There’s two simple ways that golfers can get their ball to stop quickly around the green. One is through loft, the other is through spin. Both types of shots have their pros and cons, but the sexier of the two options, and arguably the option that takes the least amount of timing and athleticism (due to the smaller range of motion) is the shot that checks up with backspin.
The challenge to this shot is to be able to contact the golf ball with enough of a descending strike to create friction, but to do so without exposing too much of the club’s leading edge, which leads to golfers sticking it in the ground. There aren’t many more embarrassing escapades in a golfer’s life than hitting the turf farther than the golf ball, right? To eliminate that recurring embarrassment, let’s try to understand how the golf club needs to be used to execute this shot. We’ll then add the dynamics of the movement to make this shot an added weapon to your short game arsenal.
The first step in executing this shot is understanding how to use the bounce of your sand wedge. Let’s discuss how the bounce of your sand wedge works statically, or without motion. To start, address a golf ball with your club face in a completely square position. For a simple reference point, let’s say the leading edge of your club face is square at 12 o’clock.
To pronounce or add bounce to your sand wedge, the club face needs to be more open, or pointing to the right (all directional characteristics in this article will be for a right handed golfer). It’s important for us to create more bounce, because bounce will encourage the club to skip through the turf instead of digging too much and causing golfers to take huge divots. For the purpose of this exercise, I want you to open the club face without changing your grip. We’ll make our goal 1 o’clock.
To attain the 1 o’clock position, take note of how the shaft of your golf club has to lean more left, or towards the target. This is a good thing! The more the shaft leans left, the more the golf club is still descending, or traveling down when we add motion. That variable equates to one of the big dynamic keys to achieve the necessary friction needed to execute this low, spinning shot.
Because the club face is pointing well right of the target now, an important problem for us to solve is: How do we hit the golf ball straight? It’s simple, just aim left… either statically (with your setup) or dynamically, by swinging more left on the downswing.
OK, so now we understand how the golf club needs to be used to accommodate the more descending strike required to execute this shot. The second step is to maximize the setup to help us execute this golf shot. Let’s start off with our ball being positioned slightly back of center, and our “target foot” pulled one ball back of square compared to our “backswing foot.” The club face should be square, or be perpendicular to the target. Favor more weight to your target foot. Keep your head even with the golf ball (never behind like the driver) throughout the entire motion.
Finally! We’re ready for the third step. We need to tie in all the static elements of this golf shot with dynamic motion. There are two keys to the backswing. We want to keep the motion short and hinged. Do not allow the handle of your golf club to travel farther than a couple of hands widths outside of your backswing leg. You can hinge the golf club (the club head should be closer to the sky compared to the handle) as much as you want. The more the golf club is hinged, the better chance you have of delivering the golf club on a descending blow during the downswing.
On the downswing, there are two important elements that need to be achieved simultaneously.
- You must rotate the club face into an open faced position, so that by the time that your club face reaches impact, the club face is at the 1 o’clock position that you trained statically. The more you rotate the face open, the easier it is to have the golf club travel on the proper path to execute this shot.
- You will also need to turn your body more left on the down swing. Two important elements will be achieved with this body turn. The handle should be well forward of the club head at impact when you turn your body more left, which encourages the descending strike that is so important to achieve the shaft lean and friction needed to create added backspin. Also, the more you turn left the straighter your shots should travel. Remember, you are striking the golf ball with an open club face. The more your club face is open at impact, the more you must match up your golf club by traveling left with static alignment and body turn to hit the golf ball straight.
So give this shot a go! Experiment with all the variables to find the right combinations that work for you. The more you experiment with these variables, the more you should be able to execute a larger array of spinning shots on the golf course. Finally, always use the ball flight and ball contact to help you problem solve your misses. Good luck!
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Short Game University: How to hit wedges 301
In golf, there is nothing harder than judging a flop shot over a bunker to a tight pin out of long grass. Why? Because there are so many variables to account for — in addition to what you can and cannot do with a wedge. In fact, up until very recently in the world of wedge design, we were limited to only increasing the landing angle to stop the ball, because relying on spin from this lie and this close to the green was next to impossible.
Now with the advent of things like raw faces, different CG locations, new groove design, and micro-ribs between the grooves, we can now spin the ball out of lies that we never could have done so before. This is not to say that you can now zip the ball back from these types of lies, but we are seeing spin rates that have skyrocketed, and this allows us to not open the face as much as we needed to do before in order to stop the ball.
Before we get into the shot around the green itself, let’s talk a bit about wedge design. For that, I called a great friend of mine, Greg Cesario, TaylorMade’s Staff Manager to help us understand a bit more about wedges. Greg was a former PGA Tour Player and had a big hand in designing the new Milled Grind 3 Wedges.
Cesario said: “Wedge technology centers on two key areas- the first is optimizing its overall launch/spin (just like drivers) on all shots and the second is optimum ground interaction through the geometry of the sole (bounce, sole width, and sole shape).”
“Two key things impact spin: Groove design and face texture. Spin is the secondary effect of friction. This friction essentially helps the ball stick to the face a little longer and reduces slippage. We define slippage as how much the ball slides up the face at impact. That happens more when it’s wet outside during those early morning tee times, out of thicker lies, or after a bit of weather hits. Our Raised Micro-Ribs increase friction and reduce slippage on short partial shots around the round – that’s particularly true in wet conditions.”
“We’ve been experimenting with ways to find optimal CG (center of gravity) placement and how new geometries can influence that. We know that CG locations can influence launch, trajectory and spin. Everyone is chasing the ability to produce lower launching and higher spinning wedge shots to help players increase precision distance control. In that space, moving CG just a few millimeters can have big results. Beyond that, we’re continuing to advance our spin and friction capabilities – aiming to reduce the decay of spin from dry to fluffy, or wet conditions.”
Basically, what Greg is saying is that without improvements in design, we would never be able to spin the ball like we would normally when it’s dry and the lie is perfect. So, with this new design in a wedge like the Milled Grind 3 (and others!), how can we make sure we have the optimal opportunity to hit these faster-stopping pitch shots?
- Make sure the face is clean and dry
- Open the blade slightly, but not too much
- Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the AoA
- Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going
Make sure the face is clean and dry
If your thought is to use spin to stop the ball quicker under any situation, then you must give the club a chance to do its job. When the grooves are full of dirt and grass and the remaining exposed face is wet, then you are basically eliminating any opportunity to create spin. In fact, if you decide to hit the shot under these conditions, you might as well hit a flop shot as this would be the only opportunity to create a successful outcome. Don’t put yourself behind the eight-ball automatically, keep your club in a clean and dry condition so you have the best chance to do what you are capable of doing.
Open the blade slightly, but not too much
Without going into too much extra detail, spinloft is the difference between your angle of attack and your dynamic loft. And this difference is one of the main areas where you can maximize your spin output.
Too little or too much spinloft and you will not be able to get the maximum spin out of the shot at hand. With wedges, people equate an open clubface to spinning the ball, and this can be a problem due to excessive spinloft. Whenever you have too much dynamic loft, the ball will slide up the face (reduced friction equals reduced spin) and the ball will float out higher than expected and roll out upon landing.
My thought around the green is to open the face slightly, but not all the way, in efforts to reduce the probability of having too much spinloft during impact. Don’t forget under this scenario we are relying on additional spin to stop the ball. If you are using increased landing angle to stop the ball, then you would obviously not worry about increasing spinloft! Make sure you have these clear in your mind before you decide how much to open the blade.
Opened too much
One final note: Please make sure you understand what bounce option you need for the type of conditions you normally play. Your professional can help you but I would say that more bounce is better than less bounce for the average player. You can find the bounce listed on the wedge itself. It will range between 4-14, with the mid-range bounce being around 10 degrees.
Set the wrists quicker on the backswing to increase the angle of attack
As we know, when debris gets in between the clubface and the ball (such as dirt/grass), you will have two problems. One, you will not be able to control the ball as much. Secondly, you will not be able to spin the ball as much due to the loss of friction.
So, what is the key to counteract this problem? Increasing the angle of attack by setting the wrists quicker on the backswing. Making your downswing look more like a V rather than a U allows less junk to get between the club and the ball. We are not using the bounce on this type of shot, we are using the leading edge to slice through the rough en route to the ball. Coming in too shallow is a huge problem with this shot, because you will tend to hit it high on the face reducing control.
Use your increased AoA on all of your crappy lies, and you will have a much better chance to get up and down more often!
Keep the rear shoulder moving through impact to keep the arms going
The final piece of the puzzle through the ball is speed through the pivot. You cannot hit shots around the green out of tall grass without keeping the club moving and having speed. A reduction of speed is obvious as the club enters into the tall grass, but you don’t want to exacerbate this problem by cutting off your pivot and letting the arms do all the work.
Sure, there are times when you want to cut off the body rotation through the ball, but not on the shot I am discussing here. When we are using spin, you must have speed to generate the spin itself. So, what is the key to maintaining your speed? Keeping the rear shoulder rotating long into the forward swing. If you do this, you will find that your arms, hands, and club will be pulled through the impact zone. If your pivot stalls, then your speed will decrease and your shots will suffer.
Hopefully, by now you understand how to create better shots around the green using the new wedge technology to create more spin with lies that we had no chance to do so before. Remembering these simple tips — coupled with your clean and dry wedge — will give you the best opportunity to be Tiger-like around the greens!
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