The Evolution of the Sand Wedge...NOT!
One of the very first posts I wrote almost five years ago was called "The Round Club Mindset", where I posited that most golfers feel like they are in "scoring range" when they get a short iron or wedge in their hands — one of those clubs with the rounded top line. That feeling dates back to my very earliest days in golf, back in the 50s and 60s. We all played muscle-back blades back then... because that's all there were. Realize too, that lofts were very different back then, with the typical 8-iron being about 42-43 degrees, the 9 at 46-47° and the PW at 50-51°. What we knew is that these were the clubs where we could be very, very accurate, but as the lofts decreased into the lower numbers, hitting really good shots got more challenging.
Back then we also only used a "sand wedge" – if we carried one at all – for bunker play and very short pitches around the greens. The notion of hitting a "full sand wedge" was completely alien to us. This wasn't just us, either. In his first book, "Power Golf", Ben Hogan listed his "Regular", "Maximum" and "Minimum" yardage with each club in his bag. He lists his maximum distance with his sand wedge at 40 yards! What I believe Hogan knew was that – while this was a very effective club for sand and pitching – it was ill-suited for full swing speed because of its very low center of mass and wide sole, and its thin top part of the clubface. It certainly wasn't because Hogan couldn't hit it further, but just that he did not feel like he could get the pinpoint distance control he wanted.
So Hogan used his pitching wedge for most shots outside 25 yards (his "regular" SW distance) and all shots outside 40 yards. He know that thick-faced, muscle-back pitching wedge was better suited to dart-throwing distance accuracy, so much so that his fellow competitors started calling Hogan’s pitching wedge the "Equalizer", a name he carried into his own line of irons years later.
But somewhere in the past 3-4 decades, we’ve begun using our "sand wedges" as full swing clubs, haven't we? I don't know when that really began to happen, but what I do know is that most golfers are not very good with full-swing wedge shots. They hit these soaring, ballooning trajectories with their full swing wedges and do not have the precision distance control that you should have inside short iron range. If you're honest, you'll admit that.
Very simply, that's because sand wedge design has not evolved much at all from what Hogan played. If it wasn't a good full-swing club for Hogan, how could the same design be that for you? I have a collection of wedges dating back to the 1930s... hickory shafts. And from then through the 50s, 70s and 90s, they don't look any different, really, from what is on the wedge display today. Seriously. This category has not changed much at all in 70+ years! It's absolutely amazing to me, given that not one other club in our bag bears even remote resemblance to what was played back then.
Take a look at some very, very old sand wedges and you'll see what I mean. Drivers have changed radically and the way we hit them along with it... while fairway woods have gone from difficult to easy to hit... perimeter weighting has made middle irons much easier to master (but short irons notsomuch)... and putters have kept up with increasingly faster greens. But sand wedges (and lob, gap and other wedges) today look and play pretty much like they always have. They still have all the weight down low, a very thin upper 2/3 of the face and still balloon the ball when you try to hit them full.
Just one more of those things that make me go, "hmmmmmmm."
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