A Question About Backspin
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Today, I’m writing about a question from Philip, who is puzzled about backspin, forward spin, etc. and wrote:
“I was wondering if you could do a posting on backspin versus forward spin? I find lots of info about putting backspin on wedge shots, but not much about lessening forward spin on mid and short irons. I've been killing my irons lately but too much forward spin is putting off the back of the green.”
First of all, Philip, any golf shot that gets airborne will have some degree of backspin, never forward spin. The laws of physics would prevent a ball with forward spin from getting off the ground. The only shot you hit with true forward spin is a putt or a cold topped shot.

That said, golfers put widely varying amounts of backspin on golf shots, due to a number of factors. What you seem to be struggling with is that your iron shots do not have as much backspin as they could or should, so you are losing control of the ability to stop these shots on the greens with consistency. Let’s try to fix that.

Shots with short and middle irons should be struck with a slightly descending blow, and hit crisply so that the ball is compressed into the face of the club, and somewhat “pinched” or trapped into the turf at impact. This optimizes the amount of backspin that can be applied. Given proper impact, the other major factor affecting the amount of spin is clubhead speed. Golfers with relatively slow swing speeds do not develop nearly as much spin as stronger players. But any golfer can learn to hit crisp iron shots with plenty of spin to control their landing.

To improve your ball-striking to get more backspin on your iron shots, here are a couple of tips:
  1. Position the ball back slightly in your stance, more toward the middle of your sternum, so that you can catch the ball more on the downward path of the clubhead, rather than when it is moving parallel to the ground. At address, your shaft should lean slightly, so that the grip end is a little forward of the clubhead.

  2. Watch your clubhead alignment – a hooded clubface at address and impact lessens backspin.

  3. To help you make a crisper, cleaner impact, focus your eyes on the forward edge of the ball – the side toward the hole. This helps ensure that you hit the ball first, then the turf. Your divots should be starting at a point just beyond where the ball was sitting.
A good way to check the starting point of your divots is to lay a tee on the ground on the opposite side of the ball from you, with the tip pointing at the middle of the ball. Your divots should start an inch or two forward of that tee.

So, Philip, I hope that clears this up a bit. In the library of about 500 articles I’ve written in the five years I’ve been doing this column, you’ll find more on this subject.

Happy reading.
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 ]
homermania says:
Nothing impresses me about the pros more than watching them stop the ball on a dime from 50 yards in. I could watch that all day.
5/1/12
 
jrbizzle says:
homer - it sure is fun watching them pull the string. Even moreso when they bring a ball in on a nice cut, or use a ridge on a green to not only stop it, but bring it in sideways as well. They really are playing a different game than us.
5/1/12
 
homermania says:
Agreed. Even when I have way too much backspin and it ruins an otherwise good shot, part of me says, "Cool!"
5/1/12
 
Bryan K says:
The idea that a ball with forward spin could never get off the ground is simply not true. However, it gets off the ground in a different way than a normal golf shot. Many topped shots (I've seen this hundreds of times) actually get trapped into the ground and accelerate forward behind the club.
5/1/12
 
Bryan K says:
Also, there is a reason why I don't use Pro-V's. I use a two-piece ball with a soft cover in order to get some semblence of control, but I can't get the three piece balls to work. Why? Because I'm just too afraid to be aggressive and go for the pin in the air. Where my confidence is right now, I need to roll the ball forward in order to have a shot at getting close. When I use a tour ball, I find myself well short of the pin almost every time.
5/1/12
 
GBogey says:
Great tips. Can't wait to try. Looking at the front of the ball leads me to a Golf Digest article last month where the writer saw significant improvement by ignoring the ball on various shots and just swinging through.
5/1/12
 
Anti-Mulligan says:
Backspin and holding a green has as much to do with backspin as it does trajectory. Most amateurs sky the ball but some extremely trap it and hit it too low to hold a green. Working on trajectory and a consistent strike will work everything out. Terry - Love your articles. Long time reader, finally signed up at oob.
5/1/12
 
sigmapete1 says:
@Bryan K....I don't think bouncing off the ground counts as getting a shot airborne!
5/2/12
 
larrynjr says:
focusing on the grass before the ball has helped me tremendously in cutting down on fat shots. Also being more deliberate in my downswing. When I swing fast or hard, out come the fat shots again....
5/2/12
 
onedollarwed says:
Great humor Bryan K... especially the "I've seen it hundreds of times!" Though I must admit, sometimes a humpback liner, or draw can appear to have topspin. They probably just have less backspin. I've topped balls from precipitous tee boxes and they get off the ground for a bit, heh,and roll like the dickens.
5/2/12
 
Tim Horan says:
I know it's nice watching your ball dance on the green and it is satisfying to know that you have pured your strike. But what good is it if your landing 15 feet short of the pin anyway. Control of distance has got to be priority one. If you are not puring your strike on the majority of shots you have to expect zero back up at best and roll out at worst. Just knowing where the majority of your shots fall will make you more consistant. You can then adjust how far you throw it in the air.
5/4/12
 
Tim Horan says:
In practice I can back up most iron shots 7-LW but rarely take that to the course. I do not have the confidence to strike the ball crisply around the green. Occasionally you need to when short sided but generally will rely on bump and run shots and sound course management.
5/4/12
 
onedollarwed says:
There was a little pitch-n-putt I used to play in NoCal called Montclair: a little pro shop/ range/ p/p tucked in a tight valley in the Oakland Hills. A friend and I played with 2 balls each, and used a funky points system. The holes were about 80yds max maybe, but had to be hit between tall pines at times. The greens were tiny, and the gullies full of blackberries lined a number of holes. I think it was just a few bucks to play, but the practice/learning was worth a lot - with respect to careful control of trajectory, distance, and spin. When playing with 2 balls, the first one would be used like a test, to adjust precisely on the second. We got in the habit of hitting a 2-piece first and then zinging a ProV in tight. Our records showed that we scored best on a real round after playing at that scabby little place the day or two before!
5/4/12
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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