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What happens when you hit a shot off the cart path?

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Phil Mickelson hitting wedges out of the hospitality area at the Barclays two days in a row showed the true beauty of golf – play it as it lies! It also showed us as golfers that we need to be prepared to play shots from all sorts of lies.

Although very few of us will have to hit out of a hospitality area on the golf course, there is a very real possibility you may have to hit a ball off the cart path. I understand if you’re out having fun and move the ball off the path to the closest available grass, but in competition the rules prohibit moving the ball closer to the hole forcing you to either play the shot or possibly drop the ball into and even worse position, similar to what happened to Mickelson at The Barclays.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to look at what happens when you try to hit the ball off the cart path, and with the help of Trackman, put together a couple of thoughts to help you execute the shot successfully. From the lie in the image above, I hit close to 30 shots. The first two groups were 5 to 7 shots each, one group from the cart path, one group from the grass just in front of the cart path. The only thing I tried to control was the speed of the swing. The data sets below represent the averages of each group all of which were hit with a 60-degree wedge.

Grass Group 45 mph (averages)

Grass50

Cart Path Group 45 mph (averages)

Path50

A couple things stick out to me from the data:

  • The club speed average is very close, leading me to believe both low launch and higher ball speeds a result of the hard surface of the cart path.
  • The launch angle is almost 25 percent lower. Here’s why: As the bottom of the club strikes the cart path, the leading edge slows and torques the the top of the club down and toward the target thus taking some loft off at impact. This is shown by the dynamic loft (loft of the club face at the moment of impact) number from Trackman. The shots on the grass, the leading edge cuts through grass and turf much more efficiently, having much less effect on the dynamic loft.
  • The lower dynamic loft and launch with the same club speed, increases the ball speed by 2.9 mph — enough to make a difference.
  • As you probably would have guessed, spin rate increases. The firm cart path plays a big part, causing more friction at impact.

Grass Group 60 mph (averages)

Grass80

Cart Path Group 60 mph (averages)

Path80

With a little longer shot, the patterns stays consistent — lower launch, higher spin.

Hitting The Shot

As you address the ball, you’ll need to lean the shaft forward to take some of the bounce out of the 60-degree wedge I’ve got here. In the image below you can see as you set the club down, the bounce brings the leading edge off the ground quite a bit, making if very easy to skip the sole of the wedge off the cart path and blade the ball.

CartPath2

Leaning the shaft forward brings the leading edge towards the cart path, making it less likely for you to engage the bounce.

CartPath3

As you put the ball a little more back in your stance with the shaft leaning forward, you’ll be more prepared to hit the shot successfully.

Once you’re set up, try to hit the shot using as little hands as possible. If you could imagine holding the setup position and hitting the shot by turning your shoulders and nothing else, you’ll have a much better opportunity to hit it solid. When the hands are even a little bit active, hitting the shot solid will be increasingly difficult. You can also experiment with something like a 56- or 52-degree wedge, which will generally have less bounce and may make it easier for you to catch the ball cleanly.

As for how this shot will affect your golf club? Here’s a look at my wedge after close to 30 shots of the cart path (hit a couple extra for fun after I had the data I needed).

Damage

The wedge is obviously going to take a little beating, but the overall damage will be minimal, especially hitting just one shot. In terms of loft and lie, I don’t think you’re going to see any difference after the shot.

As a player, I used to fit these kinds of shots into the last few minutes of my practice sessions. I know you don’t want to destroy the bottom of your wedges, but if you’ve got an old wedge you can use, give it a shot. I always got some funny looks from people practicing these shots, but you never know when you’re going to need it. And you all know how much difference saving one shot can make.

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Rob earned a business degree from the University of Washington. He turned professional in June of 1999 and played most mini tours, as well as the Australian Tour, Canadian Tour, Asian Tour, European Tour and the PGA Tour. He writes for GolfWRX to share what he's learned and continues to learn about a game that's given him so much. www.robrashell.com Google Plus Director of Instruction at TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale www.touracademy.com

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. mizuno 29

    Sep 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    When I was young me and my friend used to hit shots off of the cart path from maybe 30 yards to see who could get closest to the pin, that’s how I learned to hit my low spinner, everyone asks how I hit that shot, I tell them that’s my concrete shot. The ball spins like crazy.

  2. Ken

    Sep 8, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Personally, I always reach into my playing partner’s bag and select the appropriate wedge. Mine still look great.

  3. bobby golfbags

    Sep 5, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Club repair shops love this article, people who like to play sub 5 hour rounds hate it. If you aren’t being paid to play, move it along, there are a hundred other people out there as well

  4. Bryan

    Sep 5, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Just wondering what the attack angle numbers looked like in this test? I would venture to guess that maybe part of the lower launch angle from the cart path was in part due to a steeper angle of attack to try and hit the ball first.

  5. Brian

    Sep 5, 2014 at 4:26 am

    I love these types of articles!!! Thank you for taking the time and effort to even run this kind of test. I applaud the effort you put into it. I will catalog this for the extremely rare occasions (cough) that I am not in the middle of the fairway or next to the pin.

  6. Billy Joe

    Sep 4, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    AHHH!!!!!!!!!! Why did you use a Cleveland 588 for that when there are tons of Snake Eyes laying around?!

    • Joe

      Sep 6, 2014 at 1:14 am

      THATS WHAT I’M SAYING. I WOULD PAY 40 DOLLARS FOR A TOP FLITE WEDGE BEFORE USING A CLASSIC LIKE THAT.

  7. ZAP

    Sep 4, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Increased spin is at least partly due to vertical gear effect as well.

  8. R

    Sep 4, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    The surface doesn’t make a difference on spin. Assuming you’re making ball first contact, the ball leaves the face before the club hits the ground.

    For your 45 mph data points:

    On both surfaces, (Dynamic Loft – Launch Angle) is pretty much the same (10 for grass, 11 for concrete). The spike in spin is most definitely due to contact, the ground makes no difference in spin.

    • Mark

      Sep 4, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      The surface absolutely does effect the spin… Even if the ball is struck first, the ball will always compress some against the surface below it before taking off (though momentarily). The grass and path are significantly different for various reasons.

      1) Surface hardness: This one is obvious, but with the path being harder than the grass the surface infulences the way the ball spins. Granted, contact with the grooves makes a difference between a nice fairway lie and the rough, but even on light rough with ball sitting up (good area for direct contact) the fairway lie allows for more spin as the “tighter” lie lets us compress ball against surface with more surface area and less give. The hard path is even more efficient than the fairway lie at doing this, hence more spin.

      2) Friction of surface: The path is rough cement. Grass (even tight fairway lie) is still grass and dirt. Not only will the grass give more, but it imparts less friction on the cover of the ball at compression and therefore imparts less spin than the abrasive cart path.

      Unless you were to literally skim directly under ball using low bounce club there will be a discernible difference in spin and ball speed on these differing conditions.

      As Jessie from BB would say “Science B***H!!!”

      • Rob Rashell

        Sep 4, 2014 at 2:58 pm

        Mark,

        Very interesting to say the least, would love to see the phantom camera put to work on this one. Something like 17,000 fps, would help shed more light on exactly what is happening.

        All the best!

        Rob

      • larrybud

        Sep 4, 2014 at 3:46 pm

        Mark, thanks for giving up a wedge on this test, but your conclusions are not correct, imo.

        The ball doesn’t compress against the surface at ALL. The ball is spinning more on the cart path because you’re hitting on the bottom of the face because the bottom of the club is being stopped by the hard cart path. You might even be clipping it with the leading edge, hence hitting it thin, depending on how accurate your strike is.

        If the friction of the surface mattered, you would get LESS backspin on the ball. Imagine it this way: the ball is moving forward, which means the friction on a surface below it would cause it to roll with top spin, like a car wheel. If you push a car forward, the tires roll with “top spin” not back spin.

        • Jeff

          Sep 4, 2014 at 4:14 pm

          Simply “hitting it thin” wouldn’t raise the spin number that much, hitting it thin would decrease at least backspin.

          How do you get to the ball is moving forward? Every high-speed camera I have ever watched shows the ball roll backward up the face of the wedge

        • Mark

          Sep 5, 2014 at 12:39 am

          As the top/back of the ball is being compressed to the ground for the briefest moment the ball is compressed info the ground on a negative angle of attack (ball is not teed and if you bottom out early your club hits concrete, bounces, and you “blade it”… Therefore unless you pick it perfect you will have to do this) the back strike side of ball is staying on the face, and compressing into the grooves, which combined with exit angle and force of strike (stronger than the amount needed to break the balls inertia from rest). The firmer terrain and friction imparted resist exit a fraction longer and with more surface area of ball in contact with more grooves for more duration there absolutely is a difference. Remember. The backspin is being created by significantly more force than the ground can overcome and the added spin from compression over time is positive and significant. You cannot forget, force is a vector. It is directional based on impact path. This is why the pros take nasty divots IN FRONT of their ball. I promise you. The ball compresses and turn firmness (and friction to a lesser extent) 100% allows for more spin to be imparted to the ball with equal effort and quality of strike… Unless you pick it perfect and somehow catch the ball on a perfectly parallel pick clean with a zero angle of attack. So other than that one swing (and a blade), one will get more spin of a cart path.

          -Frank the Tank
          (Sorry. What happened? I blacked out… We won??)

          • Jeff

            Sep 5, 2014 at 3:40 pm

            I’m giving the author the benefit of the doubt as far as the strike. I doubt he would publish all the data on thinned shots. I assumed (maybe incorrectly) that these are based on ball-first strikes.

      • golfguy

        Sep 5, 2014 at 1:46 pm

        Everything you’ve said is wrong, and I think Jesse from BB wouldn’t appreciate you tainting his catchphrase. If you tee a ball 1″ off the ground and hit it with a wedge, you’ll produce more spin than hitting it off any surface. Tell me, how hard is air?

      • Large chris

        Sep 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm

        Nope…..
        Sorry no way does the spin go up because of the ball compressing into the surface a tiny fraction. There is no high speed video in existence showing that.

        You have said yourself your swing is different (exaggerated hands forward) and the hard surface will make you shallow out your swing. One of the popular pro bloggers did a lot of wedge testing trying to establish the conditions for highest spin and concluded wedge de lofted to the max and shallower attack angle gave the best spin. All pros now have shallowed out compared to how Woosnam used to play (big dinner plate divots).

    • Rob Rashell

      Sep 4, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      R,

      Some very good observations, and in my opinion here’s the difference.

      On Turf–If you strike a ball in the middle of the club face, the leading edge will have worked under the golf ball and past the impact point on the golf ball to some degree, guessing a couple milimeter’s.

      On Concrete–Its physically impossibly to get the leading edge of the wedge under the ball in any way. The best you could do is get the leading edge of the wedge to meet the exact point the ball is touching the cart path.

      As the face of the wedge is descending on the concrete there will be a moment when the ball is touching both the cart path and the face of the wedge. I would have to see super high speed video to confirm this, which I unfortunately don’t have.

      As far as the strikes, one or two being different or not hit very well I could understand the difference in spin rates, but every single shot of the 15 or so that I hit off the concrete gave very similar data. As did the shots off the grass.

      Very interesting to say the least, and would be fun to dig deeper with even better technology. Thanks for the thoughts!

      Rob

  9. Tom Stickney

    Sep 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Nothing like getting massive cheese on the ball from the path!! Spinner baby.

  10. TR1PTIK

    Sep 4, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Very good info. I played one off the cart path recently (I usually try to play it as it lies) because my relief point put me under a small tree where the branches would have interfered with my swing. Unfortunately, my ball didn’t stay on the green (carried too far and pushed it a tad to the right), but I still felt good about the shot since it was the first time I ever tried it. I was still able to get up and down for par thanks to one of the best lob shots I’ve hit in quite a while.

    • Rob Rashell

      Sep 4, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      TR,

      Love that you played by the rules, something very settling about it, if that makes sense. Taking whatever comes your way and making the best of it.

      • TR1PTIK

        Sep 5, 2014 at 8:34 am

        I honestly find a certain amount of joy and satisfaction in playing the ball as it lies because if you hit a good shot, it’s that much more awesome and if you hit a bad shot… Well what did you expect when playing from the hospitality tent (Phil)? So, whether it’s tree roots, rocks, cart path, whatever, I’ll play it (within good reason) for a chance to test my skills and embrace the spirit of the game.

  11. Christosterone

    Sep 4, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Cool data….i play it off the path with the exact same swing as a fairway bunker.
    Take my normal stance with one club longer and choke up 3/4 of an inch…
    I swing with a steepish reverse c so its the only way i can keep from smacking the concrete(or sand) after contact.
    Again, cool article.

    • Rob Rashell

      Sep 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      Chris,

      Thanks, amazing how a little bit of practice with something like this can pay off down the road. Just being a little bit more aware gives you the confidence to not only try the shot, but to pull it off.

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