Originally Posted: July 27th, 2012
I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Scotland, playing 14 courses and 20 rounds in 14 days. One of the things that you should know about golf in Scotland is that it is very different from most golf you will play in the states. The grass is different, most of the courses we played were links style and the ground is very firm almost hardpan, making it difficult to take a divot.
Why am I mentioning all this? Well, because I want to talk about the wedges we all use. Specifically, pitching, gap, sand and lob wedges. These represent the 4 most common wedges in the bag. I should mention that not everyone will carry all 4 some will carry 3 or even 2, but I believe that to score well and play your best golf 3 wedges is a minimum, and If I was going to play in a tournament, say a club championship or invitational, I would put 4 in my bag and drop a long iron.
The question that comes to mind now is what 4 wedges to put in the bag? This is where it gets a little technical. There are 4 characteristics of every wedge. (1) Loft (2) Lie (3) Bounce (4) Grind.
(1) Loft: Put simply, that is how high you will hit the ball or the angle that the ball will launch. The higher the number the higher the ball will launch off the club face. Why is this important? A lob wedge will launch the ball higher and land it softer than a sand or gap wedge which would help you score better when you are short sided by the pin.
(2) Lie: This is critical and is the angle that the club sits at address and will strike the ground. It’s important that the lie of your club suit your swing and posture. It will be a little bit different for everyone since we are all unique. Therefore one of the most important things you can do to improve your wedge game is to verify that your lie angle suits your posture and swing mechanics. I would compare striking the ball with an improper lie angle to hitting a nail with the claw side of the hammer. You’ll hit the nail but it most likely won’t go in straight.
(3) Bounce: The angle of the club’s sole from front to back (measured in degrees). This is important when it comes to playing conditions and where I made my biggest mistake in Scotland. As most of you do, I play in what I would call normal conditions, not really hard but not real soft. I can take a divot most of the time and the sand that I play in is fairly firm. What I experienced in Scotland was the complete opposite of what I was accustomed to playing in at home. The sand was very soft and the fairways very firm. All of my wedges with regards to bounce were problematic. My lob wedge didn’t have enough bounce for the greenside bunkers, and my gap and sand wedges had too much bounce for the bump and run. Put simply, I had the wrong set of wedges for the conditions I was playing in and my scoring reflected it.
(4) Grind: This is the most personal wedge characteristic and something many of the world’s best players will tweak. This is also known as “Custom Grind,” a generic label referring to some proprietary iron head or sole shape, usually on forged irons and tour level wedges. This could also refer to custom modifications some players make when altering their own clubs (swing weight, flange shape, etc.) using a grinding wheel. The right grind can instill confidence. If you like what you see when you look down at the club at address, and know it will perform to your preferences, you will have more confidence that you can execute the shot you are trying to play.
The Golf Insomniac in the Spectacles at Carnoustie. It’s a large bunker.
Now that we know a little bit about wedges, what wedges should we own and what wedges should we play? Your level of commitment and the number of conditions you play in year-round will determine how many wedges should own and bag. The pros have wedges for every specific golf course they play. They may have 3 sets of each wedge for a total of 12, all with different bounce, lofts and grinds. The lies pretty much stay the same. Bounce, which is the thing that will get altered the most, will change based on varying conditions. Speaking from my own experience, when I go to Scotland again (and I will go back, it was an epic adventure in golf), I will bring different wedges than the clubs I play at home. I’ll bring a 58°, but instead of having 3° of bounce it will have 10-12°, and my 54° will have 3-4° of bounce in order to better play the bump and run with some spin. My 48° pitching wedge would be tuned down to a 46° pitching wedge so I could drive in through the wind more effectively.
Bottom line: Do we need 12+ wedges like the pros have to play our best golf? Probably not, but 5-6 wedges with different characteristics for different conditions would definitely benefit us all. I know that If I am playing in the rain and the ground that is normally firm is now soft, a wedge with little to no bounce like the 58° I have now would be of little use, since it would dig into that soft ground and make hitting a shot from a tight lie nearly impossible. I would probably hit the dreaded forehead shot and cost myself 1 or even 2 strokes on a hole. If I do that 2 or 3 times in a round and cost myself 3 doubles, that equals 6 total shots added to my score, or the difference between a good round and bad one. And that’s only assuming 3 bad chips due to improper wedge specs. If there is one thing that I learned is Scotland (where my average score was 83, 7 strokes higher than my handicap of 6), it was that the game is played from 100 yards in and you cannot score if you do not get the ball close to hole. The green complexities in Scotland are massive compared to the States and the amount of undulation is 3 to 4 times our average. There, a tight short game is a must and I was horrible, as was most of our group, all who play to a 10 handicap or better and who all (I believe) had the wrong wedges for those conditions. I am going to buy 3 more wedges as I eluded to earlier. I play a 48, 54, and 58 degree setup and I am comfortable with those lofts, but I am going to add a 46° with 6-8° of bounce, and a 54 with 3-4°. I’ll round it all out with a 58° with 10+ degrees of bounce, and I think this will round out my wedges and allow me to adapt to different playing conditions wherever I might play.