The Local Knowlege

Gear & Equipment

New wedges from little-known KZG deserve attention

By E. Michael Johnson

loop-kzg-wedge-300.jpgWhen you think of wedges, the mind often goes to Titleist's Vokey models, clubs from Cleveland Golf or one of the other major manufacturers. Conversely, KZG might not be on your radar, although perhaps it should be given the respect it has among clubmakers.

The company recently introduced its XRS wedges -- a line that encompasses six lofts (50 to 60 degrees in 2-degree increments) with multiple bounce options in the 56- and 60-degree models.

The clubs ($119 each) are heat-treated to provide a soft feel, and the face has a micro-milling pattern to give it additional surface roughness for more spin. The C-grind sole features relief on the heel and toe for enhanced workability around the greens. And when you think of wedges, aren't shots around the green what really pop into your head?

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Gear & Equipment

Gap wedges, virtually a must for tour pros, can greatly benefit everyday players

By E. Michael Johnson

Adhering to expert advice is almost always a solid play. So when two of the game's more knowledgeable people agree on something, it's probably worth a listen.

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Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

In this instance I'm thinking of the late instructor Jim Flick and Titleist master wedge craftsman Bob Vokey. Flick once said that everyday players had such a difficult time with the half-shot that they would only hit the green one out of three tries from 40 to 70 yards. Vokey shares Flick's assessment of the half-shot's degree of difficulty and offers a solution.

"I can't begin to tell you how crucial gapping in wedges is," said Vokey. "Most everyday players have little idea about the loft gaps with their wedges. They just take a pitching wedge and sand wedge and go. In the old days that was OK because most pitching wedges were around 51 degrees. But now they're 45 to 47 degrees while the sand wedge has stayed at 56. That's a two-plus club difference because now the pitching wedge is essentially the loft of a 9-iron."

To combat that, Vokey recommends a loft gap between 4 and 6 degrees. So if you have a 46-degree pitching wedge, you would want to add wedges with either 52 and 58 degrees of loft or 50, 54 and 58 degrees depending on whether you wanted 4- or 6-degree spacing.

Related: 2014 Hot List: Wedges

Gap wedges generally range in loft from 50 to 54 degrees. In short, they are a compromise between a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. At last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, only seven players (Aaron Baddeley, Robert Garrigus, Brian Gay, Danny Lee, Davis Love III, George McNeill and Rory Sabbatini) in the 120-player field did not have a wedge between 50 and 54 degrees in their bag, meaning 94 percent of the field did. A decade ago that number was about 60 percent.

Getting these clubs in players' bags, said Vokey, has not been a hard sell. Players have learned to embrace the importance of gap wedges.

"The last thing they want is that kind of space between their scoring clubs," said Vokey. "Why would you keep a 3-iron in the bag that you might use once a round when you can have a wedge you might use five times or more? In the beginning 52-degree wedges were popular, but then it started going all over -- 49, 51, 52, 54, you name it."

As players got longer, wedges became more important. A look at ShotLink data reveals that in 2004 the average proximity from the hole on fairway shots from 50 to 125 yards was 19 feet, 6 inches while in 2013 it was more than a foot closer at 18 feet, 5 inches. The number of players able to average inside 17 feet from that distance more than doubled between 2004 (13) and 2013 (34).

In recent years shots hit with gap wedges -- or shots that should have been hit with them -- have been among the more notable on tour. Bubba Watson's playoff boomerang with a 52-degree gap wedge that led to his Masters win in 2012 comes to mind. Then there's Phil Mickelson, who might own the career Grand Slam instead of the record for most runner-up finishes in U.S. Open history if he had pulled a gap wedge from his bag on the 13th hole at Merion GC during the final round of last year's U.S. Open.

"I hit a pitching wedge, and when I was drawing that shot I had too much club," said Lefty of the tee shot he hit at the 115-yard par 3. "I needed a gap wedge, and it would have been a better fit."

Related: Video: Customized wedges

All of which points to the benefit of gap wedges for tour players. But what about you, the everyday amateur? Vokey contends the advantages are even greater. "Tour pros hit 11 to 12 greens a round on average," said Vokey. "Everyday players don't want to admit it, but most are lucky to hit between two and four. That leaves a lot of shots inside 100 yards. Having specific clubs for those yardages is critical to being able to score."

In other words, if you haven't done so already, it's time to close the gap.

TOUR STORIES

matt-every-equipment.jpgMATT EVERY // A putter worth keeping

During his first few years on tour, Matt Every was like a lot of players struggling on the greens. He constantly switched putters, looking to find a "magic wand." That search included his using the memorable Orion Black Hawk to contend at the 2012 Sony Open in Hawaii -- a club with a mammoth rectangular-shaped head that weighed 440 grams (normal is between 340 and 365 grams) in an effort to increase stability through the stroke.

But like most putter changes, it was just a quick fix. Every ranked 87th in strokes gained/putting in 2012 and dipped to 120th last year. That led him to work on mechanics and setup, specifically abolishing his open stance, which often led to pushed putts, and adopting a more square setup. Doing so required him to find a putter he could release more easily. That led him to Odyssey's White Hot Pro #9 -- a semi-mallet that is 34 inches long with 2.5 degrees loft -- at the Honda Classic. The putter features a heavy toe hang that helps Every release the head through the ball. Every now stands fifth on tour in strokes gained/putting and with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his putter search may be over for a while.

NEW STUFF

callaway-mack-daddy-2-wedge.jpgCallaway Mack Daddy 2
PRICE: $120 (Lofts: 16 loft/bounce options)

The lower lofts have narrower grooves for less spin on full shots. Higher lofts have larger grooves for more spin. Matt Every used three of these wedges at Bay Hill.

CallawayGolf.com


BAG ROOM

Arnold Palmer Invitational champ Matt Every switched to a version of Callaway's Speed Regime 3 ball at Bay Hill. The five-piece ball, which is designed for those with swing speeds over 105 mph, worked well for Every, whose swing speed is 116 mph. . . . Patrick Reed has taken to using an old Ben Hogan persimmon driver as a practice tool. "It gives you good feedback on where you are with your swing," Reed said. . . . After switching to Odyssey's Versa Jailbird at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Keegan Bradley returned to the Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth belly putter he won the 2011 PGA Championship with at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bradley finished second at Bay Hill, ranking 19th in strokes gained/putting (he was ranked 96th in that stat coming into the event). . . . Paul Casey switched to Nike's VRS Covert 2.0 driver, saying the new club is "a little more forgiving" than his previous driver.


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Gear & Equipment

Dubuisson's new wedge keeps him connected to cactus

By E. Michael Johnson

When Victor Dubuisson's clubs got held up in customs upon arriving in Miami, it forced the Frenchman to head over to Titleist's tour van to get a replacement set built just in case his gamers took a while to arrive. When Dubuisson asked Aaron Dill, a Titleist tour rep, for some wedges, Dill had a ready answer. "Yeah, but you're getting a cactus on it."

Related: Watch Dubuisson make his great desert saves
 
Normally that might sound a bit odd. But in case you forgot, Dubuisson is the guy who produced those memorable (and multiple) saves from the desert during his WGC-Accenture Match Play title match against Jason Day. The club Dubuisson used for those shots was a 58-degree Titleist Vokey TVD K-grind with 6 degrees bounce, so naturally that was the club Dill went to work on.

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And work it was. Normally stamping a club with a name or initials is a relatively quick task, but for the cactus Dill needed to hand stamp each one of the little dots (a close look at the photo of the wedge reveals approximately 200 dots, maybe more) that made up the shape of the prickly plant. Add in the time it took to do the green paintfill, and it added up to more than an hour that Dill spent on the club.
 
Fields: Dubuisson adjusts to the limelight

"It was an idea the guys came up with almost immediately after he hit those shots out of the desert," said David Neville, marketing manager for Titleist Vokey wedges. When Victor saw the finished cactus he said, 'Very nice . . .  very nice.' "
 
Dill still had work to do, though. Since Dubuisson's wedges are one-half inch longer than standard, the extra length made the swingweight too heavy. To bring it back down, Dill drilled a pair of weight ports in the back, dropping 3 to 4 grams of weight and bringing the swingweight to Dubuisson's preferred D5.

As with most tour players who are waiting for work to be done on their sticks, Dubuisson had time to tell some stories to the guys in the van. "We asked him what he was thinking as he was getting ready to hit those shots," Neville said. "He told us he just wanted to play fast."

Photo courtesy of Titleist


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Gear & Equipment

Titleist unveils latest wedge line from Bob Vokey

By Ryan Herrington

ORLANDO -- Chief tinkerer. 

That ought to be the job title listed on Bob Vokey's business card. The Titleist club designer has spent decades fine-tuning wedges to help tour pros and average golfers alike, a task that never seems to end.

Vokey Spin Milled 5 wedge.jpgCase in point: the newly released Titleist Vokey Spin Milled 5 wedges that debuted Jan. 21 during the PGA Merchandise Show Demo Day at Orange County National. To maximize spin and improve trajectory and distance control, the Vokey SM5 incorporates a deeper groove design that channels away grass and sand. Company officials boast that each groove (with seven percent larger volume than previous models) is individually cut using its proprietary spin milled technology to the maximum dimensions allowed by the Rules of Golf. 

As with his other designs, Vokey worked in consultation with tour players, leaning on the like of Adam Scott, Steve Stricker and Jason Dufner ("I've always said I have the best R&D facility in the world -- the PGA Tour," he quips). The trio helped offer feedback on bounce and grind options; the Vokey SM5 line is available in 21 different loft/bounce/grind combinations and six "tour-inspired" sole grinds. The wedges also feature a more compact profile with three finish options: tour chrome, gold nickel and raw black. 

The wedges with be available in retail shops starting March 14 (suggested price: $145 each). They have already found their way into the bags of several tour pros. Jordan Spieth put them in play when he finished second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. 

Other players who are using them, according to the company, are Stricker, Bill Haas, Scott Piercy, Brendon de Jonge, Scott Stallings, Marc Leishman, John Merrick, Geoff Ogilvy, Morgan Hoffmann, Bud Cauley, Greg Chalmers and Charley Hoffman.

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Gear & Equipment

Master Class: Custom wedge fitting with Bob Vokey

By E. Ashley Mayo

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Face facts: Bob Vokey (right) discusses wedge design on the range.

What if you could spend three hours with Bob Vokey, the longtime wedge designer for Titleist? Better yet, what if you could experience a three-hour wedge fitting with the master craftsman, then have him build wedges to your specifications? Now through 2014, anyone willing to spend $1,050 can have all of that.

As part of the Bob Vokey Hand Ground Experience at the Acushnet test facility in Oceanside, Calif., Vokey will take notes on grinds, bounce angles, yardage gaps and more. Then he'll build three wedges meeting your specs, including tour-only models. You can book one of these fittings by calling WedgeWorks customer service at 888-305-0582.


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Gear & Equipment

As You Like It: Customizable wedges

By E. Michael Johnson

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All yours: The options for customization are plentiful.

Cleveland golf, which has offered personalization options through its My Custom Wedge program for two years, is launching My Custom Wedge 2.0, featuring the new 588 Forged RTX wedges and a redesigned website that includes a gallery for golfers to share their designs. If you're the kind of person who knows what type of specs and paintfill colors you want, it likely will take you no more than seven or eight minutes to design a wedge.

Among the options: black pearl or raw finish, 24 grind combinations, seven logos, 20 paintfill colors and five "skins." Grip, shaft, length, loft and lie angle options also are available. The starting price is $150, but expect closer to $210 if you seek any true customization such as a skin and any personalized engraving. More info.


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Gear & Equipment

Short Answers: New classic wedges

By Mike Stachura

It has been more than four years since golf's ruling bodies set new limits on grooves to reduce the amount of spin produced by wedges. Since then, manufacturers large and small have been trying to get some, if not all, of that lost spin back. Here are four of the latest efforts.

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Spin cycle: The latest from Nike, Renegar, Miura and Cobra. Photos courtesy of the companies

Nike's VR Forged wedges come in three new sole grinds: a standard grind based on Tiger Woods' preferences, a "dual narrow" (inspired by Paul Casey) and a "dual wide" (inspired by Francesco Molinari). The retooled Renegar Rx12 utilizes new heel relief to improve turf interaction on lob shots and other shots from tight lies. Also, a bead-blast finish is designed to improve face friction. Miura's New Series wedges feature the company's trademark precision forging process, with a revised sole grind and graduated offset (more on lower lofts, less on higher lofts). Cobra is releasing a limited-edition 8620 carbon-steel, nickel-plated Tour Trusty wedge with graphics created by Rickie Fowler. The milling pattern on the face is designed to maximize surface roughness.


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Gear & Equipment

Wilson giving away special-edition wedge for Mother's Day

By Stephen Hennessey

If you're in the market for a Mother's Day gift, a giveaway from Wilson could make your mom a happy camper.

Send a tweet or upload a photo to Instagram, tagged with #FGTourTC, along with your favorite memory of your mom, and Wilson will choose one winner for its limited edition pink 60-degree FG Tour TC wedge.

Wilson says it's the only pink version of its FG Tour wedge line made.

wilsonwedge.jpg

Send a tweet or upload an Instagram photo with a memory of your mother, grandmother, aunt or mentor and this pink-colored wedge could be yours.

Here's a look at its specs:

--Loft: 60 degrees

--Bounce: 10 degrees 

--Length: 34 1/2 inches (one inch shorter than its in-line version) 

--Grip: A pink Lamkin R.E.L. 3 GEN

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Gear & Equipment

What wedges do the PGA Tour's top five scramblers wield?

By E. Michael Johnson

It's probably no coincidence that Graeme McDowell, the PGA Tour's leader in the "scrambling" statistic, won at Harbour Town Golf Links, where small greens test wedge play.

Here are the tour's five-best scramblers this year -- ranked by percentage of times they get up and down for par or better -- and their highest-lofted wedges.

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1. McDowell's 58-degree Cleveland 588 RTX Forged has lasermilling between its "tour zip" grooves.

2. The sole on Justin Rose's 58-degree TaylorMade ATV is designed to keep the leading edge closer to the ground.

Related: Check out Golf Digest's Hot List equipment guide

3. Charles Howell III's 58-degree Mizuno MP T-4 has wider, shallower grooves than lowerlofted versions.

4. Brandt Snedeker's Bridgestone J40 60-degree wedge has low bounce in the heel and toe.

5. Chris Kirk's 58-degree Callaway Mack Daddy 2 is a prototype with a new sole designed by Roger Cleveland.

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Gear & Equipment

Short Clubs, Big Rewards: Wedges are the unsung heroes of the Masters

By E. Michael Johnson

mike-weir-equipment-0408.jpg

Augusta National has long had a reputation as a course ruled by bombers who demolish the par 5s by going for them in two and making easy birdies and the occasional eagle. Ten years ago, however, Mike Weir won the Masters with a decidedly different philosophy -- one that called for a heavy reliance on his wedge game.

"Going for it in two is not always a bargain depending on the pin position," said Weir. "There are places where you can get a wedge closer than you can a long putt on those greens."

In 2003 Weir hit the par 5s in two just once (actually, zero times technically as the one instance he went for it in two the ball ended up on the fringe). Still, he played the holes in 10 under for the week. Among the key shots was one on No. 15 in the final round when he laid up short of the water and knocked a sand wedge to four feet, leading to a critical birdie.

Related: D.A. Points wins Shell Houston Open with help from his mother's putter

At the Masters wedge play takes on a new dimension and importance. Sure, the scoring clubs are always critical, but when the field hits just 60.1 percent of the greens in regulation (as it did last year -- 12th fewest of all the courses on tour), making sure you have clubs that work around and into the greens is critical.

Accordingly, players have been readying their wedges for Augusta National for weeks. But unlike past years, there has been less grinding work done on the clubs. "We've been seeing more players looking for new wedges that match their current gamers, but with fresh grooves," said Mike Taylor, Nike's master model maker for wedges. One reason is the Masters used to present significantly different conditions than other tour layouts. Now more courses have tight, firm turf so the need to modify grinds is less. But since the groove rule was adopted in 2010, players have been looking for fresh grooves more often.

Fresh grooves weren't always sought for the Masters. In fact, before the groove rule players would often get new wedges weeks in advance in order to dull the grooves a bit prior to Augusta. There were two reasons, both of them having to do with excess spin. First, grabby grooves not only would spin the ball back too much on the fast and firm putting surfaces, but extra spin from fresh grooves often meant the ball would balloon, the added spin sometimes eating up as much as five yards in lost distance. For players who make their living by being precise with yardages, that's a non-starter.

Related: More Hot List 365

Messing around with new grinds can be a risk. Altering a wedge's bounce may help it play better off the turf, but it can affect how it performs out of the sand too. There's also the inexact science of grinding a wedge. "There's no such thing as the perfect wedge," said Bob Vokey, Titleist's wedge master craftsman. "It doesn't exist. That's why I prefer to creep up on a grind instead of just taking a bunch off at first. It's like a haircut -- you can always take more off, but you can't put it back on."

As such, the attention has shifted from grinds to proper loft gaps, with a number of players asking for very specific lofts. A 52-degree wedge might be bent to 51 degrees or a 60-degree bent to 61 degrees. The pros know Augusta National well and know exactly the distances they need to hit these clubs.

Of course, sometimes players go beyond the normal limits. Like 153 yards. That was the distance of Bubba Watson's all-world shot from the right trees on Augusta National's 10th hole that led to his playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen last year. That shot was struck with a 52-degree gap wedge. Not exactly the same type of finesse Weir used with his wedges a decade ago, but the result was the same: a green jacket.

TOUR STORIES


da-points-equipment-0408.jpgD.A. POINTS // SMother knows best

The Ping Anser is one of golf's most enduring putter designs. Just ask D.A. Points. At the Shell Houston Open, Points returned to an Anser putter made in the 1980s that he said he originally took out of his mother's golf bag when he was 11 or 12. According to Ping, Points sent the putter to them seven or eight years ago to be refurbished, including the addition of tungsten weights in the heel and sole areas to make the club heavier and more balanced.

"It's just a really good-looking putter, and I brought it with me this week because I just had been putting so bad," said Points after an opening-round 64. "I thought maybe I'll pull this old putter out of the garage and maybe it will have some magic in it." The club had plenty of magic during Points' opening-round 64, when he had 23 putts. For the week Points ranked 10th in strokes gained/putting en route to his second PGA Tour victory. As for whether or not Mom will be asking for the club back, Points said, "She might now. I've had it for a long time. I think she's been praying so badly for me to make some putts, she's probably happy for me to have it."

NEW STUFF


wedge-ping-gorge-equipment-0408.jpgPING Tour Gorge
PRICE: $130 (Lofts: seven, ranging from 47 to 60 degrees)

D.A. Points hit critical pitch shots on the 71st and 72nd holes with these wedges that feature deeper, sharper-edged grooves than previous Ping wedges.

ping.com


BAG ROOM


Lee Westwood changed to a Ping Scottsdale TR Anser B putter at the Shell Houston Open. The club comes with an adjustable-length shaft, which Westwood set at 38 inches. Westwood, however, does not anchor the longer-than-standard putter. The extra length merely provides a heavier weight that Westwood prefers. ... Friday in Houston Phil Mickelson ditched his driver and instead employed two 3-woods. Mickelson's second 3-wood was Callaway's new X Hot 3Deep model, which he used primarily off the tee. Mickelson continued with the dual 3-wood strategy for the weekend, finishing T-16 while ranking 40th and T-66 in driving distance and accuracy, respectively. Lefty also hinted that he had a "special club" he was considering for the Masters. ... At the Chiangmai Golf Classic in Thailand, Ernie Els took a break from his belly putter, using a conventional-length Odyssey Black Series i #1 model. The club featured a prototype version of Boccieri Golf's Secret Grip -- a grip that weighs approximately 155 grams (most putter grips are in the 50- to 60-gram range) to provide a counterbalancing effect to assist stability during the stroke. Els, however, said the putter would not be in the bag at the Masters, as he feels the greens are too fast for him to control the short putter. ... Although Ryo Ishikawa putts with a conventional-length putter, he practices with a belly-length model. Having become accustomed to the heavier rubber grip and wanting to maintain the same feel as with his practice putter, the Japanese star uses a Golf Pride B-140 flat front 21-inch mid-grip cut down to 13 inches on his Odyssey putter for competition.


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