Fairway Notebook: Choose Your Wedge
It’s all in the loft and bounce. Experienced golfers often carry two or three wedges, differing in the amount of loft and the amount of bounce. The loft of the wedge means the number of degrees the face is away from straight up and down.
Bounce is not so well understood.
When a wedge has bounce, it has extra weight on the bottom located away from the face. The low point on the bottom of the wedge works like a bumper that keeps the face from digging into the sand. A wedge with lots of bounce is needed to hit out of soft, fluffy sand. A wedge with little or no bounce works best for shots from tight lies in turf or on hardpan.
Usually the higher the number, the heavier and shorter the club and more loft to the face. Clubs heavier than a 9-iron, such as a pitching wedge or sand iron, are usually a standard part of a complete set of clubs.
Gene Sarazen admitted that for years he was scared stiff of sand shots and only became a confident trap player after the invention of what is now known as the sand iron. In his book “Thirty Years of Championship Golf” he details how this club was born in a small machine shop in New Port Ritchie in 1931.
In the spring of 1932, after hitting thousands of trap shots, he had supreme confidence in that club. The sand iron was quickly taken up by his fellow pros and because of its success, is now part of each manufacturer’s standard set of clubs.
Wilson Sporting Goods is listed as the first manufacturer of the sand iron, and its advertising claims explained that the “whole idea behind its rounded bounce-type sole was to keep the clubhead moving through the hitting area and to prevent it from digging into the sand.”
Confidence-building advice for sure.
Years ago, PGA Tour player Tom Kite decided that there were too many variables involved in trying to finesse a sand wedge from the fairway or heavy rough. He realized that with his best swing, a club with a 62-degree loft would go just 60 yards — and so the birth of the popular lob or third wedge. With the addition of this third wedge, he made a decision to remove his 2-iron from his bag.
In doing research for this article, the advice I heard most frequently was to be sure of how far you can hit your 9-iron, pitching wedge and sand iron. During the pro-days of the PGA events the professional players often comment on the amateurs who play with them. They observe that wedge and/or pitch shots are hit straight but too long or too short, or are hit too far above or below the hole.
In the March 1995 issue of “Senior Golfer,” Dave Pelz tells us to “be honest with ourselves, determine how far we consistently hit our most comfortable short shots, which ones we typically mess up, and whether we have serious gaps in our distance and trajectories. Once these determinations are made, each player can decide if one of the specialty or high performance wedges, available in today’s market, will find a home in their golf bag.”
Your home pro will, I am sure, advise you to go by the degree of loft and bounce needed for your home course. There is not a standard distance that can be assigned to each club, mainly because each player is so different.
The typical pitching wedge has about 48 to 50 degrees of loft with a 4 to 9 range for degree of bounce. The typical sand wedge may have 54 to 56 degrees of loft and 12 to 14 degrees of bounce. A lob wedge usually falls into the 60 to 64 degrees of loft and is such a specialty club that it gets the ball up very quickly.
Using this club requires a lot of practice for those shots from the fairway and around the green. Phil Mickleson has done his practicing, and it shows.
It is important to remember that a total of 14 clubs is the limit permitted by the USGA in tournament play. Your bag should contain the 14 clubs most suitable to your game. Just like Tom Kite, you may have to remove a less frequently used club in order to add a specialty club.
Measuring up to the challenge to improve our game is made easier because of these specialty clubs. Fortunately, the selection of wedges offered for sale in our pro shops and local golf shops is good and varied. Personally, I am waiting for the “Stealth Iron” — the one where you can hit the ball and it homes in right to the flagstick.
More like this story