Testing wedges from variety of lies, course conditions key to proper fitting

Cleveland Smart Sole 3 wedges Cleveland Golf

Testing wedges from variety of lies, course conditions key to proper fitting

Equipment

Testing wedges from variety of lies, course conditions key to proper fitting

Last season, when he was faced with an approach shot within 125 yards of the hole, Justin Thomas made a birdie or better 31.18 percent of the time. That ranked second on the PGA Tour. Sure, he made a few long putts and chipped in a couple of times, but from 50 to 125 yards, Thomas’ average leave distance was 15 feet, 6 inches, which topped the PGA Tour.

Pros like Thomas can hit shots to exact distances because they practice and have wedges that allow them to handle a wide variety of lies and conditions. Thomas is so attuned to his wedges that his 46-degree Titleist Vokey Design SM6 pitching wedge gets bent to 47.5 degrees, and his SM5 Raw gap wedge gets bent from 52 degrees to 52.5 degrees.

Yes, the 2017 PGA Tour Player of the Year really can feel and see the difference a half-degree makes.

You can have a great custom-fitting experience for a driver indoors, but a proper wedge fitting is almost impossible unless it is conducted outside. You need to test wedges from a wide variety of lies and course conditions. Sand, deep rough, downhill lies, sidehill lies and tight lies. If you need to work with a fitter who only works indoors, be sure to ask about the availability of demo wedges you can try on the course before you make your final purchase.

A good fitter should begin a session by asking about the courses you play most often, the type of shots you find yourself hitting and the parts of the short game that give you the most trouble. All of these factors and more play a role in determining the ideal loft, bounce and sole configurations for you.

“Without question, we would say that you have to be gap fit and you have to identify all the different shots you might want to hit,” said Jeremy Stone, Titleist’s marketing director for Vokey wedges.

Gapping wedges crucial

Whether you carry three wedges or four, gapping – managing the distances you hit sequential clubs in a set and the gaps in distance between those clubs – is crucial because you need to create a logical transition from your irons to your highest-lofted club. For example, if your most-lofted wedge has 58 degrees and you can hit it 80 yards, and your 9-iron goes 130 yards, you need to add wedges that evenly split that 50-yard gap. Fitters generally recommend 10- to 12-yard gaps, so in this case adding wedges that fly 90 to 95 yards, 105 to 110 yards and 120 yards would make sense.

Don’t get hung up on the lofts stamped into wedges. What matters is the carry distance they create. This is important to remember because, as Stone pointed out, iron lofts are getting stronger, and your ideal wedge loft combinations may have changed. If you like the pitching wedge that came with your new iron set, it may have as few as 43 or 44 degrees of loft. If your next wedge has 52 degrees, there could be a 25-yard gap between those clubs and you might need to consider a stronger-lofted gap wedge.

Evidence of this trend was apparent last year when, for the first time, Stone said Titleist sold more 50-degree gap wedges than 52-degree gap wedges.

“We try to encourage everybody to think of them as a wedge set, just like you would think of your irons as an iron set,” said John Rae, Cleveland Golf’s vice president of research and development. “You don’t go buy a new 6-iron and then a new 8-iron. Buying all your wedges together, we think, helps. It gets you the same feel, technologies and looks. Consistency in your clubs breeds consistency in your swing and shots, and that results in lower scores.”

A lot of recreational golfers talk a good game when it comes to things like bounce (the angle of the wedge’s sole) and heel relief, but many golfers do not understand how their swing and the course conditions dictate the style of wedges that will serve them best.

“Generally, if you play in soft, mushy conditions with fluffy sand, you want a wedge that is going to be delivered with more bounce to ensure you are going to swing right under the ball,” said Erik Henrikson, Ping’s manager of innovation and fitting science. “Conversely, when you are playing in really firm conditions, having too much bounce can cause you to not get under the ball.”

Henrickson points out the bounce is affected by how a player delivers the club. Forward shaft lean at impact takes away bounce, while keeping your hands back as the head makes contact with the ball adds effective bounce. A good fitter will recognize the technique you use and can make bounce recommendations accordingly.

Wedges can lower your score

As any player knows, a lot of wedge shots are hit from awkward distances that do not require a full swing, and from non-fairway lies. This is where having wedges with different sole configurations can make the difference between getting up and down for par or carding a big number.

Pitching wedges and gap wedges tend to have straight, iron-like soles because they are typically used on full-swing shots from the fairway. But sand wedges and lob wedges may have material removed from the heel and toe areas on the sole, or even have extra-wide soles. Trying a variety of shots from several different places around the green should help you and your fitter find the ideal sole grind and loft combinations to help you handle the shots you face most often.

Your day job might keep you from practicing your short game as often as Justin Thomas. But working with a good fitter can ensure that your wedges match your game and help you score better.  Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the Jan. 29, 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home