By E. Michael Johnson
Illustrations by Todd Detwiler
After visiting Winged Foot Golf Club in preparation for the 2006 U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson asked Callaway club designer Roger Cleveland to make him a 64-degree wedge with a lot less bounce than normal. Phil wanted help playing out of Winged Foot’s deep bunkers and getting the ball to stop quicker on its undulating greens.
Although Lefty came up short of the title that week, he used that club to great effect, noting it saved him one or two shots a round, possibly more. His use stirred interest in the concept with a lot of everyday golfers, and equipment companies began making such clubs available in their wedge lines. It’s a practice that continues.
Unfortunately, everyday players are not enjoying Mickelson’s success with the 64-degree wedge. Data from Cobra Golf using the Arccos shot-tracking system reveals those using the 64-degree struggle to match the performance of lower-lofted wedges.
Greens hit in regulation using a 64-degree wedge is at 44 percent—the lowest for any wedge loft. The data, which comes from 762 players who use a 64, indicates that a 54-degree wedge is 10 percent more accurate. And analysis of the 64’s distance performance shows it’s being hit farther than a 58-degree wedge on average (83.2 yards versus 80.5 yards).
How are these stats possible? It’s quality of contact, says respected short-game coach James Sieckmann. Instead of using it solely around the greens like Mickelson did at Winged Foot, many amateurs try to maximise distance with the 64 and swing it too hard, he says. Swinging too hard makes it less likely the ball is being hit with the center of the clubface. It’s either rolling up the face and coming up short, or it’s being skulled over the green.
Interestingly, at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on the PGA Tour in October, won by Kevin Na, only three pros used the club: Morgan Hoffmann, Rhein Gibson and Phil. The message: Most tour pros don’t use one. So why do you?
Sieckmann recommends a bag with a pitching wedge (48 degrees), sand wedge (54) and lob wedge (58), but those clubs should have varying degrees of bounce, which is the bulge feature on the trailing edge of the clubhead. The firmer the conditions, the less bounce you want. “I suggest a lot of bounce on the 54 and less on the other two,” he says. Then, if you’re in the rough, go with the 54. But if you’ve got wet sand in the bunker, use the 58. For tight fairway lies, the 48 works well.
Better accuracy with higher-lofted clubs starts with effort. As in, don’t go all-out. A big swing makes it harder to create good contact. Instead, use a shorter swing with acceleration—one where you take the club back until the lead arm is parallel with the ground (think 9 on a clock face). To get a feel for it, Sieckmann prescribes a drill (above, left) he calls the pelvic punch: Put a ball on a tee, address it around the center of your stance, and lean the shaft a little forward at address. Swing back to 9 o’clock, pause at that spot for three seconds, then try to hit the ball off the tee.
This drill (above, right) promotes a short, controlled backswing and the proper body rotation in the through-swing to get the ball to the green. As you get better at it, you can experiment with taking the club back various lengths to control distance. “A shorter swing helps get a lower, more controlled shot,” he says. “You want to deloft the club and have some shaft lean through impact and keep the body rotating.”