Dave Pelz on NASA background, inventing "short game", and changing wedges forever

When Dave Pelz started in golf, the most lofted wedge was a 55 degree. 

Charlie Lemay's picture
Fri, 3 Feb 2017

GolfMagic caught up with legendary golf coach and short game master Dave Pelz at the 2017 PGA Show in Orlando.

Since 2014, Pelz has been a Srixon/Cleveland staffer. 

I’m a data guy. I majored in Physics, worked doing space research for 15 years at NASA, before going into golf, but not as a wedge guy.

But I’m a golfer first – I was on a golf scholarship at college and wanted to be a Tour player. While working on space research I developed some putters I thought were really neat, and a driver with no hosel 10 years before Callaway did that with their Big Bertha.

DAVE PELZ INTERVIEW: PUTTING IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF GOLF

Then I started really researching golf, making drivers, irons, everything. I started taking shot data from the Tour, like they do now. Pelz data was taken when there were no laser range finders. I had to walk the course and get yardages to everywhere. Boy, that took a long time.

I found 60-65% of all shots were wedges or putts. Importantly, 80% of the shots lost to par are putts or wedge shots. 80% of improvement could therefore come from inside 100 yards.

Dave Pelz on NASA background, inventing "short game", and changing wedges forever

Dave Pelz with Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson

At the time no one was concentrating hard on this area – the phrase “short game” wasn’t even a thing. I started calling it “the short game”.

If you asked the Tour players where they were losing their shots, they’d come up with something like “I’ve got a hook with my irons” - but they were wrong.

I took data from Tom Kite and found out his accuracy with long irons was 7%. He was landing 14 feet and closer to the hole 7 times out of 100.

People thought his wedge game must have been good because he doesn’t hit it very far, and it was, but it was only 21%. The average on Tour was 26% - with a wedge!

The reason was because manufacturers were making players manipulate their clubs for certain distances, which is hard to do. I got into golf in 1975, when the most lofted wedge out there was 55-degrees, so I started inventing more lofted products. PING came back with a reply, because I hadn’t patented anything.  I even went to 60 – everyone told me I was crazy, including Tour players, but now everyone plays them.

Your distance should be decided by what club you select from the bag. How were you meant to play a 50-yard shot when no one made a club over 55-degrees? It was forcing players like Kite to feel their shots, and he was decelerating through impact.

Tom Kite was the first player to use Pelz' 60-degree wedge

I’ve always competed with my students, and with the new lofted wedges I could beat them. They knew I wasn’t a better player, I didn’t have a better wedge game, I just had better equipment. So they all left with my 60-degree wedge – Tom Kite was the first player to use one in competition.

At first they resisted like crazy because they had to take another club out the bag. I had the hardest time convincing them – I used to bet them a fair amount of money to prove my point. Well, a lot of money to me, but not so much to a Tour player!

I’d say “instead of hitting your two-iron, hit your six iron and lay up”. I had the data – a third of the time they would miss-hit their two iron and get in trouble. The worst shots on tour were hit with the two-iron in those days…but not anymore because no one carries them!  I said “hit the six iron, then use your wedge – it’s a better scoring average”.

In 1990-1995 I went to 64 degrees – it was the only way I could still beat my students with the greens getting faster. I had to play it high and land it soft.

Players asked me “what now, I have to get rid of my three iron”? I told them to keep the three, maybe take out a wood. Tom Seickmann was the first player to use the 64 degree.

It’s not just a case of stacking up the wedges, however, you need to be able to hit them well!

Head to Pelz Corner for short game tips.