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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: An analysis of spin

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As long as I have been in the wedge design business and writing my blog (over 700 articles!), I have received hundreds of questions like, “How do I get more spin with my wedge shots?” The truth is that there is a very complex answer to what appears to be a simple question. So, let’s dive into it today.

We all know those golfers who seem to spin the ball easily, and others who just do not generate much spin. And of course, we watch the tour professionals every week hit a wide variety of shots with varying amounts of spin. How do they do that?

I believe that very few recreational golfers really understand the dynamics of what makes a golf ball spin, so let me see if I can’t break it down into pieces here.

First, understand that the amount of spin imparted to the golf ball is affected by six things. Those six factors are (in no particular order of importance):

  1. The quality of grooves on the face of the wedge
  2. The loft of the wedge
  3. The speed of the clubhead at impact
  4. The path of the clubhead as it approaches the ball
  5. The specific “quality” of impact . . . and
  6. The ball itself

The great thing is that you have control over all these factors, though some are easier to improve than others. Let’s examine each, but in the order of easiest to most difficult.

The ball. This is one very simple way to improve the spin you get with your wedge shots. All of the more premium balls feature a softer urethane cover that allows the club to grip the ball better. The harder, and usually less expensive, balls typically have a Surlyn cover which is more durable but doesn’t allow as much spin. You should experiment with various balls to see which gives you the optimum combination of distance and spin.

The grooves. One of the major wedge brands is now reporting that your wedges begin to lose their ability to spin the ball after as few as 50 rounds of golf. If you practice a lot, that number would surely be lower. I can’t comment to these numbers, but I will say that, very simply, if you are playing a wedge that you’ve had for years, it’s likely costing some of your spin. That said, I have seen golfers who play badly worn wedges that seem to be able to spin the ball at will.

The loft of the wedge. It stands to reason that your 56-degree wedge will impart more spin than your pitching or gap wedge, because it has more loft. And your 60-degree will give you even more. So, generally speaking, when you want more spin for a shot, choose a higher lofted wedge.

Now we get into the technique aspects of generating improved spin. Let’s examine these.

Clubhead speed. It’s pretty simple physics, actually. Given all the other parameters the same, the faster the clubhead is moving through impact, the more spin will be generated. That’s one reason why most of us amateurs should not lay up on par fives and long par fours to that awkward 30- to 50-yard range. Not only is it an in-between swing we probably don’t practice, but you don’t have the clubhead speed at that range to generate optimum spin.

Angle of approach. We have read thousands of times that you have to “hit down” on the ball to get spin. Well, that’s true, but can also be misleading. I mean, the ball is sitting on the ground – how would you hit “up” on it anyway? I contend that’s practically impossible. When you are hitting practice shots, you want to think of making contact with the ball…and then the turf – it’s that simple. The thought of hitting “down” on the ball causes many amateurs to make an overly steep swing path, which is undesirable. Just realize that you do not need to “help” your wedge get the ball in the air. Club designers have given it loft to make sure it will get in the air. All you need to do is swing the club through the ball and make sure the clubhead is traveling slightly downward at impact.

Quality of impact. This aspect of the spin equation takes into account the ability to get a clean face on the ball, not compromised by grass or moisture. And it also considers exactly where on the clubface you make contact, a subject on which I have personally conducted quite a bit of research. In fact, from my experience, this is possibly the most important and misunderstood aspect of good wedge play and is probably worthy of an entire article.

So, think about these other five aspects of spin for a bit. I’ll dive into that subject next week, and we’ll examine impact in detail.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. stephane morency

    May 1, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    I agree with Matt,
    of course better ball, better grooves but spin comes from 2 essential elements: Speed and friction.
    Maximum friction is at 46* of dynamic loft. A putter has zero spin and at the other spectrum a 90* wedge would have zero spin.
    Max friction is at 45* so maybe a gap with 3* negative angle of attack would generate more spin but go to far. So more loft will allow to have more speed to get the job done.

  2. Greg Laves

    May 1, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    For an older golfer, I still can manage to spin the ball pretty well. Even on some shorter chip shots around the green where there isn’t a lot of club head speed. I have always felt that one of the factors influencing spin was acceleration through the ball.

  3. dtrain

    May 1, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Doesn’t hitting the ball cleanly but slight low on the face impart more spin? Like one groove below the sweetspot?

    Also I read once a 58* wedge imparts the most spin for the majority of players, although I am sure this varies a bit based on technique.

  4. RP Jacobs II

    May 1, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    As always, excellent stuff Terry!! I hope that You & Yours are well~

    All the Best,
    RP Jacobs II

  5. 15th Club

    May 1, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Of course point Number One is… urethane-cover balls. The revolution in equipment technology that produced, for elite players, acceptable spin in a solid-core “distance” golf ball.

  6. J3

    Apr 30, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks TWG!

  7. Matt

    Apr 30, 2019 at 11:27 am

    Don’t think its true that more loft always imparts more spin. There are diminishing returns as spin loft increases and spin will actually decrease at some point. Reasoning has to do with compression – the more glancing the blow is the less likely you are able to impart maximum spin. Its obviously going to depend on many delivery characteristics, but many people will spin their 56 more than their 60. In a related story – trackman shows wedge shots hit with draw spin actually have more backspin than those with fade spin.

    • DB

      Apr 30, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      I agree. I find this to generally be true, but in terms of how the ball behaves once it hits the green you also have to factor in angle of descent.

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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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Podcasts

TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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