Controlling Spin For A Better Short Game
I have always had the kind of golf swing that produces plenty of spin, and usually with a rather low ball flight pattern (when I’m striking it well at least). I guess that’s because I grew up close to the Texas coast where the wind blows all the time, and the courses were rather firm. We all seemed to hit the ball lower than the fellows I began to play with when I moved to San Antonio in my late 20s.

But knowing how to control the amount of spin that a shot takes is a skill that would benefit us all. In my case, I had to learn how to take spin off of shots so that they wouldn’t come back to me on soft greens or into the wind. Most average recreational golfers seem to be on a constant search for more spin. This week’s topic, then, was triggered by a question I got from fellow oob-er Kevin F., who asked:
“I find that I'm extremely inconsistent on my pitch shots. When I want them to run out, they check up and when I expect them to check up they release. Can you provide any insight on the proper setup and swing to allow the ball to land and release, as well as land and check up?”
Well, Kevin, that is not an uncommon problem at all. I observe many golfers – me included sometimes – who don’t really know whether a shot is going to check up or run out some. And that makes scoring difficult for sure. I wrote a series of articles some time back on the Science of Spin, and explored that spin is a function of multiple factors – the club and ball, for sure, but also the quality of contact. I’d suggest you all refer back to the May columns under “Golf Instruction” in the archives.

Since the ball you play and the clubs you play are a relative constant, let’s examine two main things you can do to increase or decrease the amount of spin a shot will have. And for conversation here, let’s talk only about the shorter scoring shots, say inside 100 yards.
1. Manage clubhead speed. The most important determinant of spin from a technique standpoint is clubhead speed. The faster you strike the ball with a given loft club, the more spin it will have. So, if you find yourself with a shot where you don’t want as much spin . . . say you are trying to get a pitch shot to release and run out, simply choose a stronger club, grip down and swing easier. I’m a big fan of using your hand position on the grip to reduce the distance a ball will fly. Generally speaking, you can grip down 1” on a club and produce roughly the same distance as the next lower club in your set, but with a lower ball flight and less spin. For example, you should find that a 6-iron gripped down 1” will fly about the same distance as your normal 7-iron, but with a lower ball flight and less spin. You might try this when you are on the course sometime. You’ll also likely find, by the way, that you are much more accurate with the gripped down club. Swinging a 6-iron at 8-iron length should be more accurate than swinging the 7-iron, right?

With short shots, the same “half”-swing with a 9-iron gripped down or a pitching wedge gripped normal will produce about the same distance in flight, but the 9-iron shot will roll out more.

Conversely, if you find that you need plenty of spin on a shot, take a higher lofted wedge, maybe even open the face slightly, and take a fuller cut at the shot. Let’s say that 85 yards is your comfortable gap wedge shot, but you want more spin. One way to get it is to open the face of the gap wedge a little and “amp up” the swing . . . just a bit. And do that by speeding up your body rotation, NOT your hands.

2. Manage trajectory. Whether you want the ball to roll out some or stop when it hits, that helps you determine the trajectory of shot you want to play. To me, the biggest difference between good players and average is that the best players always know the ball flight that a shot will take. If you don’t know whether a shot will be high or low, it is very difficult to know exactly how far it will go or how much spin it will have. In most simple terms, if you want a little higher ball flight, play the ball a little further forward in your stance at address. For lower flight, play it a little further back. And typically, a harder swing will produce a higher ball flight.

Managing trajectory is one of the things that Hogan was a huge proponent of. He said that if you don’t know for sure the flight path of the ball, you can never control distance. I tend to agree with that for the most part. Amateurs tend to hit the ball much higher, particularly with their short irons and wedges, than the best players on tour or at the club. By my observation, most amateurs play the ball too far forward in their stance, thereby adding loft to every club in their bag. And that produces a higher ball flight. The other reason most amateurs hit the ball too high is that they swing too hard and have a faulty release, another topic I recently discussed.
So, if you are trying to control spin, focus on clubhead speed and trajectory. Don’t be afraid to experiment with hitting longer irons with the gripped down hand position – you will probably be amazed at what you find you can do with the ball.

Keep those questions coming, guy and ladies. I need to know what you want me to address. This is your column, you know?
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.


[ comments ]
Kickntrue says:
Awesome tips! Can't wait to check them out on the range and then course. Simple solutions to real every hole issues... and makes perfect sense.
7/7/09
 
bducharm says:
I spin my wedges like crazy. The technique I use to control my spin is to take 1 more club and make a slower, almost "syruppy" swing. Don't confuse that with decelerating - I always make sure I accelerate my swing. Tiger talks about the "armsy" swing and that is a great picture I use.
7/7/09
 
onedollarwed says:
Is spin say... 1/3 equipment (and condition of equipment), 1/3 technique, and 1/3 lie (deep rough, sand, baked green, wet green, muddy ball)?
So in calculating stopping power when short-sided, to a firm dewy green, with an old worn out wedge, and poor technique... you have no stopping power. A new wedge gives you 33% stopping power, and with soft/ dry greens another 33%. Now to work on technique!
7/8/09
 
windowsurfer says:
My question is this: I have a forged MT Don White 50* wedge with 6* bounce and a stiff shaft. I hit it from 50-100 yards. I spin shots with this club and it's made a big difference in my game because I now have confidence in stopping the ball, so I miss far fewer greens short. I can run balls backwards quite far - 10-15 feet, but can't really control how much. I can spin'em high or low. I cannot, however, spin my other wedges. 55* and 60* (also low bounce.) I keep the grooves sharp on all of them and play a soft ball (Callaway Tour ix). It seems like these should perform the same as the 50. My guess is that for some reason I am still "scooping" a bit with the 55 and 60, whereas I *know* I am hitting down on the 50. I play all three a little back in my stance. I occasionally back up 7-8-9-PW (47*) irons too, but not as consistently as the 50*. Everything is stiff shaft.

Any thoughts on why I can spin the 50*/6* effortlessly and not the others?
6/15/10
 
wedgeguy says:
I would suggest that your other wedges have grooves that are not near the integrity of the newer wedge -- there's really no other explanation. Get a photographer's loop and examine them closely to see if that's what the problem might be.
6/15/10
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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