Purchasing a new golf club can be an awkward experience. If you walk into your pro shop and ask for the best pitching wedge available, the salesman may offer up a pricey, souped-up club that could dig a golf ball out of molasses and produces more backspin than a boomerang.
In reality, the best pitching wedge for your game depends on many factors. What is your handicap? Are you a long hitter? Are your favorite courses flat or hilly? Do you value forgiveness, control or trajectory and backspin the most?
Let’s look at a few factors that can affect your choice in a wedge.
Single Wedges vs. Club Sets
Almost all iron sets come with lofts 3-iron through 9-iron, and a pitching wedge. Intuitively, purchasing a custom stand-alone pitching wedge would seem like the best choice for an advanced golfer, while the novice would be just fine going with the “factory” pitching wedge from his iron set.
But the opposite can be true. For the high-handicap novice, a pitching wedge is a handy do-it-all club and invaluable asset. It can handle full approach shots from the fairway, recovery shots from the rough and chip shots around the hole.
Also, with a stand-alone purchase and practice comes trust. Around the green, the high-handicapper can be faced with a dizzying array of shots to learn – bunker explosions, soft-landing “flops” out of deep rough, pitch-and-run efforts and long-rolling chips.
The best pitching wedge for the 30-handicap golfer is often a stand-alone purchase that feels comfortable and provides extra spin, forgiveness and versatility from the rough and the fairway. As a hacker’s confidence with a trusty pitching stick improves, it can aid in her overall consistency from tee to green.
Forged vs. Cast
A traditional, “forged” iron or pitching wedge is made in one piece, carefully cast from raw metal into a designer shape and loft. Historically, forged irons and wedges are the popular “finesse” choice for the professional or low-handicap golfer.
A “cast” iron or wedge is made from a pre-existing mold and allows club makers to distribute weight around the outside of the club head, or even mold a large cavity into the design.
Cavity-back irons and wedges are more forgiving in theory, since a missed shot with the ball impacting the inside or outside of the club’s surface will be backed by more weight and fly farther and straighter.
As always, the sweeping generalities don’t always match real-life results. Plenty of high-handicappers learn to hit forged irons and wedges accurately, while not all scratch players and professionals agree about the feel and shot-making advantages of forged metal.
Best Pitching Wedge Brands
When Callaway released its famous “Big Bertha” driver in the 1990s, discount golf shops across North America were inundated with knockoff versions at a cheaper price. A customer could purchase “Big Martha” or “Big Daddy” for half the cost and go home with a club that looked, and played, suspiciously like the real thing.
The same holds true for popular irons and wedges, such as the world-renowned Ping “Zing” line released in 1992 which spawned an incredible flurry of knock-offs. For the hacker or intermediate club player, a generic variety of a brand-name pitching wedge can be a solid choice.
But the pro golfer or top amateur with money to invest in her favorite sport should probably go with the real thing – if for no other reason than to avoid ribbing from playing partners.
The Right Fit With Your Game
With the above variables in mind, let’s look at some specific choices for the best pitching wedge to suit a variety of skill levels and styles.
Again, many low handicappers who hit their irons long may simply choose to play the “factory” pitching wedge that came with their favorite club set. But for scratch players looking to purchase a stand-alone club, take the courses being played into consideration.
Parkland tracks with hilly holes and gnarly rough will succumb to a club that can produce high backspin and versatile shot-shaping. The American-made Cleveland Smart Sole and TaylorMade pitching wedges are good choices to test-drive.
For the golfer playing links courses or other windy locales, look for a specialty pitching wedge with low trajectory. Ping’s Glide wedges are adaptable to overseas courses and are effective in all weather, on flat or hilly lies.
For the hacker trying to become a decent club player, the best pitching wedge is a club that will forgive poor swings and serve as a go-to club for shots 100 yards and in.
Because solid contact is likely to be an inconsistent luxury, look for an affordable cavity-back wedge that will produce a workable shot even when missed slightly. The RTX 2.0 series by Cleveland retails for under $100 and will temper misses with its weight distribution.
Because the straight-hitting junior or over-50 golfer is not always far enough down the fairway to hit an approach with a wedge, the few pitch-approaches afforded during a round become more important.
To win a Nassau bet with a couple of well-timed darts for birdies, pick out a sturdy pitching wedge with good backspin that doesn’t take a muscled-up player to knock 75 yards out of the rough. The Ping I25 series is an excellent choice for the short hitter.
For the power-hitter, a pitching wedge can be one of the most important clubs in the bag. What’s the use of cracking a 350-yard drive when birdie opportunities are missed with bad pitching?
The Cobra Tour pitching wedge is a versatile-yet-forgiving club that will stop the ball next to the hole if struck properly. It has the look and feel of a PGA tour wedge but does not require great precision in a swing, and well worth the investment at around $50 retail.
No two golfers are alike. Ask your golf shop pro if you can spend an afternoon hitting wedge shots into their practice net, and get as much expert feedback as you can before making a purchase. With careful consideration and a little common sense, choosing the best pitching wedge for your game can be as simple as a two-foot putt.