News & Opinion

4th wedge could be popular choice

By Wednesday of Masters week, players must be certain of the weapons with which they will attempt to slay Augusta National Golf Club.

As I wrote for Wednesday’s Morning Read (“Experience matters at Augusta National,” April 4), a high-apex shot shape at Augusta National is vitality important.

Two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy added a fourth wedge to his bag and won the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

A similar wedge makeup might be popular this week at the Masters, which begins today (tee times), with the addition of a 62- or even 64-degree wedge.

I don't expect the competitors to change pitching wedges necessarily, but I do expect many of them to add a wedge for extra spin.

Players at this caliber tend to spend about 70 percent of practice time in the short-game area as opposed to the full swing. So, they typically will replace their wedges four or five times a year. Given that we are one-quarter through the calendar year and at the midpoint of the wraparound PGA Tour season, this would be the logical time to replace wedges. Considering the demands of Augusta National, competitors often want to add loft while they opt for the fresh grooves of new wedges. 

At Augusta National, the difference in 1 yard actually can be 5 yards or so. For instance, a putt struck with a pace off by merely an inch can miss the hole by a half-foot. The same is true with other short shots, out to the wedge range.

Players strive for more accessibility to hole locations. If they can’t predict spin, they can’t predict the amount of the ball’s release or where it might stop. Augusta National demands ball control in the air and on the ground. Thus, the best wedge players at the Masters control their wedges from impact to stopping point. What they use to control the ball on the ground is a combination of trajectory and spin. The more spin generated on approach shots at Augusta National, the better chance of effectively expanding the size of the greens. 

Regarding other potential changes in players’ bags for the Masters, don't expect to see many 5-woods played into greens. Golf’s elite players generate so much distance off the tee that they have eliminated most long approaches into greens. The exception this week could be at the par-5 15th hole. Of course, weather could be a factor, and rain is forecast for Saturday’s third round.

Awkward approaches define the par 5s at Augusta National.

At No. 2, the second shot typically is struck from a pronounced downhill lie. The Masters competitors often aren’t trying to land the ball on the green as much as they’re trying to hit it into a front bunker, depending on the hole location, or run it through the throat of the green complex.

At No. 15, the approach often is struck with a mid- or long iron, also from a downhill lie. The green tends to hold approaches a little bit better.

That leaves the other par 5s, Nos. 8 and 13.

At No. 8, the approach is played from a dramatic uphill lie, into one of Augusta National’s longest, narrowest greens. The shot can be played to the front edge of the green and released deeper onto the putting surface.

At No. 13, the end to the demanding three-hole sequence known as Amen Corner, a hanging lie defines the second shot. Remember that these guys are hitting 5‑irons 225 yards, so they are generating trajectory and spin, which helps the approach stop. With the pronounced right-to-left fairway slope at the 13th, the approach might even call for a fairway wood with the face opened at address, to help offset the awkward lie.

The strategy should prove to be interesting regarding 5-woods and 2-irons among the top contenders.

Michael Breed, a PGA of America member and instructor, operates the Michael Breed Golf Academy at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in Bronx, N.Y. He is the former host of “The Golf Fix” on Golf Channel and now hosts “A New Breed of Golf” on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. ET Monday-Friday.