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Out with the old in with the new

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Some PGA Tour players will put new wedges in their bag every week, so they have fresh grooves on their clubs. The average recreational golfer might replace his or her wedges every few years, which makes those tough greenside shots play even more difficult. And that’s if they keep the face and the grooves clean!

Normal wear and tear reduces the effectiveness of grooves, particularly their ability to grip the ball and impart spin on it, thus making it harder to control finesse shots from the sand and the rough.

“Every time you explode from sand with your wedge it’s like rubbing a piece of sand paper on your clubface,” said Bret Wahl, senior director of iron, wedge and putter development for TaylorMade Golf. “Over time the face wears down and the edge-radius of the grooves becomes dull.”

TaylorMadeDirt, grass, moisture and other debris accumulate over time and combine to wear down the face surface and volume of each groove, making that 25-yard pitch shot over a bunker to a tight pin play seemingly impossible. For these reasons, Brian Bazzell, TaylorMade’s manager of iron and wedge creation, recommends that the average golfer replace their wedges every 15-20 rounds, or about 1,000 shots.

“For players who play with reasonable frequency, 1,000 shots add up pretty quickly,” said Bazzell. “They add up even faster for players who practice between rounds.”

Before, if you wanted to replace your grooves, you had to go out and buy another wedge for $125. That was reason enough to make you hang onto your sand wedge for another season. But now, thanks to new technology and rules that allow for clubface adjustability (before the round), you don’t have to wait.

Enter the TaylorMade TP xFT wedge. The letters xFT stand for Exchangeable Face Technology, a system which allows you to exchange a worn face for a new one with a few twists of a wrench. The face is held in place by two screws on the back of the clubhead. To insert a new face (sold separately for $39), you simply loosen the two xFT screws, remove the old clubface, insert the replacement face, tighten the screws with the R9 torque wrench, and presto! You’ve got a new, fresh face with clean, spin-inducing grooves.

Each face is backed by a soft layer of urethane foam and fits snugly into the precision-milled pocket, providing the same performance as a one-piece club.

“It’s been in the work for some time,” said Bazzell. “We have been testing grooves and specifically groove plates with our R&D team for more than 10 years. When the rule of adjustability was implemented we felt like we could bring to market a viable product that consumers could benefit from. With the groove rule in place, it finally gave us a good launching pad for this type of product.”

The groove rule that Bazzell is referring to is, of course, the highly publicized USGA rule limiting the volume (cross-sectional area) and edge sharpness of the current “bigger” grooves. A Condition of Competition was adopted prohibiting high-level professional golfers (PGA Tour, LPGA Tour) from using the older grooves beginning on January 1, 2010. Recreational golfers have until 2024 before they have to change, although all clubs manufactured in 2011 and beyond must have the conforming grooves.

The xFT offers two different types of faces – a ZTP groove face, which conforms to the new USGA rule, and a Z groove face which conforms to the pre-2010 rule and is in play for recreational golfers until 2024. The ZTP groove is designed to provide maximum spin under the new USGA regulations, while the Z groove is said to generate green-stopping spin.

“Most players won’t experience a dramatic reduction in spin from fairway lies, but will see a decrease in spin by up to 50 percent from the rough,” said Wahl of the new conforming grooves. “All the more reason to keep the clubface of your wedge fresh and at peak performance.”

The TP xFT wedge with Z groove face will be available online and in stores on December 1st, but only in the 56-degree version (with 12 degrees of bounce). It will retail for $129. Nine more combinations will follow in mid-February 2010, with lofts ranging from 50 to 64 degrees. Each wedge comes equipped with a slightly heavier than normal KBS High-Rev shaft, designed to increase spin because of its weighting.

For a closer glimpse of the TP xFT wedge as well as several other new wedges click here.