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Sand wedge

How Many Wedges do you Need?

I was watching a WITB (What’s in the bag) from a popular golf fitter the other day. He is clearly both an expert on equipment as well as being someone who puts a lot of thought into the detail of his set make up. He is also a scratch golfer. He was talking about his wedges from last season to this. He was thinking of moving from something like a 47,52,58,62 (degrees) wedge set up to a 45,50,55,60 if memory serves. This got me thinking about the classic golf question ‘how many wedges do you need really’?

Loft Creep and the Gap Wedge

This is actually a relatively modern golf question. If you go back a few decades, nobody was thinking about this. The reason for that is actually quite simple and it is to do with the changing lofts in irons in particular. Here’s an example. I have a set of blades that I used now and again that are from around the 1950s/60s. This is a full set from 1 iron to sandwedge (and yes, that 1 iron is basically good for nothing beyond getting a very close shave in the morning!) There is no gap wedge, attack wedge, 54 or whatever.

I haven’t measured the loft of the set pitching wedge pictured below, but I would guess it is no less than 50 degrees. The sandwedge is probably around 56 or so. There is simply no point and no space for another wedge between these two. What role would it play? There is no distance gap to be filled.

old school pitching wedge

This isn’t just true of sets that are over 50 years old. There are many sets, maybe most sets, from twenty years ago with a pitching wedge at the very least at 47/48 degrees. However, as I have said many times, distance sells. One of the easiest ways to get more distance out of a club is to crank its loft stronger. Even a fairly average set today will have a wedge under 45 degrees. The Taylormade Stealth or the Cleveland Launcher XL irons are at 43 for example. Even irons that are considered weaker-lofted ‘players’ clubs aren’t going to be anywhere near 50 degrees. The Titleist MB irons are a pure blade and have their pitching wedge at 47 degrees.

How Many Wedges?

Suddenly, there is a big gap that seems to appear at the bottom end of the bag. If a sand wedge is 56 degrees and my pitching wedge is 43, what do I do? I have 3/4/5 degree loft gaps throughout my bag, why should wedges be any different? Now my 4 to pitching wedge needs a gap wedge at 48, another specialist attack wedge at 52 and then my sand wedge. Of course, I need to have a lob wedge in their too, right? So now my wedges are 43/48/52/56/60! A five wedge set up!

This might not actually be a problem of course, at least in terms of staying under the 14 club limit. I will have these five wedges, 5 more irons (5-9), putter, a driver, a fairway wood and a hybrid. The perfect 14 club set!

Whilst this certainly fits and might actually be quite close to what the golfer in the first paragraph carries, my problem is just how useful this really is for the average golfer. I don’t just mean the hacker who gets out on the course twice a year either. For this guy or girl, honestly, it doesn’t matter. They are just out there to have some fun and that is perfect.

No, I am talking about what might be considered fairly reasonable golfers. People who shoot under 90 most of the time. And before you laugh at that as being pretty poor golf, how often do you really shoot in the 80s without mulligans, breakfast balls, generous gimmes etc? This conversation can even stretch to single digit golfers of whom I am (barely) part. How many wedges do I really need?

Fewer Wedges=Better Golf?

This is the tricky part because I am all for people enjoying their time on the course. If your real pleasure is a bag full of wedges, that is great and you should carry on. I don’t believe it is the smart route to playing our best golf for most of us though.

Of course, my view is somewhat tainted by the fact that I like a minimalist approach to golf and virtually never have more than about 11 clubs in the bag anyway. I don’t think this changes the way I see things though. I think that most golfers would be best with probably two wedges after their pitching wedge, even if it is a very strongly lofted one. Heresy, you say? Have a look at how many wedges Tiger played to win his majors. OK, he has a very weak pitching wedge, but he certainly played a lot of amazing golf with pitching wedge, 56, 60. I am guessing that his golf wouldn’t have been much less incredible with pitching wedge, sand wedge and nothing else!

Of course, at this level, we are talking about very fine lines indeed. I can certainly understand a professional golfer have a 60 or more for that one time when it could get them up and down when short-sided over a bunker. For the rest of us? Not so much.

Which shots with Your Wedges?

There are a few practical reasons for the choice of two wedges. In my opinion, most of us hit three basic wedge shots.

  • A full shot
  • A lower bump and run or pitch and roll
  • a high drop and stop (or at least an attempt to drop and stop!

Let’s imagine a wedge set of 50/56 with a stronger-lofted pitching wedge and see how it might fulfill these roles. If you have a weaker pitching wedge, the same principle applies, simply you might want to go 52/58 instead.

So the first shot is the full one. Let’s imagine your average golfer hits his pitching wedge 125 yards (the actual distance doesn’t really matter of course.) He has a 50 which might go 110 and a 56 which is going 95. The first thing you will say is that those gaps seem a bit big with 15 yards between clubs. My answer would be, are you sure? I just don’t think most of us are that precise for it to be a big deal.

As an example, I hit my irons pretty well and honesty, I would love to have a consistent 15 yard gaps from club to club. It just doesn’t happen. Even when I am hitting it very well, I would be delighted if all my shots with the same club had a front to back dispersion of five yards.

Is Gapping Really Important?

Let’s put it another way. If your gap is 15 yards, that means the absolute worst case if the flag is exactly between two clubs and your full shot with say a 50 is 7.5 yards too long and a sand wedge 7.5 yards too short. Golf just isn’t that exact. Firstly, we can all hit it a little bit harder or softer. Secondly, strike is going to make more of a difference that this for most of us anyway. And thirdly, golf isn’t played in a vacuum. OK, you have 102.5 yards to the flag, exactly between clubs. But are you hitting uphill or down? Is there any wind? Is it better to be slightly long or is there lots of space short?

Suddenly, not having that perfect distance doesn’t seem so important. This should be obvious because we rarely have exactly the right distance. Even pros with caddies will often go back and forth deciding between clubs. Are you really telling me that you made bogey because you had a 50 degree wedge rather than a 48 and a 52? It just isn’t the case.

The second shot is the lower bump and run or pitch that will roll out. Clearly, most of us should be using less loft here anyway. Recently, I have been bumping and running with my hybrid 7 iron as much as possible because it is just a much better shot, percentage-wise. This is also a situation where there really isn’t a wrong club. If you have a 50 rather than a 52, it simply changes your landing point and trajectory slightly, but certainly doesn’t cost anything. In fact, 10 different players might use several different clubs and ways of playing this shot from the same lie and distance.

Have a Comfort Club

There is of course another argument for having just a 50 degree wedge or whatever. Familiarity breeds comfort. Rather than worrying about a 48/52/54, you know which club you will play. It feels comfortable, you know how it will interact with the turf and the chances of good contact increase hugely. This is the real short game secret.

As for the 53, it really can do anything in terms of our third shot, the high one. This is even more the truth given than many of us actually ad loft at impact (myself included) when the pro hits his 60 degrees with hands forward, he probably actually presented left loft than most of us with a 56. If you do want or need more loft, simply twist open that club face slightly and open up the face. This is going to have the other advantage of adding bounce which is going to make the club even more forgiving.

I am not, of course, telling anyone what they should do on the course. This is thankfully a question of personal choice and we all enjoy the game in different ways. It does annoy me that golfers are being sold sets of specialty wedges and feel like this is actually a necessity to play the game. As a final example, a few years ago, I was changing my bag set up yet again. I found myself with a set pitching wedge (a bladed Wilson fg 62, probably somewhere around 47 degrees of loft) and a sand wedge. I played some of my best golf ever with two clubs and basically three shots. A full wedge to around 130 yards. A three-quarter wedge to around 115 or so and a half wedge to just under 100. For chipping, I either hit a bump and run with my seven iron or a standard pitch with a sandwedge. I never felt like I was missing a club and it certainly never cost me shots (although my driver at that time was another story!) With a pitching wedge, something around 50 degrees and a sandwedge, I think most of us would make life simpler and probably score better too.

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