Determining The Playability of Wedges
The total playability of any wedge is a combination of factors. The most important factors are built into the head itself. The design of the wedge sole in particular is a critical factor in how the wedge will play. The proper weight range of the head for a given club length has importance as does the loft given the wedges specific purpose. Finally, the proper number of wedges, their specifications and their specific playability characteristics matched up and correctly fitted to the golfers wants and needs also have great importance. The wedge can be a miracle club that reduces strokes; the problem is that some golfers are playing with wedges that will never give them consistent performance.
Here is a new way to look at wedges and their characteristics by simply learning what makes them work so they will work better for you. Since most all wedge shots require that the sole of the club contact either turf or sand to work properly and it has already been mentioned that the sole design is a key factor regarding wedge playability, then this will be the main area for our discussion.
The softness of the wedge head material makes no difference in playability.
The Basic 4 Factors of Sole Design That Determine “Effective Bounce”
The bounce angle built into the sole of any wedge is not the single determining factor on how the club’s sole will interact with the ground during the swing. Unfortunately, most golfers think that if one sand wedge has 10 degrees bounce and another one has 13 degrees bounce that the 13 degree wedge will automatically perform as if it had greater bounce. This may or may not be true. The reason for this is that a number of factors make up the real or “Effective Bounce” that ultimately determines the actual performance of the sole as it goes through or glides on sand or turf. This applies to full and partial shot making with any wedge.
There are basically four factors that determine “Effective Bounce”. They are:
- The actual sole bounce angle
- The width of the sole
- The sole radius front to back
- The leading edge grind
There is a fifth factor which is the proper lie angle fit to the individual golfer and this will be explained later.
The Maltby Triangle
First, some background information on “The Maltby Triangle” and how it came about. In November of 2004, Mike Statura, the equipment editor for Golf Digest Magazine visited me in the Golf Club Design Studio. I was doing a demonstration of sand wedge bounce and explaining additional wedge attributes that actually determine the “Effective Bounce” or more specifically how the sand wedge sole actually works in certain playing conditions. During the end of my lengthy explanation and while looking at the sand wedge mounted in the Bounce Gauge, I concluded in my simplest way that the greater amount of light that he saw between the gauge and the sole of the wedge, the greater the “Effective Bounce”. He immediately picked up on this as an easy way to explain the differences in wedges to his mostly non technical readers. So he said, “the bigger the Maltby Triangle, the greater the Effective Bounce” and the easier the wedge is to play for less skilled golfers. “Yes,” I said and the name the Maltby Triangle was created.
The Professional Bounce Gauge that I invented and the one I used to explain bounce to Mike is admittedly a little bit complicated to understand because it measures more than just bounce and is certainly something that you would not put in a consumer golf magazine. So, Mike asked me if there was a way to come up with something simple so that the consumer could actually visualize the playability differences in sole design when comparing one wedge vs. another and understand it should it ever be put in a magazine article.
The Maltby Triangle Gauge
I did not have an immediate solution at the time but finally the light went off after he left and the Maltby Triangle Gauge was invented a few days later. The beauty of the triangle gauge is its dual purpose. First, it can simply be used as a visual comparative reference for Effective Bounce by comparing the size of the triangle under any wedges sole compared to any other wedge. Second, for the more technically oriented, it can actually be used to calculate specific measurements which compares Effective Bounce more accurately. Basically, it can be used to calculate the approximate square inch area in the triangle under the sole. This number can then be compared to other wedges in a more exact fashion if desired. Whether using the visual method or the square inch calculation method, the bigger the area under the sole the greater the Effective Bounce and the smaller the area under the sole the less the Effective Bounce.
Here is how the triangle gauge works: Once again, the four factors that are used to calculate Effective Bounce are the actual bounce angle, the width of the sole, the sole radius front to back and the leading edge grind. These four factors together produce two additional characteristics of the sole that can be measured using the triangle gauge. They are the club face leading edge height and the effective sole width or the sole tangent (touching) point with the ground. These two factors along with the club face leading edge grind radius make up the Effective Bounce or in other terms the soles playability characteristics.
Look at the following three drawings showing three different sand wedges being compared using the Maltby Triangle Gauge. Take a few moments to look them over closely as they tell a very visual story about Effective Bounce. The 3 wedge designs shown represent the normal common type wedge sole design, the wider, flatter sole design and the very wide special purpose sole design.
How and Why Wedges Work
Now that a basic understanding of the soles Effective Bounce has been explained using the triangle gauge, it is necessary to further discuss how to determine what wedge works best for a given golfer. The bulk of all wedges manufactured today are the so-called normal wedge designs. I refer to these as the copies of copies of copies. Almost every golf club manufacturer has a series of this type wedge in their line. This is the most common wedge design and is used by most golfers including the finest players in the world. These wedges are characterized by normal sole widths, sole radiuses, sole bounce angles and leading edge grinds. These wedge types can mostly be categorized as general purpose wedges (although some special purpose wedges exist in this category) for a wide range of shot making. Most of these wedges are excellent designs as long as they are used properly by players with adequate skills that can play them with consistency and can also take advantage of the many varied shots that they are capable of performing.
The next category of wedges is the wider, flatter radius sole wedges. They are not excessively wide but are wider than the normal wedge category. Lastly, there is the special purpose wedges characterized by very wide, flatter radius soles with reduced bounce angles. Both these type wedges are usually designed to help the so-called average golfer become more consistent and successful with their wedge play. These wedges are not designed to hit the flop shot with the face rolled open 15º or taking a full swing at the ball. The very wide soles are played mostly with the face square to only slightly open. The medium width soles can be rolled and opened a little more for special shots but not nearly as open as the normal width sole wedges which can play the most specialty shots but require the highest skill level.
A few rules of thumb need to be discussed to further help in understanding wedge playability. First, is the effective sole width and the sole radius. These two features determine how quickly the club face leading edge raises off the ground when the club face is rolled open to increase the loft. The wider the effective sole width and the flatter the sole radius, the quicker the leading edge will raise up when the club face is rolled open to increase the loft. Conversely, the narrower the effective sole width and the more rounded the sole radius will cause the leading edge to raise less when the club face is rolled open to increase the loft. This is an important feature to look at regarding the intended use of the wedge and the conditions it is used under. The wider, flatter sole in the square hit position or face rolled open only slightly will work well from looser sand and plusher pitching and chipping conditions and will be very easy to use successfully more of the time (higher playability factor). The narrower sole with a more rounded sole radius will work from harder or packed sand conditions and tighter lies. The leading edge will stay down closer to the ground even if the leading edge is raised by rolling the face open to increase the loft. However, the lower the leading edge is to the ground, the greater the chance of hitting the wedge fat. This type wedge would be less consistent and harder to use for the average golfer, but would work well for the golfer with a higher skill level.
The bounce angle designed into the sole is also a factor in determining the leading edge height. With all else equal, the greater the bounce angle, the higher the leading edge. Another factor, the club face leading edge radius does not affect leading edge height, but it does affect the tendency of the leading edge to dig more or dig less. The more rounded the leading edge, the less it wants to dig and the sharper the leading edge radius, the more it has a tendency to dig.
Here is another good rule of thumb to use: If a golfer has special problems consistently getting out of the sand and/or has the problem of hitting fat and thin shots when pitching and chipping or in general is just inconsistent, select a very wide sole wedge. This will usually be available in a sand wedge loft and sometimes also in a 60º lob wedge model. This type wedge will probably have no more than 4º or 5º of bounce because of the very wide sole width. The proper use of a wedge like this is to play it with the face square to the intended target. Remember, if it is rolled open, the leading edge will raise too high off the ground. This type wedge works by eliminating the fat or chunky shot by mostly eliminating any tendency for the leading edge to dig. So, with one type of bad shot eliminated, all the golfer has to worry about is the thin shot. To play this wedge the golfer can hit slightly behind the ball (up to ¾” and sometimes 1”) to put in a “cushion” for better avoiding the thin shot and the ball will easily become airborne with each and every attempt. The chance for inconsistent sand shots, chips and pitches is mostly eliminated because this wedge simply can not be hit fat. This would be referred to as a specific or special purpose sand wedge because the very wide sole restricts its ability to be manipulated (face rolled open) for the many varied shots (flop shots as an example) that would be required of a very good player such as a touring professional.
Wedges can make or break a golfer’s game. This is an area where a little study in understanding wedges can really pay off. Go out and try different wedges and see what works best for you. Keep track of which wedge you hit the best and which one lets you down the most. Don’t be afraid to try wider sole sand and lob wedges and maybe even the super wide soles because they can be eye openers as to how easy a wedge can play and help you obtain repeatable results without the fear of fat and thin shots
The myriad wedges on the market and all their claims makes it a difficult choice to get the best wedges for your game. We have discussed the most important aspects of wedge playability and you may be wondering why there has been no discussion of wedge materials and methods of manufacture. The reason is that it makes no difference in the playability of any wedge. Every few months a new wedge material comes out that is supposedly softer and it very well could be. The point to make here is that the softness of the wedge head material makes no difference in playability. Also, whether the head is forged or cast makes no difference in playability. To sell wedges manufacturers sell softness because that is what golfers want to hear. Golfers and manufacturers keep perpetuating the myth and it simply does not go away. Use the information discussed here about wedges to help make an informed decision or at least to ask better questions. The more knowledge that golfers have about equipment, the better the chances of playing better and enjoying the game more.
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