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The science of adding spin to your wedge shots

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This story was selected as one of the 15 best GolfWRX stories of 2015!

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

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 2.36.44 PM

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?

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 2.50.53 PM

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: [email protected]

41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Keep it Simple

    Sep 30, 2019 at 12:49 am

    Seriously ? I thought this article was a joke at first,,,,

    You “Need” $40 golf balls and “new” wedges every year !!! 7 year old Cleveland and original 4 piece K-Sigs, spinning them back 2 to 3 feet ,,,, or hit and stop with chip shots

    Impossible to spin back with PING EYE 2 square grooves and Titleist DT’s,,,,

  2. Tailor

    Mar 11, 2019 at 11:26 am

    I own a One Length 60° Wedge and hit it once in an indoor trackman. The spin loft was 60,5° and the spin rate was about 13090 while the spin axis was -2,5°. This must result in a lot of backspin. But never experienced my ball rolling back on the course.

  3. Paul

    Jun 17, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Tom, Excellent article, but I’m afraid the theory of spin generation you have described is not entirely correct. The Dplane theory of impact you have alluded to, provides the basis of many impact models utilized by Launch Monitor Manufacturers. Unfortunately, as a geometric construct, it is not able to explain, or account for in any way, the dynamics of the strike or reveal what is happening to the ball and the clubface during the short period of impact.

    On short wedge shots, because of the lower clubhead speed and low compression of the ball, the amount of spin that can be generated per degree of so-called ‘spin loft’ is significantly less than you would expect to see for a full wedge shot. Hence, changing the delivered loft or attack angle, or attempting to ‘optimize’ the spin-loft to increase spin, will have a negligible effect on increasing the spin rate. Assuming we are using a premium quality ball and a clean clubface; in a high spinning wedge shot, spin is maximized by the degree of wrist torque and the nature and the quality of the strike, not by the spin-loft.

    In simple terms, the strike-induced spin on a high-spinning wedge shot is a direct consequence of the magnitude of the strike and the downward movement of the flat surface of the clubface relative to the ball during the short period of impact.

    In a premium quality ball, the outer layers of the ball have a high moment of inertia and are momentarily held in place on the clubface by the high frictional contact force as the clubface descends at a tangent to the ball. The strain energy produced is stored in the core of the deformed ball. During the latter stages of impact as the ball leaves the clubface, the strain energy is recovered and converted into rotational kinetic energy which adds to the spin rate already generated by the effective loft on the clubface (spin loft).

    The magnitude of the strike, the angle of descent of the clubhead, as well as the angle at which the clubface is presented to the ball, and the friction between the ball and the clubface, will all have a major influence on the amount of ‘traction’ that can be generated, and the degree of elastic energy that can be produced.

    Generally only skilled players possessing strong and flexible wrists are able to generate enough wrist torque to produce this shot. The skill can of course be acquired over time by the serious golfer. Those players learning their skills on a links course will have an advantage, as the very hard turf is also a factor in increasing traction on the ball.

    Trust this helps the discussion and opens minds to true and tested scientific theories rather than dwelling on those that are not. I enjoy reading your articles Tom which i’m sure are of great help to golfers of all standards, so please don’t misconstrue my intent with these comments.

  4. Dan H

    Jan 12, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Here’s a video with a study on it comparing a new wedge to a one year old wedge using Trackman numbers: https://youtu.be/PeOboLZcUuY

  5. ETW

    Sep 15, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Well lets not go back the 20 years like you say, Tom, because lets remember that there were SQUARE grooves before 2010 that helped with the zippy spin back balls

  6. KCCO

    Sep 13, 2015 at 9:55 am

    I get lucky from time to time, can make my ball stop on various greens, which tends to make me believe has a lot to the greens….ie. hardness, length, time of day, and angle of decent (not that angle of decent its even a golf related term), but believe it has an affect on ball just putting brakes on, or having some english and coming back to you after first bounce. And just a personal opinion, I get more backspin (type causing ball to come back) is from a little further out, with a 51.5 or 56 in my case. Where you would think getting under the ball with a 60 and putting back spin will give you that affect, IMO, your so close and the amount of spin generated (when using 60* on a 25 yard or in shot is no where near enough head speed to generate spin to get ball to come back to you (unless ur on the tour) This is just my opinion, I am no kind of pro, just always been fascinated by the same spin a lot of people try to acheive, and in my case, 9 outta 10 times its a situation where I wish it would have just put brakes on with the spin, being at right length, then spin comes into play and I’m 6 to 10 feet from the hole because I was 80 yards out and swing speed put more spin on ball, and didn’t come down softly as a short flop with a more lofted wedge would, so in turn ball spins back.

    * I do believe a softer cover, and fresh wedges do help in the scenario as well. Again, I’m no instructor, and may have just typed a useless post, it’s just based on my personal experience and observations. I’ve also just experimented on practice chipping green, and so many different variables can acheive spin to stop the ball or make it come back.

    All of that being said, in reality, if you have the distance, why do you want the ball to come back? Fun too watch, but if my distance is on, last thing I want is a ball to roll 2 more yards away from pin. Hope this made 2% of sense. Ha

  7. The Drop

    Sep 12, 2015 at 11:20 am

    How about an open face and cutting a sliding shot with an exaggerated out-to-in under the ball a beat more, not all the way a flop shot but like a tennis drop shot, of course you can flop it too for maximum

  8. birly-shirly

    Sep 12, 2015 at 4:33 am

    Interesting, and somewhat contrary, view here – http://shortgamesecrets.tv/blogs/news/14320709-can-you-buy-that-elusive-30-launch-angle-with-a-sand-wedge

    Suggests that the low launch angle is the result of fresh clubface, quality ball and clean lie and NOT 20* of shaft lean.

    If that’s correct, then that suggests that the Dynamic Loft measurement on Trackman is being “fooled”. It would then follow that the explanation of Spin Loft here is flawed, or at least incomplete.

    • Tom Stickney II

      Sep 12, 2015 at 5:34 pm

      B– increasing landing angle works as well and better for most players. However this article covered the “science” of spin not what was the easiest option.

      • Sc

        Sep 12, 2015 at 7:16 pm

        No, the title says “adding” spin to shots.

      • birly-shirly

        Sep 13, 2015 at 8:01 am

        Not sure if you followed the link, Tom. Friction is science too, no? The question is whether the 30* launch is the result of you leaning the hosel > 20*, or high friction between ball and face. In that link, JR appears to achieve a 30* launch irrespective of how much dynamic loft he presents. Have you verified that 34* dynamic loft figure on something that directly measures it?

  9. Wrong again

    Sep 12, 2015 at 2:55 am

    Of course there are some courses that are the opposite…hard and firm and don’t spin at all. It’s challenging in a different way, and while the PGA tour certainly plays at places like this, they certainly don’t all the time. When they go out to the greenbrier or john deer or these tournaments when guys are going out and shooting -20 or better, I can promise you those greens are spinning a lot. Thats what they mean when they refer to “scoring conditions”. When you can just throw the ball to the hole on almost any shot because its going to check once and stop takes all of the feel out of having to play bump and runs all day because the balls aren’t spinning as much. Thats what “scoring conditions” means. Easy to get the ball close to the hole.

  10. Steve

    Sep 11, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Mellonhead,
    Do you think it is better to make it more complicated? Or make it more simple. This is the reason the game is shrinking. It is explained in a over complicated way, by teachers that want you to believe they are educated. Golf will never grow with teachers like Mellonhead, they over complicate a simple game

    • Tom Stickney II

      Sep 12, 2015 at 5:38 pm

      I’m hopeful you are not referring to me sir as I’m only here trying to help you understand how things work. Knowledge is power if you can apply it…

      • Joe Golfer

        Sep 13, 2015 at 12:39 am

        Tom,
        Keep doing what you are doing. Ignore people like “Steve” who call names and such. There are some extremely immature people out there who simply must insult people to somehow feel superior about themselves.
        I gave your article both a Like and a Legit. Good job.

      • Jer

        Sep 13, 2015 at 8:36 am

        I would hope he isn’t speaking of you as you have went above and beyond to personally explain certain points thoroughly, and made it quite easy to understand. Thank you Tom

  11. Dennis Corley

    Sep 11, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Tom
    Looking at the Trackman screen at the bottom it says 56 degree. Did you deloft at 56 degree wedge down to 34.5? Is that alot? How much shaft lean is that?

    Thanks
    Dennis

  12. JeffL

    Sep 11, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Probably the main reason is that the pros catch their shots much cleaner. Even a decent shot from most mid- to high-handicappers is a little fat. That and clubhead speed.

  13. Bob Jones

    Sep 11, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    As far as the golf ball goes, I buy Bridgestone e5s, which you can spin the heck out of, for $25 a dozen.

  14. Bob Castelline

    Sep 11, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    This is a wonderful article about what happens to produce the most spin. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help me much. There’s a big difference between knowing WHAT has to happen and HOW I make that happen. If someone could write an article describing how to create the appropriate angle of attack and shaft lean for producing the most spin loft, that would be exceedingly helpful.

  15. cmyktaylor

    Sep 11, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Another way to ask my question is this: Should I use the 54 without much shaft lean or downward AA from 90 yards out, or should I really contort my 60 from that distance if I’m wanting a lot of spin?

  16. Chris

    Sep 11, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for this article Tom.
    Question..You mentioned that better players want to combine a shallower Angle of Attack with a lower launch angle to get the best spin loft.
    I assume their spin loft tends to be too high then, correct?
    Now what about for the average player? Does there spin loft tend to be too low. Should they be trying to increase AoA while keeping the dynamic loft the same for example?

  17. cmyktaylor

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    I’d like to see this how this plays out with specific wedges. I have a good 54 that I could pull the string on without any effort the first year I got it. I don’t play too much, so It’s surprising to me that I can’t create any meaningful backspin for the life of me now, just two years and less than 50 rounds later.

    Does a 54 require a lot of forward shaft lean to hit that magic spin loft number? Or can I just dial back the AA and the shaft lean and get the same results?

  18. birlyshirly

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Tom – you got those figures with a 56 degree wedge, delofted over 20 degrees. Can you get the same spin numbers hitting an 8 or 9 iron, same spin loft but less shaft lean?

    • Ballspeed

      Sep 11, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      Hypothetically you could get the same numbers but the ball speed and landing angles would be different creating the illusion that the ball isn’t spinning as much. A lot of people don’t realize that ball speed has a lot to do with the illusion of backspin….the lower the ballspeed the less forward momentum the spin has to stop….I.E. say two shots that are spinning at say 6500 rpm’s but one has a ballspeed of 90 and the other has a ball speed of 120. It’ll look as if the latter didn’t spin for you, when in reality it was the difference in ball speed that eliminated the desired check. This is one of the most important factors to hard GREENside spinners (3-10 yard chips). Presenting the loft softens up the ballspeed and is going to spin it a little due to the spin loft as explained in this article. Go green side and look at the difference in ball speed when you hit a 5 yard chip with a sand wedge vs. a 9 iron.

      • birly-shirly

        Sep 11, 2015 at 2:03 pm

        If spin loft is the same in both scenarios, why would ballspeed be different?

        • Wrong again

          Sep 12, 2015 at 2:49 am

          Hypothetically you’re correct, but it would be impossible to get the same dynamic loft with a 9 iron that you have with a sand wedge while keeping the angle of attack the same. That is the difference. I.E.

          54* wedge at say (hypothetical) 4 degrees down = 32* of dynamic loft at impact.

          To get a 42* 9 iron to be at 32* of loft you’d have to only hit down (again hypothetical) only 2 degrees. If you hit down with the 4 degrees it would be lower then the 32* on the sand wedge. Again all of these numbers are purely hypothetical for sake of example. Make sense?

          • birly-shirly

            Sep 12, 2015 at 4:48 am

            I’m trying to make sense of the large amount of shaft lean that Tom’s TM figures imply. His SW is supposedly delofted >20*. Surely it would not be difficult to achieve mid-30* dynamic loft and a 5* AoA with a much less lofted club coupled with much less shaft lean. You’d achieve the same Spin Loft measurement – the question is, would the spin rate be the same?

  19. Andrew

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Is it simplifying it too much to look at Dynamic Loft as the static club loft +- Shaft Lean at impact? I use a SkyPro Swing analyzer and both angle of attack and shaft lean at impact are reported. I obviously don’t have a trackman at home (like 99.9999999% of everyone else) and I’m just curious how I could compare my numbers or estimate spin loft.

  20. You'reNotAsGoodAsYouThink

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    “And since this is GolfWRX, I also know that a lot of you are already spinning the ball like Tour players with your wedges.”

    Heh. Made me chuckle.
    Have never been on a forum with as many “experts” as there are here…

    • Double Mocha Man

      Sep 11, 2015 at 12:20 pm

      … even though the average handicap is about 13.

    • Ballspeed

      Sep 11, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      Pretty sure he didn’t post this as a jab at “forum experts.” Spinning a golf ball is something that happens literally everytime you hit you. Just because (assuming?) You and the people you know may not be the best golfers in the world, you should know that there are THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of guys that play this game at some professional level, let alone all the stratch golfers that play for fun. Not to mention that again, spinning the ball is something people do on literally every shot. Just because it doesn’t spin BACKWARDS, doesn’t mean its not spinning. Like the author stated, 90% of the time the ball not moving backwards is because of the conditions of the shot. Guys on TV are spinning the ball more because of the perfection of their fairways, the way their greens are cut (most people think you need slow greens to spin the ball but faster greens are way more receptive to spin), and (something you can’t SEE) they are smart enough to only try to play this shots when they have slopes that they know are there to work in their favor. So yes…i’m positive the majority of guys, professional or not, have seen a ball spin backwards in their time playing golf. But now you’re creating a new stereotype…theres the “forum pros”…and now the “forum pro haters”.

      • cmyktaylor

        Sep 11, 2015 at 2:58 pm

        Ballspeed – this actually makes more sense for me. I only really saw a lot of action when I was playing a very well kept course with a very tightly cropped fairway and fast greens that were soft and gently slopped back to front.

        • Yep!

          Sep 12, 2015 at 2:58 am

          Correct. While greens that are rolled and well cut ROLL faster, they receive the spin better, creating the illusion that they are spinning more. Also different types of green spin more then others.

      • Matto

        Sep 11, 2015 at 11:20 pm

        “Faster greens are more receptive to spin”
        Tell that to anyone playing Royal Melbourne in Summer.
        I watched Phil Mick in person at The Presidents Cup. Not even he could stop one!

        • Wrong again

          Sep 12, 2015 at 2:46 am

          There is a big difference between fast greens and firm greens, friend. Greens can be firm and slow and can be soft and fast. Two every different things.

        • Wrong again

          Sep 12, 2015 at 2:53 am

          I play golf on the golden state tour and one of the things that the courses do to make it tougher other then stimping the greens to roll really fast is make them CRAZY receptive to spin. This makes it so you can’t just hit stock numbers inside 150 yards. Say you hit your PW 140 yards stock. You cannot hit that club at 140 yards because it will spin off the green, so they make it harder on the players by forcing us to club up to say a 9 or 8 irons and bunt it (something a lot of guys are not comfortable with) to control the spin so the balls don’t spin off the greens. So again….if you don’t know what you’re talking about and don’t have experience with these things it’d be best that you don’t comment.

          • Matto

            Sep 12, 2015 at 7:23 pm

            You didn’t mention firm and fast, friend.

      • DS

        Oct 3, 2019 at 1:57 pm

        I think Tom’s too nice to be taking a jab at the ‘forum pros’ but I also laughed at his comment. You were specific in your note (thank you) but he specifically said ‘a lot of you are already spinning it like Tour players’. Not just getting the ball to spin – “like Tour players”.

        As for me, I like it when the columnists shoot back at the basket of miserables that seems to infest this site. Disagree if you want, and if you have a counter argument, please DO disagree, but you don’t have to be so disagreeable when you do it. That last part is lost on many of the forum pros, and I guess that makes me a forum pro hater, or at least a ‘miserable forum pro’ hater.

    • other paul

      Sep 11, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      But we are all experts… ????

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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