There are a lot of stupid tips written in golf magazines. Most revolve around trying to get people who have trouble making decent contact on a regular basis to try to hit the ball farther. “Instant Power,” “Hit it 30 yards further,” are headlines you’ll read on a monthly basis. The advice is generally generic and not very helpful and generally will confuse the hell out of 90% of those who try it, but I think there is another piece of information which plays even more havoc with players.
“To create backspin make sure you hit down with your irons, especially the shorter irons.” What’s wrong with that? In order to generate more backspin you do indeed need to catch the golf ball on the downswing. The problem is when you make a good golf swing and have proper set up, ball position and posture and stuff, you are already catching the ball on the way down and generating good backspin. I think people who offer advice such as this sometimes fail to understand how people absorb information.
Every swing of every person who has ever swung a club comes down towards the golf ball on the down swing. The secret to the game is to have this swing come down the same way every time (or at least most of the time). The problem with a lot of players is they don’t comprehend the physics of the game and try to get under the golf ball to get it in the air. This is not good and you have to deal with this misconception when dealing with a student. My experience has been the worst way to deal with this situation is to tell them to hit down on the ball. As I said, the swing is already coming down on the ball. When you make this a conscious act you very often get some serious wood chopping action. Innocent worms are disturbed, Richter scales are sometimes charted. You can actually take a pretty decent swing and mess it up.
In order to produce backspin you need to make a swing which consistently brushes the grass in the same spot. Make a practice swing with a pitching wedge and if you have a good swing you will likely notice it brushes the grass near the middle of your stance. Position the ball just behind of where the club starts to brush the ground, make your swing, and let the ball get in the way. This will allow for solid contact, which will give you all the backspin you will ever need.
Will it get the ball to land on the green, take a hop, and spin backwards like some of those shots on television do? Maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of factors in play which affect the amount of spin you put on your shots. Clean contact is first. The reason you want to catch the ball just before your iron brushes the turf is it allows the loft of the club to do its job. If you hit the ground or grass first it interferes (grass gets between) with the ball contacting the club face, and the ball tends to spin less. If you can get the clean contact, the loft of the club creates the spin. The more angle there is on the club face, the more the ball will spin. The harder you swing the more it will spin. The softer the ball you play the more it will spin. The softer the green the more it will spin back. If you are hitting into the wind the ball will spin back more, as well as uphill. With all due respect to the marketing departments of the big wedge companies, the grooves have little to do with the spin off of a good lie. They do have an effect out of longer and wetter grass, but the argument that one company has better grooves than another is rubbish.
If you are an accomplished player there is a swing action which will allow you to put more spin on certain shots. It takes a lot of practice but can be helpful in some situations. For the vast majority, however, trying to hit “down” to create backspin is a foolish proposition. I think it was Sam Snead who said to an average player who asked about backspin something along the lines of, “You hit almost all of your shots short of the hole. Why would you want them to come backwards?”
Just want to give a shout-out to W. Terry Lineker, whose letter last week made clear his disappointment with my review of Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump. I guess I was wrong about the truth and rational argument not changing the minds of Trump enablers. I’m impressed you tore yourself away from Fox and Rebel entertainment long enough to give reality a try. Glad I could help. ♦
John Piccolo is the golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. Email your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org