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Used properly, the lob wedge can be the most effective of the golf wedges, a deadly scoring tool for chipping, pitching, bunker shots and green side recoveries. The lob wedge typically has a lower bounce than the sand wedge, making it more effective from tighter turf and when the face is opened. Unfortunately, most golfers do not spend the time with their lob wedge to really understand its function or become proficient in its use. Lob wedges generally define those short range scoring clubs of 59-64 degrees inloft, with a few in the marketplace even higher.
While the lob wedge is becoming more and more common in golfer’s bags, it is a relatively new entry into the golf wedge marketplace. In the early days of golf, the highest lofted club golfers typically had in their bags was the niblick, a thin-soled club of 44-46 degrees of loft. The game then was played more on the ground and chip and run approaches were the norm, as clubs and balls that could deliver high ball flights with lots of spin did not exist. As a result, courses were mostly designed to allow this “on the ground” game.
The first big change in golf wedges was when modified niblicks of 47-51 degrees came onto the scene. They had a wider sole and a feature called bounce that made them more versatile for scoring. They were given the name “pitching wedge” and quickly became popular. Along about this same time tour professional Gene Sarazen, inspired by the lift of an airplane’s wings, welded some metal onto the bottom of a niblick or pitching wedge to give it bounce and invented the sand wedge, which also quickly found its way into almost every golfer’s bag.
In the 1980s, golf wedges were again modernized when a modified approach to a sand wedge found its way onto the golf scene. This first lob wedge had 60 degrees of loft and a very large, rounded sole, but one that had very little bounce. Tour professional Tom Kite was among the first to put such a golf wedge into play and quickly began to turn heads with his amazing prowess with this new tool. His ability to hit high soft shots with extreme backspin allowed him to attack pin placements that were considered treacherous and save pars from green side that were theretofore unthinkable. It didn’t take long before every wedge company in golf had an offering of similar lob wedges.
Since that time, the lob wedge has been refined to bear more resemblance to the sand wedge in appearance and sole design or bounce, and 60 degrees became the more standard loft. Some companies have offered wedge lofts of 62- 64 degrees, and there have been some with lofts over 70 degrees, but these have never caught on. Bounce options make the lob wedge landscape rather confusing, but one company, SCOR Golf, claims to have solved that dilemma with their patented V-SOLE, which has both high and low bounce in each club. They also offer every loft lob wedge from 58-61 degrees so that golfers can get the exact golf wedges they want.
The lob wedge is not an easy club to learn to master, but golfers who invest the time to learn how and practice are pretty hard to beat around the greens when chipping and pitching. Understand that with its extreme loft of 60 degrees or more, the ball is always struck with a rather glancing blow, so impact consistency is key. The ball will almost always pop up quickly and with a lot of backspin, so most golfers do not realize how aggressive they can be hitting an approach shot with the lob wedge, even when the distance is short.
On longer approach shots with the lob wedge, it is imperative that you swing well within what you would consider a “full swing”. A swing of 80-85% power will allow you to be more precise with your technique and get the most of your lob wedge. You want to set up to the ball with your weight favoring your left/lead side, and you want to keep your left/lead side in firm control of the whole swing. The hands should remain very “quiet”, which means containing your wrist break at the top of the swing and ensuring that the left hand passes through the impact zone before the clubhead reaches the ball.
On chip shots and other shorter green side saves, the lob wedge’s sole is your friend. You want to slow your swing speed down even more and feel the sole of the club and it bounce making contact with the turf. This requires an easy release of the club through impact so that the leading edge does not dig – the sole and bounce do the work. With this technique, the ball will pop up off the club softly, with a higher ball flight than your sand wedge would deliver, and more backspin.
The lob wedge can be an excellent golf wedge for those short range delicate shots from bunkers or sand traps to close-cut pins. Again, the sole of the club is your friend, so let the bounce engage the sand just below or behind the ball. Open the face by rotating the club in your hands slightly before taking your grip, and be sure to finish your swing. The key to hitting lob wedge shots from the sand is to let the club do the work, and select this club only when you have a short sand shot to execute. Longer bunker shots require the sand wedge, or even the gap wedge or pitching wedge.
With today’s wide range of lofts in golf wedges from various manufacturers and different models within any manufacturer’s range, the key to putting together a correct set of short range scoring clubs is to know your lofts. Regardless of what the club might say on the bottom, all lob wedges are not created equal, nor or sand wedges, gap wedges or pitching wedges. Begin to build your set of golf wedges by knowing the loft of your iron set-matching pitching wedge, then precisely selecting the other golf wedges by keeping 4- or 5-degree loft gaps between them. A precision set of golf wedges built in this way will make any golfer’s short game better.
What is now the most common golf wedge sold today wasn’t always that way. Since it’s invention in the 1930s, the sand wedge has evolved from a specialized scoring club for playing out of sand traps only, to the most relied-upon club for most golfers when they are anywhere inside scoring range –chipping, pitching or otherwise trying for a lower score. For most golfers, it’s the highest lofted of the golf wedges club in their bag, while others supplement the sand wedge with a gap wedge and lob wedge.
Through the early years of golf, bunkers or sand traps represented a real and treacherous hazard to scoring. The highest loft golf club in players’ bags was the niblick, which generally had 45-46 degrees of loft and a very thin sole with no feature we now call bounce. It made play from soft sand and turf very difficult.
In the 1930s, tour professional Gene Sarazen had a better idea. Observing how an airplane’s wing gave the plane lift, he surmised that putting a similar design on the bottom of a niblick would give it a similar lift to make sand bunker shots easier. He began welding and experimenting, and when he brought his new club out for play, he created an immediate hit with his feature we now call bounce. Golf scoring and bunker shots would never be the same.
In those early days, most sand wedges were numbered with a “99” on the sole, which was very wide and had an extreme bounce of 20-30 degrees. These clubs were good for one thing only – extracting the ball from the sand trap. And they did that very well. Golfers still relied on their pitching wedges, however, for chipping and pitching.
In the 1980s, as irons began to get stronger in lofts, the pitching wedge became a less effective scoring tool, so sand wedges were refined with less bounce and a narrower sole, making them more versatile and effective for a wider variety of shots. The loft of a sand wedge became pretty standard at 56 degrees. As pitching wedges gradually strengthened to 47-48 degrees of loft, the sand wedge became the chosen club for most golfers around the greens. And the gap wedgewas developed to fill the void between the two for full swing approach distance gaps.
In today’s golf marketplace, there is a vast array in the stores, and sand wedge loft can range from 54 to 58 degrees, with almost limitless bounce options. The general guideline is that the golfer should select a high bounce wedge for softer conditions, and a low bounce wedge for firm turf conditions. This is further complicated by the guidance that a player with a steep swing path should opt for a higher bounce and those with a shallower path should opt for lower bounce sand wedges. One company, SCOR Golf, has a patented V-SOLE that incorporates both high and low bounce into each of their sand wedges, which the company claims gives unmatched versatility.
Because of its high loft and bounce sole, the sand wedge requires practice and a good technique to get the most from it. But golfers who are willing to spend the time can become excellent wedge players. Skill in this part of the game is attainable by any player, as strength is negated at short range.
Most sand wedges are sold from retail displays with a heavy and stiff steel shaft, which isn’t right for most players. One of the ways to get better feel and performance from your sand wedge is to have the shaft replaced with one that more closely approximates the shaft material, weight and flex in your irons.
Technique with a sand wedge for full swing approaches is dependent on controlled swing power. Never swing as hard with a sand wedge as you might with as short- or middle-iron. A controlled swing with a strong lead side (left for right-hand players) will allow you to keep the ball trajectory down so that distance control is more accurate.
On chipping and pitching, or other shorter shots around the greens, the key is to feel the sole of the club engage the turf. This requires you to allow the hands to release the club in the downswing. Practice this without a ball – feel the bottom of the club ‘bounce’ off the turf. For shots where you want more height and spin, focus on the back side of the ball when executing the shot. When you want more spin and a lower ball flight, simply focus your vision on the front side of the ball, the side toward the target.
And the key to improving your short game with the sand wedge is to slow down the swing entirely, to where it almost feels lazy.
In the sand trap or bunker, the technique for the sand wedge is the same, except that you will open the face a bit to increase the bounce of the bottom of the club. The way to do this is to simply rotate the club about 20-30 degrees before you take your grip on it. Then execute the shot like a high soft pitch, focusing on the back of the ball, or even a little behind it. And practice. Spending time in the practice bunker regularly will remove all fear of this shot on the course.
With today’s wide range of loft in sand wedges and irons from various manufacturers and different models within any manufacturer’s range, the key to putting together a correct set of clubs is to know your lofts. Regardless of what the club might say on the bottom, all “sand wedges” are not created equal, and every golfer needs that scoring club of 54-58 degrees – a true “sand wedge”. And that club is one piece of a precisely matched set of wedges with 4- or 5-degree loft gaps between them. Putting your set of wedges in this way will make any golfer’s short game better.
When discussing golf wedges, one of the newer entries to the field is that one we call the “gap wedge”. Used correctly, the gap wedge can be one of the most versatile golf scoring tools in a golfer’s short game arsenal if used correctly and the right one is purchased. The gap wedge is an excellent approach wedge for shots with a full swing, but also can become the golfers preferred wedge for chipping, pitching and longer shots from sand traps or bunkers. A relatively modern addition to the golf club world, the gap wedge is one of those products that was born of necessity.
After the creation of matched sets of irons, the pitching wedge became the primary scoring club, replacing the “niblick”. These early pitching wedges had 49-51 degrees of loft that made them very versatile for scoring shots ranging from full swing approaches to chips, pitches and other recovery shots around the greens.
When investment casting was introduced to the golf club industry, the cavity-back, perimeter-weighted iron designs caused the ball flight to be much too high in the higher-lofted clubs, so manufacturers began strengthening these lofts down to 47-48 degrees in an effort to try to control this ballooning ball flight. About the same time, sand wedges were going through a development change, as the soles and bounce were being refined to allow the sand wedge to be much more versatile a scoring club than it had been when it was relegated to bunker play only.
By the 1990s, almost all golfers carried a sand wedge and used it often around the greens and even on full swing approaches. At the same time, the lofts of pitching wedges was continually strengthened, leaving a distance “gap” for most golfers between the two. So the golf wedge companies introduced the “gap wedge” to fill it. Gap wedges were almost all 52 degrees in loft at this time, and were generally ¼” shorter than the “standard” pitching wedge.
Gap wedges typically have less bounce and a slightly narrower sole than the sand wedge, but more than the pitching wedge. They are extremely effective scoring tools, allowing the golfer to hit soft high pitch shots around the greens and high spinning approach shots from 90-110 yards. The gap wedge is also often the best club for chipping.
In effect, the gap wedge is nothing more than a traditional pitching wedge, and is a must-have in most golfers’ sets of irons.
The gap wedge can be the most versatile of the golf wedges in your bag if you will just spend a little time getting to know it. The higher loft than the pitching wedge, generally 50-52 degrees, allows it to deliver softer and higher trajectories for approach shots and recoveries. But its narrower sole with a lower bounce than the sand wedge gives it versatility when chipping or pitching from tighter lies and when in sand traps with firmer sand texture.
The key to hitting good approach shots with the gap wedge play is to control your swing speed to about 85% of what you would normally consider a “full swing” with a short- or middle-iron. Containing your tendency to swing hard keeps the trajectory lower and more controlled, which is the key to distance control and backspin. The other key to hitting good shots with the gap wedge is to keep the lead side (left for right handed players) in control throughout the swing. A strong left side allows the hands to pass the ball before the clubhead, so that backspin is optimized and distance consistency is improved.
The key to choosing the right gap wedge is to know the lofts of your other golf wedges, the pitching wedge and sand wedge. A good clubmaker will have the tools to measure these accurately so that your gap wedge really does fill the gap between the two. While sand wedges are typically 56 degrees in loft, depending on the make and model of irons you play, you could find that your pitching wedge has a loft of anywhere from 48 all the way down to 42.5 degrees.
Remember the gap wedge was invented when lofts of pitching wedges eroded to the 47-48 degree range, so the loft of 52 was right in between this and the sand wedge. However, most modern irons have a pitching wedge of 44-46 degrees, which would give the golfer two choices – either get a stronger gap wedge of 49-50 degrees, or choose a pair of specialty golf wedges to fill the gap. One company, SCOR Golf, actually makes golf wedges in every loft from in this range to allow golfers the ultimate in precision when filling the gap.
The key to a good gap wedge is a sole that has enough bounce to function from a variety of lies, from bunkers or sand traps to fairway, soft rough to hardpan. And a shaft that blends to the irons in feel and weight so that your touch shots will not be compromised.
With today’s wide range of lofts in irons and golf wedges from various manufacturers and different models within any manufacturer’s range, the key to putting together a correct set of golf wedges is to know your lofts. Regardless of what the club might say on the bottom, all “gap wedges” are not created equal, and every golfer needs that scoring club of 49-52 degrees – what was once a true “pitching wedge”, but now we call the gap wedge. From there you can precisely select the other golf wedges by keeping 4- or 5-degree loft gaps between them. A precision set of golf wedges assembled in this way will make any golfer’s short game better.
All golfers carry one or more golf wedges, but possibly the most misunderstood club in golfers’ bags is the one marked “P” or “PW”, what we have always called the pitching wedge. In terms of wedge loft, the pitching wedge is typically the highest lofted club in the matched set of irons, and in today’s golf industry, can range anywhere from 42.5 to 48 degrees of loft. Generally, when it comes to golf scoring, the pitching wedge is used for full-swing approach shots, but also is an excellent club for pitching, chipping and even long shots from sand traps or bunkers. But it wasn’t always that way.
As the notion of “matched” sets of irons began to materialize in the 1930s, golf club lofts and lengths were much different than they are today. The “niblick” had been the highest lofted club most golfers carried, with a loft of 45-47 degrees being common. As irons evolved from names to numbers, this became the 9-iron in these matched sets. And the golf equipment manufacturers began supplementing this with an even higher lofted club of 49 to 51 degrees, calling it a “pitching wedge”.
Golfers quickly learned that this was indeed a remarkable scoring tool, allowing the player to execute higher and softer approach shots with more backspin for control. But the pitching wedge also proved to be an excellent golf wedge for chipping, pitching and bunker play. Very quickly, every company began to include a pitching wedge in their matched sets of irons, so that the “standard” set included 9 clubs, 2-iron through pitching wedge.
Some companies simply put “W” on the sole of the pitching wedge, while others opted for “P” or “PW”. MacGregor golf and a few others noted this highest lofted iron as the “10” iron, but the most unique naming was given by the Ben Hogan Company. Mr. Hogan was a master with the pitching wedge during the height of his golf in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His fellow professional golfers came to refer to his pitching wedge as the “equalizer”, so when Ben Hogan started his own equipment company in 1953, the pitching wedge was given that name “Equalizer”. In nearly every set of Hogan irons ever made, the highest lofted iron – the pitching wedge – was labeled “Equalizer” or simply “E”, as everyone came to know the meaning of that nickname.
Traditional pitching wedges of 48-51 degrees of loft are extremely versatile scoring clubs. On full shots, they can provide pinpoint accuracy for approaches on short par 4 and most par 5 holes. Around the greens, they give the golfer a versatile tool for chipping and pitching. With an increased bounce compared to the other short irons, the pitching wedge is even an excellent club for longer bunker shots.
The key to good pitching wedge play is to control your swing speed to about 85% of what you would normally consider a “full swing” with a middle-iron. Keeping the swing speed under control delivers a lower and more boring trajectory, and actually enhances backspin. The other key to hitting good pitching wedge shots is to keep the lead side (left for right handed players) in control throughout the swing. A strong left side allows the hands to pass the ball before the clubhead, so that backspin is optimized and distance consistency is improved.
Unfortunately for golfers, modern golf club design has all but eliminated this valuable golf wedge from most sets. As noted, most of the original pitching wedges were built with 50-51 degrees of loft, which gave them their scoring versatility. Golfers carried “sand wedges” but those clubs were relegated to only those occasions when the ball was actually in the sand trap. All other short range scoring shots were executed with the pitching wedge.
As the industry developed the investment casting technique in the late 1960s, and began to create various “cavity back” iron designs, it was found that the higher lofted irons with this design would deliver trajectories that were much too high. So iron manufacturers began to decrease the lofts in order to address this poor performance. Through the 1970s and 1980s, lofts of the pitching wedge crept steadily downward on these increasingly popular designs, taking the pitching wedge to 46-47 degrees, which made it go much further on full swings, but negated the pitching wedge’s versatility around the greens. The sand wedge became a more heavily used club for most golfers and the increasing loft difference between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge gave rise to the development of the gap wedge.
Modern golf club design principles have continued to erode the lofts of the golf wedges in golfers bags to where it is not uncommon to find sets with clubs marked “pitching wedge” with as little as 42-44 degrees of loft – what was once an 8-iron in the bags of the greats like Hogan, Nelson, Demaret and Snead, or a 9-iron in the days of Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson and Miller.
With today’s wide range of lofts in irons from various manufacturers and different models within any manufacturer’s range, the key to putting together a correct set of golf wedges is to know your lofts. Regardless of what the club might say on the bottom, all “P-clubs” are not created equal, and every golfer needs that scoring club of 49-52 degrees – a true “pitching wedge”. From there you can build your set of scoring clubs, precisely selecting the other golf wedges with 4- or 5-degree loft gaps between them. A precision set of wedges in this way will make any golfer’s short game better.
In every golfer’s bag is a selection of higher lofted clubs called golf wedges. Wedges for golf are not unlike the concept of a wedge for any industrial purpose. The clubhead is designed to “wedge” between the ball and the ground to loft the ball into the air while not digging into the turf. Golf wedges generally fall into four categories – pitching wedges for full-swing approach shots and chipping, pitching and other greenside scoring shots; gap wedges of 4-5 degrees higher loft, also known as an approach wedge; sand wedges of 54-57 degrees of loft and generally used from sand traps or bunkers, and lob wedges, which have over 58 degrees of loft and are used for high soft shots around the greens.
Pitching wedges are generally made with a loft of 44-47 degrees, and typically are purchased with the set of irons, though it is argued that applying the same design to these higher-lofted clubs as is found in the lower lofts does not optimize performance. Historically, pitching wedges had lofts of 49-51 degrees, which made them favorites for chipping andpitching the ball from shorter distances. In typical modern sets, the pitching wedge only has 44-45 degrees of loft, which does not facilitate this kind of use as well.
This gradual strengthening of the pitching wedge gave rise to the advent of the gap wedge or approach wedge in order to return this valuable chipping club to the bag, and to give golfers a full-swing club that delivered a distance that was shorter than the new loft-strengthened pitching wedge. The gap wedge or approach wedge is typically built ¼” shorter than the pitching wedge, and has a different sole design utilizing a feature called bounce (discussed later in this article).
In the 1930s, tour professional Gene Sarazen is generally credited with the invention of the sand wedge. What Mr. Sarazen did was weld some metal onto the bottom of a high-lofted golf wedge to create a feature called “bounce” that helped extract the club from softer turf and sand. It totally revolutionized the way golfers played from bunkers and sand traps, and stands as one of the most innovative golf wedge developments ever. Golfers using modern sand wedges can much more easily escape these hazards, and the utility of the modern sand wedge has made it a favorite for many golfers for most of their chipping and pitching shots around the greens.
The most recent entry into the golf wedge category is the very high lofted golf wedge known as the lob wedge. Generally having loft between 58-62 degrees, these specialized lob wedges were invented to give golfers the ability to hit higher softer pitch shots and lob shots around the greens, in order to contend with modern golf course architecture which features closer-cut bunkers, firmer and faster greens and deeper rough. The early lob wedges were very specialized golf wedges with wide soles and minimal bounce, whereas more modern lob wedges have more versatile utility.
The most misunderstood term regarding golf wedges is “bounce”. Very simply, this refers to the downward angle of thegolf wedge sole away from the leading edge of the golf wedge to the trailing edge of the sole. High-bounce wedges are those with 10 degrees of bounce or more, with low bounce wedges being those with less than 10 degrees of bounce.
It is generally accepted that golfers should choose higher bounce wedges when playing from sand traps or softer turf, and lower bounce wedges when playing shots from firmer turf or tight lies. This advice is confused by the fact that all golf courses have all kinds of lies to challenge the golfer. It is also the recommendation of some golf wedge makers to suggest that the golfer’s swing path or type dictate the bounce of his or her wedges. But more accomplished players vary their swing path to fit different shots, and less skilled players have inconsistencies in their swing path that makes such fitting impossible.
One company, SCOR Golf, has patented a golf wedge sole with both a high- and low bounce angle built in, claiming that this innovation make their golf wedges more versatile to handle any kind of lie and swing path. The company has earned a loyal following for its technology.
One of the less heralded of the golf wedge options is the shaft in the club. The vast majority of golf wedges are sold through golf retail stores from an in-store selection, all fitted with the same stiff flex steel shaft. A few companies offer limited variations to that stock offering. It is suggested, however, that golfers can improve the feel and performance of theirgolf wedges by having their wedges built or retrofit with shafts that more closely approximate the material, weight and flex of the shafts in their irons. Generally speaking, the golf wedge shaft should be slightly more flexible to deliver improved feel and control of shorter chipping and pitching shots around the greens, but with a firmer tip section to ensure trajectory control on full swing approach shots.
In recent years, some golf wedge companies have begun to offer custom built wedges or custom fit wedges to theirgolf wedge offering. The major golf brands who dominate the retail store displays only offer limited custom wedgealterations, but a number of specialty custom golf wedge companies can give the golfer expansive options to make theirgolf wedges as personalized as they wish. If the golfer is interested in custom golf wedges, he or she should investigate all the companies in this field to learn which can most effectively meet their needs for custom shafts, alterations to length, lie angle and grip size and will back their products with some kind of guarantee.
I’m going to start with somewhat of a “disclaimer” – It’s going to be hard for me to conduct a dissertation on bounce without referring to the patented V-SOLE found in our SCOR4161 precision scoring clubs, but I’m going to try. Here’s an effort to capsulate a discussion of bounce as it applies to wedges, because I’ve learned that golfers in general are totally confused about this very important design feature of wedges. So here goes.
Very simply, “bounce” is the design feature of the sole of a wedge that helps it perform properly when it makes contact with the turf. If you hold up your wedge and look at it with a “worm’s eye view”, you will see that the sole of the club has a downward angle from the leading edge back to the trailing edge. That angle, in relation to the horizontal line of the turf is what is defined as the “bounce angle”.
The higher that angle, the more the club will tend to be “rejected” by the turf upon impact. The lower the angle, conversely, the less “rejection force” experienced. The wedge marketplace offers hundreds of choices of loft/bounce combinations, and the industry has settled on this basic advice to help you navigate through this maze.
For soft turf, you want a higher bounce angle.
For firm turf, you want a lower bounce angle.
For fluffy lies, you want a higher bounce angle.
For tight lies, you want a lower bounce angle.
If you have a steep angle of attack, you want a high bounce.
If you have a shallower angle of attack, you want a lower bounce.
To all this advice, I am quite outspoken in asking how in the world can this be put into practice? In my opinion, this is not very meaningful advice. Here are just a few reasons why:
(And just where are these courses that have the same kind of turf conditions everywhere on them?)
And the biggest one:
Tour players have their wedges custom ground because they spend hundreds of hours and hit thousands of shots perfecting their skills. They can do things with a wedge that your best local club players don’t even dream of. As the ad says, “These guys are good!” And if they get to a tournament where course conditions change, all they have to do is go to the equipment trailer and get new wedges that are right for that particular course, that particular week. Oh, and they are F-R-E-E.
Tour players have their wedges made so that the sole gets “out of the way” of their skills. Amateurs need wedges that have a sole that gets in the way, to help compensate for the fact that they didn’t hit 2-300 wedge shots since their last round of golf.
Well, there is a basic discussion of bounce as I see it through TheWedgeGuy lenses. I hope it helps you understand this subject more. If you are in the market for a new wedge, don’t buy anything unless the store/shop will let you take it to the course and hit every shot you can imagine from every different kind of lie you can find. It has to work everywhere to be a good scoring tool.