Pinehurst has players tweaking wedges, long irons

Rory McIlroy during Tuesday practice for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

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PINEHURST, N.C. – Repeat after me: wedges and long irons.

These are the two areas in which many U.S. Open competitors are furiously making equipment changes before the start of the year's second major championship.

Because of course conditions at Pinehurst Resort, many players are adding bounce to their wedges. In some cases, sharp leading edges on these wedges are being dulled or rounded – anything to allow a wedge to move more forcefully through the short but unpredictable grass that flourishes around Pinehurst’s turtle-back greens. This is mostly Bermuda grass – not rough – although the soil is sandy and the grass is irregular. Snagging the clubhead in the tangled grass is a real possibility.

Titleist wedge-maker Bob Vokey weighed in on the greenside grass.

"It's different," Vokey said. "It's something Tour players don't see very often. You might think they need less bounce because the turf is firm, but it's the opposite ­­– they need more bounce because the grass can be wiry and sticky. More bounce helps the club move through both the grass and sand."

Many Titleist players are increasing bounce on wedges by grinding the soles or switching to new wedge models.

"This is the busiest week I've ever had on Tour," said Titleist club-maker Aaron Dill, who was hand-picked by Vokey to grind wedges for Tour players. "It's crazy. It seems like all our guys have been in here (Titleist's tour van)."

In the long-iron category, several players are either removing a wedge or finding a club configuration strategy that enables them to carry an extra long iron.

For example: Rory McIlroy added a Nike VR Pro Blade 3-iron. To make room, McIlroy is going from a four-wedge configuration (46, 52, 56 and 60 degress) to a three-wedge setup (46, 52 and 59 degrees).

McIlroy has plenty of company in the long-iron sweepstakes.

So far in practice rounds, new long irons (either 2-irons or 3-irons) have been placed in the bags of Justin Rose, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Martin Kaymer and Darren Clarke.

"There are several holes that call for a long iron off the tee," said Clarke, who grew up in coastal Northern Ireland and gained extensive experience hitting long irons in the wind.

But wedges are the hottest topic. Callaway club-maker Joey Sprayberry said he was adding "1 or 2 degrees of bounce for a whole bunch of players."

Among those was Patrick Reed, who said he will play the U.S. Open with an entirely new set of clubs. Sprayberry finished building them June 8. Callaway tour rep Steve Mata confirmed Reed has increased the length of his 43.5-inch driver to 44 inches. Reed's former driver was one of the shortest on Tour.

Despite Reed’s longer driver, this is expected to be a wedge-dominated affair.

“I don't know who will win,” Vokey said, “but I can guarantee you that the winner will be somebody with a hell of a short game."

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