Reading Divots
I’ve written before about the desirable shape of a divot and how most golfers don’t really understand this aspect of ball striking, but an email from Pritchard D. made this topic make its way back to the top of my mind. Specifically he was asking about why he makes a divot with his irons, but not his wedges, which I’ll try to answer for him, but the subject of divots leads to much more examination. Let’s start with Pritchard’s question:
“Should I be trying to take a similar divot with my gap wedge as I do with my 6 iron? Or is there a better way to teach myself to control trajectory and shape with my 120 yds and in approaches?”
Well, Pritchard, in the perfect world, all things being equal, your divots should be shallower as you go from the wedges to the longer clubs in the set, to where you are mostly sweeping the ball off the turf with your fairway woods. All golfers are different, however, and some take deeper divots than others. As to your “problem” of taking little to no divot with your wedges, I’d start by examining the length and lie angles of your wedges as opposed to your irons, and you may find them a little shorter, which could contribute to that problem. Other factors could be a differential in weight and shaft material/flex. I preach daily that it is very important to optimize your short game that your wedges be matched to each other, blended to your irons, and fitted to you. That is the way to optimize your scoring with these important clubs.

On the subject of divots in general, however, they can often be the “secret” to issues with your swing, set-up and alignment. Here are a few of the things that I look for in “divot autopsies” that can help you improve:

  1. Starting point. On a properly struck golf shot, the divot should begin about where the front of the ball was at address. The ball is always struck first, with the lower few grooves of the face of the iron/wedge, and it is actually compressed into the turf a bit, before the downward travel of the club makes contact with the ground.

  2. Depth. I’m a fan of shallow divots, for several reasons, in no particular order. They are easier on the golf course for healing. The reduced impact force is easier on the hands ( I’m starting to feel arthritis in my middle and ring finger of my right hand, probably from the millions of balls I’ve hit). And a shallow divot is more “transportable” to all kinds of turf conditions – dry, hard, wet, soft, etc.

  3. Direction. Examine your divot after any iron shot that goes left or right of your target. If the divot points down that same line, the face was square but the swing path was out or in. If the divot points differently, it indicates the face was either open or closed through impact. Either can guide you to a quick correction.

  4. Evenness. I’d say a majority of divots are deeper at the toe side than the heel side, because most amateur golfers have a somewhat over-the-top path to the golf ball, the degree of which is typically in direct proportion to the handicap. If your divots are deeper on the toe side than the heel side, let that be a guide for you to shallow your swing path through impact to level that out. Or get fitted for clubs that are more upright, though that is not always the best solution.
So, there are four things to examine in your divots to help you improve. I’m sure you guys will have more things you’ve learned from your divots, and I fully expect you to share them with Pritchard and the rest of us. We’ll all look forward to it.

And Pritchard, you are the winner of a new EIDOLON wedge. Congratulations.

photo source
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[ comments ]
Swingem says:
At the range, I stick a tee in the ground next to where the ball is at address. This lets me see where I'm taking the divot in relation to where the ball was. I continue along that line for a few shots and then move back and reset the tee. I look for a consistent pattern of size, shape and orientation to the target. An evenly spaced grid of identical divots is a work of art and says a lot about how you are swinging the club.
mschad says:
Great information. I will definitely be looking closer at my divots, especially on those days when the ball insists on not going where I am aiming.
windowsurfer says:
I'd be interested in comments RE: hitting off soggy turf vs hardpan. I'm talking rugged muni conditions here. I get both at my regular track and would like some basics to help deal with the more difficult shots. I like to trap the ball and try to play lots of spin.
Banker85 says:
reading your divots is a great way to make a quick fix, so true. I can look down and see when my alignment was off. I always make a practice swing to make sure my divot will be after the ball adjusting the ball position in my stance.
Bryan K says:
This is a great article...I think the best that Terry has ever written. I've just recently learned to take a divot, and in doing so, I added a ton of distance to my irons and wedges. I went from 120 with my 9i to 150. That's 30 yards. Only trouble now is that hitting the ball too fat is disasterous while hitting it too thin just provides slightly less than optimal results. But hitting it perfectly is a great, great, great feeling.
Banker85 says:
nothing worse than sitting pretty in the fairway less than 100 yds and chunking it 40 yards or skulling it 120 yards. AGHHH!
stedar says:
From what I have learnt, the divot is comparable to hand position. Hands in front of ball at address, will (hopefully) mean hands in-front of ball at strike. Wedge shots in particular need hands in front and therefore the contact will be through the ball downwards - leaving a divot in front of where the ball lay. If you are taking a divot with the 5,4&3 irons, your hands are likely to be too far in-front and no divot with the 6,7,8,9&wedges then your hands are likely to be behind. Change it around and see what happens - particularly notice how much loft you start to get from your wedge shots...
SteveS says:
I'm currently "tweeking" my clubs for the proper weight and lie. A recent visit to a clubfitter demonstarted to me than by adding 8 grams to my 7 iron, the consistency and center face contact improved greatly. Also I found that my lie is off; on the practice range you can do this by taking a ball and mark a line on it with a sharpie as many do for alignment for putting. However, when you go to hit the ball, place the ball on the driving range grass/mat so that the line is vertical and faces your clubface. After you hit the ball, look at your clubface and there should be a line on the clubface imparted from striking the ball. If that line is not vertical on your clubface, your lie angle is off. I do this with impact tape on my clubface and will do this over 3-4 sessions to make sure my results are consistent. I'll then go get my lie adjusted as needed.
Dvezeris says:
Since Pritchard won a new EIDOLON wedge, does that mean he needs to buy a new EIDOLON set of irons to match?
Scott Shields says:
@ Bryan ... there is no better feeling, aside from the birth of a child ... then that of a well struck iron (preferably short), with a nice divot. Hearing the the thwack of contact, then the ball hiss, and seeing your divot flying off just adds to the moment. I'm sure you've noticed better trajectory when taking healthy divots. When I start thinning shots (no divots), they'll go but much lower, and typically much hotter...and occasionally sting the hand.

Training yourself to hit down into the ball is hard to do, especially as you're shifting your weight forward ... but the pay off is awesome!
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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