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.

Spinning the Wedges - Friction

The kingpin when it comes to generating spin is friction. You can have everything set up perfectly to create huge backspin, but if you don't have friction it's not going to happen. Now keep in mind friction is a big piece of the puzzle, but it's still only a piece of the puzzle.

Simply put, you can elevate friction between the clubface and the cover of the ball by eliminating any matter that could possibly get trapped between the two. The questions are how do we do this and what do we have control over?

Friction is primarily influenced by two factors - equipment and matter. Matter is anything that might get caught between the face and the ball. Let's have a look at what we can do...

Items we can control:

  • The quality of the wedges we use. If you're looking to generate more spin you simply must use what I refer to as 'professional grade' wedges that are NOT an extension of your set.
  • Play with a premium ball as it will make a tangible difference in the amount of spin you can generate. And premium is code for EXPENSIVE. Spend the money and you'll be rewarded.
  • Replace worn out wedges and please stop using your great-grandfathers Spalding wedge - there is not a hint of a groove left. Grooves don't make as much difference as you might think (off the fairway) but remember that we're looking to increase spin here.
  • When practicing, and especially when playing, make sure your equipment is clean and the face is dry. Moisture or what I call 'green slime' built up on the face will make it almost impossible to hit a high spin pitch.
  • Left over sand from an earlier bunker shot has been known to increase the friction between the face and the ball. As a result I never clean my club after playing a sand shot - the next time I use that club I might need a low spinner.

Items we cannot control:

  • Don't tell anybody, but sometimes from a perfect lie in the fairway matter (moisture, grass or dirt) will still get trapped between the face and the ball. That's due to the fact that the sole of the club will almost always contact the ground before the ball (shhh!). Yes, even on those perfectly nipped ones! When the club contacts the grass it can sometimes kick up blades and that will interrupt grip between the face and the ball.
  • Dewy mornings. If you're playing early in the AM the grass is often wet and there's nothing you can do about it. Your pitches and chips will always launch higher and spin less when water is reducing grip.
  • Lies in the rough. Keep the ball in the fairway and you'll be able to spin it more. That's an easy one.

Thanks for checking in and keep an eye out for my next episode in this series on Spinning the Wedges when I talk about Spin Loft.

Catch up on my introduction to Spinning the Wedges HERE

This free website's biggest source of support is when you decide to call to book a lesson or golf school. You can contact me HERE. If you live in another state or country please consider making a purchase HERE or HERE. It will help your game and it will help me to keep adding to this free website. Thanks again for your support! Andrew.

How to Hit Great Bunker Shots

If you're intrested in improving your sand play, and who isn't, then check out my most recent video....

A few points to remember:

  • Aim your body slightly left (as a right hander) of the target line
  • The stance should be fairly wide - similar to that of a driver stance
  • The ball position should be forward of center
  • The weight should favor the front foot
  • Feel in a low posture - keep your butt close to the ground.  This will help with a shallow angle of attack
  • Your target is the sand - two to 6 inches behind the ball. Hit somewhere there and the club will pass safely under the ball
  • Control the distance with the length of your follow through. An unusual feel but try it, it really works.

Remember, you'll get more out of 15 minutes of bunker practice than you will out of practicing any other part of your game - so what are you waiting for....?

Thoughts on Sand Play

The greenside sand shot is unique to the game of golf in that it is the only shot we hit where we do not (or at least should not!) hit the golf ball.   Some people I know have hit their longest drives ever from a greenside bunker! Here are two simple things to keep in mind when extricating your ball from the sand:

  • Set-up and aim to hit the sand before the ball.  Hover the club over the spot that you intend to impact.   When practicing, draw a line in the sand and see how many times you can impact the sand right on the line.  Avoid holding the clubhead over the ball at address for more consistent ground contact!
  • In a regular golf shot we should be attempting to strike the ball first and the ground second.  This can only be done with a slightly descending blow and the weight on the golfers front foot.  Due to the fact that we only want all sand and no ball in the bunker there should be no forward weight shift into the hit.  Try to play sand shots with the back foot remaining fully planted and quiet throughout the swing.  The weight should remain where it was set at address. (Notice the post impact picture below) This will reduce those 'low heaters' out of greenside bunkers!

No weight shift!

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