Importance of Trajectory Control
If you've read this column for very long, you know that I'm a huge fan of Mr. Ben Hogan. I grew up with his books, "Power Golf" and "Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf." I consider most of what Mr. Hogan wrote to be the gospel truth, and every time I re-read these books, in whole or in part, I seem to learn something new that I can use to improve my golf skills and/or understanding.

One of the most impactful things Mr. Hogan taught was the importance of trajectory control. "If you don't know on what path the ball is going to fly," he opined, "you don't know how far it's going to go." No truer words about managing distances have ever been written. And if you watch better players practice and play, they work very hard to hit shots on exactly the right trajectory so that they can control how far the ball flies.

I also believe distance control is one of the key elements — if not THE key element – to solid play and performance with the high-loft scoring clubs. For this discussion, we'll be talking about all your clubs over 40 degrees of loft, which typically will include your 9-iron and "P-club", and all your wedges. The challenge for all of us is to find a way to hit those clubs on a lower, more boring and controllable trajectory. What is most common with the development of the modern power game is that we swing them too hard, and get these soaring, ballooning trajectories, which leaves us wondering just how far our shots will go most of the time.

Well, that's not entirely your fault. Hear me out.

All other things being equal, the trajectory of a shot is the result of the relationship of the built-in loft of the club, and the distribution of the mass on the club. At very low clubhead speeds, the loft is the major determinant of the ball flight. A blade or cavity-back 9-iron will launch the ball almost identically on a 20 foot pitch shot. But, as clubhead speed increases to half-shot speed, and on to full shot speed, the positioning of the mass becomes increasingly more influential on ball flight. A blade 9-iron will not launch the ball nearly as high as a low CG, perimeter weighted 9-iron. Simple physics actually.

In the wedge category, we've seen very little evolution of the placement of the majority of mass — it's been concentrated along the sole since the sand wedge was invented in the 1930s. This made it an effective bunker club, and a wonderful tool for short pitch shots around the greens. But in "Power Golf", Mr. Hogan said his "maximum" range with a sand wedge was "40 yards". Wow. One of the longest hitters of his era ... a guy who could hit driver 300 yards ... would not try to hit a sand wedge over 40 yards.

Why do you think that was????
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[ comments ]
Dusty23 says:
Could it be he was referring to how far he would try to hit one out of sand and not off of turf? Back in Hogan's day didn't most players look at the SW as exactly that, a club to be used out of the sand. They used 8,9,PW etc for their approach shots. Just wondering.
onedollarwed says:
Very nice food for thought. I just began to keep a new stat for what we'll call the Hot Zone. The hot zone is the distance you're at when you can get it close enough to sink, or the "penultimate shot footage" (PSF, or yardage if you prefer). We all like to think that from 100yds we have a pretty good chance. A few weeks back Terry asked everyone to describe their expectations from 150yds and 100yds (I think). They were pretty high.

So I kept track:
PSF front: w70,p12,w20,w40,p6,p20,w15,w25,w25;
PSF back: i270,p30,w20,w15,i450,p8,w10,w306,w50
Total:1452; /18=80.7 ft =27yds

It was only one round, and I was above average on the back nine for sure, but there you have it. My Hot Zone was 80 ft. and in that day (27yds). As you can see, I missed putts of 6 and 8 feet (it's not unusual to miss shorter ones). The letters correspond to the club I used: p=putter, w=wedge, i=iron.

The course I played is conducive to aggressive play, and it was 9 holes twice around - probably more statistically relevant.
bobhooe says:
Um, because a wedge balloons at full shot swing speeds? Are you then suggesting I should hit a 9 at 3/4 swing on a shot of 100-105 instead of my trusty full swing SCOR 54*?
snuffyword says:
bobhooe, that's a very good question. I guess the answer may be what kind of trajectory you want to hit into the green at that distance. It may depend on the situation like wind, contour, layout of the hole, land it soft or run it out, etc. I prefer a full swing but I will adjust as the situation dictates. My trusty Eidolon 56* only goes 70-80 yards on average.
onedollarwed says:
Right. I can't really say what kind of trajectory I have. How would we measure it? In degrees obviously, like artillery. We could time it (distance and time). At the range I hit wedges from lots of different positions, and chip with the 60 and the 47. I practice flop shots with the 51 and 55. I hit them all full up center and back in my stance to see where the yardages come out - to get consistent. I'll use the 47 to work draws, hooks, fades, and slices.

In most live rounds, I'll use the 59 fairway pitches from 85 and in; 55, 51, and 47 for further pitches up to about 125. 8 is 150, 9 is 135ish. 47 for all chips and punches. Sand is 55, with 51 and 48 for longer. 55 and 51 for rough, with 59 for high spin lobs and pops. Almost everything is played back in the stance (by my right foot) to insure solid contact. This will also keep the trajectory down.

Still haven't developed a low trajectory pitch shot unless I'm punching out from under trees. I still feel most wedge shots are high. But how do I know?
Gromit5 says:
Vintage wedges have significantly more weight along the sole than modern sand irons. Heft one of these cudgels and you'll see why 40 yards would be a maximum distance, assuming Ben played such a model when he wrote his book. Terry, I'm sure you have a copy of The Clubmaker's Art. Author Jeff Ellis cites Texan Edwin MacClain, who received a patent for a "sand wedge" in 1928. Horton Smith bought the rights of the club from MacClain, dubbed it the sand wedge and gave one to Bobby Jones at the Savannah Open in 1930, calling it "the niftiest antidote for bunkers you ever saw."
onedollarwed says:
Thanks for the history!
wedgeguy says:
Good input, guys. What I'm suggesting is that Hogan realized that swinging a sand wedge faster produced unreliable trajectories, and that created unreliable distance control. His sand wedges were not that much different than the ones on the market today. In fact, I have a Spalding Tournament Model from the early 1950s that could pass for the "latest and greatest" if rechromed, tweaked a bit and outfitted with snazzy graphics. And to you bobhooe, your SCOR4161 clubs are weighted entirely differently to address this issue. That's why you love 'em!
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