The highest lofted club currently in my bag is a Cleveland 56 sandwedge. I have had a more lofted option in my bag, most recently a 60 degree callaway PM grind that was a great club. However, I made a conscious decision to play with less loft. Why did I do this? Simply because I felt like lob wedge lofts had become more of a marketing argument than something that was helping in any way. Was I right?
Traditional ‘lob’ Wedges
As with the attack wedge, the lob wedge wasn’t really part of a traditional bag set up. If you look at the bag of one of the greatest ever, Ben Hogan, you will see a pitching wedge, a sand wedge and that’s it in terms of short game sticks. I don’t have the specs of his clubs, at least not with 100% accuracy, but I would bet a pound or two that this sand wedge didn’t have any more than 56 degrees of loft.
If you do look at the bags of pretty close to every professional golfer playing today, you will see some sort of lob wedge. This might be a 58 which is a high-lofted sandwedge, or in other cases something beyond the sandwedge that is a really specialised club for getting the ball up quickly in all sorts of situations.
Course Conditions Have Changed
What does this tell us? I think there are a few lessons. Firstly, golf course conditions on the professional circuits are extremely different today compared to Hogan’s day. Televised golf has mad the visual aspect of course particularly important for good TV coverage. This, as well as the huge amount of money in the game have led to fairways that look like greens from yesteryear. This means that often the lob wedge can be used for playing some shorts from these beautifully manicured fairways.
Greens are generally much firmer too in professional golf. Whereas a few years ago, outside of baked conditions in the Summer, a golfer might expect a ball to come in lower and still stop, golfers at the highest level might need a steeper descent angle to control the roll out of the ball.
We could probably actually add balls into the mix here too. Modern balls curve far less than balls from a previous age and this means that using loft is an easier way of generating spin that using the characteristics of the ball itself.
Secondly, it also tells us that club manufacture has moved on over the last decades. I often go on about the joys of blades and classic clubs. Marketing is huge thing and be are often being sold fairly dust, but there is also some real advances that go into making clubs today.
For example, using computer aided design allows companies can use materials such as tungsten to play around with weight and centre of gravity. This can make clubs that were traditionally difficult to hit suddenly become far more playable. Think of those long irons that have disappeared for the advantages proffered by hybrids. The traditional wedge has also benefited. I have a couple of wedges from the 1950s that are beautiful things. They are a true pleasure to hit in many ways. However, they have sharp leading edges and very little bounce and if I don’t make perfect contact, I tend to look even more ridiculous than usual around the greens!
Modern Clubs are Easier to Hit
One of the reasons why Hogan, an amazing ball striker, and especially mere mortals from the same period used less loft was because 60 degrees with not a lot of bounce and the sweet spot about two millimeters out of the heel is a notoriously unforgiving combination! It is a joy when you flush it but the list of ways it can go wrong from thin to shank is too long for comfort!
All this seems to point to the benefits of putting more loft in our bags, rather than less. Surely at the very least a 60 degree lob wedge should be standard? Well, I would say no. Before someone tells me that they play every short game shot with a 60 (something I too have done in the past) I am not saying the 60 is a bad club. In fact, I am toying with putting a little bit more loft back in my bag.
This year, for example, there have been a few times when I regretted not having more loft. A 60 would have made my life easier or at least given me a better shot than I ended up playing.
However, I am still not completely convinced. The problem comes from having this possibility in my bag for other shots when the 60 makes it more difficult, not less. For example, outside of these few shots when I regretted my 60, there were plenty of shots when I would have hesitated between 56 and 60 if I had that option. I would inevitably have pulled the higher loft from my bag sometimes.
Less Loft is Generally Easier
Now i have no idea if the results would have been better if I had been able to choose the 60. I can only go back to the reason why I took it out in the first place. For me, a good shot with the 60 was sometimes better than a good shot with the 56. It was also harder, demanded more precise execution and a bad shot was definitely worse. On average, less loft was easier to play and gave a better result.
This obvious answer here is to practice more. I will keep playing the lottery and when my numbers come up, my practice time should increase significantly! Until that time, short game practice with a 60 is just not something I have had time for this year. This is essentially why I often say that less loft is most people’s friend when it comes to chipping. Hitting that bump and run with a seven iron or chipper isn’t as sexy as flying it pin high with an opened up lob wedge, but it has far less chance of fizzing 50 yards over the back of the green narrowly missing the group waiting on the next tee.
For me, the other reason is simply a preference for having fewer clubs in the bag. I would rather not carry a club that may or may not be useful, keep weight down and walk the course with 7-11 clubs. Your mileage may of course vary and you are free to load up the cart bag with whatever you want.
Let’s say for an instant that a 60 can be a useful weapon for a reasonably skilled golfer. It provides options for getting up and over things, getting out of thick rough, hitting a high and soft shot that doesn’t troll or whatever. you can hit the ball well enough to feel that the skull or just laying sod over it isn’t too likely. But why stop there? If 60 is good, surely 64 is better?
Diminishing Returns as you Add Loft
This is the big problem. At some point, more loft doesn’t equal better. The difficulty of playing the shot outweighs any potential advantages. Look, 64 degrees is fun. I have played with one and it is quite satisfying hitting that full swing shot that basically shoots up in the air and just misses your nose. The reality is that not many golfers, including highly skilled ones, are ever going to even try that.
A professional golfer can almost certainly hit it but the fact that he wouldn’t bother trying should tell us something. My logic goes like this:
A professional golfer isn’t going to take a risk on the 64 degree lob wedge. I am NOT a professional golfer in terms of skill and I am lucky to play weekly/monthly or whatever compared to his/her daily hours of play. What the hell am I doing with a 60, let alone a 64?
I really do think golf is about enjoyment and a mega lob wedge is one way to have fun. However, if it is in the bag as a shot saver, I think it is an error and in all probability, the 60 might fit into the same category for most of us too.