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.

Pitching Truths

Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker

As many of you may be aware I have done a tremendous amount of research on pitching the last few years. My research continues and I wanted to share a few important truths regarding this often misunderstood stroke:

  • Great pitchers generally take very little divot, flight the ball low and create high spin rates
  • Lower trajectory shots are substantially easier to gauge than higher ones
  • When struck correctly lower trajectory shots will have more spin than higher lofted ones
  • Most golfers perform better when pitching with their second most lofted club (SW vs LW)
  • There are two controllable ways to stop a golf ball - high spin rate and a steep land angle
  • Thin shots have more spin than you might think
  • The quality of the clubface to ball interaction (friction) is primary in generating spin
  • The quality of the lie plays a big role in determining the clubface to ball interaction
  • The optimal lie for amazing pitches is a fairly tight, downgrain lie
  • Any moisture that gets between the face and ball will decrease friction and thus increase launch angle and reduce spin
  • Sand between the face and the ball will increase friction and thus lower launch angle and increase spin
  • When practicing it is important to keep a wet towel handy to clean the face after every few shots - don't use a tee
  • Older clubs with worn down grooves will never spin the ball as much as a fresh wedge (all else being equal)
  • Premium golf balls flight better and spin more than inexpensive golf balls
  • The optimal technique is based almost entirely around managing the club to ground interaction or angle of attack
  • Controlling what the handle does through impact is vital in managing the angle of attack
  • A club path that tracks from from in to out will most often lead to cleaner strikes and thus lower trajectory and more spin
  • Where a golfer seeks to add loft they also add effective bounce. Here the grind/shape of the sole, will play a bigger role
  • For stock. and thus lower flighted shots the bounce plays less of a role than you might imagine

I have found there to be a multitude of different, and somewhat unusual techniques that work well for certain individuals. My objective has been to find a pitching technique that works best for the majority of golfers. I have found a technique that fits the bill and I am able to explain it simply and vividly.

More reading:

Wedges and Water | Andrew Rice Golf

The Science Behind Superb Wedges: Part I | Andrew Rice Golf

The Science Behind Superb Wedges: Part II | Andrew Rice Golf

Ultimate Spin Wedge Shootout | Andrew Rice Golf

Please note that I will be producing a video on pitching that will be for available on my website in the Fall. I had previously indicated it would be available in the Summer, but I want to make sure I have the best product available for you, thus the delay. The video will explain all my findings including what I have found to be the optimal pitching technique...stay tuned!

Ultimate Spin Wedge Shootout

The Line Up We should all be looking to spin the ball around the greens. Which of the current crop of wedges will give us the best chance to do that? If you have read any of my previous research on wedges you will know that friction between the face and the ball plays a huge role, not only in generating spin, but also in lowering trajectory - both vitally important for control.

Milled Face

The most important part of the clubface of any wedge is not the grooves, but the texturing of the flat areas between the grooves. Keep in mind that the primary purpose of grooves is to channel "matter" away from being caught between the flat areas and the ball - they are not in place to create spin. When you look carefully at the flat areas between the grooves of your wedge you should see some fine milling which looks like corduroy to me. Most club manufacturers will mill the clubface of their premium wedges and it makes a massive difference to the control and ball flight.

The idea behind the test was to see which wedge generated the better grip between face and ball. I had four very new 58 degree wedges available for the test:

  • Titleist Vokey SM4 with a DG Spinner shaft - conforming grooves with standard mill pattern on face
  • Ping Gorge Tour with a DG Spinner shaft - conforming "gorge" grooves with standard mill pattern on face
  • Callaway X Series Jaws CC with a stock steel shaft - additional conforming grooves with no apparent milling on face
  • TaylorMade ATV with a KBS shaft - conforming grooves with two-way mill pattern on face

You may notice that the wedges had differing shafts - I obviously would have preferred to have had all the clubs built to the exact same specs, but that was not feasible for this test. Apologies to all Cleveland Golf fans - would love to have had a Cleveland wedge in the mix, but did not have a new version. I had four golf professionals each hit four shots with each wedge. All shots were hit off a mat in order to limit friction being interrupted by matter being caught between face and ball. Titleist ProV1 golf balls were used and each shot had to land somewhere between 40 and 60 yards (ideally at 50 yards). The clubface was cleaned often even though it never appeared to need it. The "normalize" feature on TrackMan was off.

Here are the results:

TaylorMade ATV 58

 

Titleist Vokey SM4 58

 

Ping Gorge Tour 58

 

Callaway X Series Jaws CC 58

  • ATV 7365 rpm average
  • Vokey 7210 rpm average
  • Gorge 7193 rpm average
  • Jaws 7163 rpm average

As you can see the ATV wedge led the way in generating the highest spin of the four - albeit by a slender 2%. If I was a betting man I would have bet the ATV would generate the most spin as I have always loved the two-way milling treatment on the face. I would also have placed the Jaws wedge at the bottom of the pack, as no matter how many groove edges come in contact with the ball, there is way more flat surface area contacting the ball and it should be milled.

If you do take one thing from this research let it be the following: A fresh wedge with a clean, milled clubface will allow you to generate more spin and a lower trajectory - both important factors in controlling your golf ball around the greens. 

Thanks to Zack, Mark, Rick and Joe for your help with this article!

Two Shots for Sand Success

In order to be a great bunker player you need more than one shot.  How often have you found yourself in the sand, twenty feet from the hole, and you need to hit a high, soft, spinnning shot to have any chance of getting up and down?  Or found yourself sixty feet from the target and you now need a lower, running type bunker shot in order to reach the hole?  You need to learn these two shots!

Feel the Face this Open for the High Shot!

The first shot is a high velocity, high trajectory, high spin shot.  It is most often struck with the most lofted club in the bag.  In this situation the ball needs to come to a screeching halt very soon after landing, due to the fact that you have very little green to play with.
Here is how to play the shot:
  • Using your most lofted club, open the face as much as possible.  You should feel as if you could balance a glass of water on the face of the club at address - take note of the picture above.
  • The velocity and speed in the swing is what gets the ball high and spinning, so even though this may be a short shot it requires an aggressive approach.  Hit it hard!
  • Going through impact try to feel the hands scoop under the ballThe club head releases under and thus the club face stays open through the hit. This is an important element to this shot as it allows the golfer to hit hard, yet when releasing the club properly, the ball goes up versus far.
  • Practice this shot from good lies off of a slight up slope in the sand.  While hitting the shot as hard as you can try to see how high and short you can make the ball travel.

Post Impact

The other shot is a low velocity, low trajectory, low spin shot.  It should most often be played with the second most lofted club in the bag.  If you have an LW it would be the SW, or if you only have an SW then you should use the PW.  In this situation the shot needs to traverse a large portion of either flat or downhill green.  There is ample opportunity for the ball to roll like a putt!

Play the shot this way:

  • Using a lesser lofted club the stance should be of average width and the ball position is still forward of center.
  • The clubface remains open, yet to a lesser degree than the above shot.
  • This shot is played almost in slow motion as there should be very little speed in the swing. I often call this the 'dump and run' shot, as it should just get out the bunker, land early on the green and roll to the hole as if it were a putt.
  • The hands should be light throughout the swing and it is okay to actually roll the face a little through impact.  This serves to lower the shot further and causes the ball to release more.
  • Do not attempt this shot when your ball is lying on an upslope! An upslope requires a more aggressive swing and that robs the ball of  its ability to stay low.
  • Practice is vital for this shot as it tends to take a few tries before sensing the correct speed of the swing.

With a few minutes spent experimenting with the above suggestions in the sand you will soon start to lose some of the angst we have all experienced when stepping into a bunker.  Give it a try and please feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Additional Resources:

How to Hit Great Bunker Shots

Luke Donald's Buried Lie