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It’s impossible to leave a conversation with Bob Vokey without the feeling that you need to out and practice your short game. Not only is the man one of the greatest master wedge craftsmen ever but he’s also a bundle of energy.
Jeremy Stone of Titleist Golf (GolfBetter episode #197) sat in with Bob on our recent conversation. “Voke” discussed with us his life in the game, the new SM6 wedge line from Titleist Golf and also answers our “5 Questions in 50 Seconds!”
Tom Brassell: Welcome to Golf Better at Worldwide Golf Shops, Episode 202. Hello everyone. My name is Tom Brassell. Thanks so much for joining us. We say it most every time, if you’re a first time listener or a longtime subscriber or maybe someone in the middle, either way, we’re just glad you joined us. Two very special guests joining us today from out in sunny Southern California from our good friends at Titleist Golf. First of all, his encore appearance, he was just on about six weeks ago, Jeremy Stone. Jeremy, thanks so much man.
Jeremy Stone: Happy to be here. Thanks for having us.
Tom Brassell: We asked and you delivered. You got the man here himself. The man synonymous with wedges, Mr. Bob Vokey. Voke, thanks so much man. We look back and it’s been about seven, eight years. We’re a little overdue.
Bob Vokey: Hey Tom, I wouldn’t miss this. In fact, I was at home. I’m recuperating, I just had my knee operated on on Monday. I’m recuperating, I’ve got ice in it. So I said I’ve got to throw my pants on, I’ve got to go in, I’ve got to talk to Tom.
Tom Brassell: Well Bob, take us back, our listeners a little bit, just a little bit about yourself, how you got started in the game and how you found this obviously wonderful calling you have with wedges.
Bob Vokey: It was always a passion. I had a passion, really loved golf. I love what I do and I loved working with my hands. I did a lot with my dad when I was younger. I took a passion and I turned it into a livelihood. It was a hobby. I turned it into a livelihood. Fortunately enough, I had my shop. They discovered my shop in Vista, California back when I was in TaylorMade days, Gary Adams. He asked me to first do the prepare work for TaylorMade. After that I came on board and went to work for him full-time.
From there I left and I was doing a lot of woods … I mean, clubs that went out on PGA tour usually came through my department. In that day, I was running metal, just kept cranking on, the middle eighties. Then from then on, even way back then I had a passion for wedges. I did a lot with Lee Trevino, Dave Stockton, Sr., Lanny Wadkins, Peter Jacobsen and Freddy Parker. There’s tons of them. I’m probably forgetting a few. Of course, I did a lot of work with Seve too. He played my woods at TaylorMade.
From there, I went over to Founders Club. Gary started a new company called Founders Club in 1990. I went over there for five years. Then head of R&D at Titleist at the time called me in September of ’96 and said “Bob, I’m working on a project. Why don’t you come over here?” He was looking at a 975E driver. That probably … so I came over and worked with him on that. Got that going. I guess probably maybe it was a foray, call it, into the club business. It went real well and then he came back and I said “Well, Terry what do you want me to do now?” He said, “Well, Mr. Ulein wants to get into some wedges.” So I thought, oh I love it man. This is right up my alley because I saw the challenge there, particularly over the years as wedges got stronger and stronger. Now all the way down, now they’re 46 but 48 wasn’t a gap. Sand wedges remained at 56 degrees. I said, “God, I see a lot of openings there that we can help, not just the tour player, but we can help the average weekend golfer improve his game.”
That’s how it started. First project at that particular time was … I did a 400 series. I don’t know if you remember way back when, back in late 90’s. First brought it out in ’97, the first prototype in summer of ’97 at St. Jude’s Classic in Memphis with Andy Bean. Andy Bean said “Broke, I’ve gotta play it.” When Andy … Big guy like Andy is pretty tough to refuse you know. Anyway, away we went. From then, next thing you know, it started. I can look back now and go on and on and on but that’s how it basically started. From there we went to the 200 series, the 300 series and the 400 series and we gravitated toward the 200 series because I saw at that particular time the need for different combinations of grinds, lofts, bounces. I couldn’t concentrate on 3 different profiles. The 200 series was a classic 2 drop profile, was a profile that I gravitated towards. I guess we’ve been pretty lucky since then. We’ve done all right. It’s been unbelievable going all way back from the 26006 and the 25414. We only had 2 bounces in the 56 and the 54, two in the 58 and 60’s. From then on, we’ve expanded considerably. They all became developed by listening, being a listener, note-taker on the PGA Tour. They’re my R&D Department. I got a great R&D Department within here but going way back whee, on the PGA Tour. Basically, I just did anything that they wanted. One player would see another, they’d see another, they’d see another. Before you know it, the product took off. That’s been our DNA, Titleist. We kind of goon the PGA Tour before we even put it in the line. That’s been it, going all the way back to even when Spin Mill. We had Spin Mill out there prototype-wise. First off, Spin Mill 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s and now 6’s. It’s like, wow. I think the 6’s are best yet. You hear me say I, the best yet, I feel they are. I’m continually getting comments, hearing from players I haven’t heard in a while. They say, “Voke, I’ve heard about these SM6’s,” or “I’ve tried these SM6’s. Is there any way you can send me some?” It’s amazing. That’s good testimony to me.
Tom Brassell: Jeremy, we got, in sports there’s people that have one name that’s synonymous with sports. You just say Magic, Kobe. Jeremy, what’s it like working with a guy whose name’s synonymous with a golf club, Vokey. What’s it like? I think you’re going to say high energy.
Jeremy Stone: That goes without saying. My job all day long is just to keep up with Bob. I think that’s why they brought me here is just to try to keep up with the enthusiasm and the energy. Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself. You’re incredibly fortunate and when you sit in a room and you have, as Bob mentioned, a great team … We’re all really fortunate to try to soak in as much knowledge as we can. It’s a daily occurrence or weekly occurrence where Bob and I will be sitting around, traveling somewhere or sitting for a meal and I’ll just pick his brain. “Hey Bob, what’s the difference between these two grinds? What do you see? What’s the value?” You really can’t put a value on the fortune we have to just pick his brain at our leisure.
Bob Vokey: A good part about that, while he’s picking my brain, I’m thinking. All of a sudden, boom, he’ll pick my brain, we’ll say something like “Hey Jeremy, that’s not a bad idea. Let’s look into it.” He’ll ask me about something and it’ll key off another thought. There we go. Then we make up some prototypes, let the best players in the world hit ’em, see how it goes. That’s why it’s never ending. A lot of people say “How does it feel?” I call it the monster. Sometimes it was easier to create it. You’ve got to keep feeding that monster. Sometimes that’s the tough part. I’ve got Jeremy and the crew now, that’s what they’re continually doing, all the time. They keep me on my toes.
Tom Brassell: Well Bob, you probably answered a little bit of the next question I had about wedge innovation. It’s come a long way since Gene Sarazen. You mentioned wedges started at 56 degrees. Is the biggest innovation along with, obviously, the grinds and the bounce … Are one of the biggest innovations gapping of wedges?
Bob Vokey: Very important. That’s high on my list. That’s the number one thing that I look for when I fit is gapping. Particularly your avid golfers, they play a lot. Next thing you know, you look in their bag and all of a sudden there’s maybe a gap. They may have a pitching wedge of 46 degrees and they may have a 56 degree sand wedge or 54 degree sand wedge. There’s a big gap there. Toughest shot to hit in golf is that 3/4 half-shot on the backside Sunday afternoon. That’s where you’ll always see me. I always like anywhere between 4 to 6 degrees. There’s a lot of things in gapping that are very, very important. All the way back, probably one of the biggest innovations recently, because the advent of the ball, the balata golf ball was Spin Mill. That was huge. Just recently, we got that Spin Mill commit. The progressive CG that we have on our SM6, that’s probably been our biggest innovation in the last couple of years.
We’ve had that out probably … We’ve been working for it for 4 or 5 years but we just, it wasn’t quite right before we brought it to market. As I say, our DNA, we’ve got to really at look really well before we even put it out. It’s been very successful, the SM6‘s as you’ve probably been reading about and seeing. Hopefully, it hit them.
Tom Brassell: The SM6 has been out like a month now. When Jeremy and I spoke, Jeremy what was it? Like a month and a half or so ago, Jeremy was telling me about the tour player feedback. You mentioned they’re your R&D Department. One of the things that stuck in my mind is Jeremy said “They’re asking, is the metal softer?” I don’t know how you do that but talk about the tour player and the feedback and the changes in the grinds because that’s big too. Can you share a little bit on that?
Bob Vokey: No doubt about it. They’re always looking for different grinds. They actually come from, as I say, out there on tour, a player wants to hit certain shots. You may get a group of players wanting to hit a certain shot. It’s fits in with their swing shot, it’s their DNA. I turn around and we’ll look at that. That’s where a lot of our grinds will come from, just input from, Tom, the best players in the world. Making the grind is very, very important. That was very important what we did in the SM6’s along with the CG.
The other innovation, we took another look at score lines again. We’re continually looking at score lines. We call it the TX4, which we end up doing because what happens is, you know originally, the score line … What happened there with the SM4’s and 5’s, we had a call on the radial cut pattern across the face and, as a result, when you cut the score lines in, you have a regularity there. We changed that and what we’re doing now for the face texture is we’re putting it parallel between score lines. It never really touches the edge of the score line at all. It maintains all the integrity of the groove, the sharpness and everything that is there.
It gives us the ability to bring them up a little, turn their tolerances up a wee bit, which has helped. It’s just amazing the feedback we’re getting on even, I call those little partial shots, little bump and runners around the green … Those are ones that I personally have seen that myself. I see a lot of players and they’ll go “Wow.” Little one-off starboard green side. You can put a little hit on them now and not worry about that bar rolling up the face or moving too far forward. It’s pretty good, been very successful for us.
Tom Brassell: With the 5 grinds that are out there now, the L grind, M grind, S grind, F grind and K grind. A great place to see this, obviously, WorldWideGolfShops.com, EdwinWattsGolf.com or Titleist.com. You guys have got some great video clips of who fits each of these, but Jeremy, it makes even more not to not grab one of these off the rack. You need to get custom fit, right?
Jeremy Stone: Yeah.
Bob Vokey: No doubt about it.
Jeremy Stone: There’s no question. That would be one of the things that we have learned most from Bob, really. When you look at the reason grinds came to be is Bob went back and was working with tour players and they were all trying to do different things. You realized there were a bunch of different swing types out on tour and the same is true of the everyday golfers. All 5 of the grinds with SM6 are in play on tour because all of those guys deliver the club to the ball in different ways. That’s even more true of amateurs where being properly fit for your wedges and your grinds is absolutely critical. I’ll steal the line from Bob. He’ll laugh at me here but “low hanging fruit in the bag of improving your game.”
Bob Vokey: The quick way to do it, if you spend a little time … You’ve heard me say many times, how many greens does a toe player hit? He hits about 12, the average is, when they get up and down. The average weekend golfer 5, 6 on a good day. How many opportunities does he have to get up and down? You’ve got a heck of a lot more … He can save 1 or 2 shots green side a heck of a lot, I never want to say easier, but not as difficult as versus trying to hit a 300 yard drive which he physically doesn’t have the ability. He doesn’t have the speed and technique to hit that.
Green side, he can hit all those shots if he sticks with the proper grind and bounce. Those are very, very important. That’s why it’s so important, while we fit, try all the grinds. Sometimes Jeremy laughs at me and we’ve seen this happen. We call it the aha moment. A player will hit it. You’re working with a player, not so much a tour player. It happens with a tour player too. You have a golfer, all of a sudden, put the right grind for the type of shot he wants to hit for his technique and he’ll go, “Wow.” You’ll see the big smile. I call it the aha moment. He says “Man, that just felt perfect. It’s doing everything I wanted, the right trajectory, right spin, right spin control. He’s got a little … He’s just got the feel too. That’s what’s so important. How we increase the feel is by aligning the CG, putting the CG in proper along with the grinds. They all come together and it definitely enhances the feel all the way across the board.
Tom Brassell: Bob, when we spoke 7 years ago, I’ll never forget your response. I said “When you’re going to fit somebody,” and we talked about bounce and we talked about playing conditions. I remember you said, I don’t know if you remember, first thing you said was “I want to know if you’re a sweeper or you’re a digger?”
Bob Vokey: It’s important.
Tom Brassell: It’s important.
Bob Vokey: Tom, that’s really important. That’s a good point you’re bringing up because you’ve got to fit by the swing type too. You can turn around when you play different courses, you may travel to different courses. You can have different sand types. You can have bermuda one place, bent the other. You’re going to have different turf reactions but remember one thing, that swing travels with you. If you’re a slider, you’re going to be taking that swing with you. If you’re a digger or a tweener, that tween travels with you. You don’t have the ability … You may practice but when you turn around and get under the heat of the gun, what do you do? You’re going to revert right back to your swing, swing type. Very, very important, swing type.
Tom Brassell: It’s the SM6 wedge from Titleist. It’s just out. If you haven’t tried it, you need to. Go get custom fit and like Bob said, it’s the best wedge yet. It’s the best one he’s ever put out. Bob, I’ve got to put you on the clock. Five questions.
Bob Vokey: You’ve got it.
Tom Brassell: Fifty seconds. Jeremy, you’re there so you know that he’s not cheating. He’s not going to a laptop or anything. He’s got to answer these 5 questions in 50 seconds. Bob, you ready to go?
Bob Vokey: Yeah, I’m ready.
Tom Brassell: All right. Question number 1 for Bob Vokey. Growing up, which golfer on tour or anywhere did you analyze the most?
Bob Vokey: Lee Trevino.
Tom Brassell: Number two. Best wedge player you’ve ever seen?
Bob Vokey: Seve. Seve Ballesteros
Tom Brassell: Number three. Why are wedges better now than they were 10 years ago?
Bob Vokey: Because they are so many different grinds, types, bounces and loft combinations and people are understanding the value of being fit for the proper wedge to match your technique. .
Tom Brassell: Question number 4 for Bob Vokey. What wedge lofts are in your bag?
Bob Vokey: I’ve got a 46, a 50, a 56 and a 60. They’re all SM6’s.
Tom Brassell: Number five. Bob, the most common mistake people make with a wedge purchase?
Bob Vokey: Most common mistake that they make? First off, not being fit right. That is first and foremost. You know what I think a lot when they get a wedge, they have a tendency to decel. They try to hit the ball up, their technique. I think, basically, they don’t put the head on it. I like to see them slow back, quick turn and then on the way down, you accelerate. Of course, you might want to throw ball position in there too.
Tom Brassell: Five questions, 50 seconds. You did it Bob. Awesome. Thanks so much. Hey guys, I really appreciate it. I know your time’s valuable out there. Jeremy, thanks for bringing him in. He’s always a pleasure. Same with you. It’s great talking with you. I feel like I’m ready to go hit some balls, hit some chip shots after talking with Voke.
Bob Vokey: I love it.
Jeremy Stone: It’s hard not to leave a conversation with Bob not completely energized.
Bob Vokey: That’s a good thing going Tom.
Tom Brassell: It’s great talking with you and best of luck the remainder of the year and, hopefully, we can do it again soon.
Bob Vokey: All right Thanks Tom.
Jeremy Stone: Thanks Tom.
Tom Brassell: It’s not an understatement to say that you get excited, you get pumped up after you talk with that gentleman. You want to go out and hit some shots. That’s Mr. Bob Vokey, the man synonymous with wedges. Many thanks to Bob and for Jeremy for bringing him on. Again, it’s the SM6 wedge if you have not seen it. If you have not hit it, go do so at any of the Worldwide Golf Shops locations around the country or you can go online WorldWideGolfShops.com and EdwinWattsGolf.com to check out the Titleist Vokey wedges. Also on Titleist.com. and get some great videos there and they’re also on the Worldwide Golf Shops sites. Special thanks again to Bob Vokey for joining us and to you, our listeners. We’ll do it again next time when we have another episode of Golf Better at Worldwide Golf Shops. So long everyone.