GOLF TEACHING PRO®
Teacher's Primer on the
HISTORY OF THE THREE-WEDGES
USGTF Contributing Writer, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
wasn’t too long ago that a “standard” set of golf clubs consisted
of a driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 2-through-9 irons, pitching wedge,
sand wedge, and putter. Notice that, with this set, there is a strong
emphasis on the long game.
In recent years, golf professionals have come to appreciate that
most strokes in golf are taken within 100 yards of the hole. Therefore,
set make-up has evolved to emphasize these shots – specifically,
with the use of three wedges.
Prior to 1931, golfers basically had to make do with just one wedge,
a pitching wedge commonly known as a “jigger.” In 1931, Gene Sarazen
invented the “second wedge,” or sand wedge. He took a plane flight
with billionaire Howard Hughes, where Hughes pointed out that an
airplane’s battle with drag was similar to that of a pitching wedge’s
battle with sand.
went to his workshop and soldered metal onto the bottom of a pitching
wedge, and tested it out until it could glide through sand properly
without digging in or immediately bouncing out. Sarazen took the
club to the 1932 British Open, where he kept it hidden from the
Royal & Ancient officials, whom he feared would declare the club
illegal before play. Sarazen went on to win the championship, the
club remained legal, and the rest is history.
several decades after Sarazen’s invention, the standard pitching
wedge maintained a loft of 48-50 degrees while the sand wedge checked
in at 54-56 degrees. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that some people
seriously began to think about making a wedge with even greater
loft. It was a couple of people with scientific minds that led the
Pelz, one of today’s leading short-game teachers and a former NASA
physicist, realized that the traditional sand wedge with 54-56 degrees
of loft, combined with a large amount of bounce on the bottom of
the club, wasn’t adequate to handle the increasing number of new
courses being built with elevated and undulating greens. He began
to advocate the use of 60 degree wedges without much bounce on the
bottom, all the better to loft high pitch shots to tight pin positions.
Kite, one of golf’s great champions, was one of the first to go
out on tour with this high-lofted wedge. It wasn’t before long that
many players followed Kite’s lead, with some even employing wedges
with lofts of 64 degrees.
other innovator was Karsten Solheim, founder of Ping. Solheim, an
engineer by trade, had already pioneered the concept of perimeter
weighting in putters and irons. Realizing the benefits of manufacturing
a high-lofted wedge, Solheim soon introduced an “L” wedge, which
gave the modern lob wedge its name.
Today, wedges with just about every loft from 46-64 degrees can
be found, although generally wedge lofts come in even numbers. Each
manufacturer has a different take on what “the” standard loft is
for each club, but the following scale can be used for general description
wedge (46-50 degrees)
- Gap wedge
- Sand wedge
- Lob wedge
there may be four generally-accepted designations of wedges, it
is uncommon to see players have all four in their bags. Most tour
players employ a three-wedge system.
gap wedge became a necessity for some players when industry pitching
wedge lofts decreased. For many years, pitching wedge lofts were
right around the 50-degree mark while sand wedge lofts held at 54-55.
With this configuration there was no appreciable “gap” between the
pitching wedge and sand wedge.
pitching wedge lofts of around 46 degrees are now common, which
means there is an eight-degree gap between most pitching wedge and
sand wedge lofts. Many players fill this gap with a gap wedge.
of this writing, wedges with lofts greater than 60 degrees have
not become widespread in their use, but, as we've seen in the evolution
of the wedge game, don't count this development out.
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