Ben Hogan popularised the term 'Texas wedge'. It was the name given to shot with a putter when it was used for a short approach shot from off the green over flat bare ground.
The tight conditions of the dry Texas fairways in summer brought about the selection of the putter. Today the decrease in the loft of the putter has led to the Texas wedge "flying south" in the words of Johnny Miller. Professionals now prefer a three-wood or hybrid over the putter as they can control the roll more consistently.
In the early days of golf, greens were not manicured as they are today. The stimpmeter (yet to be invented) would have been in the vicinity of five or six. Putters had lofts far greater than today’s modern putters in order to lift the ball out of the grass.
The Texas wedge as a recognised way to play an approach shot can be traced back to links golf in the 'Old Country'. Links golf courses are instantly recognisable by their bleak windswept landscape situated between the sea and more arable land.
There are still Scottish traditionalists who believe that a golf course with trees is not proper golf.
Faced with the difficult challenge presented by the terrain and the weather, the early golfers learned how to play their ball under the wind with low shots.
When near the green they used a long-nosed approach putter that ran the ball along the ground. The ball stopped when it ran out of energy, not because of back spin.
For the golfer who has learned his or her golf on lush fairways playing a links course for the first time is a new experience. In this treeless wasteland amid the sand dunes covered in wild fescue grass the fairways are bone hard, bouncy, and unpredictable.
The bunkers often hide from view, and the greens, glassy and unwatered, seem to reject the ball. Here the club sits above the ball without any cushion. Bad golf lies in waiting to claim anyone who employs a 'bomb and gouge' rather than a 'bump-and-run' game.
Tiger Woods grew up playing golf in California which is far removed from the courses that form the rota for the British Open. Yet he has not only adapted to the style of golf necessary to stay out of trouble and contend, but he has perfected it as his record of three Opens to date shows.
Here are two of his quotes.
"Your putter is an underrated weapon from off the green. Mine won me the Open at St Andrews".
"One of the things I like most about Pinehurst and St Andrews is that you have to be creative around the greens. That sometimes means putting through swales and over mounds instead of chipping".
Putting from off the green is not to be sneezed at. However, putting is usually an activity that is confined to the green. Typically only those golfers whose nerve has failed them now putt from well off the green.
This survival tactic can work if the grass is closely mown and there are no intervening bunkers or water to negotiate. It spells the end for the wedge as the club of choice.
Faced with the habit of either laying a sod over the ball or thinning it brutally across the green, the unfortunate golfer gives up all attempts at conventional chipping.
Approaches to the green are now played along the ground. As confidence slips further away, the distances to the green grow longer and longer like the shadows in the late afternoon sun.
The only positive is an improvement in course management. It becomes crucial now to leave your ball in a position where there is a direct entry to the green by the ground route.
Golf club manufacturers have recognised the dilemma that can afflict the high handicapper with a wedge in hand. They have developed a chipping putter as an alternative to the Texas wedge to make these shots easier.
The marketing literature states:
To use the Texas wedge or not is therefore the question when you are close to the green. With the ball sitting down in a tight lie it is safer to putt than to chip.
From this experience of countless golfers comes the saying that "a bad putt is always better than a bad chip".