Custom Wedges Offer Words of Confidence, or Crassness


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Justin Thomas has a childhood nickname engraved on his wedges. Other players have picked humorous phrases or cuts of meat.

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Ben Solomon for The New York Times

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Since he started engraving his wedges with funny quotes from his favorite movies two years ago, Robert Streb has envisioned the moment in which his puerile sense of humor might actually help him on the course.

It would be a tense situation: down the stretch of a closely contested major championship.

His caddie, Steve Catlin, would approach him with a suggestion to use his wedge.

“Which one?” Streb would ask.

“Let’s go with the Ted Clubberlang,” Catlin would respond.

There is nothing like a reference to the raunchy comedy “Ted 2” to lighten the mood on a Sunday on the PGA Tour.

Streb just happens to have the reference carved into the back of his 46-degree Titleist attack wedge, one of two custom-stamped wedges he carried around with him this week at the P.G.A. Championship. The other said “#myamazingsummer,” another nod to “Ted 2,” which stars Mark Wahlberg and a talking stuffed animal.

Among tour players, such steel tattoos are rampant. Some are meant to be silly, provoking a laugh or a smile any time the player reaches into his bag. Others are sentimental: song lyrics, Bible quotes or the names of family members. Still others require less analysis. Andrew Johnston, the affable fan favorite known as Beef, carries a sand wedge that is covered with the names of various cuts of meat, like porterhouse, sirloin and brisket.

William McGirt, who in the past has stamped his Srixon clubs with nicknames like McDirty and McNasty, said that just owning a custom engraved wedge could supply an instant confidence boost.

“You get one of those, and you feel like it’s a special wedge,” McGirt said. “Then you chip good with it, and you’re like, All right, let’s go.”

Then again, some players use stamps to remind them of the players they want to be. Justin Thomas had “Radar,” a nickname bestowed by a coach who appreciated his targeting of the pins, engraved on his wedges since he was 9 years old.

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Robert Streb favors references to the movie “Ted 2,” including one that is a secondhand reference to “Rocky III.” The engraving trend started with Rickie Fowler.

Credit
Ben Solomon for The New York Times

But last season, Thomas asked his representatives at Titleist to switch things up and put lyrics from some of his favorite rappers on his wedges. Soon, his clubs contained lines from Drake and Lil Wayne across the back.

“You have to find something short and clean to get on there,” Thomas said. “That was challenging.”

He wound up struggling with his short game and, being superstitious, blamed the rappers. When Titleist asked him if he wanted to keep refreshing the lyrics, Thomas quickly thought better of it.

“I said no,” Thomas said, “I wedge pretty good with ‘Radar’ on there, so I’ll go back to that.”

Just getting a custom wedge stamp is viewed as a sort of a rite of passage. It indicates that the craftsmen of a golfer’s club of choice are willing to take the time to customize something out of the ordinary, to be put on display. It is not unusual for budding professionals or college players to be handed a club with their initials engraved on it. But to get something unique or personal, a golfer needs to really earn it.

“I think it’s like once you get to that point where you can get your wedge stamped, it’s like, well, everyone else does it, so I’m going to, too,” Thomas said.

The man responsible for a lot of the custom craze is Aaron Dill, a Titleist Vokey wedge representative who has worked with PGA players for nine years. He said that early on, it was not uncommon for players to get their names or initials forged onto their clubs. But the first player to experiment with something different a few years ago was Rickie Fowler, who used to joke with Dill about a hit song at the time, “Call Me Maybe,” by Carly Rae Jepsen.

As a joke, Dill put “Call Me Maybe” on Fowler’s wedge. Fowler did not protest. In fact, he allowed Dill to add another stamp to another wedge: “Justin Bieber Fan Club VP.”

“That’s kind of when I started to think we can really go far with this,” Dill said. “We can do some things nobody else was doing.”

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The result has been dozens of imaginative new expressions every year. Morgan Hoffmann favors movie quotes from “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” Roger Sloan prefers ice cream flavors. Thongchai Jaidee likes to have the flag from his native Thailand. When John Peterson’s golf bag was lost after a flight, Dill engraved an impression of a baggage claim tag on his wedge.

“I think it’s just something that the guys in the truck enjoy doing,” Keegan Bradley said, referring to the equipment craftsmen like Dill. “It’s fun for them.”

Perhaps the oddest selection of phrases came from Cameron Tringale, who said he had started getting wedges stamped with “Cam” when he played for Georgia Tech. But when he arrived on tour, he began having fun with it. Random fun. Some of his clubs have been adorned with phrases like “Chicken Sandwich” and “SSSsssaladddDDD.”

“They were just little silly things,” Tringale said. “It was never anything serious.”

Tringale has since stopped requesting stamps entirely. His clubs for the P.G.A. Championship were blank.

“I just stopped caring,” Tringale said sardonically. “I’m trying to think the last time I got inspired. It was probably over a year ago. I just don’t care enough.”

Streb said that stamps were still popular on tour, though, and he changes his selections often. An expert like Dill can create a custom engraving on site within 15 minutes, using a three-pound mallet and stamps as minuscule as one-sixteenth of an inch. Wedges are typically the clubs of choice because their width offers a better canvas.

Dill described the engraving process as the “cherry on top of the banana split.” The primary focus is ensuring that the wedge is behaving as desired. Then the personalization can begin.

“Once the wedge is done,” Dill said, “that’s when we sit down and talk like, ‘O.K., let’s make this thing pop.’”

He was surprised that a tour fad had emerged from a prank and “Call Me Maybe.” But for players looking for any ounce of additional encouragement, they can now find it inside their bag.

“A lot of people come up to me, and they’re like, ‘Radar, huh?’” Thomas said. “I don’t even think of it anymore. It’s been on my clubs for so long. Hopefully it’s just a nickname that I can live up to.”

Correction: July 30, 2016

An earlier version of a capsule summary for this article misspelled the surname of a golfer who has engraved his wedges. He is Andrew Johnston, not Johnson.

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