Every golfer wants to hit longer-straighter tee shots. Some spend almost all of their practice time at the driving range. Others spring for a new driver every year or two, just to gain an extra few yards off the tee. Players who want lower scores, however, spend more time on their short game than anything else.
The expression “drive for show and put for dough” sums up golf to a tee. A missed 2 foot put counts the same as an errant drive or a chunked 3 wood. As much as poor putting can hurt a golfer’s score, poor wedge play will hurt even more.
What To Consider Before Buying
Like putting, wedge play requires touch and accuracy. Missing a putt usually only leads to an extra putt. Poor contact with a wedge often leads to multiple strokes. Good wedge play translates into short putts, and good wedges make for good wedge play. This golf wedge buying guide will discuss everything a beginner needs to know before investing in a new wedge. First though, a quick review of club design will help put things in perspective.
In theory, every full golf swing should be exactly the same. Loft makes it possible for a player to hit the ball different distances with the same effort. Loft is the angle of the club face in relation to the club shaft. The higher a club’s loft angle, the higher it will launch the ball. A 3 iron, for example, has a loft between 21 and 24 degrees. When swung correctly, it will contact the ball slightly below center. The average male hits a 3 iron anywhere from 160 to 200 yards. A 9 iron has a loft angle between 45 and 48 degrees. It makes contact about halfway between the center and the bottom of the ball, when properly swung. The average male golfer uses a 9 iron anywhere from 90 to 130 yards out. The better female players may get similar distances as well. Simply put, the higher a club’s degree of loft, the more its face looks up, and the higher and shorter the ball travels. Also, the more loft a club has, the less side spin it produces, and the more accuracy it gains.
Besides loft, wedges also have a measurement called bounce. Bounce is the angle between the clubface and the sole of the club. The club’s bounce helps it from digging into the sand or turf, like a shovel. In the sand, many instructors tell their students to picture a tee under the ball and try to hit it with the leading edge of the club. Bounce allows the club head to slide through the sand and not get hung up. Wedges with a bounce angle between 4 and 6 degrees are best for players who tend to sweep the ball. They also fare better on firmer turf and bunkers with hard sand. Mid bounce wedges have angles between 7 and 10 degrees. They’re the most versatile option and accommodate a wider range of conditions and swing types. Wedges with a bounce angle over 10 degrees are considered high bounce. These wedges work best in fine sand and softer fairways.
When a player opens the club face or when their hands are even with the club face on impact, grind comes into play. With no grind on a wedge, when the club face is open, the degree of bounce would increase. In other words, on a firm lie, with an open club face, and no grind, the leading edge of the club could be too high and at the center of the golf ball. This situation will most definitely lead to the dreaded bladed shot. With the correct grind, the wedge’s bounce angle will increase. This makes it easier to get under the golf ball and pop it into the air as intended.
Grooves on the club face are another important property of golf clubs. Grooves don’t do much in dry weather. In wet weather however, their job is very similar to what the tire tread on a car does. They help channel any sand, dirt, or grass, that may affect the shot, away from the ball. Manufacturers point to proprietary groove patterns and club face milling as a selling point. In 2010 the USGA banned square shaped grooves in favor of “v” shape. Different studies have produced different results when it comes to their effect on spin and control. Most players will benefit more from a clean club face than any particular groove shape.
The shaft connects you to the shot. The length, flex, weight and alignment of the shaft all play a role in the performance of your club. The most common materials used for club shafts are steel, graphite, and more recently multi-material shaft.
Steel shafts are stronger, more durable, and less expensive than graphite and hybrid shafts. Steel shafts don’t experience the torque or lateral twisting inherent in graphite shafts. They offer better control and accuracy, but less distance than graphite shafts. Steel shafts work best for players, with normal to faster swing speeds, who need a little more control.
Steel shafts come in either stepped or rifle design. Stepped design gradually reduces the diameter of the shaft, in steps, from the wider butt end at the grip, to the narrower tip end at the club head. The majority of manufacturers use the stepped design. Rifle shafts are smooth from top to bottom and have no steps. Rifle manufacturers claim this design eliminates the “energy robbing steps” found on other steel shafts, and provides greater accuracy and consistency.
Graphite shafts are more expensive than steel and are less durable. The lighter weight affords faster swing speed and therefore more power, but the flex leads to reduced control. Graphite shafts are very popular with professionals and amateurs alike. They’re the best choice for players who cannot produce the swing speed to use a steel shaft effectively.
Used on both irons and drivers, multi material shafts combine steel and graphite into one shaft for the best of both worlds. A multi-material shaft usually combines a steel shaft with a graphite tip. The steel section offers a solid shaft that produces good control. The graphite tip gives the club a little ‘whip’ for more distance. The graphite tip also helps filter vibration and optimizes feel.
Types of Golf Wedges
Wedges have the most loft and therefore the best accuracy of any clubs. Most players, pro or amateur, use a wedge on almost every hole. They’re great for fairway shots from 130 to around 80 yards in, give or take. They’re also used for pitching, chipping, and sand play. There are four type wedges, each with their own unique function.
The Pitching Wedge
The label pitching wedge could really be considered a misnomer. Even though it’s named a wedge, players generally think of it as an iron. Professional golfers rarely pitch with a pitching wedge. Manufacturers almost always include a pitching wedge as part of an iron set. Still, good short game players know the value of carrying a pitching wedge. It’s good for longer pitch shots, full shots that can drop on the green with little backspin, or short chip shots with limited role. Mastering the various uses of a pitching wedge takes practice, but pays big dividends.
The Gap Wedge
The gap wedge is used for distances too short for a pitching wedge and too long for a sand wedge. It’s loft falls right in the middle of the two and fills the 8 degree gap, thus the name “gap wedge”. Not that long ago, very few tour pros carried a gap wedge. As players today hit the ball further and further, the gap wedge has become a staple for 95 percent of professional golfers. Amateur players, even players who have only a 10 or 12 yard difference from club to club will benefit, as well. Ten yards may not sound like much, bunt on the green could mean the difference between a 5 foot put or a 35 foot put.
The Sand Wedge
If a golfer carries only one wedge in the bag, it should be a sand wedge. When tour pros need to hit a shot that stops quickly, they hit it high instead of trying to spin it. After the lob wedge, no other club in the bag has as much loft as the sand wedge. With a sand wedge, the harder a player swings, the higher the ball goes, and the more quickly it stops. Then there’s the sand, of course. Sand wedges were created specifically to help players get their ball out of sand traps or bunkers. They have a heavier head which provides the necessary momentum to power through the sand. For the same reason, they’re also very helpful from the rough. Sand wedges generally have a loft between 54 and 58 degrees. The average golfer hits a sand wedge between 80 and 110 yards of the fairway. The shorter shaft also helps experienced golfers put spin on the ball.
The Lob Wedge
Most weekend players don’t own a lob wedge, but they should. It’s great for shots from downhill lies, out of or over bunkers, and it comes in really handy on fast greens. Basically, the lob wedge is useful for any shot where extra loft is needed. All good things come at an expense though. The lob wedge requires practice. It also requires players to put instincts aside and take a fairly good hack at the ball. Try to baby a shot with this club and the ball will wind up a foot or two from where it started.
The Best Brands of Golf Wedges
So who makes the best wedge? The answer to that question will depend on who’s holding it. Beginners and scratch golfers will most certainly need two completely different clubs in the same situation. Someone not yet committed to the sport, or on a budget, will probably be more frugal when it comes to shelling out for clubs, than someone who plays regularly. There are also as many brands of wedges out there as there are brands of clubs. Throw in loft, shaft, bounce, grind, and grooves, and the possible combinations become overwhelming. Beginners however, should focus on finding the best club for them. The club designed with them in mind, not a tour pro. With that said, and in the interest of keeping this manageable, here are four options new golfers should consider prior to purchasing a new wedge.
The Cleveland SMART SOLE 2.0 Sand Wedge
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This club plays best with a square face, even out of the sand. A huge sole makes it almost impossible to chunk. The heavy head provides great feel and glides through the sand with ease. It’s forgiving, and lands the ball high and soft, with little spin. A normal swing gets the ball out of the sand, no questions asked. It’s an excellent choice for newer players or anyone that fears “the beach”.
Titleist Vokey Wedges
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This line of wedges are arguably the best wedges out there for the budget. They feature top-notch feel and feedback. They offer excellent distance control with grooves that dig in and create spin. There’s a grind for every shot and style of play. Maybe better suited for more experienced players, but certainly won’t hurt a beginner.
Callaway Mack Daddy 2
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The Callaway Mack Daddy 2 has a distinctly different shape, and more surface and groove area than a standard wedge. In addition to the grooves, there’s a considerable amount of rough milling, between the grooves, which adds extra spin. A high toe moves the weight up and makes it easier to hit out of deep rough. Phil Mickelson worked closely with legendary Callaway wedge maker Roger Cleveland to create this design. Players of all skill levels will appreciate this line of clubs.
Wilson Harmonized Classic Wedges
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All of these clubs combined expense about as much as just one of the above. They’re good, solid clubs, and perfect for new golfers. The lower budget doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality or playability. Plenty of scratch golfers and a number of pros carry Wilson wedges in their bag.
How Many Wedges Should A Player Carry?
Why not carry them all? Tournament golfers have a 14 club limit, but weekend players can and should carry whatever helps their game, as long as their buddies don’t complain. The difference between a pitching wedge and a gap wedge may not mean much from 100 yards, but can mean a lot on a short pitch or a greenside chip. The sand wedge is a must for everyone. No other club does what it does out of the sand or around the green. Nothing beats a lob wedge out of steep bunker. There’s no reason not to carry them all.
Good putting and wedge play will lower a score far more than an extra ten yards off the tee ever will. Hitting a green in “regulation” means a player landed his ball on the green and has two strokes left for par. Some professional golfers do this on average only slightly more than half the time. Some weekend players may go an entire season and do it just three or four times. Their only hope of ever going low depends on how well they handle a wedge. Good wedge play translates into lower scores, and good wedges make for good wedge play.