DORAL, Fla. — The Florida Swing started last week at the Honda Classic, but for players who have a golden ticket to play in next month’s Masters, the WGC-Cadillac Championship marks the start of the drive to Augusta.
Ultra-fast greens, no rough and bunkers filled with sand as soft as talcum powder combine to make Augusta National a nerve-wracking test of a player’s short game. To ace the test and slip into a green jacket on the second Sunday in April, pros need a lot of talent. The right wedges help, too.
Dean Teykl, Callaway Golf’s PGA Tour manager, said that starting this week at Trump National Doral, Callaway began giving players wedges that should be ideal for Augusta National. Typically players get new gap wedges, sand wedges and lob wedges. Pitching wedges are not often replaced.
“It’s more about the turf interaction than it is about the grooves,” Teykl said. “Don’t get me wrong, they want the grooves sharp because it’s the Masters, but it’s really about the turf interaction.”
The fairway grass at Augusta is as tight as a pool table, so the ball is never perched. Getting the leading edge of a wedge under the ball can be a challenge if a sand wedge or lob wedge has too much bounce.
“We’re just preparing guys and getting them some things that they can get to know,” said Aaron Dill, the PGA Tour representative for Titleist’s Vokey wedges, on Wednesday. “Something with a little less bounce, but similar to what they have. Knowing what the conditions are going to be like at Augusta, firm and fast obviously. So we want them to have something like what they already have, minus 2 or 3 degrees of bounce. We also might give some players a wider-soled option for around the greens.”
Keegan Bradley may be one of the few players who bucks the low-bounce trend. Chuck Cook, Bradley’s swing coach, convinced the 2011 PGA Championship winner to add bounce to his 60-degree wedge. Cook wants Bradley to trap the ball more against the turf but not dig into the ground.
“Week to week he needs more bounce,” said Rob Waters, Cleveland Golf’s PGA Tour manager. “He was at 8 degrees, but now he’s going up to closer 12 degrees. But what we’re finding is that the shallower he gets, the more he picks the ball. Adding bounce brings it up into the middle of the face for him.”
At the same time, Cleveland has removed more material from the heel section of Keegan’s new wedge. This should let him get under the ball from tight lies. It should give Bradley the best of all worlds: more bounce in the bunkers, relief from the fairway and fringe.
Some players talk about breaking in their wedges before driving up Magnolia Lane, but that can be misleading. Opting for wedges with little less bounce throws a new variable into players’ equations. With the Masters on the line, they don’t want to be surprised. In truth, the break-in period is as much about mental reassurance as it is finding the right blend of bounce and loft.
And then there’s Bubba Watson.
According to Daniel Udd, Ping’s master tour technician, Watson asked for a new Ping Tour-S lob wedge on the Wednesday morning before the 2012 Masters.
“That morning!” Udd said in Ping’s truck at Doral, as if still in disbelief.
It may have been an unusual request, but Watson now has a place to hang his clothes in the champions locker room at Augusta National. Clearly Bubba breaks ’em in quick.