As we saw this weekend, Oakmont Country Club proved itself capable of growing some of the toughest, most gnarly, luscious grass this side of Kentucky. So while some are calling Oakmont the true victor this year, I think it might have been modern agronomy that really won.
To deal with the combination of deep, thick rough as well as the extremely tight lies on fairways and in the runoff areas around some greens, players had to resort to wedges that could more easily cut through the thick stuff and not bounce off the tightly mowed turf and blade the ball (as happened to Tiger at the third hole Sunday).
Many opted to use wedges with less bounce and a grind that produced a sharper leading edge. Here's what that means and why you might consider doing the same depending on the courses you play.
When Gene Sarazen soldered a flange to the bottom of his niblick to create the first sand wedge, he was creating what we now call bounce. Bounce is the angle of the sole measured against a horizontal line (the ground) when the club is in the address position and the shaft is vertical.
The more bounce there is, the higher the leading edge is off the ground when the club is held in its square position. It's expressed in degrees and really matters most in higher lofted clubs. A set of irons might have one degree of bounce in the 3-iron that gradually increases to seven or eight degrees in the pitching wedge.
Gap and lob wedges generally carry six to eight degrees of bounce while sand wedges usually have somewhere between 12 and 14 degrees of bounce. That's because the more bounce there is, the more the bottom of the club acts like the bow of a boat to prevent the club from digging into the ground or the sand.
That wonderful "thump" you hear when a pro hits a sand shot is the sound of the bounce on the sole of the club making the first contact with the sand and not the leading edge digging in.
Bounce is pretty easy to see and understand (and we have a little more here if you'd really like to know more). But things get tricky once you move a wedge from its normal address position. Generally speaking, opening the blade presents more bounce, closing it down less bounce.
To alter and fine-tune that dynamic, we come to the "grind." And here we have to address two more terms: radius and camber. Radius is the gradual curve of the leading edge as you look down at the head in the address position. Camber is the curve of the sole from the leading to trailing edge.
Many "players" irons in the past like old Hogans and MacGregors were designed with a very straight leading edge. But today, most irons have a slight radius that makes them a little friendlier out of rough and tighter lies.
When it comes to camber, a lot of pros will grind a little off the leading and trailing edges of iron soles to create a "rounder" shape that cuts down on drag and reduces bounce.
Grinding the sole of wedges has become something of an art form that people like Bob Vokey at Titleist have popularized and perfected. I won't pretend to understand all the variations they make available to touring pros, but I do know it can matter greatly to skilled players.
Some like the sole ground down near the heel so that when they lay the club open the bounce doesn't increase as much. Some want a little more radius so the club face looks closer to the ball.
Grind can get so creative it can be patented. Eidolon Golf is a small specialty wedge manufacturer that's come up with a grind they call a V-Sole. Basically the main part of the sole has a low bounce while the leading ¼" of the sole has a very aggressive bounce so the leading edge can't dig into turf. Perhaps one of these days we can review them for you.
Fortunately, we today have many, many more choices in wedges we can buy off the rack than even just a few years ago. Even better, the leading wedge makers like Titleist, Cleveland, and even Callaway are making multiple lofts available with different bounces.
I have two 58° Vokey spin-milled wedges, one with 8° bounce, one with 12°. I use the 8° at my home course because of the firm sand in the bunkers. When I travel to a course with more powdery sand, the 12° goes in the bag. Interestingly, the grind and sole width on the two wedges is different.
Course and condition specific wedges may be a strategy you want to consider. Tight lies, hard turf, and firm bunkers suggest low bounce wedges. Soft turf, fluffy lies, and soft sand call for more bounce.
In the End…
I doubt we'll ever know what the bounce or grind was on the wedge Tiger used on Oakmont's third hole yesterday. But knowing the result, we can guess he could have used less bounce in that situation. While few of us have access to custom grinds, we can make choices in bounce to help us avoid that dreaded bladed wedge or the bunker shot where the club sticks into the sand.