IT HAS BEEN the year of the wedge. Hubert Green put away the U.S. Open with a wedge that was a blow-in on the 70th hole at Southern Hills. Laanny Wadkins birdied the final hole at Pebble Beach to earn a playoff for the PGA. A few munites later at the same hole, Jack Nicklaus' failure to hit a good wedge meant he was left 30 feet short of the cup with barely a chance to sink it, which he didn't.
Neither Green's nor Wadkins' wedges will be long remembered - assuredly not as long as Lew Worsham's legenday hole-out to win the 1953 Tam O'Shanter - but for a moment they illustrate that mastery of the wedge means that it deserves to be called "the scoring club.
Unlike good chippers, who tend to have carefree and cheerful personalities and relish the joy of saving par with one good chip, the skilled wedge player is usually somber and looks at life from beneath heavy lids.
The wedge is a serious club, with little playfulness to it. Much is expected of it , and the expecters suffer no foolery. Because of this, they are no delight to play with but that's all right. We can still learn from them.
Watch their firm arm action. The wedge is almost an extension of the left arm, with the right arm also well under control. Because wedges demand little power, the arms can be used for control, not muscle.
This isn't the way it is with other clubs, which means that the failure in wedge play comes from writness.
When wedges are skulled, it is usually because the club head was brought down by the wrist, not the arms. Next to the shank, the skittering skull is the most discouraging of all the fairway shots. Few ever get up and down from a skull; at best, we get up, up and then down.
It firms arms is the first principle of the wedge, the second is hitting down on the ball. This is what scoopers need to learn, because their mistake is thinking that they, rather than the wedge itself, is what lofts the ball.
A side delight of hitting down on the ball is the horticultural thrill of a thick divot sent flying in one piece by the wedge. When I play with good wedge players, I stand a little behind them, the better to watch their divots sent soaring.
After the technique of the wedge shot is understood, another question persists what kind of wedge should we use?
The pros carry two: for pitching and for sand.Actually, the sand wedge is often the better club from the fairway because its loft is grater. Many pitching wedges are no more than disguised nine irons, and they are useless when we need a high shot over trouble.
I gave up my pitching wedge long ago, with no regrets since. The sand wedge I have now is a charmer that I picked up from the discard pile at Angelo's. It was designed by Deane Beman and I call it my pelican club: it looks clumsy, it has a wide mouth, but it dives well.
Once a year, when I am with someone venturesome, I play a round with only three clubs - driver, putter and wedge. It's a stimulating variation, because every kind of wedge shot comes into play - from the distance hit to the fairway approach to the pitch over a green side bunker.
I would play this kind of round more often, but as I said, good wedge players tend to be somber, unsmiling people. How to loosen them up is a mystery I'm still working on.