Why Wedge Play Is So Challenging

Did you know less than 15% of golfers – regardless of skill level – say that their wedge play is a strength of their game? And almost 40% say it is the absolute weakest part of their games.

Whether you are trying to break 100 or win on the PGA Tour, wedge play is almost always going to be the difference maker, so this statistic deserves deep investigation and lots of attention.

We see the tour professionals exhibit remarkable skills and talent every week, seemingly getting it up and down from everywhere around the greens. But the tour average for “scrambling” (saving par when they have a missed green) was just 58% through the entire 2022 season.

On longer wedge shots, it seems the pros throw darts all the time, but a review of the entire 2022 season statistics proves this is not true. From the fairway, the PGA Tour average distance to the hole from 75-125 yards was just under 20 feet. From the rough, that average extends an additional 12 feet from the hole.  Even for the tour professionals, hitting wedge shots consistently close is a challenge.

So, why is it that wedge play... or better yet wedge mastery is so elusive?

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and robotic testing proves that is mostly because of the design of the clubhead itself.

When you have a wedge in your hands, whether a full- or partial-swing approach, or a greenside chip or pitch, this is a prime opportunity score. Regardless of your skill level and handicap, close range shotmaking is going to be the key to achieving that goal. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. Compared to the relatively direct blow with a lower lofted mid-iron and especially the driver, the high loft of wedges is such that the ball is given a much more glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike.

I have seen time and again that most golfers can improve their wedge play measurably by simply making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Hitting your wedge shots with a bit slower paced swing will help you keep the hands ahead of the clubhead through impact, which delivers a more penetrating trajectory and just as much distance as with the faster, more powerful swing.

But the other reason that consistent wedge distance is so elusive is in the historic design of wedges themselves. Essentially, the distribution of the mass around the clubhead prevents almost all wedges from being anywhere nearly as forgiving as your cavity-back irons or even your driver.

This cutaway illustration of a typical “tour design” wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead in almost every wedge built in the past 50-60 years, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players consistently make impact down here (between the 2nd and 5th grooves), which is where impact efficiency is optimized on the traditional "tour design: wedges that dominate the market. If you look closely at the wedges of any elite player, you will see a wear pattern about the size of dime centered right there.

But the thousands of wedges I’ve examined in recreational golfers’ bags show a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club closer to the size of a half dollar or even larger. So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single sweet spot, that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized -- where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.45-1.50, partly due to the technologies in drivers today, of course, but also to the direct blow resulting from lofts in the range of 9-11. degrees. As you examine smash factor down through the set, it consistently declines through the mid and short irons... again, partly because of the technology, but mostly because of the increasingly glancing blow to the ball.

By the time you get to the wedges in lofts of 50-60 degrees, the best smash factor you can get is in that 1.16-1.18 range. The fact is wedges are just not as efficient in this measure because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But it really gets interesting when you examine mishits. If you move impact a half inch away from that sweet spot with a modern driver, you might only see a 4-6% reduction in smash factor. In a modern cavity back iron, the loss of smash factor isn’t much more than that.

However, if impact with the ball moves up the face of a wedge just 2-3 grooves from that the sweet spot -- where recreational golfers are most likely to hit their “best shots” -- smash factor on any "tour design" wedge can be reduced to by as much as 10-15%, which costs you 30 to 35 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot. All because you missed “perfect” by a half inch or less!

What’s even more revealing is that most recreational golfers’ wedges reveal a wear pattern that is centered in that less efficient face location, and their mishits will be even further away from the ideal impact point on the face. Another half inch higher than that “center hit” will cost you another 20-25 feet as a rule.

So, that shot you know all too well -- the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face -- is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the design of the wedge head itself.

Now that you know the causes of your frustrating wedge play, I invite you to check out the most advanced wedges on the market, the Edison Forged wedges from Edison Golf.

Totally departing from traditional "tour design" look allowed Edison Golf to create wedges that optimize smash factor across a much broader section of the impact area, which delivers remarkable distance consistency (and greatly improved forgiveness of your slight misses) with improved spin as a bonus. Most golfers also report more penetrating trajectories.