Not to spoil the plot, but I’m not actually suggesting that anyone should take their pitching wedge out of the bag. I click-baited you. Don’t expect an apology. A dubious ploy, perhaps, but I’m hoping I can persuade you to think differently about a spot in your bag for which you may never have realized that you have options.
Have you ever considered ditching your set-matching pitching wedge for a specialty alternative?
What Is a Specialty Wedge?
Before we get too deep into this, let’s define specialty wedge. I’m not suggesting it’s time to take the Square Strike plunge. For our purposes, a specialty wedge is any legitimate wedge that isn’t sold as part of an iron set. Legitimate is subjective but what I’m talking about are familiar names like SM8, T20, Mack Daddy, MG2, RTX, etc.. You get the gist.
Almost all of you carry at least one specialty wedge. For many of you, both your sand and lob wedges are specialty wedges.
Your gap wedge – that’s an interesting one. As the off-the-rack set composition has shifted from 3-PW to 4- and even 5-GW, roughly two-thirds of you have chosen a set-matching gap wedge. Set-matching gap wedge usage rates among game-improvement or super game-improvement iron players are likely higher still.
A Specialty Pitching Wedge?
Given how many of us are content to roll with the gap wedges our iron-makers gave us, it’s reasonable to assume that most of you haven’t given so much as a moment’s thought to moving deeper into the bag.
You may not know it but just about every wedge manufacturer makes wedges with lofts as strong as 46 degrees. That’s a pitching wedge, my friends. With a little help from the bending machine, most can get to 44 degrees. That’s a loft-jacked pitching wedge which means that a specialty pitching wedge is a viable option for nearly everyone.
Have you considered dumping your set-matching pitching wedge for an equivalently lofted specialty wedge?
Who Plays a Specialty Pitching Wedge?
At some point, we’ll survey our readers to find the answer but, for now, we’ll rely on the PGA TOUR. While the numbers fluctuate from week to week, over a course of a season, roughly 66 percent of Vokey (the No. 1 Wedge Brand on Tour) guys carry a specialty pitching wedge instead of the matching-set wedge.
To put some names on it, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are both Vokey guys while Webb Simpson prefers the set-matching Titleist pitching wedge.
Conversely, Mizuno says the majority of its Tour staff plays set-matching wedges. What’s fascinating is that a couple of years ago when Mizuno looked at specialty wedge usage on Tour, it found an unexpected dividing line. Among the top 40 in the world, nearly to a man, those younger than 35 carried a specialty pitching wedge while those over 35 favored the set wedge. It’s likely no coincidence that when Mizuno builds sets for younger professionals, the majority choose a specialty pitching wedge.
I’m not saying that set wedges are for older golfers and specialty wedges are for the kids but it’s a reasonable inference that golfers, regardless of ability, are largely creatures of habit. If you’ve always played the set pitching wedge, there’s a good chance you always will.
What are the Benefits of a Specialty Wedge?
The argument for choosing a specialty wedge over the set wedge boils down to two factors: better (purpose-engineered) grooves and greater versatility.
The majority of set wedges – especially those in the game-improvement and super game-improvement categories, offer a standard iron groove. Typically, that means the grooves are stamped (pressed into the face) instead of milled like most wedge-wedges. Set-wedge groove specs typically aren’t nearly as tight. They don’t really need to be because set wedges aren’t typically designed with an eye towards greenside performance.
Compared to the majority of set wedges, most specialty wedges offer a higher center of gravity and narrower and deeper milled grooves. That’s going to give a more penetrating trajectory with not only more spin (more stopping power), but more consistent spin.
If you’ve had your fill of fliers with your set-matching wedge, you should definitely consider dumping it for a specialty wedge. Not only will you experience fewer jumpers, but the trajectory will come down as well.
“The ball comes out significantly lower even on chip shots,” says Mizuno’s Chris Voshall. Chris dumped his set wedge a few years ago and hasn’t looked back.
The other argument for a specialty pitching wedge is greater versatility. If you use your pitching wedge greenside or for long bunker shots, you may appreciate the little bit of sole camber and trailing-edge relief common to most specialty wedges. Admittedly, stock pitching wedge grinds won’t give you the ability to manipulate the face around the green quite like a C or M Grind does but it will allow for a bit more creativity than the typical set wedge.
“A specialty wedge is designed for versatility in a way a set wedge isn’t.” – Jeremy Stone, Director of Marketing, Vokey Wedges
It’s obvious enough but it’s worth mentioning that a limitation of set-matching wedges is that they’re almost invariably designed to look like the rest of the iron set (go figure). With cavityback models, that creates a design compromise. Set-matching wedges typically have less bounce (every wedge designer I know will tell you that bounce is your friend) and the placement of weight (low, back and around the perimeter) isn’t ideal for golfers who like to flight their wedges down – as most better players do.
The Argument Against a Specialty Wedge
While it varies depending on the irons in your bag, the biggest argument for playing a set-matching wedge is forgiveness.
Bear in mind that weight is a significant contributor to MOI (part of the forgiveness formula) and wedge heads are heavy. That means the dropoff in forgiveness moving to a blade-style wedge isn’t as steep as you might think. It’s also true that. as loft increases. MOI becomes less of a factor in the forgiveness equation but, nevertheless, there is a decline.
Vokey’s Jeremy Stone counters with an assertion that forgiveness in a wedge comes from the grind – how it interacts with the turf for a given golfer on a given shot. This is indisputably true but Stone concedes that Vokey’s research has found that cavityback designs are more forgiving in the conventional sense until lofts enter the 50- to 52-degree (gap wedge) range.
This part of the discussion boils down to what type of forgiveness you need.
A More Forgiving Specialty Option
If conventional forgiveness is a concern, that doesn’t mean the set wedge is your only option.
Both Cleveland (CBX Series) and Mizuno’s (S Series) offer some of the performance characteristics of a specialty wedge in a larger, more forgiving package. These types of designs allow you to reap the performance benefits afforded by groove and grind, keep the forgiveness, and do it all with a club that looks more like your irons. The larger head won’t move through the turf quite the same way and you won’t get the same degree of trajectory control as a smaller, high-center-of-gravity wedge but that’s a reasonable compromise – especially for a game-improvement or super game-improvement player.
Within the larger picture, forgiveness can be a legitimate concern but choosing a specialty wedge doesn’t necessarily mean giving up forgiveness and it definitely shouldn’t be the sole determining factor in the decision.
Is a Specialty Pitching Wedge right for you?
We’ve given you the pros and the cons. Now it’s time to make a decision. Vokey’s Jeremy Stone and Mizuno’s Chris Voshall agree that your choice of pitching wedge should be driven by purpose and function.
How do you use your pitching wedge?
If it’s strictly an extension of your iron set – a 10-iron – that you use almost exclusively for full shots, you’re probably better off sticking with your set wedge. This is especially true if you have game-improvement or super game-improvement clubs or already flight the ball too low.
If, however, you use your pitching wedge around the green for pitch and chip shots, out of bunkers or flighted knock-down shots, your game will likely benefit from the switch.
As with most fitting decisions, there’s no exact science here so it may be worth picking up a specialty pitching wedge (even if it’s dirt cheap on eBay) to see if helps lower your scores.
“Hitting it, trusting it and understanding it,” says Stone, “is the most confidence-inspiring way to make that choice.”