What's In Your Sole?
Last week we talked about offset, particularly in short irons, and had a great dialog that I’m sure will continue for a long time. Staying on the topic of functional parts of a golf club, this week we’re moving to the sole, thanks to a question from Bob H., who asked:
I am perplexed by all the different options in club design. Some clubs are blades with a 5/8"- 3/4" sole. Other clubs have a wide 1" - 1.125" sole. What is the purpose of a wide sole on the club head base?Well, Bob, your question brings to mind one of my favorite Ben Hogan quotes (there are many, believe me). He was known to say that “a golf club is 90% shaft and 10% how it goes through the dirt.” Pretty profound, but understand that this pearl of wisdom was from a time when there was very little technological understanding to either. Shafts were very crude compared to what we have today, and the sole of most irons was narrow and featured a negative bounce that made them pretty efficient “sod removal tools”.
The sole of an iron has several functional attributes, which all work together to deliver a measure of playability and/or forgiveness to the golfer. Since you asked about width specifically, let’s start there. Generally speaking, the wider sole will provide a higher measure of forgiveness to the golfer in terms of swing path. The wide sole will not tend to dig as much for those who often (or always) have a steep swing path. Being wider, it also places more weight low in the clubhead which produces higher shot trajectories – desirable in long and middle irons, but not so much in the short irons as I explained in a recent post.
But the sole of the club works in tandem with the amount of bounce the club was given by its designer(s). A narrower sole with more bounce can provide the same assistance as a wider sole with less bounce. Usually, those irons with wide soles have very little bounce, or they’d be practically unplayable.
“Players blades” typically have a narrower sole with less bounce, which gives the golfer more control over the shotmaking, i.e. less built into the club, so more options to the player. “Game improvement” irons typically have a wider sole to help the golfer hit the ball higher, and to keep from digging up too much sod with a steeper swing path. In between are a vast array of sole widths and designs. The only way to find out what works best for you is to take them to the course for a demo -- NOT a driving range, and definitely NOT a hitting mat inside. You can only learn what kind of sole gives you the playability you are seeking by hitting real golf shots on a real course. And always, always, always demand to demo more than one iron. You need to see what the middle AND short irons do with YOUR game. To demo the 6-iron only is not going to show you what the scoring clubs – 8-, 9-irons and PW – will do in your hands. And those – along with your wedges – are your money clubs.
So, there’s a primer on sole width, Bob. I hope that helps you better understand what to look for as you shop for those new irons this spring.
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Bryan K says:
Where were you two years ago with articles like this, Terry?
I've had to learn all of this on my own by spending hundreds of dollars on multiple sets of irons to find out how each of them perform.
TWG- Is this why Callaway and some other club manufacturers have the I-brid clubs with the four and five irons having wide soles.
I could not hit the I-brid clubs (callaway Big Berthas 2008) to save my life. I think the offset on those clubs are ridiculous. I pulled everything. Anyone one with a slice, that's the club for you, alot of offset and wide soles.
@rmimph1: ya i agree i have taylormade hybrids, 3 and 4, and i do tend to pull them more than anything, its just an adjustment you have to make. I love my irons now and would reccomned them to anyone, they are pretty upto date on the tech side, but offer the playability of a blade and have the look and feel of one as well. Mininmal offset and relatively narrow soles unlike some of the crazy cavity backs i have seen lately. taylormade rac LT, 2005 model. really good for a mid HC.
It seems like if you want a wider sole, you have to take a lot of offset with it. If you don't want a lot of offset, you're stuck with a narrower sole.
Based on what I read posted in various places, I believe there is a market out there for a club that combines a wide sole and minimal offset. I know I'd want a set.
I like to think of chisels. A chisel can dig, gouge, and plane. Same priciples as a club through or on dirt, hardpan, or pine needles. Of course the kind of shot you're making matters greatly: The ball-forward, high-spin lob on one extreme and the ball-back-sweeping-punch on the other. You should have some idea in your gut about whether your going to plane or dig, and whether the club can support that use with good probability. It's important to know how the club is going to interract with the ground and what kind of speed/ firmness you need in your grip. Are the wrists going to break?
If you're good at making realistic practice swings you can learn a lot right there. I don't take particularly realistic practice digs and end up surprised some of the time. I also get in trouble when my mind is fuzzy, and caught between shot types and breaks the wrong way - chunk, flyer, etc.
Those wide soles don't prevent chunking, there not woods. A thin sole takes a diviot, a super wide is like chunking a snow shovel
A bad swing can defeat any technology.
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