Grand Theft - Golf
At EIDOLON, we talk with golfers every day who are looking to optimize their short game and scoring, and it seems of late that we are having more and more discussions with people who have recently bought new irons and are now experiencing full swing distance gaps between their new "pitching wedge" and their gap or sand wedge. The problem is that very few sets of irons sold these days even have a pitching wedge in them. Hear me out.

For this discussion, I'm going to declare that the "modern era" of golf club design began about 1970. That's when golf really took off as a sport for the masses and the industry expanded beyond the traditional brands - Spalding, Wilson, MacGregor, Hogan, etc. - to include newcomers like Ping, Lynx and others. Investment casting of heads began to challenge forging as an acceptable manufacturing method, and opened the door to a broader range of "creativity" in design concepts.

Up until then, a set of irons generally was a 3-Pitching Wedge ("PW" or "P"), with better players often carrying a #2 and/or even #1 iron. And the pitching wedge was your “go to” scoring club of 49-50* loft, with a little different sole design to make it versatile. Your sand wedge was typically used mostly for bunker shots and escapes from the rough.

But along the way, the industry became obsessed with distance, and discovered these new cavity back irons launched the ball way too high, especially in the short irons. So they began cranking down the lofts to “one up” the next brand. Now, I’ll grant you that giving golfers more height with their long- and middle-iron shots was a wonderful thing, but average players I meet can't keep their short irons out of the clouds with this technology, and their short range shotmaking suffers because of it.

By the mid-to-late 1980s, most sets of irons included a club with a “P” or “PW” on the bottom that had as little as 47-48 degrees of loft on it, and the sand wedge became a more widely-used scoring tool . . . which created a market for “gap wedges” of 51-53 degrees of loft. And that club, along with the sand wedge, became golfer’s “go to” scoring clubs, because they worked better. Following the lead of the new metal wood marketing messages, by the 1990s, irons also began to be sold under the “longer, further” mantra.

The result of this trend is that very few sets of irons sold today can even remotely be considered to have a true “pitching wedge” in them. A survey of the most highly promoted brands of irons on the market for 2010 reveals that the “typical” loft on the “P-club” or last iron (which I refuse to any longer call a “pitching wedge”) is 45-46 degrees, with some as strong as 43! Even the “players’ blades” have a “P-club” of 47 degrees; I only found a few models that had a “P” club of 48 degrees. The truth is that putting a Cadillac hood ornament on a Yugo doesn’t make it a Cadillac. You can put a “P” or “PW” on it, but an iron with less than 48-49* of loft just is NOT A PITCHING WEDGE . . . because it just doesn't have enough loft to allow you to pitch the ball around the greens. Sure, with a full swing it goes as far as you used to hit your 8-iron . . . because it IS an 8-iron . . . with a “P” on the bottom!!! And your gap wedge is now so far from your “P-club” that you have re-created that full swing distance gap that you bought it for in the first place. So, what is a golfer to do?

My suggestion is that you set aside your notions of “pitching”, “gap”, “sand” and “lob” wedges and focus on the true lofts and performance of your scoring clubs. Start by doing some online investigation to find out the true loft of the “P-club” in your bag. From there, most golfers will benefit by building a set of “true wedges” that start at 3-5* weaker than the “P” club, and maintain that increment to the highest loft wedge you want to include in your set. For example, if you have one of these modern sets with a 44-45* “P-club”, you would probably be best served by a set of wedges at 48-49, 53-54 and 57-60 at the very least. A longer hitter could benefit from adding another scoring tool and decreasing those loft increments to 3*.

The key to building an effective set of golf clubs is to ensure you have the tools you need to score the golf course . . . any golf course. And if you are packing around a set of irons without a true pitching wedge, you are handicapping yourself when you are in scoring range. Do some research, and test some true pitching wedges . . . you’ll quickly see what a valuable scoring tool you’ve had stolen from you.
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[ comments ]
mjaber says:
I'd like to see golf companies start calling that last club a 10-iron, which is what it really is.
6/4/10
 
nickp says:
I started on some old Cobras but have since moved onto the Wilson Di9's, which have funky jacked up numbers but I have been training my mind to not worry what number club I should be hitting and rather how far I can hit said club. My playing partner has gotten used to asking me what club I hit and hitting a club down from that, haha.
6/4/10
 
nickp says:
Contemplating just having the loft number somehow put on the back- is it possible to have someone cut it in easily and cheapily?
6/4/10
 
mjaber says:
I'm currently hitting 4 wedges (48*, 52*, 56*, 60*). If/when I upgrade my irons, I'm planning on having the lofts adjusted so that I match the same loft gaps of 4*, starting at 44*. I've been looking at the Ping G5's, which would have to be set 2* strong, since they start at a loft of 46* for the P.
6/4/10
 
AndrewFSmith says:
yeah 10 iron thats great..lol I was just talking to my local pro about this very topic. I have a vokey 52 in my bag and I love from 105 and in, but like I was telling the pro I have this huge distance gap between it and my PW or 10i as we should call it. I said can I get my 52 bent to 51 and he said you should actually get your PW bent to 48 or 49. I hit this stupid pitching wedge 135 yards easy and I need a 110 to 120 club I just dont have it and it sucks. THe AP2s im looking at indeed have a 47* PW, when I purchase them I will be getting my 9 and PW weakend 2 degrees.
6/4/10
 
Backquak says:
They can number them whatever they want, I would like to see a degree of loft on each head, and this is a little off topic but related, but I have found when I play in a scramble and my team asks me what I'm hitting, I don't tell them the club, I tell them I'm playing 150 yd club or whatever, because they may hit their PW, or 5 iron that distance, and who cares, as long as you get the ball to the hole.
6/4/10
 
ilovebacon says:
Good article Wedge Guy! This has bothered me for decades. I was working in the golf industry back in the early 90's when Cobra started making strong lofted irons. As more companies followed suit and started incorporating stronger lofts into their sets (and bringing PW lofts down), I would explain the strong loft concept to customers and more often than not, they would end up buying irons just because they would be able to tell their buddies they were hitting a 9 or PW 150. The same guys would come back in bragging about how far they could hit their new irons - not too many of them came back in saying they dropped 3-4 strokes.
At the end of the day, a lot of guys cotinue to focus on hitting 300 yard drives and 150 PWs rather than consistently hitting fairways and buying clubs to eliminate yardage gaps in their game - that's just how it is.
Like Greg Maddux said, "Chicks dig the long ball".
6/4/10
 
eventHorizon says:
Well, drivers and fairway wood lofts aren't changing so we are losing irons at the low lofts it would seem to me. I've dropped my 3 iron and I know many that have also dropped their 4 iron. This will hurt iron sales at some point so maybe the manufacturers will reverse their actions? Given the new groove rule we are about to see a significant technology shift in balls and clubs soon anyway.
6/4/10
 
Bryan K says:
My new PW has a 44* loft...down a touch from the 45* loft I was playing. My wedges are at 50*, 55*, and 60*.

Interestingly, though, I always look at loft first and foremost when looking at clubs. I think manufacturers should be forced to put the loft on the clubhead rather than a subjective number. Even when looking looking at hybrids at the lower end of the spectrum, I look at lofts. My new 5 hybrid plays only one more degree of loft than my old 4 hybrid.
6/4/10
 
birdieXris says:
I don't see a problem with my set the way it is. I have a pretty big gap anyway when it comes to full swing distance. Everything's basically 10 yards until the 9 then it bobbles to 15, 20 and 10 again. 4:200-5:190-6:180-7:170-8:160-9:145-p:125-52*:110-56*:100-60*:85. I don't have a problem hitting a choke down PW into a 115yd pin. Nor do i have a problem hitting a 3/4 9i if it calls for it. I don't think messing with the set, bending and such is a good idea unless you're scratch and you're looking for that last extra bit of playability.
6/4/10
 
birdieXris says:
Oh, i play the AP2 710 w/ a 47* PW. FYI. Didn't mention that in the post
6/4/10
 
Swingem says:
True enough. The PW in my set is 45*, the AW (gap) is 50* and I carry 54* & 58* SWs. I feel like this covers my yardages pretty well from 130 yds and in, as well as shots around the greens. I have to agree with birdieXris that, with a little creativity, I can add or subtract 5yds on each club without too much trouble and find that my 50* gap wedge works great for pitch shots. Bottom line, regardless of what it says on the bottom, you need to know how far you hit each club and eliminate any large gaps. Isn't debating what to call each club more a question of marketing and semantics, or should we still be playing spoons, mashies, and niblicks?
6/4/10
 
mjaber says:
@birdie & Swingem... the issue, I think is that in most iron sets, the pitching wedge is 44-46 degrees, and the first true wedge many recreational players have is a sand wedge at 54-56 degrees. That was certainly the case for me, until I started reading columns like this one. I'm now carrying 4 wedges, with a 4 degree gap between each. Each degree of loft is supposed to give you an ideal of 2.5 yards, therefore 4 degrees = 10 yards.
6/4/10
 
Bryan K says:
@swingem: Hey...I'll call 'em spoons, mashies, and niblicks as long as they have a loft printed somewhere:)
6/4/10
 
mjaber says:
Also, if you look at most new iron sets, the "P" or "PW" club looks nothing like the separate wedges. It's look is virtually identical to that of the other irons. It's a little bit shorter, and has a little more loft, but it's not really a wedge (at least every one I've looked at, anyway). That's the other reason I opted for 4 wedges. It gives me 4 different clubs that I can make the same chip swing with, and get 4 different shots.
6/4/10
 
Bryan K says:
I've been trying to get into the habit of calling my "P" club a pitching iron rather than a pitching wedge.
6/4/10
 
Swingem says:
@bjohn-fair enough. Before I bought my irons I went to TM's website and got the specs for the set. The guy I play with did the same and wrote these on the shaft with yardages for each.
As to why Manufacturers don't print lofts on their clubs; My guess is that to do so would compromise their marketing. ROI is maximized by promoting superior engineering as the engine behind increased distance, rather then disclosing the tweaking of lofts.
@mjaber-Agreed. The two wedges I carry are a different brand then my irons, and do look different. However, I find that on full shots they blend nicely in terms of distance and feel, and around the green I use them for different shots. PW & AW for pitches I want to roll out, and 54* & 58* for shots I want to hit either high & soft or low & check.
6/4/10
 
mjaber says:
@Swingem... sounds like we just use different tools to accomplish the same task... though it looks like you are more effective wit your tools than I am with mine. :)
6/4/10
 
Bryan K says:
Just out of curiosity...what does the A in AW stand for?
6/4/10
 
Swingem says:
Had wondered the same thing myself. Apparently it stands for "approach wedge", what-ev! like I said, its marketing, AW is the new PW. LOL:)
6/4/10
 
Banker85 says:
i mostly agree but hear me out... it is 2010 not 1970. that is 40 years of innovation and technology. Now im a youngin probably to most you (25) but i agree merely the fact that i wanted to have 4 wedges but found the gap between your normal Gap wedge 52* and most the PW i found in iron sets i liked to be 44-46* i that is too much a gap if i wanted to get better so it was a battle to find modern irons i wanted with lofts i wanted. I ended up with Taylormade rac LT 2005 irons with 4* loft gaps, 5* between pw and 52*. i was thinking about getting the irons with 44-46* and getting 50, 54, 58* wedges. but either way it is just time changes all.
6/4/10
 
siggy22 says:
I thought that the AW was "attack wedge", but oh well :)
6/4/10
 
elindholm says:
First the article says that newer clubs go too high ("can't keep their short irons out of the clouds"), then it says that 46* of loft is magically not enough around the greens. So which is it? Does a modern 46* "P-iron" have a lower trajectory than an old-fashioned 50* PW, or not?

It's true that I use my so-called PW mainly as a 10i, and stick to my 50* around the greens, but that's also because my 50* is a higher-quality club with less bounce and I trust it more. My guess is that I could execute nearly the same shots with a good 46* PW if I practiced them with that club instead of the 50*.
6/5/10
 
wedgeguy says:
I'm loving all the feedback, guys. To answser this last question, these cavity back irons fly too high on full swings but don't have enough loft for the finesse shots. At low clubhead speeds, flight height is more a function of loft, but as clubhead speed increases, the actual center of mass of the club become more and more influential. Which is why you can hit a cavity back club of 44* higher with a full swing than a blade of the same loft, but not nearly as lofty on the short shots around the greens. Hope that clears this up. Keep up the dialog -- this is great.
6/5/10
 
legitimatebeef says:
More good stuff Wedgeguy. I appreciate that you are exploring and to some degree debunking this whole idea of "game improvement" clubs. It's a complex issue I suppose but I'm starting to see that club manufacturers might not always have our true best interests in mind when designing and marketing their clubs.
6/5/10
 
LongTimeAway says:
I cannot recall the brand, but I remember seeing a "10" on an iron back in the 1980s. I remember going to myself, "Huh?"

I have gotten a new set of irons that come with a 45 degree P club and a 50 degree AW. Whatever. Now, to find some higher lofted wedges. Marketing. Ugh.
6/5/10
 
Muscle-OchO says:
I basically play 4 clubs - My PW/AW/56/60 wedges..... I find myself using my 60 degree wedge on shots 85 yards and in, as far as my 56degree that suits my swing at around 110-115 yards Now I can crank up or down on my swing to play yardages in between those yardages...

I guess my question to all is: What wedge do you normally play? I find myself grabbing my 60 degree more often than not just due to my yardage, It's a running joke that if I want to give my wedges a break - I have to play either the Blues or the Tips!
6/6/10
 
tmoney says:
I like to add a AW (GW) in the same model of the irons. My rationale is that I used to have 50/56/60 forged wedges. I used the 56 and 60 in many different ways, but I only seemed to use the 50 for full swings. I figured if I am using them for full swings, I want the benefits of the cavity back irons and not try to hit a forged club from 100-110.
6/6/10
 
erickbelus says:
I just stopped using my Di7 irons because of this very reason. A 43 degree pitching wedge is just silly.
6/6/10
 
lcgolfer64 says:
@ Muscle-OchO
I'm right with ya there. I have a rarely used PW. my others - 50/53/58 - I use the 50 to about 120 out and then about every 10 yds or so in down to the 58, which I choke down on for shorter yardages. But around the green my 'go-to' club 9 times out of 10 is the 58 - it didn't used to be that way. I actually gave the 58 to a friend for about a year because I just didn't feel like I could play it. Several lessons later, the 58 'became' a better club. ;)

I play a shorter (back 9 is course management more then length) 18 hole course most of the week so it's usually a tee ball and then a wedge in, except on the par - 3's and 5's

My 58 is my 'confidence club' on anything inside about 80 yds all the way to the green
6/7/10
 
Mandelbaum! says:
Good topic, TWG. I think some golfers too often are dazzled by distance and they don't dig deeper to find the reasons behind it all.

I was recently considering buying the Cobra S2 Forged irons, but was thrown off when I discovered the PW was 43*. I couldn't believe it. The real question was 'why?' if these were supposed to be semi-players clubs. They do have a 49* GW though. So I would have just bought the 4-GW, remembered to club down one and call it a day. Pretty simple. But again, why?

I tell you...my old Knight TFX irons from the late 90s had the lofts stamped on them and it taught me all I need to know about what loft clubs should be. I'm pretty sure every iron set I ever buy will be compared to them. My Mizzys sure were.
6/7/10
 
AZace says:
the article asks what is a golfer to do. As always with golf it is simple, right, learn to play with your clubs. I would say 90% of the time my approach shots are not on my number no matter what club I am using. You learn to choke down open the face a little or take a little off of the club. I really don't concern myself with what the loft of the club is I hit them enough to know what they will do. So I try my best to excute the shot at hand and get it close to the pin.
6/7/10
 
wrhall02 says:
Does the club make good shots or does the golfer? Most of the posts read like the most important part of playing good golf is the equipment...hogwash. Who would win this match: A pro golfer using outdated clubs...or...an amateur hack like us using the latest greatest technology?

The best golfers can hit many shots with very few clubs...all this gap, degree crap is more maketing to sell clubs.

Learning how stance, grip pressure, and swing planes affect the ball is far more useful than worrying about how many degrees each club has, IMHO.
6/8/10
 
stedar says:
Interesting...
...I have been struggling with the short (under 100yrds) to the green shot. The P is difficult at best, as it is a 120yrd comfortable swing and anything closer requires "touch". Obviously I need to get a good gap wedge, probably 2 :-)

In answer to wrhall02 - a good golfer has the same swing, just a different club depending on how far they require to place the ball. The pros seem to swing the same everytime, a little touch when around the greens (if they miss the green that is :-)
6/11/10
 
riturral says:
How can i measure the loft on my "PW", is there any in-house technique that i could use?
6/16/10
 
wedgeguy says:
Good comments all. Unfortunately, there is not, to my knowledge, a simple loft-lie measuring tool for golfers. But most golf stores now have a loft-lie machine that can give you the knowledge you need.
6/22/10
 
LongTimeAway says:
I looked at this article again. I now understand a club numbering anomaly that had noticed with clubs that I purchased this year. My new 4 iron loft 23* by specs. I have universally seen that 7 wood is 3 iron replacement, and 5 wood is 2 iron replacement. My new woods' specifications are 3 wood for 15* and 5 wood for 18*. The new iron set has 20* 3 iron available. The 2 iron would project out at 18* or so. Everything lines up.

But what happened to the 4 wood loft for my wood manufacturer? (No way would a 16.5* 4 wood be cost effective in terms of money or bag space.) PW has become a 9 iron (PW loft by spec is 45*) in my irons, but the 4 wood has completely disappeared for my woods.

I am coming to the conclusion that clubs should labeled with loft (and maybe bounce), not numbers. Bounce labeling would probably also be nice. Maybe, we should bring back Mashie, etc., as mentioned above others?
7/4/10
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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