18 Questions with Bob Vokey

By David AllenJune 12, 2009, 4:00 pm
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When you think of wedges, Bob Vokey is a name that usually comes to mind. The former receiver and safety for the Quebec Rifles of the Continental Football League has been building high performance wedges since he joined Titleist in 1996. His Vokey Design wedges have helped win 16 major championships and today account for more than 40 percent of all sand, lob and approach wedges in play each week on the PGA Tour. Most recently, Steve Stricker won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial trusting Vokey Design 54-degree and 60-degree wedges.
We recently caught up with the designer to talk about wedges, bounce, the upcoming U.S. Open and his role in Phil Mickelson's first major title.
1. The U.S. Open is nearly upon us. With such a premium on the short game, is that typically the busiest week of the year for you?
Im busy all of the time. Players are continually changing, not just for the U.S. Open, but theyll change for various courses throughout the year. Theyre always experimenting and wanting to try different bounces, maybe different lofts. With the U.S. Open, they want to spruce up their wedges, especially the older, more experienced guys. I remember working with Tiger (Woods), Phil (Mickelson) and Ernie (Els), they always like to have a new set of wedges they can break in before the Open.
2. The sand at Bethpage Black (site of this year's U.S. Open) is some of the fluffiest anywhere, and will create a lot of plugged balls. Will the players maybe carry an extra wedge or one better suited to these conditions?
No one has come to me and asked me to change them (wedges) out for the sand. Usually, if the sand is a little softer they have to change their technique a wee bit. Instead of hitting a 60-degree wedge they may try something with a little more bounce, like a 56-degree. A lot of players, I send them a combination of wedges before a big tournament. For very firm conditions, like those at the British Open, it's usually something with a little less bounce. For the U.S. Open, they tend to grow the rough really high, so the players might want more bounce.
3. Outside of the putter, is the wedge the most important club at the U.S. Open?
I would say the driver is right up there, too. Youd better drive it straight. But the wedge, definitely. The whole game ' and maybe Im being prejudice ' seems to be played from 135 yards and in. It's a very important scoring club. If you start missing fairways, youre going to be laying up. Next thing you know you're hitting those touchy-feely shots into the green. That takes a lot of talent. Usually the guy who's good with these shots and around the rough is the winner.
4. What is bounce, and why is it such an important feature on the wedge?
One of the easiest ways to explain it is to take your wedge and turn it upside down so its right in front of your eyes, about an arms length away. When you look at it, youll see that the trailing edge is higher than the leading edge. (The angle between the two is the bounce angle.) The bounce almost acts like a rudder on a ship. It allows the club to skid and prevents it from digging. In soft sand, youll need a sole thats a little wider with a little more bounce; in very very firm conditions, you'll need a little less bounce so that angle will decrease.
5. Is there another design feature on wedges that people should be aware of?
The width of the sole, or flange. The wider the sole, the more effective bounce you create. In other words, its going to displace more sand and turf, and offer more resistance to digging. The only negative is if it gets a little too wide, and you have very firm conditions, when you hit those touchy-feely shots you might rotate the blade open a little bit so the leading edge comes up. Then you wind up blading it.
6. How does it help with hitting balls out of the rough?
It allows for a little more weight down there and more momentum, so the clubhead can slide through the grass without being grabbed by the hosel.
7. How important is one's swing shape in determining the amount of bounce you need?
It's very important. You have what I call diggers and sliders. A digger is a person who takes the club almost straight up, and drops it straight down, maybe an inch or two behind the ball in the bunker. He doesnt have that nice syrupy swing that allows the wedge to do what its designed to do. Thats the type of person who needs a little more bounce. The slider tends to be a low handicapper or Tour player. He likes to rotate through the ball and takes a shallower divot, maybe spins it a little more. He needs to play with a club that has a little less bounce.
8. Most weekend golfers carry only two wedges. Is that enough?
When I grew up, pitching wedges were in the 52- to 53-degree range. Whats happened over the years is that pitching wedges have gotten so strong, that all of a sudden theyre down in that 46- to 48-degree range. As a result, theres always been a gap in there between the new pitching wedge and the 56-degree sand wedge.
9. If you were to carry three, what combination of lofts would you suggest?
Always take a look at what the loft is on your pitching wedge and start from there. I always like to go up in increments of four to six degrees. So, if youre pitching wedge has 48 degrees, Id like to see a 52-degree gap wedge, a 56-degree sand wedge and, if youre fortunate enough and have the ability, a 60-degree wedge. Thats not a bad combination.
10. Should the average weekend golfer carry a 60-degree wedge?
I hate to say it, but I dont believe so. Nothing good happens to the weekend golfer when you put a 60 in his hand. The next thing you know he starts opening the blade, adding more loft and more bounce than he wants. He doesnt have that slow, syrupy, rhythmic swing to execute the shot. The other variable with the 60 is Ill hear guys say to me, Oh, sometimes I hit my 60 degree 45 yards, another time 55 yards, another time 65.' The reason is theyre not hitting it on the sweet spot. Theyre hitting it on variable face locations; as a result, the ball is going different distances. Thats another negative.
11. Early on, you worked a lot with metal woods. Why the interest in wedges?
Ive always been a great listener and I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Lee Trevino back in the 1980s. He was one of the best wedge players Ive had the pleasure to work with. I learned a lot from him, and just kept it in the back of mind. When I joined Titleist, I was asked to work on a metal wood, the 975D driver. Eventually from there, I was asked if Id like to do some wedges and I said Id love to. [Chairman and CEO of the Acushnet Company] Wally Uihlein gave me the opportunity to fulfill a dream. I was fascinated with wedges my whole life but I never had the resources or the focus I wanted until I came to Titleist. They said, 'Voke, we want you to do some wedges.' I said OK, so I took a lot of my ideas that I had in the past.
12. What is the first thing that a Tour player looks for in their wedges?
Wedges are funny. Theyve always been a tough club for me to design because youre seeing more of the clubface. It lays back like a pancake, so as youre looking down at it the toe is very important, the leading edge is very important, the hosel area is important. You see more of it, whereas with a set of irons youre not seeing as much of the face. The wedge is also the only club where you have those touchy-feely shots around the green. You like to lay them open and, as a result, it may look good in a square position but as soon as you set it open the leading edge may not look right. You have to design a wedge with the profile in my mind, not only from a square position but also from a playing position.
13. How about the weekend golfer? Do they prefer a certain look or feel?
I like to have the swing weights a little heavier than in a set of irons, the main reason being the sand wedge, when you pick it up, you want to be able to feel that resistance. A little heavier clubhead weight and swing weight gives you that feeling of a resistance so you can put that slow, syrupy swing on it. But you dont want to make it too heavy so you lose clubhead speed with it. Its got to be a combination of a lot of things.
14. Feedback from Tour players is essential to your work. Does the average golfer factor into your designs as well?
Ill talk to a lot of people at my golf course and I field a lot of phone calls from sales reps who will say they have an individual they want me to call, so Ill call and talk to him. Ill get feedback on what theyre doing. I've always said I've got the best R&D department in the world ' the PGA Tour ' so I take what they want but I always keep the average weekend golfer in the back of my mind. I try to make it playable for not only a Tour player, but user friendly for a weekend golfer.
15. Can you explain what spin milled is?
Years ago when wed test a groove, sometimes the faces would not be perfectly flat because of the cooling process. Its just a natural process or procedure which happens in the foundries. They came along with a computerized mill that mills the face perfectly flat. Then the groove is cut in it. Every one of those grooves is cut individually into the club. Its one of the last things that happens to the club. After the face is perfect, then we cut the grooves in perfectly. They're exactly the same.
16. How do you create spin with the design of the wedge?
It's a combination of the spin-milled grooves, the face being perfectly flat, and the technique of the player. If you've got the clubhead speed of a Tiger or a Phil, you can do wonders with the ball.
17. Do you think that today's generation of golfers is too hung up on creating spin?
I definitely believe so. Id be more worried about trajectory. What happens is a lot of the younger golfers, they never learn trajectory and how to hit a variety of shots. If you were able to control trajectory, then you wouldnt have to worry about spin.
18. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson have all won majors playing your wedges. Is this the greatest statement about your work?
When Phil won the Masters for the first time in 2004, he showed up Monday morning here with a Masters flag and he says, 'Thanks for helping me win this, Bob.' Thats a good feeling. But I get the same feeling when Im walking through the crowd from the chipping area to the driving range and I hear, 'Mr. Vokey, Mr. Vokey, I got your clubs and they've improved my game so much.' Thats what turns me on, when the average consumer comes to me and says youve really helped my game.
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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.