Achenbach: Lob wedge a key at Merion

At rain-soaked Merion, where the rough around the greens is long and sticky, the lob wedge appears destined to play a pivotal role. Canadian Adam Hadwin practiced out of the rough on Tuesday afternoon.

At rain-soaked Merion, where the rough around the greens is long and sticky, the lob wedge appears destined to play a pivotal role. Canadian Adam Hadwin practiced out of the rough on Tuesday afternoon.

ARDMORE, Pa. - When the U.S. Open starts Thursday, how will a soft, water-soaked Merion defend itself against the best golfers in the world?

Five words: tough rough, hidden hole locations.

Let’s take a look at hole locations. Forget the misguided belief that pins have to be least 12 feet – or four paces – from the edge of the greens. It’s not true. Although the U.S. Golf Association does not provide exact distances, it is clear that some U.S. Open hole locations are less than 10 feet from the aprons. The same is true of the Masters.

“We try to be fair,” said USGA executive director Mike Davis, “but it is reasonable to have some very demanding hole locations, particularly if players are hitting wedges in there.”

The penalty for missing a green can be severe, because the grass around the aprons is long and tangly. Spectators will see some golfers – held captive in this greenside rough – taking full or three-quarter swings to escape their predicament.

One result of tough rough and hidden hole locations will be a reliance on the lob wedge. Any wedge with 58 or more degrees is considered a lob wedge, although most are 60 degrees. As Golfweek started looking through the bags of U.S. Open players, it could not find a single participant without a lob wedge. This club has become a staple of the modern game.

And if it isn't already a part of yours, the lob wedge certainly deserves serious consideration. Some advice from Roger Cleveland, who designs wedges for Callaway Golf: “You don’t need to change all your wedges every year, but the 60-degree (wedge) is critical. To get maximum spin, every golfer should replace it every year.”

So add that responsibility to your annual to-do list: Change your spikes (if your golf shoes have spikes); change your grips; change your 60-degree wedge.

Here is a rundown on three basic shots that often are hit with a lob wedge. Variations of these techniques are many, so the list of different shots could be endless.

1. Square face, straight leading edge, lower-trajectory pitch shot: A straightforward, rhythmic arm shot with no excess movement and no hand punching or wrist flipping.

2. Open-face, heel-dominated, higher-trajectory flop shot: Ping pioneered generous heel relief in its EYE2 high-lofted wedges, and other companies followed. This makes it easier to slide the heel of the clubhead under the ball and produce high, soft shots.

3. Closed-face, toe-dominated, medium-trajectory shot: Harry Taylor, a former PGA Tour player and club designer for Mizuno, was an early advocate of standing a wedge on its toe (more upright) to hit shots off tight lies. Instructor Jim Flick taught the same method to Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade's product creation manager who frequently conducts demonstrations on behalf of his company.

Modern wedges are built for shotmakers, and the options are many.

Vokey Design wedges from Titleist are famous for their versatility. Titleist Vokey SM4 wedges are available from 46 to 64 degrees of loft, which is the widest range of wedge choices in golf.

Cobra’s new Tour Trusty wedge features prominent amounts of heel and toe relief to aid creative golfers. The sole of TaylorMade’s ATV wedges is slightly convex (bowing inward instead of outward), with significant relief at the toe and heel.

New 588 RTX wedges from Cleveland Golf boast a wider sole width near the heel and a narrower sole width near the toe. As a result, the heel provides help in bunkers while the toe encourages an assortment of finesse shots.

Regarding Callaway's new Mack Daddy 2 wedges, Cleveland said that the company actually reduced spin on wedges with less than 60 degrees.

“You’re not trying to suck the ball back with a 54-degree wedge,” he said. “Usually you’re hitting a longer shot to a pin that’s farther away. You don’t need aggressive spin.”

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