Maximizing Wedge Performance – Titleist Completes Wear Testing Study

Titleist Vokey SM6 Wedges (Photo: Titleist)

If you are ever so inclined, and being a lifelong golfer I just may have been at some point, consider a golf equipment experiment, if you will.

If you purchase a new wedge these days you’ll often find the head comes wrapped in plastic. We usually jump to rip it off so we can get the club in our bag. But what if you left the plastic on and hit a golf shot, just what would the result be?

Well…I can tell you. From “sources” of course. Wink, wink.

If you line up a golf ball in front of a couch and attempt to hit a pitch shot over it with the plastic on (I kid you not parents, your golf-obsessed juniors have done this) the golf ball will rise quickly and rise over the back of the furniture piece with ease.

Take the plastic off and make the same length and speed of swing and you’ll be shocked by the result. The ball will generally launch lower and you’ll feel more “grab” on the golf ball. It might not even make it over the couch.

The difference? Friction.

There are several factors at play in how a golf ball reacts off the face of a wedge but the interaction between the grooved surface and the ball is highly dictated by the sliding of the less two materials against each other. Friction.

With the plastic wrap experiment you are witnessing the differences between less friction and more friction.

It’s a more dramatic replication of what a new wedge acts like versus one used for a good length of time. No plastic (fresh wedges) vs plastic (worn wedges.)

A Gradual Decline

Most golfers notice that the performance of the wedges in our bags change over time. We gradually start to see shots that once stopped quickly on the green begin to roll out further from the target. The problem is, just how fast does this happen and when do we need to consider replacing our wedges?

Thankfully, there are equipment companies considering this as well. Including a leader in the market, Titleist.

Test, Test

The makers of Vokey Wedges have been working on a project to discover just how much change there is in wedges over time. It proved to be a very insightful testing process.

Flagstick.com spoke with Jeremy Stone, Marketing Director at Vokey Wedges, about this effort and how it came about.

“We want to make sure we are providing golfers with information to help them play their best, ” Stone shared. “That starts with, we think it’s important you be fit for your wedges. That’s such a critical component. We still see 3/4 of the population not being fit for wedges which is a huge missed opportunity. “Voke” (wedge master Bob Vokey) always says it is the low hanging fruit in the bag.”

Stone continued, “The second thing we see is that Voke has always qualitatively said ‘every sixty or seventy rounds you should think about getting new wedges’. What we decided to do in the Fall was go quantify that. What does that look like because we’ve taken a lot of strides to make sure that our wedges last. TX4 grooves introduced parallel face texture that tightened our overall quality and tolerances on our wedges and that delivered more spin. We do what is called a localized heat treatment. What localized heat treatment does is double the durability of the groove without actually having any impact on feel and Voke did a ton of field testing with tour players. So anytime you can double durability without impacting feel, life’s pretty good.”

Stone says that despite all the extra steps they take to ensure quality they know that wedges will always wear over time. They get put through the ringer of getting hit out of bunkers and all types of lies. As a result they wanted to be able to educate golfers about when they are going to start to see spin performance loss.

To test this wear issue, along with interaction with the ProV1 ball, the Titleist team decided to build a wedge specific robot at their testing facility, Manchester Lane, in Massachusetts.  The robot allows them to control angle of attack, shaft lean, how the club interacts with the turf, test varying depths of divots, and at any speed, including low-end speeds that some robots cannot achieve.

With a robot built, they needed wedges with noticeable wear. They went out and gathered wedges from golfers of various abilities and then they did a face map of their grooves to measure the extent and location of wear.

Stone picks up the process from there. “We decided to see what grooves looked like with 50 rounds of wear, then 75 rounds, then 100 rounds, and more. So we collected all the wedges and we tested them. Then we replicated it with our SM6 wedges. What we saw was that wedges that had been through 75 rounds of play, which was right around Voke’s original recommendation, they might see spin loss of up to a thousand rpms. Then when you get to 100+ rounds – we measured 125 in our robot testing, you started to see spin loss of up to two thousand rpms.”

The practical result of that (as you will see in the video below) is a massive difference in ball stopping power. Shots that once stopped immediately will roll out further, in some cases, away from your target. How much roll out becomes exaggerated as the wedges become more worn and deliver less spin.

As a company that sells wedges it might seem that this test was self-serving but Stone insists their focus was about education and informing golfers. They recommend that golfers seek out a fitting professional with a launch monitor when they get to that 75 round mark and check to see if their wedges are still delivering the results they want.

In testing they also found that as wedges wear, not only does the spin rate go down and the launch angle go up, but that there is a carry distance loss because of that.

As part of the education process Titleist also had a number of their tour players (Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth among them) record videos giving anecdotal stories about why and when they change their wedges. Those videos become available today.

So if you’ve had your wedges for a while and you suspect that your ball flight and golf ball stopping power has begun to wane, that might just be the case. That is especially true for a wedge that you use a lot more for practice, or out of bunkers.

Stone concludes, “What we’re hoping for here is that the golfer will learn a little more about their game; they learn a little bit about what happens when they play with their wedges which are used in the most demanding environment of any of their clubs, and that they go and get them checked out if they have hit that point of 75+ rounds. We’d encourage people to measure their wedge replacement cycle by rounds of play, not calendar. If you only play twenty rounds per year you likely don’t need to replace them every year or even two, you’re fine.”

“It’s up to the player to decide what to do but we feel it’s our role to do the research so they can be educated. Our core customer is serious about their game and we want to help them perform their best.”