problem anymore."

Don’t think club companies did nothing: "When the USGA comes up with a new ruling, it makes us put our thinking caps on that much more," says PING’s Mike Nicolette. TaylorMade, Cleveland and PING all speak to improving their manufacturing tolerances to get as close to the new allowable limits as possible, and all have added microtexture or microgrooves to get the spin rates "largely back to where we were before," in the words of TaylorMade’s Michael Fox, product manager for putters and wedges.

The Replacements

Tour players replace wedges on two- to six-week cycles; we can do it far less often. Replacement is highly personal, and depends on the amount and type of practice, rounds played, playing conditions–particularly sand–even the type and condition of balls hit, which, of course, is really only a matter for us amateurs hitting battered stripers. PING has actually assigned it a number, according to Nicolette, a club designer and former Tour winner. A "good rule of thumb is significant performance dropoffs" at 5,000 hits for the company’s softer 8620 steel (forged Anser irons and wedges, cast Tour-S Rustique wedges) and 7,000+ for the 17-4 stainless used in the other lines.

If math’s not your thing: If you play once a week, shoot the guy-average 100, practice a degree past nominally, and it’s all done in other than Augusta-in-April conditions, two, three years will be about it, and if you have a five-year-old wedge, donate it to the Smithsonian, not the First Tee.

Bounce Is Good For The Sole
Bounce is your friend. If there’s a mantra to this subject, that’s it. And absent any other input, in other words, if buying blind, "More bounce is better for more players," says PGA Class A instructor Paul Bucy of the Palm Desert Golf Academy, borrowing a line from Bob Vokey.

Bounce typically is selected for playing conditions or player attributes. Lower bounce is best suited to dry, tight conditions and firm sand, and/or shallow-swinging pickers/sliders; the bounce mitigates against deflecting off Mother Earth and center-punching the ball. Pour more water on the course and fluff up the sand, toss into the mix a golfer who comes at the ball with a steep, digging motion, and more bounce is advised so the club doesn’t plow into the turf or bunker. It’s golf–your mileage may vary.

The matter of bounce is more involved than a simple matter of the angle of the sole in relation to the face angle, however. Sole width and camber affect the effective bounce; think of effective bounce as how the shot will come off in the real world.

Wider soles often found on player-improvement clubs increase effective bounce. And a reduction in camber, the curvature of the sole from leading edge to trailing edge, decreases the effective bounce. That’s one way of saying, "Please don’t buy blind."

There’s a lot going on at the sound end of the bag. It might be that the next driver fitting should be scheduled with the wedge folks.

One thought on “Wedge School

  1. Not many agree with the “offset helps close the face” thing. Many DO agree that offset helps get the ball airborne, especially for slower swingers; for long irons that’s a good thing, but do you really need that kind of help on a wedge? Nope.

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