Bouncing Into a Better Short Game

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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.