The Real Truth Behind Impact

Last time I dissected spin into six aspects that affect how much a golf shot will have. We discussed the “hardware” side of it – the ball, the grooves and the loft. You can affect these regardless of your swing technique.

We then talked about clubhead speed and angle of approach, and hopefully you’ve at least begun to realize that “hitting down” on the ball is what makes it get airborne and have spin. We’ll talk more about that here.

But what I’ve come to zero in on as a major determinant of spin and the sharpness of your wedge play is the precise quality of the connection of the club and ball at impact. Let’s get down to ground level and examine this, and then I’ll leave you with some fun experimentation.

Thin to Win” - Haven’t you heard that before ? And haven’t you occasionally hit a shot from the fairway, thinking it was just a little “thin” only to watch it hit the green, take one hop and spin to a stop ? Hmmmmm. How . . . and why, did that happen ?

Well, the truth is, under close examination, a perfectly struck iron shot, particularly with the shorter irons and wedges, is hit “thin” in a way. You’ve heard the term “trap the ball against the turf”, but what does that mean ?

Well, what it doesn’t mean is to try to smother the ball with the clubface by having the hands dramatically ahead of the clubhead at impact, and taking a huge divot. What “trapping” the ball refers to is the physical “pinching” of the ball against the turf with the leading edge of the clubhead so that it then shoots out with spin and a lower trajectory.

On a perfectly struck shot, the leading edge of the clubhead is traveling slightly downward at impact and makes contact with the ball right around its equator. The clubhead pinches the ball into the turf before the clubhead then makes contact with the turf. The effect is similar to pinching a watermelon seed between your fingers until it squirts out with high velocity.

In fact, the clubhead making contact with the turf isn’t really a necessity, if the ball is struck properly. Sometimes you’ll see only a “ball divot” where the ball made a mark on the turf, but the clubhead never actually made contact. That is often what happens on those “thin to win” shots.

So, here’s a drill that I like. Get a bucket of balls and go to the range with only your sand wedge. Play the ball in middle of your stance, but practice “skulling” the ball, making no divot whatsoever. You’ll find the occasional shot takes a great trajectory, goes further, and has lots of spin – you can even see it on the range. This is just a “lab experiment” so that you can learn what top quality contact really feels like.

And then tell all of us your findings, OK ? This dialog could be your most useful this year, so let’s have some fun together.

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[ comments ]
Mike says:
Hey Terry,

When I started reading this post I was hoping you had a drill or technique for me to try...and you did.

I can't wait til I get to the range tonite and get to try this.

I need a more shallow impact zone, as mine's WAY TOO STEEP !

If you've got any other advice for that, I'll take it.
new2golf says:
hmmm.... This has certainly happened to me. I have some additional questions.

This is a shot that I've been trying to figure out, the low trajectory hop and stop. You see it when watching golf all the time.

When this has happened to my on accident (like you said, a thin feeling shot), it has been when I'm making a full swing or close to a full swing.

So one question is, how much club head speed is required for this shot?

I would guess that the answer is related to the quality of the ball.

wedgeguy says:
Greg, The one hop and stop is going to only be possible from 50-60 yards or more, where this enough clubhead speed to impart suitable spin. But even around the greens, say 10-20 yards, you can get the ball to check up quickly after the first hop. It's all about that good quality impact . . . and of course, wedges that have good grooves, and a decent ball.
Wayde says:
I don't understand how the ball is pinched against the turf. Whenever I see high speed video of pro-golfer iron shots, it doesn't look anything like the ball is being pinched. It looks like they strike the ball with the centre of the clubface, and the ball goes up because of the loft, not at all like the watermelon seed analogy.
I also don't understand how the club is striking the ball with the centre of the face, or the "sweet spot", if the leading edge is striking the equator of the ball.
I read articles like this a fair bit, but I am truly misunderstanding something. Do you have any weblinks showing a high speed video of a ball being (close to) perfectly picnched off the turf in this fashion? Because there is something I am clearly just not getting.
wedgeguy says:
Wayde, I can certainly appreciate how difficult this is to understand, and I've searched the web for just such video. There is one post on YouTube -- -- that is a little fast to really see, but you can determine that in this iron shot, the ball is NOT hit in the center of the face, but rather right at the lower grooves. The ball IS pinched into the turf, followed by the clubhead making contact with the turf.

Thank you for your posts, and welcome to The "sweet spot" on an iron . . .the most efficient place for contact . . . is not up in the middle of the face, but right at the lower portion of the clubhead. The ball makes contact on the lower grooves, but not exactly on the leading edge, and then is pushed downward, as that is the direction of travel of the clubhead. While this video is a little faster than I would prefer, watching it over and over can show you want I'm talking about pretty well.
I'll see if I can't find more video to post to show this.
Wayde says:
hey thanks! Of course I've looked for such videos, but it's a little tricky when you're not entirely sure what you're looking for. Also thanks for explaining that the most efficient contact location for irons is down around the first 2 or 3 grooves, I thought it was higher than that. I find I need to have a very precise picture of what I'm trying to do with the clubhead, if not, I'll worry about it during my swing.
Steve S says:
Terry, I read this again for the third time yesterday and decided to try the drill-WOW!! I hit about 50 balls in my backyard and a good number of them did go farther and higher as you said. I also heard that ever elusive "click" at contact. During the drill I realized that at setup, I got more consistent contact when I didn't sole the club on the turf but elevated the club at the equator of the club before I started my swing. I'm going to the range today to try my other irons-Can't wait.

JWHpurist says:
Terry; All the points made are correct, valid, and worth developing; I discovered this technique, a number of years ago, when I was learning to play a #1 iron "off the deck" with proper results. I applied the lessons learned to my other irons and have been pleased with the results ever since and maintain that technique today. It reduces the need for hybrids a great deal of the time. JWHpurist
Banker85 says:
i hit a somewhat "thin" 60* wedge last week and thought i would fly the green but it hit an upslope thankfully and stopped dead. good tip.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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