Anyone who has watched a televised golf tournament has seen it time and time again: A player, with a wedge in their hand, sending their ball onto the green, and having the ball either stop on a dime, or spin back towards them. The crowd cheers, and the player looks like a magician, especially to those mid-to-high handicappers who don’t know the “secret” to making the ball spin.
Fortunately, for any golfer who is willing to buy the right equipment, do their homework on the type of lies that promote more spin than others, and are able to practice a couple key fundamentals, the secret can be unlocked easily.
Equipment: It Matters
In order to maximize your potential to create spin, the type of wedges and golf ball you use matter significantly. Take a look at your wedges. Do the grooves still have some definition? Can you catch your fingernail on each groove? Are the faces free of rust? All these things have a drastic effect on the amount of spin you’re able to create. If your wedges have seen better days, perhaps it’s time to get them replaced.
WARNING: There are many scams out there in the golf world, and one of the most common tools that fall in this category are groove sharpeners. Yes, it’s possible that they could help refine the edges of your grooves, but, unless you are skilled at this type of thing, it’s better to just spend the extra money and get some new wedges. Buying them eliminates the risk of making your grooves illegal, or potentially hurting yourself by sliding a sharp tool back and forth through each groove.
As for brands of wedges, any name-brand (Titleist, Cleveland, TaylorMade, etc.) will have wedges that will be great for maximizing feel and your spin rate. Once you have some good wedges in your bag, it’s time to check out what kind of balls you use.
Those premium golf balls (Titleist Pro V1x, Callaway Chrome Soft, etc.) cost $40-$50 for a reason: they’re designed to maximize overall distance, as well as feel and control. Considering that more than half shots in golf are played from less than 100 yards, the feel and control are of utmost importance.
Golf balls within the $30-$40 range have the ability to spin as well, but you’ll be more limited in the type of shots you can play that require you to make the ball stop quickly. For example, either of these golf balls can be spun with a full wedge or bunker shot, but the finesse shots will be easier to control with the premium-level golf balls. Assuming we buy the best golf balls and wedges, which shots around the course will produce the most spin?
A key thing to remember is that even the best ball and sharpest-grooved wedges have their limitations, and those limitations are typically found in the lies you find your ball in around the golf course. Here’s how they break down, from easiest to apply spin to hardest:
- Firm, tight lies from the fairway (100 yards or less)
- Firm sand
- Light rough (1/2-1” long) that is free from dew, and over 70 yards long
Aside from these three shots, you’ll want to use trajectory more than spin to control the distance. Even fairways that are a little wet and not tightly-mown can have a significant impact on the amount of spin you can impart on the ball.
Technique: The ONE thing you need to know
Open any golf magazine with a section on short game and they will have an unlimited number of tips, tricks, and keys to making a golf ball check/spin. No matter what they say, spin comes from ONE key factor: Clean contact.
If you can catch the ball cleanly on the face, with a good lie, good ball and fresh grooves, the ball will spin, guaranteed. Simple, right? Simple in theory, but the ability to make solid contact is something all golfers struggle with. By following a couple simple keys, you can make consistent, clean contact with your wedges, and get that ball to act the way you want it.
Keep Your Hands Leaning Forward of the Leading Edge
With the exception of a few tricky finesse shots and off the tee, this is the most important key to every other shot. This becomes even more imperative with wedge shots: with a shorter swing, there is less time to create lag, so your setup must encourage keeping the hands ahead of the clubhead to minimize hand manipulation. At address, your hands should be somewhere around your lead hip without going past it. From there, it’s a simple One-Two motion, which you control with the rhythm of your turn.
Stand Comfortably and Tension-Free
With anything less than a full shot, you’ll want to keep your feet closer together, which allows you to get your feet more into the swing, and make sure your arms hang comfortably from your shoulders. Any kind of tension in your arms, hands, shoulders, or feet, and you’ll be hindering your ability to make a rhythmic, flowing swing, which will kill your chances of clean contact and making the ball spin.
How Much Will the Ball Spin?
Unfortunately, every golfer and their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, make it impossible to give a definitive answer to how much spin you can apply to your ball, and how to react accordingly. There are, however, a couple guidelines you can follow as you improve your wedge game, and, more importantly, lower your scores.
- When you are first starting to work on your short game, expect the ball will roll more than you are anticipating. Something many golfers don’t understand is that it can take years of practice to master the feel of the wedge, and what one is trying to do with the ball based on the circumstances.
Having the ability to hit a 50 yard pitch, fly it exactly 47, have it take two short hops and stop dead takes an incredible amount of practice; err on the side of landing it short and allowing it to release. If the time comes where you consistently land it short and it stops dead, or even spins back at you, you’ll know you’ve improved and can try the more advanced version.
- When in doubt, there’s no shame in playing for less spin and more roll. Say you have a 60-yard shot from the fairway on a par-5, lying two. You are playing a match against your buddy and he’s got a 20-footer for birdie and you only need to tie the hole to win.
The hole is cut in the top left with a shaved edge just behind the hole and there’s water behind. In this scenario, there is zero reason to hit anything but a bump-and-run to the middle of the green, and allow it to roll towards the hole. Save the sexy spinner for when you must make a birdie and take on the difficult hole location.
The Bottom Line
As you’ve just learned, there’s no magic or secret to making the ball spin. It’s really a matter of good equipment, some basic technique, and a lot of practice. Hopefully these basics will help make your wedge game a sharp weapon in your golf arsenal.