The Evolution of the Sand Wedge...NOT!
One of the very first posts I wrote almost five years ago was called "The Round Club Mindset", where I posited that most golfers feel like they are in "scoring range" when they get a short iron or wedge in their hands — one of those clubs with the rounded top line. That feeling dates back to my very earliest days in golf, back in the 50s and 60s. We all played muscle-back blades back then... because that's all there were. Realize too, that lofts were very different back then, with the typical 8-iron being about 42-43 degrees, the 9 at 46-47° and the PW at 50-51°. What we knew is that these were the clubs where we could be very, very accurate, but as the lofts decreased into the lower numbers, hitting really good shots got more challenging.
Back then we also only used a "sand wedge" – if we carried one at all – for bunker play and very short pitches around the greens. The notion of hitting a "full sand wedge" was completely alien to us. This wasn't just us, either. In his first book, "Power Golf", Ben Hogan listed his "Regular", "Maximum" and "Minimum" yardage with each club in his bag. He lists his maximum distance with his sand wedge at 40 yards! What I believe Hogan knew was that – while this was a very effective club for sand and pitching – it was ill-suited for full swing speed because of its very low center of mass and wide sole, and its thin top part of the clubface. It certainly wasn't because Hogan couldn't hit it further, but just that he did not feel like he could get the pinpoint distance control he wanted.
So Hogan used his pitching wedge for most shots outside 25 yards (his "regular" SW distance) and all shots outside 40 yards. He know that thick-faced, muscle-back pitching wedge was better suited to dart-throwing distance accuracy, so much so that his fellow competitors started calling Hogan’s pitching wedge the "Equalizer", a name he carried into his own line of irons years later.
But somewhere in the past 3-4 decades, we’ve begun using our "sand wedges" as full swing clubs, haven't we? I don't know when that really began to happen, but what I do know is that most golfers are not very good with full-swing wedge shots. They hit these soaring, ballooning trajectories with their full swing wedges and do not have the precision distance control that you should have inside short iron range. If you're honest, you'll admit that.
Very simply, that's because sand wedge design has not evolved much at all from what Hogan played. If it wasn't a good full-swing club for Hogan, how could the same design be that for you? I have a collection of wedges dating back to the 1930s... hickory shafts. And from then through the 50s, 70s and 90s, they don't look any different, really, from what is on the wedge display today. Seriously. This category has not changed much at all in 70+ years! It's absolutely amazing to me, given that not one other club in our bag bears even remote resemblance to what was played back then.
Take a look at some very, very old sand wedges and you'll see what I mean. Drivers have changed radically and the way we hit them along with it... while fairway woods have gone from difficult to easy to hit... perimeter weighting has made middle irons much easier to master (but short irons notsomuch)... and putters have kept up with increasingly faster greens. But sand wedges (and lob, gap and other wedges) today look and play pretty much like they always have. They still have all the weight down low, a very thin upper 2/3 of the face and still balloon the ball when you try to hit them full.
Just one more of those things that make me go, "hmmmmmmm."
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I wish I would hit all of my irons like I can hit my wedges. Full swing with them is the best part of my game. I carry a 64, 60, 56, 52 and a 47° PW and my distances are 80, 105, 120, 130, 145. I wish this distance progression continued throughout my set. Also, the increased backspin due to the high lofts means that the shots fly straight as an arrow, high and land softly. If I could nail my mid and long irons like I do my wedges it would be another story...
I'll admit it. I ballon my share of full wedge shots, especially with the 60*. That is why i try to hit more of a punchy type shot with the wedges, ball doesn't go as high, seems to get more spin, and distance control is a little easier.
Yea, I am guilty of what TWG describes. Yea I have hit the high, short, right flare while trying to max out a sand or god help me, a lob wedge.
But still I know not what I do. I am weak and give in to the temptation, especially when the pin is on the front of the green. Last week I had 83y to pin tucked near the front edge, it was downwind and I took a hard, covetous lash at it with a sixty-degree. I was lucky, good contact availed me that time and I reached the green safely, managing to keep it below the hole too.
TWG has given me something to seriously think about. I love my pitching wedge and have hit some wonderful in-between kind of shots with it, so why not learn to dial in distances with it and make it more of a go-to club. Being honest with myself, I do find myself in a lot of "hit and hope" situations with the full sand and lob wedges. Yea.
I'm getting better with my wedges, but i am thinking about getting some good scoring clubs.
I wonder what degrees terry would recommend?
I have PW=45 50 54 58 64
Terry, what should we play?
What is your Sand wedge, my 58 is my sand wedge, 64 is a little too steep for the sand.
Although the 54 58 64 are all taylormade xft wedges.
Yes this has got me thinking about shot making, or shot types. It seems that of all the professional athletes who are not professional golfers, pitchers are the best with the sticks. I long attributed this to the pressure on the mound, the need for accuracy under pressure, and the ability to keep emotions in check - especially after a bad call from the ump.
Pitchers also have a number of pitches, the change-up being perhaps the toughest to master, bust most effective when done right. In golf, have a variety of "pitches" as it seems hogan must have had can serve you well, in varying conditions and situations. Golf is not a digital game of plugging in clubs to fit a given yardage, but a game of controlling spin, distance, direction and trajectory.
I would love to be "throwing darts," and the knock-down shot is surely the change-up. The punch shot, when executed with loads of spin is a dart for sure. This past week I played a course in NH, and like many New England courses, there are tons of trees - every fairway seems to be lined with them. The point here is that the most crucial shot of the game (recovery), are made from under, behind, and around a variety of obstacles. I practice the 9 shot types, and probably used them all. had to push-hook and pull-slice to get around/out of groves of trees.
One hole featured a huge tree in front of a green - which necessitated a low approach. I though of this column and Terry's thoughts on low trajectory approaches. The greens were soft - too soft I think - but thus began a day of dart throwing. Boy I wished I'd had years of playing the spin punch!
I have recently started using my "gap" 52 degree Eidolon wedge for most of my approach pitch & chip shots. I have much great control than with my 60 degree wedge. My SW is basically only for sand now and the occasional mid distance chip shot.
Bryan K says:
Interestingly, the day (about a month ago) that I stopped taking full swings with my wedges was also the day that my short game improved immensely. I've actually started hitting my irons the same way. Interestingly, I haven't lost much difference....maybe five to ten yards per club...with the 75% swing that I now consider to be full.
Matt McGee says:
I used to play with only a P-wedge in my bag. I added a 54* and 60*, thinking that it would help my short game. I've kept both clubs, but have gone back to using my P-wedge for far more shots than the other two. Learning to use one club very, very well has it's advantages, for sure.
In answer to some questions here, there should be a "method to your madness" when it comes to selecting your short range lofts. We created a process called SCORFit on our site which builds your own personal recommendation off the actual loft and length of your current set of irons and the specs on your 9-iron. Check it out and you'll have some fun.
Tim Horan says:
I have all but given up on lob wedges. it seems that the fluffed chips around the green are always with lob wedge in hand. My 48 degree pitching wedge and occasionally the 52 degree gap are the full swing wedges and the 56 degree wedge is for sand and finessed shots around the green. I have got into the habit of taking one more club... A shot of 125-130 yd (full out 48 degree)unless I need to fly an obstacle I will take a 9 iron and play a lower tradjectory with an easier swing to maintain accuracy.
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