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November 17, 2009

Ask the Expert: Roger Cleveland's Answers to Your Questions

Posted at 10:52 AM by David Dusek | Categories: Ask the Experts, Callaway, Roger Cleveland

I got lots of good questions sent to me on Twitter, as well as from readers of the Shop Blog, for Callaway's Roger Cleveland. I spoke with the wedge guru on Friday, and here are his answers to some of the most interesting submissions.

How you would compare and contrast the designs and technologies used in Callaway's wedges with those from other major brands. What makes the Callaway wedges different?
A lot of people copied the wedge designs we developed at Cleveland Golf years ago, like the 588 wedges, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to do something a little bit different.

Callaway-XForged-JAWS_600When I had the opportunity to get back into club making, and start making wedges for Callaway, I wanted to use the purest form of making irons, and that means forging. I also wanted to use the softest material to give golfers the most feel, and that's 1020 carbon steel. Then, I wanted to have the best forging house in the world, which is in Japan, make the wedges. After putting all those things together, we've been having a great time making irons and wedges here at Callaway.

But what makes our wedges really different from other manufacturers' is the aggressive groove we have developed in conjunction with Phil Mickelson.

Phil always tests a new wedge by hitting 40-yard shots, and he hit that shot pretty hard. The first shot he hit using a a super-aggressive groove we created for him made a white trail of cover material up the face of the club. He looked down and said, "Yep, that's my Mack Daddy groove." We loved that, and so we named our groove the Mack Daddy.

With the new JAWS wedges (above), I wanted to reduce the silhouette of the wedge when you're looking down at address, and I wanted a smaller head. I think that gives golfers a feeling that they can get the leading edge under the ball more easily. We also implemented a very aggressive C-grind in the sole which makes it very versatile.

For the amateur, how would you go about trying and picking a particular sole grind for wedges?
It all depends upon how much you practice and how many different shots you want to be able to hit with your wedge, especially a high-lofted wedge.

If you're the type of player who likes to open the face and hit higher, softer-landing shots, then look for a grind that supplies heel relief but doesn't add too much bounce in the process. Opening the face automatically adds bounce, but some grinds create more than others.

If you don't practice that often, going with the grind that supplies more bounce will help you get out of the sand more easily.

Every wedge needs to have some positive amount bounce so it can slide, rather than dig, through the turf. Remember, you never want to hit a wedge shot using your leading edge, you always want to use the sole as the contact point to the ground.

What is your honest opinion of the upcoming USGA groove rule changes?
I don't think the new groove rules are necessary. Instead of doing something with the grooves, we have always felt, as have Jack Nicklaus and Sandy Tatum (a former President of the USGA), that they should do something with the ball instead. Creating a "tour ball" that spins more would reduce the average driving distances, put a greater emphasis on hitting good shots, and keep historically significant golf courses playable without adding excessive length.

Originally, the USGA gave us exact guidelines about the new grooves, but it didn't want to confine us to making only a V groove. So, in July 2009 we developed a groove that met their specifications and brought it to the USGA for approval. The USGA told us the intent of the rule was to reduce spin, and that while the new groove complied with the rules, it created too much spin. We told them that they gave us a rule, and we followed it. It took us about $300,000 to develop that groove, but the USGA said, "No."

Callaway is always going to design to the Nth degree of performance, otherwise somebody else is going to do it. That's what competition is about. But the USGA changed the rule again anyway. It's as if we're playing a football game and as we're about score a touchdown they moved the goal line and made the field 110 yards.

So we had to go back and develop another new groove, which made us a little bit late in getting the clubs to our tour players.

Look, I don't fault the USGA for what they are trying to do. I don't even fault the management of the USGA, they have a hard job, but I just think changing the ball would have been the best way to go about doing.

Any insight on trying to get as much spin as possible from conforming equipment in 2010?
Because the USGA is allowing all manufacturers to design different condition of competition grooves, you're going to have to look at what the different manufacturers are going to provide. They are all going to be different. It is too early to give any opinion about other companies' condition of competition grooves, but I'm sure looking forward to seeing them.

With our groove, we reduced the area between the grooves, and therefore we had to reduce the capacity of the grooves. The rules create a ratio of the space between the grooves in the capacity of the grooves. Callaway decided to go the route of putting more grooves on the face. Through our studies we learned that the more edges you can put on the ball the more friction and spin you can put on the ball. Hence the name of the new wedge line, JAWS.

What is the reason behind the relatively low swing weight of the X Forged wedges?
The pitching wedge replacements in the X Forged line are D3 swing weight, and the sand wedge and lob wedge options are D4 swing weight. I think that is plenty heavy enough.

If you get too heavy with your wedges, it creates a big difference between them and your irons. As you transition from your irons to your wedges, the swing weight should increase gradually.

As much as I love the X-forged wedges, will there ever be an approach wedge option for the X-22 Tour iron set, as with the X-22 set? As a 12-handicap, I'd like to have an approach/gap wedge with some more forgiveness. Other major brands offer this option in their "tour cavity back" iron sets, and I'd like to see Callaway do the same. Any thoughts?
Callaway is planning to do that on our next set of forged irons, so you are going to have that option in the future. There will be both an A wedge and an S wedge that works with the same finish and feel and design features as the iron set. You're certainly a forward thinker!

Watch the video below to see Roger Cleveland explain more about Callaway's new X Forged JAWS wedges.

The next Ask the Expert interview will feature Titleist putter designer Scotty Cameron. If you want to ask him a question, write it in the Comments area below.

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