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.
HISTORY OF THE GAP WEDGE
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.
GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR GAP WEDGE
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.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT GAP WEDGE
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.
KNOW YOUR GAP WEDGE LOFT
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.