For as long as I can remember, golfers have been fascinated watching the professionals hit wedge shots into the green — especially when their shots land past the hole on the green, hop forward, and then zip back toward the hole. It’s a sexy shot that every golfer wants to have at his disposal.
What I have learned from teaching golf for more than 20 years, however, is that relatively few golfers can actually hit a high-spinning wedge shot. One of the main reasons why? Few golfers actually understand how spin is created. The purpose of this article is to help golfers understand just that, as well as how they can improve their chances of hitting a PGA Tour-quality wedge shot.
How spin is created
Since I starting using a Trackman launch monitor, my understanding of spin creation has grown exponentially. It has taught me and other teaching professionals that spin is created by specific, measurable factors.
The main factor is called Spin Loft, which is calculated by subtracting “Angle of Attack,” or the amount of degrees a golfer hits up or down on a ball, from “Dynamic Loft,” which is the amount of loft (in degrees) on the club face at the moment of impact.
Spin Loft Formula = Dynamic Loft – Angle of attack
Yes, there are other factors that influence spin such as club head speed, face-to-path ratio, impact friction, and horizontal and vertical impact point, but they are relatively minor compared to the effect of Spin Loft.
Why you have trouble spinning the ball
The first mistake amateurs make when they try to add spin to their wedge shots is trying to hit the ball higher. Trackman has taught us that it is impossible to increase the spin rate of a golf ball while simultaneously increasing the ball’s landing angle. That means that most golfers won’t spin the ball more by hitting it higher.
The second mistake amateur golfers make is believing that an exaggerated downward hit on the golf ball more will create more spin. I’m here to tell you that this does NOT automatically increase your spin rate. When golfers hit more “down” on the golf ball, they also tend to lean the shaft more forward as well.
Remember the spin loft formula? Added shaft lean decreases Dynamic Loft, which either lowers Spin Loft or keeps it the same. That won’t give you the added spin you’re want. Here’s why.
Spin Loft in real life
Since we know that Spin Loft creates the spin we are looking, then what is the perfect Spin Loft value for maximum spin output?
Trackman studies have shown that once your spin loft values rise above a 45-50 threshold, the ball will begin to lose friction/compression and it will slide up the face of your wedge, reducing spin.
If you look at the Trackman screen shot above, you’ll see that my AoA was -5.7 degrees (that means I hit 5.7 degrees down on the ball) and my Dynamic Loft was 34.5 degrees (that means the amount of loft on my club at impact was 34.5 degrees at impact). Therefore, my Spin Loft was 40.2, which is in the range for maximum spin production.
Spin Loft (40.2 degrees) = Dynamic Loft (34.5 degrees) – Angle of Attack (-5.7 degrees)
To create optimal spin, you must hit shots within a certain spin loft range to be most effective. For better golfers, that means hitting lower-launching shots that give them the “hit, jump, and grab” on the green they want. This flatter launch angle, combined with a shallower Angle of Attack, will help them reach the apex of what Andrew Rice calls the “Spin Loft Mountain.” To learn more from my friend Andrew Rice, visit his site.
Increasing your spin rate without changing mechanics
Ok, so we’ve covered the technical part of spin creation. I know that a lot of golfers might need to work on their mechanics with an instructor before they can start to effectively tweak things such as their Dynamic Loft and Angle of Attack. And since this is GolfWRX, I also know that a lot of you are already spinning the ball like Tour players with your wedges.
For both types of players, here are my tips on increasing your wedge spin without changing your mechanics.
- Use a premium golf ball: To create maximum spin, you must be using a premium ball. If you’re not willing to spend $30+ per dozen on your golf balls, know that higher-compression golf balls tend to spin more on wedge shots that lower-compression golf balls.
- Use a versatile wedge: Most equipment companies sell two types of wedges: those that “match their iron sets,” and specialty wedges such as Titleist’s Vokey and TaylorMade’s Tour Preferred EF models, to name a few. Generally, specialty wedges have sole grinds and groove designs that encourage more spin, particularly on partial shots around the green.
- Use fresh grooves: Over time, the faces and grooves of your wedges become less effective due to loss of friction. For that reason, newer wedges will generally spin more than older ones. If you play or practice a lot and you’ve had your wedges for more than a season or two, it may be time to change. I don’t recommend that golfers use groove sharpening tools, as they often make wedges non-conforming in tournament play.
- Clean your wedges in between shots: If your wedge faces and grooves are caked with dirt and grass, you will not be able to achieve maximum spin. The only exception is if there is sand on the face of your wedge from a past bunker shot. It actually helps the ball spin more, but for consistency reasons you should clean your wedges before every shot. Better players may even want to do this between shots when they practice.
My last bit of advice is to understand how course and wind conditions will affect spin, and to have realistic expectations about the shot at hand. If you’re playing firm, fast greens, it’s going to be very difficult to get your wedge shots to spin back. Plan accordingly. The same is true for wedge shots that are downwind or shots from deep rough.
Finally, remember that wet conditions will decrease your ability to add spin to shots, as moisture reduces the friction between the ball and club face at impact. For that reason, make sure your club faces are as dry as possible.
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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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