Bouncing Into a Better Short Game

By Adam BarrMarch 15, 2008, 4:00 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. 'It was a perfect Sandhills day, sunny and breezy. We were on the upper portion of Pinehurst No. 8. The fourth hole swings dramatically to the left over the crest of a ridge. Three of us watched in the fairway with our hands on our hips as the fourth, a good player, set up for his approach. He fired. The ball rocketed toward the green.
Thats not a bounce. Thats a bound, one said.
Its rolling, said another.
Still rolling, said the third.
Off the back, said the first.
The hitter said nothing. If I had had any wrinkled shirts with me, I would have held them by his ears to catch the steam coming out.
He didnt hit a bad shot. The greens were just plain crusty. Drought in the southeast and wind on this day had made them about as receptive as a magnet turned the wrong way. The course was in fine shape, but the greens were hard. Our friend had been Pinehursted.
All of which turned our thoughts to our short games. Clearly, they were going to be needed more than usual today.
We should all think about our short games more ' so the instructional sages tell us, and experience has proven it. Success at the long game is so much fun that most of us all but ignore the 100-yards-and-in shots that can give us a much healthier total game.
But enough preaching. Lets discuss your wedges.
Carry one, two, three or more, but carry the wedges that will do the most for you. Think about it: when most recreational players hit, say, a 3-wood, theyre looking for one kind of shot ' long and straight. But when they hit a wedge, it may be a little 20-yard flip, a 90-yard full-sky soft-lander, a 35-foot runner that hits early, skips twice and rolls to the flag, or any number of other creations. Wedges have to be versatile.

Loft, of course, plays into this. I like to have uniform gaps between my three wedges: 48 degrees for the pitch, 52 for the mid, 56 for the sand. Im also freaky about leading edges. I like a little bow, but not too much. A little bit makes me feel, when I look down, as if the edge will get under the ball just right. I cant look at a straight leading edge. I just get this feeling that its going to slice a bunch of turf and never make good contact.
Thats just my preference and swing profile. Yours will be different, and it pays to get with your PGA pro and find the leading edge that works for you. But even that is not the most important wedge component, to my mind. The crucial element is bounce.
Bounce, as you gearheads already know, is the amount by which the trailing edge of the wedge head drops below the leading edge. Its expressed in degrees, the distance from straight back across the sole down to the real bottom of the wedge head making the angle. Hold your wedge at eye level and look from toe to heel; youll see it.
Bounce shoves debris out of the way, be it turf, sand, pine needles, mud, whatever. That means bounce has a great deal to do with the quality of the contact you will make. Its a helpful feature, an integral part of the design that takes the place of welded-on flanges in the original Gene Sarazen sand wedge experiments of 70 years ago.
Also, bounce is variable. If your wedge of choice doesnt have enough for the shot at hand, you can just open the face a bit. Or a lot. This brings in the heel of the club and more of the back of the clubhead, changing the angle of attack and effectively adding bounce.
My sand wedge, that 56-degree workhorse, has 12 degrees of bounce. How much you choose once again depends on what you work out with your pro. Opened just a little, mine works great in the grainy, often wet sand I encounter in Florida. Opened more, it hot-knifes through more sugary sand when I travel. Straight on or minimally open, my 56 also gets me through gnarly Bermudagrass rough and calms my nerves in Kikuyu.
But hardpan and tight lies? Hm. Thats another thing entirely. So my 52-degree gap wedge has just 8 degrees of bounce and gets under the ball well in such situations. My pitching wedge has even less. And I can reduce the effect of the bounce on any of these wedges by setting the ball back in my stance. Experimentation ' known in its less-fun incarnation as practice ' reveals dozens of ways to use these highly adaptable clubs.
And for those ready to take it to the next step, you can have your wedges ground to order. Tour pros do this all the time, shaving away some of the heel to allow them to flatten the back of the wedge against the turf for a flop shot. The designed-in bounce on the heel, once ground away, wont catch in the grass on the way through.

Of course, this is a highly specialized shot, but it can be learned. So can dozens of other neat executions, with the help of your PGA pro. He or she can also advise you on the grind you might needperhaps the well-known C grind, in which the area to be carefully shave off describes the letter C around the trailing edge and heel and toe.
Be very wary of trying this yourself. Expertise at the grinding wheel is rare and doesnt come easily. And once you ruin a favorite wedge head, well ' remember that Pink Panther movie in which the inept Inspector Clouseau destroys a piano, and the hapless victim says, But that was a priceless Steinway!? Clouseaus rejoinder: Not anymore.
But an expert grinder ' theres one in every town, usually at the most popular golf retailers ' can make works of art. Some tour pros who grew up tinkering with their equipment actually grind their own wedges in the tour vans, figuring they can do it more easily than tell someone all the nuances of what they have in mind. Sergio Garcia has been seen grinding ' at Northern Trust, he worked on a whole set of irons shaping the so-called par area, the elegant sweep of steel from hosel to clubface. At Disney one October I walked into the TaylorMade van to find Retief Goosen with the gloves on, calmly coaxing half a millimeter off the heel of his sand wedge.
Get your wedges to where youll love them. Experiment with them until you feel ultra-comfortable over the shots that inevitably arise on hard-green days. And then, do the only sensible thing:
Order a set of backup heads for when you wear out the first ones.

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.