Opinion & Analysis
The Wedge Guy: What happened to the pitching wedge?
Today’s post will hopefully get most of you thinking a bit more deeply about what you really get when you purchase a new set of irons. While every set – regardless of design, make, or model – has a club at the short end of the set marked with a “P,” do not let yourself be fooled: No set of irons has included a true “pitching wedge” for decades now.
In a recent review of the specifications of current iron models, the highest lofted “P-club” I could find was 46 degrees, and that was in a very traditional forged blade model. The vast majority of “P-clubs” are now at 45 degrees, with a rapidly growing number of game improvement models reducing that to as low as 42 degrees.
The basis for this “argument” is that solid technique for hitting true “pitch shots” was perfected decades ago, when Hogan, Nelson, Snead and their peers were dominating the game. In those days, their true pitching wedges were all some kind of one-piece blade design with about 50-52 degrees of loft and were used to hit pitch shots of all descriptions — high, soft-landing shots, penetrating “one hop and stop” shots, and a myriad of creative approaches in between. Those old pros learned how to use their pitching wedges to great effect and “wrote the book(s)” on effective pitching technique. In fact, Ben Hogan was so proficient with his that fellow pros dubbed it “the equalizer,” which the Ben Hogan Company adopted as the official name of its highest lofted club in a set of irons.
It’s also interesting to note that in his 1949 book, Power Golf, Hogan wrote that the sand wedge could be effective for certain greenside recoveries but listed his maximum distance with that club as 50 yards! This was written by arguably the best player in the history of the game, who listed his maximum distance with a driver at 300 yards! My bet is that every one of you routinely calls on your sand wedge for shots of 50-100 yards, so you must be better than Ben Hogan!
But back to the topic at hand, the simple fact of golf ball physics is that true pitch shots cannot be hit with an iron of only 42-45 degrees of loft, which is why those old pros didn’t try to hit pitch shots with their 8-irons, which were about that same loft back then. And you can’t either.
I’ve written before about how loft-strengthening has taken away critical scoring clubs from the modern golfer. And how these jacked-up lofts require you to be a bit more creative in putting your set of irons together to give you proper distance gaps between irons, from your highest-lofted wedge all the way down through your set.
But when it comes to those score-making or score-saving shots inside full swing range, you simply must have one or two clubs with which you can execute a variety of true “pitch shots,” and that means giving special attention to your clubs of lofts over 45-47 degrees. Do you even have the right clubs there?
I can tell you that a 50- to 52-degree set-matching club – which has come to be named the “approach wedge” or something – probably isn’t the best option, especially if you are playing a thin-faced game improvement iron design. Realize that club is as far in loft from the 6-iron as is your 3-wood, and while that design might make for an effective 27- to 30-degree iron, it doesn’t work nearly as well when you add twenty more degrees of loft, no more than it would if you cranked it down to 15 degrees and put a 3-wood shaft in it.
In today’s parlance, that true “pitching wedge” of 50-52 degrees of loft is likely thought of as a “gap wedge,” but don’t think of that club as simply the next full swing club after the one with a “P” on the bottom. It should probably be your “go-to” club for almost all your shots inside full-swing range, as your distance consistency and impact efficiency will likely be much better than it will be with a higher-lofted sand wedge or lob wedge, as impact with the ball isn’t as much of a glancing blow as with the higher lofts.
If you really want to improve your performance inside full swing “P-club” range, don’t automatically go to your sand wedge for all those partial swing shots. Instead, consider spending at least as much time testing and playing true “pitching wedges” of various designs as you do selecting a driver, putter, or set of irons.
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Opinion & Analysis
2023 American Express: Betting Tips & Selections
Last week’s Sony Open saw the unusual occurrence of a top-10 devoid of a name that had played the Tournament of Champions, and yet eventual champion Si Woo Kim won his fourth PGA event, all on Bermuda greens.
Sometimes, like picking the week that a poor putter knocks in 30-footers, it’s just picking the right stat on the right day.
The tour makes the annual return to southern California for the charity pro-am event, where in its 63 history many courses have played host to the great and the good of the entertainment world. And Bill Murray.
For us, concerned with only who might win and at what price, we return to a three course rotation on which one one player in the last 16 years has won in under 20-under and an in an event that has seen four of the last 10 winners start at triple figures, with Adam Long going off at 500-1+.
Put simply, the set-up is too easy to enjoy it too much, players won’t miss many greens, and, as Adam Long said, “you can make a lot of putts because these greens on all three courses are just perfect. So you can make them from all over.”
The front of the market is classier than normally found here, but with the combined price of the top eight, we are asked to take around 4-6 that any of those win. Sure, that’s highly likely, but many of that octet have thrown away winning chances over the last few months, and the obvious man to beat, Jon Rahm, threw his hands in the air last year, calling this a less than satisfactory set-up.
In an event that is worth looking at after the cut – the average halfway position of winners over the last five years is 8th – the suggestion is to play a touch lighter than usual, with just two selections in the pre-event market.
Short tracks that reward consistent tee-to-green and putting efforts see me look for ‘The Real JT’ at every opportunity, and at 60/1 I can’t resist putting James Tyree Poston up as the best of the week.
Winner of the 2019 Wyndham Championship in 22-under, from course specialist Webb Simpson, JT confirmed then his love for Bermuda greens, something he had shown when seventh here and sixth at Harbour Town a few months earlier. The Wyndham, incidentally, home to a trio of wins by Davis Love III, a confirmed Pete Dye specialist.
Fast forward to 2022 and, after a solid all-round performance at sub-7000 yard River Highlands, the 29-year-old comfortably won the John Deere Classic, where he again proved too good for some charging rivals, from tee-to-green and on the dancefloor.
Poston’s best form outside of his two wins is at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, another specialist Dye/DL3 track, where he has a record of 3/mc/8/6 and where he has ranked in fifth and seventh place for tee-to-green.
After a solid top-10 at the top-class Tour Championship at the end of last season, Poston comes here after a solid run of 21st at the RSM, the same at Kapalua and 20th at last week’s Sony, ranking 6th and 13th for tee-to-green in both of the more suitable, shorter tracks, all of which have Bermuda greens.
Now teetering on the edge of the world’s top 50, Poston probably can not compete on the longer, elite courses. He’ll need to take advantage of ‘his’ tracks, and, with a 7th and 25th already in his locker around here, this event is most definitely one of those.
I’d like to have been with Andrew Putnam, playing excellent golf, making his last 13 cuts, and holding an enviable course record, but at the same price as last week he’s just left out given the tougher opposition. Top that with a tendency to throw away a weekend lead (Barracuda, AT&T and the RSM just a couple of months ago) and I’d rather be with Alex Smalley who has gone the opposite direction, now trading at more than double his price for the Sony just seven days ago.
The 26-year-old Duke graduate played in both the 2019 Arnold Palmer and Walker Cup sides, finishing with a record of three wins from four at each, before gaining his PGA Tour card when recording three top-five finishes and two top-15s on the KFT, eventually finishing 12th on the 2021 KFT finals lists.
Included in his 2021 season was a 14th at Corales, and he showed that to be no fluke when finishing in the top 15 at both Bermuda and Houston, both with similar greens as he will find this week.
2022 was a big year for Smalley, starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, finishing in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.
Since October, Smalley has made five of seven cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking.
The second-season player was always on the back foot at Waialae last week, finishing the first round way down the pack after the first round. Cross that out and I’m struggling to see why he’s been dismissed by the oddsmakers for his second attempt at a course that found him ranked top-10 off the tee just 12 months ago.
There is a lingering fantasy around Luke List, whose 11th at the long Kapalua course might indicate a solid run this week. Given his first two wins came at Pete Dye related tracks (South Georgia designed by Davis Love, five time champion at Harbour Town) and Sawgrass Valley (the very name giving away its Dye/Bermuda links) he is clearly one to watch, even if he is simply one of the worst putters on tour.
He may be left behind by a few around this putter-heavy track, but he has a best of a 6th place finish in 2016 and a pair of top-22 finishes over the last two seasons. List should only have to flip wedges to many of these greens, and should he simply finish field average in putting as he did when finding over 11 strokes on the field at Torrey Pines (yes, 11 strokes. Plus 11 strokes) he will land a top-20 wager.
- J.T Poston WIN/TOP-5
- Alex Smalley WIN/TOP-10
- Luke List TOP-20
Opinion & Analysis
2023 Abu Dhabi Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
Just days after the inaugural running of the Hero Cup, we get the chance to see the first full-field event of the 2023 DP World schedule.
For the second year, the Yas Links provide the venue for the well-established Abu Dhabi Championship, but last year’s leaderboard showed not much has changed, with a board of ‘linsky’ players and also those with firm form-lines in this part of the world.
Last year’s champion, Thomas Pieters, is one of 18 players that took part at ADGC last week, and he heads a defending leaderboard that included the likes of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Victor Dubuisson, Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton and more than a handful of others that appear regularly in the Middle East, Portugal, Holland and Denmark – just some venues that offer clues to regular top-10ers.
Continental Europe won last week’s renewal of what was in effect the old ‘Seve Trophy’ but that shouldn’t stop a strong showing from many of the beaten side. Opting between the likes of Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry is as tough as it gets, all having top class links form and a promising ending to the 2022. Still, combine them with Alex Noren, playing well but winless since July 2018, and the coupled odds offer somewhere around 85-40. Despite their obvious claims, that doesn’t appeal.
It is the next group that appeals mostly this week and, whilst Thomas Pieters holds very solid claims for going back-to-back here, the pair of Robert Macintyre and Adrian Meronk are the first to go into the plan.
142 yards. Too many swear words ?
— Robert MacIntyre (@robert1lefty) December 7, 2022
I’ll admit a weakness for the Scot, whose talent has still not reached anything like a ceiling, but Ryder Cup year may see him raise his levels, particularly having told The Telegraph that:
“Playing for Europe has been one of my life goals since I started to believe I was half decent at this game. I’ve played Walker Cup and now I want to appear in the best event in the world and a lot of the older guys––the likes of Sam (Torrance) and Stevie (Gallacher) who we’ve spoken to here this week have told me it would be the best thing to do in my life. And I’ve got a great opportunity to do that.”
Bob’s claims to a place in the European locker room will be far stronger with a place inside the world’s top 50, which gives him access to all the majors and top events around the world.
He’s been there before, after his first win on tour, a strange lockdown-influenced event in Cyprus, but the victory was no surprise given his three runner-up finishes and a 6th at The Open in his inaugural year (2019) after which he received the Rookie of the Year award.
Available for all the four majors in 2021, he finished tied-12th at Augusta and eighth at Royal St. George’s, an event that may be significant this week.
Down the stretch on Sunday, Bob looked set to finish inside the top five before a pulled tee shot on the final par-5 (14th), a move that cost him a bogey. If I was to take just one of the recent Opens as a guide, the 2021 running may be the one.
Whilst the wind was only a zephyr, and disappointing for such a contest, conditions may well mirror the type we see this week. If not, the leaderboard certainly gives some idea with Jon Rahm in third place (three wins and a place in Dubai), Lowry and Viktor Hovland sharing 12th, Paul Casey in 15th and Sergio Garcia also just inside the top-20.
All those named have terrific form not only in the UAE but also in the immediate vicinity, and it seems the same with those beaten in last season’s Italian Open.
Held at the Marco Simone Club – this year’s Ryder Cup venue – Bob shot a final round, and best-of-the-day 64 – to reach a play-off against Matt Fitzpatrick. Winner with a birdie at the first extra hole, he also left behind the likes of Victor Perez, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Jorge Campillo, all fine exponents of links golf, whilst he also joined Nicolai Hojgaard in a tiny Marco Simone winner’s club, the latter beating Tommy Fleetwood and Meronk for his maiden victory.
Macintyre followed his second victory with a top-10 at classic Le Golf National, top-20 at the Alfred Dunhill Links (11th into payday), top-10 at Valderrama and a closing 18th in Portugal at least two of those being a form guide to Yas this week.
The 26-year-old has admitted he often tries ‘too’ hard and that he plays his best golf when happy and relaxed. Having left the course yesterday with a 4&3 victory alongside Seamus Power and a heavy singles victory over Noren, he should be spot on.
In contrast to the first selection, Adrian Meronk was on the winning side over the weekend, and comes here as another improving 20-something.
Although the Pole was ranked around 200th at the end of the 2020 season, he caught the eye when running-up to Christiaan Bezuidenhout at Leopard Creek in November of that year, seemingly a tad naïve when challenging.
That immaturity is now a distant memory, replaced by a player that had three top three finishes in 2021, and topped by a closing top-10 finish in Dubai.
Having gone on many ‘to follow’ lists for 2022, the 29-year-old withdrew midway through this event before compensating his fans with four top six finishes in seven starts, three in this part of the world.
Belgium and the Netherlands saw Meronk finish in a closing sixth and third, the latter finish at Bernardus Golf (significantly designed by Kyle Phillips) before his (almost telegraphed) victory at Mount Juliet saw him follow in the footsteps of Lucas Herbert, another wind and links specialist.
11th in France and 22nd at the multi-course Dunhill Links works for me, as does his finish to 2022 – seventh at the DP finale, in fifth at halfway in Brisbane, and his impressive second victory at this level, by five shots at the Australian Open.
That win, by a handful from proven links and top-class players such as Adam Scott and Min Woo Lee raises the Pole to yet another level, and now just inside the world’s top 50, a huge effort that sees him receive the ultimate invite:
Perfect Christmas present ?@TheMasters here I come ??#themasters #augustanational pic.twitter.com/VxIRtrPFOc
— Adrian Meronk (@AdrianMeronk) December 23, 2022
With confidence at a high, expect the Polish hero to enjoy the expanses of Yas Links, as he did when sitting inside the top-20 for the three rounds he did complete last year.
Nicolai Hojgaard has already been referenced as the winner of the 2021 Italian Open, and that win alone might be enough to stir interest, but take into account many of his best performances and he appeals greatly at anything around 50/1.
The more flamboyant of the twins is much more of a bully on the course than his brother, Rasmus, for whom he deputised for at the Hero Cup. That decision was justified after an unbeaten 3.5 points saw him produce one of the more surprising performances of the weekend and that encourages me to take the hint soon after a 10th place finish Australian Open, where he was never off the front page at any point.
Second place at both the Portugal Masters and KLM and, of course, a win at Ras Al Kaihmah read nicely for this week’s test, whilst he can add a fourth place to his UAE record having finished strongly on his debut at the DP World Tour Championship.
Ignore the missed cut last season as the 21-year-old was lying in 17th place after the first round before experiencing very tough conditions – eventual winner Thomas Pieters was also one that was over par for Friday.
With this track sure to suit his distance off the tee – Pieters and Hovland ranked top 10 in that regard – and with his confidence up after holing the winning putt for Continental Europe, this should be time to be with him.
It’s hard to believe that a player would win two events in his rookie year and also come within a whisker of his third title, yet be triple digits for this week.
In Ewen Ferguson there is a player that not only showed class in difficult conditions in Qatar (Meronk in third) but also only got done by a superstar putting performance when going for the three-timer in Denmark.
At all three victories, the Scot ranked highly in all tee-to-green aspects, something he found again towards the end of 2022, at Mallorca and the Gary Player GC. Whilst his excellent short game was lacking towards the end of the year, I’m prepared to err on the side that says it had been a long, if successful, first foray at the highest level, one that could have seen him win Rookie of the Year, although ultimately beaten to that by Thriston Lawrence.
Having been one of the success stories of the 2022 Players To Follow column, the 26-year-old more than paid his way, and it’s worth taking a chance that comes out and performs in similar conditions.
I’m watching former star Joost Luiten like a hawk, as his back-form hints to a great week now he and his health are back to something like their best, but the final selection goes to Marcus Helligkilde, another highlighted in last year’s column, and once again in 2023.
Whilst his overall profile is sketchy, we should remember that the Dane missed the middle few months of 2022 with a persistent shoulder injury, before doing enough to retain his DPWT card, something that looked unlikely as the tour approached the autumn months.
Having seen the likes of Jordan Smith and Brooks Koepka graduate from the Challenge Tour with success, much was expected of Helligkilde as he made his way through his rookie year on tour, particularly after three wins led him to a comfortable championship.
The season started in pleasing enough fashion, opening his first look at Yas Links with a 69 to lie inside the top 20, before a mid-event 66/67 saw him lie in ninth going into Payday at Ras. Back in the Middle East, the Dane came from outside the top-50 to finish 12th in Qatar and the sharks were buzzing for a coup in the near future.
However, after a couple of months, Helligkilde revealed he had been suffering with a shoulder injury for a while and would require surgery, something that meant taking at least six weeks off tour.
He admitted he was nowhere near 100 percent when re-appearing at the Irish Open, but a mid-point 22nd was encouraging, as was the trip to the KFT where he performed with credit at both the co-sanctioned events.
Among a large amount of DPWT players at the Barbasol, Helligkilde recorded 16 out of 18 greens-in-regulation on his way to a bogey-free third round of 66 before following up with the same figure on payday, resulting in a move from 64th at halfway to 8th when the cheques were being handed out.
The following week, the Dane was never outside the top-22 in finishing 13th at the Barracuda, both weeks suggesting he was close to being back to his best.
By finishing 4th in Ireland and 8th in his home event, the ‘Made In Himmerland’, Helligkilde showed he can perform when necessary, his top-30 at the Spanish Open enough to secure a place inside the top-100 on the Race To Dubai.
The Dane is far better than that number and, now injury free, is hopefully in a position to show his best, in conditions that will suit a player for whom the middle of the green is always a target.
- Robert Macintyre WIN
- Adrian Meronk WIN/TOP-5
- Nicolai Hojgaard WIN/TOP-5
- Ewen Ferguson WIN/TOP-5
- Marcus Helligkilde WIN-TOP-10
Opinion & Analysis
The Wedge Guy: Make 2023 YOUR year for better golf
Regardless of your average scores or the way you play the game, the mass appeal of this great game of golf is that you can always get better — and shooting lower scores regularly makes the game even more enticing and addicting. From my feedback, it seems that the GolfWRX readers are pretty evenly divided between those who put emphasis on the actual score at the end of the round and those who are more likely to evaluate the day on the number of good shots they hit, or their avoidance of the really bad ones. But no matter which camp you find yourself in, the pathway to enjoyment is the same.
The USGA had an ad campaign a while back featuring the late and superbly great Arnold Palmer, with the campaign slogan “Swing Your Swing.” The point of it was that we all have a golf swing that has produced a number of wonderful shots — thought maybe on too rare an occasion. Some swings are fundamentally more sound than others, of course. And some of us are blessed with more natural athletic abilities, body strength and flexibility, or just outright skills. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get that swing of yours to repeat more reliably and hit a higher percentage of good shots without committing to a swing overhaul. Very few of us have time for that kind of commitment.
You’ve heard the old answer to the question “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.” Improving your golf game has to be accomplished in that same “one bite at a time” manner. So, let me offer you a few suggestions for the first few bites to improve your rounds this year.
- Give your body a chance. The golf swing is a very athletic motion that requires much more of your body in the way of flexibility than strength. And most adults are guilty of letting their flexibility wane as they get older. I cannot tell you how important it is to stretch . . . not just before each round, but on a daily basis. If you will incorporate even just 3-5 minutes of stretching into your daily routine, not only will your golf swing improve dramatically, but you will feel better all around. I guarantee you it will make a difference.
- Give “your swing” a chance to repeat. As I mentioned, we all have a swing that has shown the ability to produce a good, or even great, golf shot on an occasional basis. So, how do we get that to happen more often? It’s a matter of paying attention to your set-up and ball position. Some time back, a very accomplished custom fitter friend of mine shared some data he had collected on golfers of all skill levels, regarding their consistency of set-up and ball position. What he showed me is that the higher the handicap, the less precise the golfer was in his or her alignment and set-up to the ball. For your swing to repeat, you simply have to be consistent in the position of the ball in two directions – how far it is from you, and where it is located with regard to the lead foot (the left for right-handed players), and in the alignment of your body to the target line. The advice of another great teacher whom I was privileged to meet was to never hit a ball on the range without your alignment stick in place. That way every swing – especially in your pre-round warm-up – is also a piece of practice on good alignment and ball position. It takes no athletic ability to give yourself a chance at a good shot by getting the pre-swing part of it right.
- Chill out and lighten up. In golf, just as in life, stress is a killer. When we are over a shot and feel stressed – which happens all too often – our grip tightens and our body tenses up. Those are killers to the smooth, flowing action that the golf swing, chipping/pitching motion or putting stroke all require. Facing any golf shot – even if it’s just a three-foot putt or a simple chip shot – causes us to tense up. Before each shot, pay attention to your stress level by focusing on your grip pressure. And then lighten up and execute the shot.
I hope these three tips will help you get ready for the 2023 golf season and make it your best one ever, regardless of how long you have been playing. It’s never too late to get into a path of improvement with golf. That’s one of the wonderful things about this game.
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Dec 16, 2022 at 4:32 pm
I use irons from 2011 which have older/higher lofts (Callaway RAZR X Forged). I have 3 hybrid, 5-A wedge, SW, LW. I omit the 4 iron to stay within the 14 club limit. The PW is 47 degrees and the AW is 51 degrees. If I were to buy a new set it would be 3 hybrid and still 5-A, SW, LW which would amount to the same thing if I bought another wedge between the PW and AW. However, I would still have to omit the 5 iron or another iron from that to stay within the 14 club limit. I would gain nothing. The current irons are in good condition (from Callaway pre-owned, best condition rating). I cover every distance with the short irons. They are the iron model Jim Furyk used to shoot 58 in a PGA Tour tournament (I didn’t know that when I bought them).
Dec 16, 2022 at 1:58 pm
Sorry but I disagree. Golf has changed dramatically since Hogan’s time. Balls aren’t as soft and don’t spin as much, groove rules have changed, greens are much faster etc etc. It’s not as easy to stop a ball with a short shot as it was in Hogan’s time. Most courses you need to be proficient with a sand and lob wedge to produce enough height and spin to stop the ball. It’s much more difficult to stop a modern ball on modern greens with a 50 degree wedge partial swing. Sand and lob wedges are crucial for most golfers today. Many tour pros are starting to switch to a matching iron set gap wedge for this very reason. They are using GW for significantly more full shots than they are partial shots so it makes sense to ditch the old theory.
Dec 21, 2022 at 1:41 pm
lol, modern balls spin twice as much as balls from the 40s 50s 60s 70s 80s 90s.
‘groove rules ‘ have changed…back to 50s standards. lol
And, It’s MUCH easier to stop a ‘modern ball ‘ on ‘ modern greens ‘
Dec 16, 2022 at 10:22 am
The E-wedge from my 1998 Hogan Apex irons is 48 degrees. I use that, my 52, 56, and 60 to pitch with, per Dave Pelz. Works great. I’ve even used my 9-iron from that Hogan set, 44 degrees, to pitch with all day from distance. Worked just fine.