Secrets behind the stamped wedges
Titleist’s Aaron Dill opens up on designing custom wedges for PGA TOUR players
September 17, 2019
By Andrew Tursky, PGATOUR.COM
Titleist’s Aaron Dill opens up on designing custom wedges for PGA TOUR players
Titleist’s Vokey wedge representative Aaron Dill is not just responsible for helping get players into wedges that fit their golf swing and short game needs week-to-week, he’s the genius behind all of the unique Vokey wedge stampings, from song lyrics to movie quotes to mini-murals.
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Dill recently sat down with PGATOUR.COM to explain his design process – including Shark, Postman and Radar wedges – as well as the importance of fitting, how rust affects performance, how to know when to change out wedges, and what he learned from the legend Bob Vokey.
PGATOUR.COM: What’s the process when a player comes to you and he needs a new wedge? How does the stamping idea come about, and how long does it take you to do?
AARON DILL: We’ll use Nick Watney as an example; he’s a perfect example. Nick will text me, or he’ll see me on the range and say, “Hey, I think I need a new sand wedge.” I go, “Great, I’ll make one up for you.” Then he’ll say, “Can we stamp something on there?” And I’ll say, “Absolutely, what do you want to do?”
That’s the moment where we start to brainstorm a little bit. Like, what’s going on with your life -- something funny, something meaningful? We try and create a story. I want to tell a story in some way.
[Watney] has something with sharks right now … and so he’ll just be like, “I want you to do a shark-themed stamping.” So on his sand wedge, he’s got a whole shark that looks like the shark from Finding Nemo. Then on his lob wedge, it’s just an open shark mouth; I think that’s just a joke between he and his caddie, Joey Navaro.
It’s little things like that. I’ll just kind of brainstorm with him and get some ideas and I’ll put them together.
PGATOUR.COM: Do you sketch the ideas out on the club or on a piece of paper before stamping the wedge, or do you just go right in?
DILL: A little bit of both. It’s like a haircut; once I do it, I can’t undo it. So, like with Nick, he said to do a shark. I’ll start brainstorming what I want it to look like. I’ll draw a little bit and get some ideas. I’ll go online and look at some stuff on there. I won’t do anything to the wedge until I know exactly what I’m going to do. So I’ll do some researching and tinkering and drawing. Once that’s done, then I can start putting it on the steel. And that’s simple. That’s not the hard part; the stamping is easy. It’s the deciding of what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it; that part takes some time. I’ve messed up so many wedges over the years that I’ve gotten pretty good at it, just because I understand how they work.
PGATOUR.COM: What do you end up doing with wedges you’ve messed up on?
DILL: Fortunately, I don’t mess up that much anymore, so I don’t have a lot of waste. Before that, when I was first starting to work for Voke (Bob Vokey), he had this huge bucket full of old wedges. He’d just let me take as many as I wanted. I’d grind them, stamp them; I’d ruin those and then bring them back and we’d scrap them. But nowadays, I don’t ruin as many, or really any at all. I’ve made too many mistakes fortunately, so waste isn’t really an issue anymore.
PGATOUR.COM: How did you end up working with Bob Vokey?
DILL: I wasn’t always on TOUR. I worked more at the club level for Titleist before I got on the PGA TOUR, so I was doing this Fitting Works TOUR van. We took it up and down the West Coast. When we had TOUR events on the West Coast, we would use the Fitting Works van because the regular Titleist TOUR van was so far away that they would leave it over there (on the East Coast). On the Fitting Works van, that’s how I got to know Bob really well. I would always hang out with Bob because I was living in Carlsbad (California) back then; this was 15 years ago. So I’d always be hanging out with Bob and I’d pick his brain and bug him and stuff.
Then when we worked together on TOUR, that’s when we started hanging out a little more, and that’s where we developed a relationship. I looked up to Bob. He’s the man to me. He’s this leader in the golf business; he’s the name, the face. I saw him as this wealth of knowledge, so I just wanted to learn as much as I could. I busted my you-know-what running back and forth, and he saw that because that’s how he’s wired. I think we have some similarities in that we both are service-oriented, we both want to do a great job, we want to hustle, we want to shake it up a little bit. So those first years in the Fitting Works van, I think that’s where we sort of gelled. He saw how I worked; I saw how he worked. I just wanted to absorb as much of his knowledge as I could.
Happy Birthday to one of the greatest people I have ever met. Thank you so much for your passion, mentoring, and most importantly your friendship. My best to you Bob Vokey. @Titleist @VokeyWedges pic.twitter.com/iiA70PEDKe— Aaron Dill (@Vokeywedgerep) July 16, 2019
Those two years went by and he calls me up and says he has this position on TOUR and he needs some help: “What do you think? Do you want to do it?” I say,” Uh, yeah I want to do it.” How to you turn down that? It was unbelievable, like a winning lottery ticket. So here we are 13 years later, and we’re doing great.
PGATOUR.COM: How did those wedges for J.T. Poston come about?
DILL: I got to know J.T. a couple years ago. He’s a solid guy. He’s so cool. But this is actually a cool story because we talk about fitting and how important fitting is nowadays. A lot of people, a lot of consumers, they don’t fit at all. They don’t get fitted or get any assessments, they just get to the shop and say, “Give me the mid-bounce,” and they’re done. [It’s unfortunate] because if you’re going to invest money, you want to make sure that it’s right.
So late last year, J.T. and I got together and we were talking. He says, “I want to come out to Oceanside and I want to work on some things.” I said, “You and I have never really spent quality time together dialing in your short-game clubs. I think we need to do that.” He’s like, “I like that.”
He comes out to Oceanside, and I take a look at his bag. I’ve worked on his bag for a while, and I just ask him, “Why do you play what you play?” And he said, “I don’t know.”
I said, “That’s a terrible answer, J.T.!”
I told him that we need to know. We need to understand why you’re playing these wedges. He said “I don’t know. It’s just what I’ve always played.” I said, “That answers nothing. That’s not good enough.”
So we spent two hours and we hit balls and we talked. I asked him questions, and he gave me answers. I shared some information with him, and he shared some information with me. At the end of it all, we both concluded that each wedge needs to have value. What is that value to you; what do you need it to do?
That’s where that fitting really took off. He needed to hear some stuff from me and I needed to hear some stuff from him. Together, we found four wedges that fit him really well. …
He had M-Grinds all the way through his set. I asked why he had those and he couldn’t answer. I told him I was going to shift some things around a little bit because he was a little uncomfortable at that time. He was like, “I’m not really feeling very good about my short game. I don’t understand why.” I said, “I’m going to free your mind.” He was like, “What do you mean?”
I said, “We’re going to take these grinds and we’re going to change them completely. You know that moment when you get a new golf club, and you’re so excited you just want to go play? You need to return to the place in your youth where golf was fun and you instinctively learned to just play. You weren’t thinking about bounce when you were 10, 12, 13 yeas old, whatever. You were just in the moment. You just figured it out.”
So I changed his sand wedge, I changed his lob wedge. I said, “These are the two new bounces. This is what they do, and these are the reasons why. You have one high bounce to protect you when you need it; grain, sandy bunkers, Bermuda, you name it. Then you have your extreme low bounce. So we’re covering all those bases; high, low, and everything in-between.”
He said, “That makes a lot of sense.” And I said, “Now you can just go out and play. Don’t worry about it. You’ve got low-ball flight when you need it, high-ball flight when you need it, you’ve got soft and firm-condition wedges when you need it. We’ve covered all the bases now.”
He never had that. So when we got to Sony (Open in Hawaii), he had them all in the bag. I asked how he’s doing and he says, “Pretty good. I feel cozy. I feel comfortable and like I can just go out and play.”
As the year went on, we saw him have all these good finishes, and I kept texting him like, “Well done. You’re playing good.”
To see him win at the Wyndham was so cool because all of that hard work and all of that time … it certainly isn’t me. I didn’t do anything. I just helped him get comfortable. And I think that’s big for these guys; if you have 14 clubs you trust and love, you can play good golf. It frees your mind so you can just go out there and do your thing.
PGATOUR.COM: The Postman stamping on there is pretty cool, too. What’s the story there?
DILL: He loves the Postman theme; that’s always kind of been his thing. We’ve done all different versions over the years. The first couple versions we did mailboxes, we did letters, the last one was like a mailman. So we try to change it up but the theme remains the same. He delivers.
PGATOUR.COM: Justin Thomas has maybe the most rusted wedge I’ve ever seen. What do you do with a wedge that’s so rusted, and is there any truth to the belief that a rusted wedge adds performance benefits?
DILL: Well, his wedge was really rusted. When we talk about raw wedges – and people love raw wedges -- it’s cool because you can get your hands on something the TOUR has, right? The reasons why players love raw wedges is, aesthetically the way it looks – it’s going to have a natural coloration or patina over time. For us on TOUR, it gives us the ability to polish on it without changing the finish. If you grind on chrome or something that has a darker finish, you’re going to see it because underneath is that raw steel. It gives us that flexibility with polishing.
Some people think it spins a little more: maybe, maybe not. But for the most part, it’s the perfect finish for what we’re doing out here on TOUR, because we’re trying to build a customizable golf club and we want to polish on it.
In his case, because he lives in Florida, there’s a lot of humidity there. If he gets it a little wet and doesn’t dry it off, that steel is going to rust. It’s just the way it is, and especially there. You get it wet, it’s going to get pretty brown.
It’s funny, I saw him (recently) and he texts me, “Hey, can you swing by?”
He said he pulled this wedge out of his garage and it got a little wet, and it’s pretty bad. And it was pretty bad. It looked like it was dipped in honey. It almost looked like it could be an oil-can finish.
I said, “No problem, we’ll get it fixed.”
Most of the time, the guys will keep their stuff pretty dry. The caddies do a great job of keeping them really dry.
Anybody who has a raw wedge knows, if you get it wet, you’re going to get rust spots. That’s just how it works. His case was really extreme. And that wedge was brand new! (laughs) So I brought him in and cleaned it up for him and I told him he has to keep it dry. He’s like, “I know, I know, it’s my fault.”
PGATOUR.COM: What’s the deal with his “radar” stampings? It seems he’s had the radar-themed wedges in his bag for a quite some time, and one of the radar-wedges he has in the bag now has a pretty intricate design.
DILL: Yeah, that one was from the U.S. Open, I believe.
Every major, about two or three weeks prior to the major starting, I’ll reach out to him and say, “Hey, how are things in the bag? Do you need anything? How’s the lob wedge? How’s the sand wedge?”
He plays the sand wedge and lob wedge often; his sand wedge sometimes more often than the lobber. I try to keep them fresh, and I also try to always tell a story.
The radar thing has always been his thing. When he was in college, and he was out at our test site with one of our reps, we would watch him hit wedge shots and he would just pepper flags. Just like one after another. And we jokingly said, “This guy is like radar.” And that stuck.
When he came out to the PGA TOUR, I tried to encourage him like, “You want to stamp something else?”
He said, “Yeah, let’s do some new stuff.” I’m like, “Well what do you want to do?” And he’s like, “Hmm, I don’t know.”
He was listening to all this hip-hop music and stuff, and he’s like, “Can we do song lyrics? Is that too much?” I’m like, “No, that’s totally cool, just keep it clean.”
So he would text me -- stamp this, stamp this. And I’d be like, “No, that one’s out. Throw that one out, try again.” We end up coming up with four wedges, and we did that for probably 3 or 4 sets.
He comes back to me later, and he goes, “My short game’s not very good. I think I need to go back to radar.” And ever since then, we’ve been radar.
PGATOUR: I’ve seen that you’re doing birthdate stampings on some wedges. Talk about that idea, what function it serves and how it could help amateur golfers out, too.
DILL: We’ve had some players over the years that are not good about changing equipment. I don’t mean in the sense that they don’t want to try the new irons or driver or whatever, I’m talking about getting fresh grooves, because they just don’t think about it. And I have to be the one to encourage them and talk to them and tell them their 60-degree is horrible.
Bob Vokey and our team and I, we talk about how important managing spin decay is. Spin decay on the PGA TOUR is huge. We have this 1-2-3-4 rule. One pitching wedge a year, two gap wedges, three sand wedges and four lob wedges. The numbers are a little different based on the guys, but we try and tell them, “Keep things fresh where you need that spin and keep things dull where you don’t need it.” Pitching wedge and gap wedge, dull is good, but sand wedge and lob wedge, spin is important.
So on some player’s wedges I’ll stamp a born-on date. I had a player today; I stamped the date the wedge went into play, which was yesterday. That’s a way for a player to know when it’s time to switch out the wedge, because they don’t think about it. If I’m not there to go by and check every week, then they can at least look at the date. Normally they’re pretty good about coming to me; they like to get new stuff. And wedge is the commonly replaced piece of equipment besides the golf ball so we like to keep things fresh, and we’re very good at that. But for some guys, they just kind of forget. So that’s a good way for them to know.
PGATOUR.COM: What’s the suggested time frame for golfers to switch out a wedge?
DILL: This might shock some of your readers, but we’ll use Justin Thomas as an example. He will keep his pitching wedge and lob wedge for a year. That’s a long time, because he will hit balls constantly -- range balls, balls out of the bunker, chipping, and they’re playing tournament rounds plus practice rounds. So he might keep the pitching wedge for about a year, the gap wedge could last a year. He might play between 4-6 sand wedges a year, and 4-8 lob wedges a year. So they change often.
I tell guys there are three things you need to remember, and these are good reasons to make a switch -- 1) Higher launch angle means the ball is slipping up the face; 2) Shorter carry numbers or longer carry numbers, anything erratic; and 3) Is the ball spinning when it hits the green?
Those are three pretty simple things people can pay attention to, but TOUR guys, they know because they see it everyday. When things get out of sorts, they’ll ask me to come check the ball flight. We’ll check lofts and lies first because those things can get out of whack, and we’ll determine if it’s time to make a switch.