The Spin Doctor: Titleist’s master craftsman Bob Vokey on how to buy wedges

March 12, 2013

Wedge specialist Bob Vokey has been designing golf clubs for nearly 40 years and has stamped his name on the back of Titleists for the better part of the last 15. “Voke” spoke with on the range before the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where he was watching his creations work. The topic? You guessed it. With Augusta around the corner, Vokey explained how to make a wedge that can win a major championship and how you can find one that can win your club championship.
What are the players asking you about this week?
It’s been quiet, which is odd. I expect it’s about time for them to start requesting Augusta wedges, something a little different, but they haven’t approach me as of yet.
What exactly is an Augusta wedge?
In the past, it’s always been one with a little less bounce, because of the tight lies. But it’s amazing, players aren’t making special changes for Augusta as much as they did going back eight, nine, 10 years ago.
Why do you think that is?
The way they play has changed. They’re not relying as much on spin as they used to. Now they’re relying more on technique, more on trajectory. I think that has a lot to do with it.
Are these guys constantly thinking about the majors?
During they year, we always work with them closely, and we always know that in the back of their minds they’re thinking about the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open. So we keep that in mind, too, and we work toward that.
Does that mean you’ll make them a wedge for each major? Or does the Masters require the most adjustments?
The biggest changes I find are not for Augusta but for the British Open courses. Those links-type courses—particularly over in Scotland—they have a different type of turf. And it’s gets really, really firm. So for over there we’ll come up with something with a little less bounce, maybe a narrower sole. Sometimes I’ll sharpen up the leading edge, so the players can cut it a little better off those hard lies.
Got anything you’re working on for us little people?
Yes. We have the K-grind coming out, which is modeled on work I’ve done with some of our players. It’s got a little bit of camber and a wider sole, so it’s very forgiving. It’s surprising because the players out here have caught onto it, and I had the weekend golfer in mind when I was making it.
Anything else in the works?
Next year we come out with a whole new line, the SM5s. We’re trying to take the best of what players out here have been asking for over the last few years. They’re really looking hard at grind options—they want a club that allows them to execute different shots, since they can’t rely on spin the way they did years ago.
So what’s that mean for the recreational golfer?
A lot of these players [on Tour]—and especially weekend golfers—need to realize that the game is played 100 yards and in. These guys out here, they hit 14, 15 greens a round. What’s the weekend golfer hit, six or seven? That’s a lot of time spent dealing with misses. So maybe guys should think about throwing an extra wedge in the bag to help them hit a couple of different shots. It might help them enjoy the game a little more.
Speaking of the weekend warriors, what do you think your average amateur golfer needs to know about picking a wedge?
Gaps. Knowing how far you hit your wedges. Sand wedges have stayed at 56 degrees. But when I was growing up, pitching wedges were at 51 or 52 degrees. Now, they’re all the way down to 46 degrees. You got a lot of weekend golfers who may have a 46-degree pitching wedge, but a 56-degree sand wedge. So there’s a gap in there. I’d say, between four and six degrees of loft should be a pretty good gap.
How do you know when the gaps are right?
Test it out. Take a bunch of balls you play with and find a clear spot. Hit some full 9-irons. You’ll get a little grouping. Then hit some pitching wedges. You’ll get another little group. Then hit the wedges you have. And when you’re done, take a look at the groups. See how far apart they are. That’s how you’ll know what your gaps are and what—if any—you need to fill.
Any other advice for getting the right wedge?
Know your wedge options. Know what type of grind you need, what type of bounce you need for the course you play the most often. Worry about your home course, not the place you may play once every month or two. Think about your course. Think about where your misses are. Think about the types of shots you have to hit. And then see what sort of wedges will work best for you there. What type of greens do you play, what bunkers do you play from? Are you playing to elevated greens? Well, then you might need a 58-60. But if it’s all flat, maybe you’re better off with a 48-52-56.
Once you’ve done that, get fit. Fitting is huge. Go to a Titleist fitting center or your PGA pro to help you choose. With wedges, people don’t think about fitting like they do with irons. Most people go into Discount-Golf-Whatever store and grab a club off the rack without ever really knowing what it does.
What else would you consider?
I’d ask: Is a lob wedge really the way to go? Maybe an average guy is better off staying at a lower loft. A 60 can be a scary thing. I have a 60 in my bag, but I end up using my 56 for a majority of my shots. But then, when I grew up, I only had a 56.
Bob Vokey played with one wedge? I don’t believe it.
That’s the way it was. I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so I grew up only playing one wedge.
Then what, you got sick of the one and decided to start making more?
That’s basically it. I saw how many greens the average golfer misses and I said, “You know what, there’s a market here.” For years and years and years the only thing anybody ever thought about was distance. Longer drivers. Cranked-up irons. Wedge play became an option. So we jumped in and said, “Wait a second, something’s missing.” And it became a challenge. The challenge to create the right tools. That’s what I call it. Not for the pros—they’re my R&D department—but for the golfer who’s missing all those greens. The right tools can make such a big difference for the weekend golfer. But you have to ask a lot of questions to find them. There’s no such thing as a bad question when it comes to wedges. Trust me, I’ve thought I asked a lot of bad ones. And I’ve made a couple bad [wedges]. But I’ve learned.