Saturday, August 30, 2008

Getting 'Wedged"

If you watch any PGA tour event these days, it seems like wedges are sprouting from the players bags faster than magic mushrooms in a field of cowpatties. It seems that everyone has a minimum of 4 wedges and some seem to carry 5 (Can you here me, Phil ???). What happened to the days of a PW and a SW and fuggadaboutit ????

Well, unless you have been under a rock, you have noticed that as distances have increased, the need to be ultra precise under 100 yards has become paramount. Couple that with the super fast greens and gigantic paychecks, and therein lies the answer....for the guys who get paid to play. But what about the rest of us ??? How many wedges do we need ? And which wedges do we need ? And how do we determine all of that ??? I need a nap, already....

While I don't consider myself anything other than an average hacker ( I play to a 9 HC), I do consider myself more of an authority on this particular topic. This relative "expertise" (laughing inside) is the result of my biggest flaw, which is missing greens and an overall less than ideal iron game - which means I hit a LOT of wedge shots.....thus, familiarity has bred something akin to proficiency. With all this being the case, here are my observations and recommendations:

(1) How many wedges do I need ? I would say the average player MUST have 3 wedges - the Pitching Wedge (45-48 degrees of loft, probably came with your set), the "Gap" wedge (50 - 53 degrees of loft), and the Sand Wedge (54 - 56 degrees of loft). As you become more comfortable with those (and it won't take long), add a 4th wedge - the Lob wedge (58 - 60 degrees).
(2) How do I learn to hit these wedges ? In a word, PRACTICE. However, not just mindless banging of balls at the range....getting proficient with your wedges requires practice with a purpose. There are number of proven approaches, but I am a fan of the Dave Pelz method. It's explained in great detail in his book "Short Game Bible", but the core of this is to learn to hit each of your wedges with 3 swings (1/4, 1/2. and 3/4 swing). By doing this, you will learn precisely how far you hit each of your wedges - and armed with that info, you can determine which wedge to hit from practically any distance within 100 yards. As elementary as this may sound, it works. One other (not so minor) thing this does is to remove the decision making and guesswork from these "touch" shots - no more deciding "how hard do I swing"...rather, just pick the distance, pick the wedge and swing that gets you there, align, and execute (remembering to finish each shot fully, accelerating through the ball).

(3) Getting Fitted: An oft overlooked part of selecting the right wedge(s) is the fitting process. Most of us just go into the local golf emporium or pro shop, look for something pleasing to the eye (or something we have seen in our buddies' bags), pick a couple of 'em, and whip out the ol'Amex - cha ching... However getting fitted for these is just as important as getting fitted for your irons - so find someone (think local pro or clubfitter) who will take the time to help you pick the right setup for your game.

(4) What is "bounce" and how much do I need ??? One final thing to consider is "bounce". I've seen dozens of posts across the blogosphere about bounce - what is it ? how much do I need ? how do I determine what is right for me ? First of all, bounce is measured in "degrees", just like the loft on your clubs, and is often referred to as "bounce angle". Conventional wisdom suggests that less bounce (think 4 - 8 degrees) is best if you play on courses that offer a lot of tight lies, hard ground, or closely cut fairways, while more bounce (10-14 degrees) is better for softer turf, and lusher fairways. Further CW suggests a sand wedge with a lot of bounce (56 degrees loft, 12 degrees bounce) and a LW with little bounce ( 60 degrees loft, 4 degrees bounce) is the right kit. In theory, this allows you to have a clubs that are applicable for both tight lies and fluffier ones - in essence, a little flexibility to cover all options.

My experience and advice veers from the CW however....I tried the above set up and found that I was "digging" the LW in quite frequently - regardless of the lie. After much experimentation, I have opted to have similar amounts of bounce on both my SW and LW (14 and 12 degrees,respectively). At the end of the day, my opinion is that selecting wedges is a "personal" thing - so take your time, hit a few different brands , lofts, and bounce angles until you find what is right for you. Here is what is (currently) right for me:
  • Titleist AP2 PW - 46 degrees loft
  • Titleist Vokey Gap Wedge - 50 Degrees loft, 8 degrees bounce
  • Titleist Vokey Spin Milled Sand Wedge - 54 degrees loft, 14 degrees bounce
  • Titleist Vokey Spin Milled Lob Wedge - 58 degrees loft, 12 degrees bounce
P.S. - Yes, I know Philly Mick hits a 64 degree wedge - but that's a little more advanced that what your average golfer should (IMHO) consider, so I left that one for PM and Dave to cover...

1 comment:

Andrea said...

I am a big follower of the women's tour and it seems that four or so wedges is routine for these players. I play with four wedges and I am still discovering / getting comfortable with yardages below 100 yards. Mostly 70-30 and my 52 and 56 degree wedges have really come in handy. :)