Titleist’s wedge business has thrived under the guidance of veteran club designer Bob Vokey. He is to the company’s wedges what Scotty Cameron is to putters — the premier namesake of the category. You buy a Vokey wedge and you know you’re getting the best possible product. FORE recently caught up with Vokey to find out about his latest creations, as well as to pick his brain about wedges in general.
FORE: How are the SM5 wedges different from anything else you’ve designed?
VOKEY: It’s a completely new wedge from top to bottom. We worked on it for three years. We integrated hand-shaping and CAD (computer assisted design) to come up with a more compact, balanced shape. We have a new groove, the TX3. It will help prevent fliers. We have new grinds, new bounces and new models. Even the finishes are new.
Why should golfers choose the SM5 over a wedge from the competition?
When you have a wedge in your hands, what are you thinking? Let’s get this as close to the hole as possible, if not in the hole. On SM5, we’ve introduced new, deeper TX3 grooves with more volume that deliver more spin and control on those shots. TX3 is the third iteration of our Tour Extreme Scoreline. During the prototype stage, we determined there were two groove configurations that provided the best performance. TOUR players kept telling us they couldn’t have any more fliers from the rough. If they had 120 yards to a tight pin, they needed to know it would fly 120 yards every time. So on the lower-lofted SM5’s, where players are making more of a direct impact, we made the TX3 groove narrower. The deep and narrow geometry helps push the grass into the groove and keeps you from hitting those fliers. But with the higher lofts, where you’re hitting mostly partial shots around the green, the groove is wider, which helps sheer the grass away and maximize spin.
When you say you build these TX3 grooves to the tightest tolerances, what does that means exactly?
That means we are milling our grooves right up to the edge of the maximum dimensions allowed by the Rules of Golf. We are talking about aerospace industry tolerances here. For the golfer, it means they’re getting maximum spin performance. We double fly-cut the face to insure a perfectly flat surface. Then each groove is cut in with a precise spin-milled saw cutter. We inspect each cutter and if there is any dullness we replace it. Each of the grooves is also individually inspected.
How is that inspection done?
We’ve made a significant investment in digital stylus machines to 100 percent inspect every groove of every wedge we sell. It’s expensive, it takes a lot of time, but we think it’s worth it. That way, we know that we are right up against the USGA limit without going over.
How did you use TOUR input for these wedges? That is, can you name some names and tell us what those players specifically contributed?
I’ve always said that the PGA TOUR is the best R&D department in the world. Take the K grind for example. It came from my work with Jason Dufner. Duf likes the wide sole with camber; the TK grind we had was flatter. It proved very popular. Adam Scott put it in the bag last year and won The Masters. We now have 20 guys playing that grind. That’s when I knew it had to go into the SM5 lineup.
There are six sole grinds offered in the SM5. How should a golfer decide which sole grind is best for his or her game, for each loft they choose?
The best way is to go get fit. It’s never one-size-fits-all for wedges, so you need to be confident you have the right setup for your game. Wedges are needed to hit a variety of shots and everyone has a different swing and shotmaking style. That’s why we offer so many options, to make sure we have everyone covered.
How are most people customizing and personalizing their wedges?
I’d say initials and names with different paint fill colors are the most popular choice, but we’re seeing people getting more and more creative. We have so many custom options. We have 10 BV grips available. We can laser etch your name or a saying on the wedge. That’s becoming popular as well. We also have a bunch of cool shaft bands. People love personalization and customization. It makes the wedge their own.
In your experience, what do most golfers not know about wedges?
Most golfers have no idea how far they hit their wedges. We see it all the time. These are your scoring clubs, you need to know how far you hit them. I recommend 12 to 15 yards between wedges. That is usually four or five degrees in loft. The 50/54/58 loft combo has become much more popular.
How and when did you originally get involved in wedge design?
I’ve been working on golf clubs for about 40 years. I did a lot of work on wedges, irons and drivers in the 1980s, but I really started specializing in wedges when I came to Titleist in 1996. I went out on TOUR, took a lot of notes and built the 200, 300 and 400 Series wedges. I never thought it would get this big. We’ve sold nine million Vokey wedges. It still amazes me every day.
How’s your own short game?
It used to be better before I hurt my knee and couldn’t practice. But I still work on it; I take prototype wedges almost every week and try them out.
How flattering is it when you see PGA TOUR pros using your creations and winning with them?
I enjoy it … it’s very rewarding. To see Adam and Duf win two majors last year, that was very cool. But I get the same feeling when a golfer tells me he broke 80 for the first time because he got up-and-down for par on 18. That’s what drives us every day to be better.