Updated Pitching Thoughts

This article is an update on the many pitching and chipping articles I've written over the last few years. Not much has changed since I did the Wedge Project video, but there are certain elements I have a deeper understanding about. Experience and the smart guys at PING have gone a long way towards advancing my understanding. Let's take a look...

Discussing pitching at a Three Day Golf School

Discussing pitching at a Three Day Golf School

  • Great pitchers typically take very little divotflight the ball low and generate high spin rates
  • Lower trajectory shots are significantly easier to gauge than higher ones
  • When struck correctly lower trajectory wedge shots will almost always have more spin than higher shots
  • Most golfers perform better when they deliver 45º-40º of loft at impact off a normal fairway. The club they use is irrelevant
  • The quality of the face to ball interaction (friction) is primary in generating spin and determining the launch angle
  • The quality of the lie plays a big role in determining the amount of friction at impact
  • Any moisture/matter that gets between the face and ball will typically decrease friction and thus increase launch angle and reduce spin. Control will be reduced
  • I used to say that sand increases friction and that is often the case, but I've found it depends on the 'angularity' of the sand
  • Cleaning the club face should be done often and with a wet towel - don't use a tee
  • The primary role of grooves is to disperse moisture and matter from between the face and the ball, not generate spin
  • Older clubs with worn down grooves will not spin the ball as much as a fresh wedge (all else being equal)
  • Premium golf balls, when struck correctly, will always flight lower and spin more than non-premium golf balls
  • The optimal technique is primarily based around managing the club to ground interaction 
  • As the player alters trajectory so shall the club to ground interaction change. Lower shots with less loft will often lead to a steeper angle of attack
  • Controlling what the handle does through impact is integral to controlling the club to ground interaction
  • I've come to learn that there is no single ideal spin loft to generate the most spin. Every different lie, situation, golf ball and golfer would require heir own unique "optimal" spin loft
  • I've been a proponent of draws for pitch shots and I've seen too many golfers have success with fades or draws to continue advocating strictly for draws
  • For stock, and thus lower flighted, shots the bounce plays less of a role than you might imagine
  • The number one absolute worst thing to work towards with your wedge play....stay down. Please don't EVER work towards that
  • I've become a big fan of 'core' distances. Depending on the amount of time you have I'd recommend practicing two or more of these 'core' distances and really taking ownership eg. 30/50/70/90 yards
  • Incorporate variety and skill development into any and all forms of practice

I have found there to be a multitude of different, and somewhat unusual techniques that work well for certain individuals. A good general guideline that might help:

With the weight slightly forward and utilizing a narrow and square stance with the ball positioned centrally, be sure to keep your chest rotating through the strike in order to have the sole of the club skimming along the turf. Stay tall and keep the chest moving!

All the best.

The Science Behind Superb Wedges: Part I

For years golfers have asked me how to hit low, spinning wedge shots and I've never been able to give them a confident response.  After the research I've put in over the past few weeks I can give them a certain answer - and perhaps even explain a few other interesting shots we encounter on the course.

In polling better golfers regarding what really good pitch shots look like, the response has almost unanimously been that they tend to be lower with more spin.  Edoardo Molinari, the European Ryder Cup golfer and former US Amateur champion was kind enough to help with the research for this article and he stated,

I've watched Tiger, Mickelson and Ernie hit hundreds of 50 yds shots, I've played with them and they all seem to deloft the club without taking much divot.

Which I agree with by the way - the best pitchers always seem to have a knack for nipping the ball off the turf without much divot and then firing the ball in there low and spinning.  The problem with this shot has always been how to hit it low, yet make it spin at the same time....

If you hit down on the ball you'll be able to hit it lower, but hitting down more only lowers height and does not, as is commonly believed, make the ball spin more.  So that option is out.  If we take a more lofted club to spin it more then we may get a little extra spin (although that's not a given), but now the shot will fly too high.

Here is where we need to get a little technical and talk about the forces and angles the club is imparting on the ball at impact.  TrackMan uses a term spin loft and it refers to the vertical difference between where the clubhead is travelling at impact (attack angle) and where the clubface is angled at impact (dynamic loft). My research shows that good wedge players have a narrower spin loft (dynamic loft minus attack angle). Let's get a better understanding of these important factors:

Attack Angle (angle that indicates if the clubhead is travelling up or down, relative to the ground at impact)

In studying hundreds of 50 yard pitch shots on TrackMan over the last few weeks I have found that good pitchers tend to not take very large divots.  Yes, they always contact the ground, but the club 'bruises' the turf more so than cuts it.  This would indicate that the attack angle is shallow - it is down but not hugely so.  Now hold on for the following part, because this should not change the way you think about a club striking a ball: my research shows that the attack angle should be shallow enough so that the sole of the club (bounce) actually makes contact with the grass/ground before the ball.  And this occurs even on ideal hits.....

Dynamic Loft (the angle of the face/loft at impact)

Really good pitchers have the ability to deloft the club without hitting down more.  This means that the hands are in front of the ball at impact and the loft on the clubface is often more than 10 degrees less than the static loft. For example in much of the testing a 54 degree wedge would apply 41-44 degrees of dynamic loft to the ball.

Spin Loft (dynamic loft - attack angle)

This is a very important factor as it contributes to, but does not solely determine, how much spin and loft each shot will have.  If you hit a pitch shot with 42 degrees of dynamic loft and you have an attack angle of -3 degrees (the minus indicates a downward hit) your spin loft would be 45 degrees.  Common wisdom indicates that a broader spin loft (eg. 50 degrees) would create more spin and height, yet my research indicates that when it comes to chipping and pitching a slightly narrower spin loft (without much downward hit), coupled with clean contact between ball and face increases the golfers ability to hit low spinning wedges. An easy way to narrow your spin loft with pitch shots is to take a lesser lofted club.  My students have had tremendous results by using the lob wedge less and getting a little more accustomed to hitting a variety of  shots with the pitching wedge.

Friction Launch (the amount of grip between face and ball and how that effects launch conditions)

This type of strike on the ball leads to a scenario where the friction between the face and the ball is far higher than normal.  This increased friction leads to a lower launch and trajectory with a substantially higher spin rate.  This grip between the ball and face is what I call 'friction launch' and just like the term spin loft it addresses the friction and launch of any shot.

As golfers we've all hit that pitch shot that comes off the face very low and the moment you strike the ball you know it's going to grab as soon as it hits the green. Your playing partners are yelling bite and as soon as the ball gets near the hole it comes to a screeching halt!  You have just experienced high friction launch.

Please check back in a few days for the follow up post The Science Behind Superb Wedges: Part II where I'll discuss friction launch in detail and show the results of much of the research I've done.

To get a much better look at the data be sure to read Part II HERE

Pitching Help

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to the shortgame it is vital that the golfer strikes the ball and the ground on every shot - and preferably in that order! Golfers run into trouble when the club contacts the ground before the ball, particularly with a closing clubface as the leading edge will dig into the turf. There is no quicker way to deplete confidence than to start  alternating between bladed and heavy pitch shots.

A helpful drill is to practice hitting 40-60 yard pitch shots with an 8-iron. Try to get the ball up in the air, with a slight cut action and have it land softly. This will give you the sense of keeping the face open and using the bounce of the club correctly. It will also prevent the wrists from being overly active. A feeling to key in on is the sense of swinging to the inside after impact (as pictured below). Be sure to keep the face open or looking up while the club tracks to the inside as this will prevent the leading edge from digging.  This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite drills!

What is Bounce?

Think of the bounce on wedge as an insurance policy against digging the leading edge of the golf club into the ground. It is very important for any golfer to not only understand what the bounce is, but how to use it to their advantage. An excellent exercise to do every now and then is to hit a few pitch shots off of a lie board. This is a flat plexiglass board that most club fitters use in determining the correct lie angle a golfers irons should be set at. If you do not have access to a lie board, use a piece of plywood painted black. Just be sure to not hit any shots where the ball is too close to the edge of the board.

What you should see...If the markings on the sole of the club are as pictured above you are using the club correctly. Should they be closer to the leading edge you might be in danger of sticking the club into the ground on your next chip of pitch. The most important aspect of using the bounce correctly is addressing the ball correctly. Take a look:

The Set Up for a Chip or PitchIn the above image you will see the ball positioned in the center (watch out for too far back as it reduces the bounce at impact and makes it easier to do some gardening); the feet are fairly close together; and the hands and weight are just slightly in front of the ball, with emphasis on slightly.

As you go through the motion of striking that chip or pitch try to feel that the handle and the clubhead get back to impact at the same time - in other words don't allow the handle to get too far in front of the clubhead at impact as you are then exposing more of that sharp leading edge to the ground. And we all know what that can lead to.....

Read More

Using Wedge Bounce Correctly

For example: A club with ten degrees bounce will have a ten degree angle between the sole and the ground (barring any rounding of the sole). Notice how the back edge of the sole of the wedge rests on my finger, while the leading edge is slightly raised. Thanks to Gene Sarazen, who first invented bounce, irons have been built this way to deter the leading edge from shoveling or digging into the ground.

Read More

Equipment Factoids

Basic Blades So often golfers are tempted into believing their equipment is the reason for the poor results they have been experiencing.  Sometimes they may be correct, yet most times, this leads to the decision to make a change.

Here are a few simple things to keep in mind when considering making a change to your set:

  • The latest and greatest is not necessarily all it is hyped to be.  It is more than likely the same old thing with a new and exciting paint job.  Decide what you like and stick with that!  I am currently using a set of irons with the same type of heads (blades), shafts (Dynamic Gold s-400) and grips (rubber with reminders) that I used when I first started to play the game.  (Titleist 690.MB)
  • When it comes to irons there are three options: blades; the oversized helper set; and something in between the two.  Get something you know you will be comfortable with.
  • As far as fitting for irons we all need to know two numbers: the length and lie angle that we prefer!  Not 2 degrees over standard or plus a half inch on length!  This is because all companies have different standards (don't we all?) and if you know the length and lie of your clubs you are immune to any problems that might arise.  My 6 iron is 37.50 inches long and has a lie angle of 60.50 degrees.  I will use those numbers for as long as I can swing.
  • Get clubs that fit your body and not strictly your impact position on the day of fitting!  Lose the lie boards and tape on the bottom of irons please.
  • Find a  shaft that fits your swing and feels good to you and then stay with it for as long as they make it!  Make sure it is not too strong.
  • When it comes to putters keep in mind that there are essentially two genres: face-balanced and toe weighted. If you are considering making a putter change try to stay in your genre unless things have just been horrific on the greens.
  • There have been very few to no improvements made in the field of fairway woods.  Titanium is very light and thus the heads tends get too big, so find a simple and small stainless steel head that you like the look of and set about developing a long lasting relationship with it.
  • When selecting a fairway wood decide whether you would like to use it predominantly off the fairway or more as a tee club.  Select the loft of the club accordingly.
  • Limit the number of wedges in your bag to a maximum of three - that means a PW, SW and an LW at most!  If you struggle with the wedges stick to a PW and SW so as to not cloud any decision-making around the greens.  Tour players practice enough, are skilled enough and play the kind of courses that require precise enough shots to justify four wedges being in the bag.
  • There should be an even number of degrees between each of your wedges.  Most PW's are 48 degrees and I have a 54 and a 60.  Other viable options are a PW and a 52 and 56 or a PW and a 53 and 58.
  • When selecting your wedges be sure to incorporate enough bounce in each club.  Unless your name is Eldrick, Phil or Vijay you need more than 6 degrees of bounce on any wedge you own.  That's why manufacterers build clubs with 14 degrees of bounce!
  • There are two shapes of grips folks - rounds and reminders!  Find out what shape you like and ask for it by name the next time you refresh your grips. 
  • When it comes to grips forget the latest cool colors or which ones your favorite player is using - they are more than likely getting paid to use the ones on their clubs.  Decide which grips are for you and your preference and now you don't have to worry about the latest fad.
  • The driver is the one club in the bag where it pays to stay current.  Find a reputable club fitter in your area that uses a launch monitor and go and get fitted.  Whenever you get the urge to replace your current big stick get back on that launch monitor to compare the latest offering with your trusty old steed!
  •  The current fitting carts that most companies have make it very easy to try multiple different heads with various shafts.  Be patient, try them all and then find a club that gives you good numbers and looks great to you!

Chipping Clubs

Enjoy watching the world's best wade through the quagmire that appears to be the 2009 US open this weekend.....