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.

Wedges: Friction and Trajectory

The other day during a Three Day Golf School I hit four demonstration pitch shots for my students. My intent was to repeat the same shot in each attempt, with the only difference being how I manipulated the amount of friction between the club face and the ball.

The amount of loft I was able to deliver for each of the four shots was between 44.3º and 45.3º - the best I've been able to do! The interesting part is that the launch angles ranged from 30.4º tall the way up to 40.0º. How does that happen?

The Four Shots

The Four Shots

The reasons why the launch angles are different is something that too few golfers (and coaches) understand and while I've written on this before it's a mission of mine to get the good word out. My intent was to carry each shot 50 yards and they are all played in the same fashion, with the same club except for shot 4.

Shot 1 - clean, dry club face and a clean, dry range ball. Spin rate - 6246 rpm. Launch is a respectable 32.1º

Shot 2 - clean, wet club face and a clean, wet range ball. Spin rate - 2782 rpm. Launch is a whopping 40º

Shot 3 - clean, dry club face and a clean, dry premium ball. Spin rate 6923 rpm. Launch is the lowest at 30.4º

Shot 4 - clean, dry grooveless club face and a clean, dry range ball. Spin rate is 5837 rpm. Launch is decent at 33.6º

I must mention that in order to 'manage' the friction between the club face and the ball each of these shots is played off a tee so as to eliminate grass and outside matter from interfering.

While the loft is maintained the launch, spin rate and peak height can be greatly influenced by the amount of friction generated between the club face and the ball. The moral of the story here is that the best pitchers in the world hit low launching, high spinning shots when the conditions allow. There is more at play than simply the loft at impact determining the launch angle. As you can tell friction plays a massive role too. It is my hope that in understanding this you will be less likely to try and 'fix' something that isn't broken. Hope this helps and thanks for reading!

Luke Donald

Luke Donald

 

 

3 Key Drills for Great Wedge Play

Far too many golfers struggle with their wedge play. I see it all the time! In this article and video I have dug deep and come up with my three favorite drills for you to practice if you'd like to get better from close range. Take a look...

Impact Drag Drill

  • Using an alignment rod in lieu of a club take your normal pitching address position
  • Place the tip of the rod on the ground about 3 feet behind where the ball would be
  • Keeping the arms extended, rotate and elevate the lead shoulder to get the rod through impact

Pitching Draw Drill

  • Tee the ball up and place an alignment rod between the ball and the target
  • The objective is to get the ball to draw around the rod
  • Have the handle traveling up and in while the clubhead travel down and out for draws

9 Ball Trajectory Drill

  • Using nine balls to develop skill and adaptability
  • Hit the first three balls to three different targets with your stock trajectory
  • The second three balls are hit with a slightly higher trajectory to different targets
  • The final three are hit with a lower trajectory to different targets as well

My hope is that these drills will help to upgrade your technique, develop your skill around the greens and ultimately help you become a more well-rounded golfer.

Thanks for reading/watching and if you enjoyed this article please share it with a friend who you feel might benefit.

Wedges and Water

I recently stumbled onto an interesting tidbit whilst working with a young professional on his wedge game. It was early in the morning and we had been hitting beautiful 50 yard pitches the afternoon before and suddenly he could not get the ball to launch low enough with the spin rate he had been generating the day before. Now as you may know I've tested almost all there is to test in regards to a 50 yard wedge shot and of course I had looked into the effect of water interfering with the friction between the face and the ball. One problem - I had tested a wet club striking a dry ball. My results from the earlier test showed very little difference in launch and spin when there was water involved and I had since adopted that belief.

As I watched the young pro struggle to lower his launch in the morning dew it came to me - there was a difference between a wet club striking a dry ball and a dry club striking a wet ball! I had to run the test again.

I had to be very careful with the test in that I needed to use the same club, my 54 degree sand wedge, in very controlled conditions, with golf balls that were consistent. I used brand new Titleist NXT Tour golf balls and made sure that I cleaned the grooves and clubface off between each shot. I attempted to hit each shot to carry 50 yards flat and hit eight shots for each portion of the test. I removed the two shots that had the lowest spin from each portion. With the help of my TrackMan here are the results:

Wet club and dry ball:

  • Launch angle was 27.8 degrees
  • Spin rate was 5463 rpm
  • Height was 26.5 feet

Dry club and wet ball:

  • Launch angle was 30.1 degrees
  • Spin rate was 5291 rpm
  • Height was 28.4 feet

Dry club and dry ball:

  • Launch angle was 25.4 degrees
  • Spin rate was 6603 rpm
  • Height was 21.2 feet

The interesting thing in looking at the trajectory chart is how much lower the dry club and dry ball (purple) shots flew. Clearly there was more friction between the face and ball which led to a lower launch with substantially more spin. The dry club and wet ball (yellow) sample flew the highest as the water on the ball greatly decreased friction which led to higher launch, due to slippage and thus decreased spin - certainly not the optimal shot.

The interesting thing when comparing the wet club/dry ball versus the dry club/wet ball results was that the spin and launch were better when the BALL was dry. This was due to the water being forced off the clubhead and into the groove channels during the motion of the swing. Not to mention that the air dried the face during the swing too.

Moral of the story - always clean the clubface (unless it has sand on it) and dry the club and ball when possible. If you happen to have an early morning tee time and you're a dew sweeper, don't plan on hitting any low spinners! The drier the ball and club, the better the friction and the better the quality of shots you will hit.

Please read my first two articles on wedges and pitching:

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

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