CHOOSING WEDGES AND WHAT THE HECK "BOUNCE" MEANS
Posted by Seth Zipay, July 1st, 2019
Last Updated: August 8th, 2022
Choose Your Wedges
The average 12 handicap player hits about 6 greens in regulation in an 18 hole round. That is a lot of attempts to get up and down around the green, or from 100 yards and in. A pro or scratch player may hit 12-16 greens in a round, but when they do miss one, it is crucial they save par to save their score or keep the momentum going. Whatever the circumstances, the goal always stays the same: get the ball in the hole! Choosing wedges is just as important as selecting the correct driver loft or playing the right golf ball.
Let’s first discuss loft. The first thing you need to know is how many degrees your pitching wedge is. Almost every brand has a spec chart for their irons on their respective website. Another option is you could go see your local pro or fitting specialist and they probably have a loft/lie machine. They can check the loft of your pw. Chances are if you have a set of irons older than 10 years, the loft of your pitching wedge is probably 47 or 48 degrees. This is also the case if you play a set of forged blades or muscle-backs. These “players” irons tend to have traditional lofts. If you have a more recent set of irons, or what would be considered “game-improvement” or cavity-back, your pw could be anywhere from 46 to 42 degrees. That is a huge difference in distance and a lot of players have a huge gap in their set makeup.
Let’s say a player has a pitching wedge that is 46 degrees and they hit it 125 yards. Their next club is a 56 degree sand wedge, which used to be considered pretty standard. They hit that sw on a full swing 85 yards. That is a 40 yard gap and they have no dialed in club that travels 100 yards. They have to either muscle up and hit the sw, which they blade and hit it 130 yards over the green into the woods, or they try to knock down their pw which they decelerate and chunk about 40 yards. Not enough room for error and too much pressure on what should be a green-light yardage to attack the pin.
This is where the gap wedge or approach wedge comes in. This player has a 46 degree pw and a 56 degree sw. Four degrees of loft between each iron is ideal and the norm, so in this case a 51 degree gap wedge would be the choice. However, most companies just make a 50 or 52 degree wedge. You could choose either one and have your club-fitter bend it to 51, and that would equate to exactly 5 degrees between each wedge. But without being a perfectionist, leaving it at 50 or 52 degrees would be just fine and suit the player’s needs without issue. This player now has a confident 100 or 110 yard club, and another choice to use around the greens when chipping.
Let’s take this same player with the 46 degree pitching wedge and revamp the entire bottom of their set. The perfect wedge makeup would be 46 pitching wedge, 50 gap wedge, 54 sand wedge, and 58 lob wedge. Four degrees between each wedge should equate to 15 yards or so. Counting your pw I recommend that you play at least 3 wedges in your bag, and in some scenarios even 4. You may need to pull a club from the top of your set to fit that extra wedge in there and not exceed the 14-club limit. Tossing aside a hybrid or hard to hit 4 iron in lieu of an extra wedge is usually a good idea, but it is definitely a decision that you will need to assess.
Once you decide on set make-up and lofts, we now move on to one of the easiest confused topics; bounce. What in the world does that number mean and does it have any effect on me and my game? Bounce is simply the angle created between the leading edge of the club face and the lowest point of the sole or trailing edge that is touching the ground at address. The higher the degree bounce, the higher the leading edge sits off the surface at address, and thus, at impact. A simple rule of thumb: if you are steep and take a large divot, you should play higher bounce wedges. If you are a sweeper and barely take a shallow divot if one at all, you should play lower bounce wedge. If you are kind of in the middle and take a normal depth divot or pinch mark at impact, you could play standard bounce wedges.
Another factor that comes into play when choosing bounce is course conditions or what you typically face in your geographical region. This is where the pros have the luxury of getting free clubs every week if they want them; to switch their wedges based on where they happen to be playing on tour that week. If you play on mostly firm, dry conditions like in Arizona or Texas, you would benefit more from low bounce wedges. If you play in softer, lush conditions like in Pennsylvania, New York, or Rhode Island, you would benefit from standard or high bounce wedges. If you play in northeast Ohio and you get all 4 seasons within a 24 hour span, throw this entire paragraph out the window! You can honestly play on lush bent grass fairways one day and play a course 20 miles away the next day, and play off hardpan and firm conditions.
One thing to keep in mind is that bounce is your friend when it comes to getting out of bunkers. Especially if the sand is soft and powder-like. When you open the face in a green-side trap, the bounce of the sole is actually whet is splashing through the sand at impact.
I hope this answers most of your questions and clears up any confusion or misconceptions you may have had. If shopping in the store, please ask the pro or fitter for their knowledge and expertise when picking out wedges. If shopping at golfhq.com, I welcome you to please use our contact us tab to ask any questions before making your purchase, or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Knowledge is the key to bettering your scores and giving yourself the best chance to play to your potential.