SOME WOULD ARGUE that the driver is the most important club in the bag after the putter, but taken as a group the wedges have perhaps the greatest effect on your score. Consider that you hit the driver, at most, 14 times a round, but the typical player uses his wedges about 25 times a round, or on 40 percent of non-putts.
“The average guy uses a wedge on just about every hole and often more than once,” says Brian Schielke, product manager at Cleveland. “It’s important to have wedges that fit you properly and have the proper distance gapping. With pitching wedges getting stronger—some have 44 degrees of loft—most players need perhaps a 50-, 54-, and 58-degree.”
The problem is it takes a lot more effort to get fitted for wedges than it does a driver. You can’t just walk into your local golf shop, take a few swings on a launch monitor with a couple different models, and walk out happy and confident you have the perfect club.
Most equipment companies have wedge selection guides on their sites, which is a good place to start, but to do it right, you’re probably going to have to spend some time on the range and short game area getting fitted. (Some equipment companies will recommend a fitter in your area if you call them, or just start with your local pro.)
“We talk to people all the time who say, ‘Oh, I didn’t get fitted for your wedges but I got fitted for your driver,’” says David Neville, Titleist’s Vokey Wedge marketing manager. “I’d argue that it’s as important to get fitted for your wedges as it is for your driver because you’re using them all the time. Having the wrong bounce and grinds will make it very difficult to execute shots.”
The most important factor to consider is what type of swing you have and whether you make a shallow, medium, or deep divot, with the bounce generally increasing from the former to the latter. Where you play is also important. If you live in an area where the course conditions are firm and the bunkers don’t have a lot of sand in them, less bounce is probably right, while softer turf and fluffy bunkers call for more bounce. Generally speaking, however, bounce is your friend because it acts like a rudder and will keep the club from digging in. Most players don’t have enough.
“You have to have bounce,” says Roger Cleveland, Callaway’s chief designer. “So many people think the pros don’t use bounce but they do. The 60-degree wedge Phil [Mickelson] uses has about 13 degrees of bounce on it. You never want to use the leading edge, though. You want to use the sole so it will skip.”
As for grinds, a little heel and trailing sole relief to lessen the drag will help you hit shots off tight lies with an open face, but with all the bounce and grind combinations, it can get a little confusing. That’s why TaylorMade just came out with the ATV wedge, which features a versatile sole that takes on different bounces depending on what type of shot you’re playing. All you have to worry about is what loft you want.
“A lot of the magic starts with the center of the sole being concave,” says Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s product creation manager for irons, putters, and wedges. “It really opens up the performance of all these different shots. It would be considered a wide-sole wedge but because of that center channel, when you’re hitting a normal fairway shot, you’re really only using the two peaks, the leading-edge peak and the back-sole peak. When you start to open the face up you get to use the effective bounce of the channel and the whole width of the sole, so you get the best of both worlds.”
Like most new wedges these days, the ATV wedges come with a micro-texture between the grooves to help create more friction and get back some of the spin that was lost in 2010 when the USGA limited groove volume and edge sharpness. The Rules change didn’t have nearly the effect on spin rates people thought it would, except for the fact that grooves will wear down a little quicker now. For someone who plays once a week and also practices, he or she should change their wedges about every year and a half. (Good grooves should have a surface roughness to them when you run your fingers over the face.)
“We were doing fittings at Sea Island recently and guys were showing me five-, six-year-old wedges where the face was concave,” marvels Neville of Titleist. “Those guys are losing 3,000 RPMs on a 60-degree shot. It’s amazing the difference it can make when you get someone fitted into the right wedges. They want to come up and hug you.”
Roger Cleveland’s latest design has a slightly bigger head and less bounce, as well as a C-grind to reduce the bounce even further on open-face shots (eight loft and bounce configurations in dark chrome and copper finishes). $120, callawaygolf.com
Cleveland 588 Forged
The forged update of one of the most popular cast wedges of all time, the 588 now has four micro-grooves in between the main grooves to maximize spin and a shaft co-developed with True Temper for a more penetrating ball flight (18 loft/bounce configurations from 46 to 64 degrees in chrome, satin, and black pearl finishes; personalized options available at mycustomwedge.com). $140, clevelandgolf.com
Attempting to simplify the wedge-fitting process, the ATV has a highly engineered sole with a center channel where every position accesses a different performance characteristic and a face with microscopic pyramids for more spin (seven loft options from 50 to 64 degrees). $120, taylormadegolf.com
Featuring a slightly larger head and rounder toe, the forged R12 has narrower and deeper grooves better suited to full shots on the 50- to 54-degree models and wider and shallower grooves for best partial shot spin on the higher lofts (nine loft/bounce options from 50 to 64 degrees in white satin and black nickel finishes). $120, mizunousa.com/golf
Titleist Vokey Design SM4
The fourth generation Spin Milled wedge now features 17 grooves (up from 14) witheach one inspected by a computer to ensurethat every one is right up to the USGA limit (21 loft/bounce configurations from 46 to 64degrees in tour chrome, black nickel, and oil can finishes; personalized options available at vokey.com/wedgeworks). $130, titleist.com