Crack the Wedge Spin Code
Three variables determine how much spin you can produce off your wedges. Choose the right combination to max out your backspin and hold every green.
By Dave Pelz
We all need backspin. Without sufficient spin, stopping shots near the pin is very difficult (think about how many times your "good" short-iron or wedge shots have landed on the green and then proceeded to roll off the back). The bad news is that spin is becoming harder to get. Manufacturers keep lowering short-iron and wedge lofts (meaning they travel farther, but come in lower and harder) and the USGA has installed a new rule that will limit the spin capabilities of future wedge designs.
The good news is that you're already making swings capable of producing shots with good backspin (at least occasionally). But your swing alone isn't enough. That cracks just one-third of the backspin code. You also need the right ball and the right face grooves. Nail these factors and your spin potential will fly off the charts.
5 REASONS WHY YOU NEED MORE SPIN
1. Faster greens (much faster than ever before)
2. More forced carries (less chance to run the ball to the hole)
3. Tighter pin positions
4. Lower-lofted wedges and short irons
5. New USGA ruling on wedge grooves
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SHARP EDGES (A)
The sharper the groove edges get (there are differences among today's models), the better they grab the ball's cover and produce spin.
LARGE VOLUME (B)
The larger the volume of grooves, the more grass and water they can accommodate being smashed into them. This minimizes the amount of lubricant left to interfere with impact, making it cleaner (and the reason why most club companies only offer box grooves or U-grooves).
NOTE: The USGA has recently made a rule change that can affect your choice to use wedges with box grooves. If you're serious about getting more backspin, you must clearly understand how this new rule may/may not affect you (see sidebar here).
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Spin Factor 3
Now that your wedge swing is capable of spinning shots, and you've proven to yourself the necessity of playing urethane-covered balls, you need to examine the third part of your Backspin Equation. You need to make sure you play with wedges that have good enough grooves to provide the spin you desire.
A high spin-producing wedge must have enough loft and aggressive enough face grooves and friction to engage the ball's cover. Grooves that produce good backspin feature the qualities pictured here.
In Pelz Golf Institute testing, box grooves (top, right) were proven best for producing spin and stopping shots quickly (see chart, slide 16), followed by U-grooves (bottom), V-grooves (top, left), and worn-out grooves of any shape. Of course, new grooves spin more than old grooves, and clean grooves spin more than dirty ones.
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TAKE THE SURLYN TEST!
If you're not convinced Surlyn limits your ability to stop short-game shots, here's how to prove it to yourself. Get a dozen each new Surlyn and urethane balls, and hit wedge shots to a tight pin from a nylon mat (so you're guaranteed clean/no-grass-lubricant contact). Use a new L-wedge with box grooves and make sure to fly all shots so they land in about the same area.
You'll see the difference in backspin between the two ball types clearly in their roll-out patterns. If you don't, then there's something wrong with your swing.
A. Surlyn group
B. Urethane group
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HOW TO GET MORE SPIN FROM YOUR BALL
The answer is easy: Play a ball with a urethane cover. Today's urethane models feature covers soft enough to produce high spin from typical wedge swings, and spin about twice as much as Surlyn (the choice for 70% of amateurs). True, urethane balls are more expensive, and Surlyn models are slightly longer off the tee, but check out the amount of spin you will sacrifice with Surlyn (chart, right). The only reason I see for so many amateurs playing Surlyn is their lack of knowledge on how much spin they lose (a factor of two!) by doing so.
URETHANE SPINS MORE THAN SURLYN
Spin rates for 8-iron shots, balls in one-inch rough with half of ball above the grass surface. Data courtesy USGA.
There's a reason why PGA Tour players don't use Surlyn balls: Backspin and short-game control are more important to their scoring than distance off the tee.
FOR MORE SPIN PLAY URETHANE-COVERED BALLS
FOR LESS SPIN PLAY SURLYN-COVERED BALLS
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Spin Factor 2
GOLF BALL CONSTRUCTION
A glancing blow with enough friction to engage the cover of the ball is required to produce spin. But this presumes the ball is capable of being engaged by the clubface. If its cover is so slippery and hard that the clubface just slides past it with little or no engagement, then little or no spin will be produced. In order to generate the highest possible spin rate, you need to play a ball with a cover soft enough to be engaged by the grooves in the clubface. Today, you have a choice between two covers: urethane and Surlyn. Urethane covers are unilaterally softer than Surlyn.
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CHECK YOUR SPIN-ABILITY
Take my "Clean Contact" test to see if your swing is geared for max spin so you can focus on the other two backspin factors.
Bring a nylon hitting mat to the practice green (details at pelzgolf.com/backspin) and set up 30 yards from the pin. With a clean wedge, pitch a dozen urethane-covered balls off the mat, landing each shot on the green. The mat allows you to produce max spin (no grass/moisture possible between clubface/ball). Next, pitch the same dozen balls from good lies in the grass and compare the roll-out patterns. If the shots from grass rolled farther, you're catching too much grass between the face and the ball and losing spin. You need to improve your swing before addressing the other two spin factors.
A. Poor contact = more roll.
B. Good contact = less roll.
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YES Hands ahead of the clubhead and a straight left wrist at impact increase the chance of solid contact.
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KEEP YOUR HANDS AHEAD OF THE CLUBHEAD AT IMPACT
This helps you strike the ball cleanly in the center of the clubface with minimal grass interference.
NO When your wrists break down before impact, your contact and ability to spin the ball suffer.
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YES The more you accelerate through impact, the more spin you'll generate.
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SWING FROM SHORT TO LONG
You get proper clubhead acceleration when you take a shorter backswing and swing through to a full finish.
NO Making a long backswing and cutting your finish short (in an attempt to control distance) leads to deceleration and poor spin-producing contact.
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HOW TO GET MORE SPIN FROM YOUR SWING
PLAY THE BALL BACK IN YOUR STANCE
This encourages you to strike the ball with a descending blow so you get less grass between the ball and the clubface.
A. YES Position the ball one to two ball-widths back of center.
B. NO A forward ball position makes it easy to hit behind the ball and catch grass between your clubface and the ball.
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Because golf balls are usually hit from grass, you need a descending blow to trap a minimum amount of grass between the ball and clubface. Grass acts as a lubricant and diminishes spin-producing friction.
FOR MORE SPIN Make clean contact, catch the ball on grooves 3 (See B) through 6 (See A), and accelerate through impact
FOR LESS SPIN Make grassy contact (See C) and decelerate
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Spin Factor 1
The swing that will give you the maximum possible backspin is one that provides solid and clean ball contact with an accelerating clubhead through impact.
A solid "spinner" swing results in contact on the sweet spot (centered and covering grooves 3 through 6), so the clubhead doesn't wobble and lose control of the ball at impact.
Acceleration through impact is essential to grab and move one side of the ball past the other. The greater the speed and acceleration of the clubhead the greater the spin potential of the resulting shot (given clean ball/face contact).
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The Backspin Equation
You generate backspin when you contact the ball with a glancing blow with a lofted club that, as it moves through impact, grabs one side of the ball's surface and moves it relative to the other side. This dynamic generates anything from minimum to maximum spin, depending on how you fill out the equation to the right.
Everyone has a Backspin Equation (you fill it out every time you hit a wedge, whether you realize it or not), and everyone's equation is different. This is why we each generate different levels of spin. Based on years of testing and research, we've discovered how to fill in the left side of the equation so the backspin number on the right is as high as possible. The trick is to address and improve all three of the spin factors, not just one or two.
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HOW TO GET MORE SPIN FROM YOUR WEDGES
I recommend you get fit with a set of high-spin box-grooved wedges. Combined with a quality wedge swing and a urethane-covered ball, you'll max out your Backspin Equation and get the shot-stopping power you need.
Visit the Pelz Vault for more short-game tips
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