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The bunker shot was not especially intimidating, even for an inexperienced golfer like Karl. During a recent round we played together, his ball rested on a gentle upslope, the bunker lip he had to clear was only about 4 feet high and there was about 30 feet of green between his ball and the flag. But as the 20-handicapper stepped in to take the shot, it was clear this was not going to end well.
Karl positioned the ball in the middle of his stance, squared the leading edge of his sand wedge and swung as if he were playing a pitch shot from the fairway. Hitting the sand behind the ball, the leading edge of the club immediately dug into the sand, causing the club to de-loft and lose all its speed. Sand heaved forward, but the ball never got more than a foot off the ground before it hit in the face of the bunker and rolled backward.
Pros like Jason Day, who led the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole from sand last season (6 feet, 11 inches on average), make bunker play look easy because they employ the right technique and understand how to use the bounce in their wedges. Many amateurs don’t, so they struggle to escape greenside bunkers.
In golf parlance, bounce often refers to two things, which might be a cause for why some people don’t understand it.
- A wedge’s bounce is the flange on the bottom of the clubhead which, when the shaft is held straight up, extends away below the leading edge of the face.
- The angle created by extending a straight line from the bottom of the flange to the leading edge is also commonly referred to as a wedge’s bounce, but it is really the bounce angle.
Measured in degrees, the higher the bounce angle, the farther from the ground will be the leading edge when the club is soled squarely. So, regardless of loft, the leading edge of a sand wedge with 14 degrees of bounce will be more elevated than the leading edge of a sand wedge with 8 degrees of bounce or a lob wedge with 6 degrees of bounce.
The ideal amount of bounce in your sand wedge and lob wedge depends on several factors, including how you swing the club and the conditions you typically face.
You want to have the opportunity to skid, or use the sole, and not dig so much, said Roger Cleveland, Callaway’s chief club designer. The angle in the sole keeps you from (digging). It acts like a skid plate, so the steeper (you swing), the more bounce you would need to prevent you from digging.
When a golfer opens the face of a wedge and swings, the back of the club enters the sand before the leading edge, the bounce pressing into the sand and deflecting the leading edge upward. That keeps the wedge from digging and helps it maintain speed.
Clubmakers know players who struggle to get out of bunkers benefit from wedges with generous bounce, so several manufacturers offer wedges that have massive soles to keep the club sliding along. Two examples are Cleveland’s 58-degree Smart Sole S wedge and Callaway’s Sure Out wedge, available in 58- and 64-degree versions.
While generous bounce can be great, the elevated leading edge, which is the bottom of the face, can cause problems in bunkers that have compacted sand or when played from a tight fairway lie. In those instances, the bounce can ricochet off the ground and cause the leading edge to hit near the ball’s equator instead of sliding under it. That’s why sole grinds have been popular for decades on the PGA Tour and are gaining more and more traction at retail.
Grinding away some of the heel, but leaving a lot of the bounce in the middle (of the sole), makes it easier to get the leading edge under the ball when you open the face, said Bob Vokey, Titleist’s master craftsman for wedges. If guys like to hit certain shots, we can go into the van and put the wedge on the grinding wheel and get the bounce and sole just right for what they want to do.
Cleveland said that unlike their predecessors, many of whom favored low-bounce wedges, many of today’s PGA Tour pros use wedges with about 12 or 13 degrees of bounce. Opting for sole grinds that remove excess material in the heel, and often in the toe as well, makes their sand wedges and lob wedges more versatile.
Talking to a PGA of America professional about your bunker technique and a good club-fitter about wedge and bounce options can help you get the ideal wedges into your bag and improve your consistency from the sand and around the greens.
(Note: This story appears in the October 2017 issue of Golfweek.)
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