Even the most basic golf shots are challenging, no matter how experienced you are. Watching the likes of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods struggling with their game is enough to tell you that.
But there are other shots that are in a league of their own, shots that take more than just muscle memory to pull off. They take consummate skill, creativity and a working understanding of the physics at play between the amount of force applied to the ball and the conditions of its lie. The low spinning wedge shot is one of these.
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The Low-Trajectory High-Spinning Wedge Shot
What makes this shot so tough is the fact that it’s a combination of contradictions. It’s a low-trajectory shot, meaning it has a low flight path. Typically, shots with a low flight path hit the ground and roll out. But it’s also a shot with backspin, meaning when it hits the ground it stops and sometimes even reverses direction. BUT shots with backspin typically require a strike with a lot of loft, and loft means high trajectory, not low trajectory.
It’s enough to give someone a headache. Do you think the creators of golf had any idea so many complicated things could be done with a ball and a stick?
When You Need This Shot
If it’s such a wildly difficult shot, why even bother with it? Well, sometimes circumstances call for it. Imagine you’re stuck under a tree with low-hanging branches but you’re only 30 or 40 yards from the green. You’ve got to hit it low enough to miss the branches but you’re too close to the green to want to risk blading it past the hole.
Weather may be a factor as well. If it’s a windy day, you may want to lower your ball’s flight path to prevent it from being influenced by the wind. But, again, if you’re close to the green you don’t want to hit a low shot that’s going to skim the ground and roll like there’s no tomorrow. You need it to check quickly so you have a good look at a score-saving putt.
The Mechanics of the Swing
Choose a lofted club. Yes, lofted clubs are traditionally meant to help you get the ball in the air, which isn’t what you want to do right now. But the openness of the club face will give you the spin you need to stop the ball on the green. What changes the trajectory for this shot is how you address the ball.
First, though, let’s talk about the position of the ball. Put it towards the back of your stance. Depending on what works for you, this may mean putting it slightly back of center or lining it up with your back foot, as Jordan Spieth does. Putting the ball closer to your trail foot than your lead foot means you’re greatly increasing the chance that you’ll hit the ball cleanly.
While we’re on the subject of the ball, these very touchy-feely types of shots are easier to accomplish with a soft ball. Hard balls are created for increasing distance. Soft balls give you the feel and response you need for greenside shots that demand accuracy and good stopping power.
Now, on to the address. Put a forward press on your club shaft. Spieth recommends imagining that the handle of your club is aimed in the direction of the target. Having a forward lean on the shaft decreases loft. This is going to help you keep that shot low while the club head works on putting backspin on the ball.
Your backswing doesn’t require a lot of body rotation but as you come through, make sure you’re rotating your hips and upper body fully. When you complete the shot, your belt buckle and chest should be facing the target, while at the same time you’ve kept you head on the same plane throughout your swing.
As you’re swinging back and coming through the shot, be mindful of the lean you’ve put on the shaft. Hold this lean at impact. Once you’ve hit the ball, hold off on releasing your left arm. This is going to result in a low finish, with the club face pointed towards your target and your arms in front of you.
As you practice this shot, you may find it helpful to choke down about an inch or so on the handle. The ball being positioned near your trail foot coupled with the shaft lean and low follow-through may result in your club face digging into the ground after you hit the ball. Even fearing this could happen may cause you to decelerate through the shot. If this happens, you’ll likely make a weak shot that will pop up slightly and land miserably short of your target.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
One thing you don’t want to do with a low spinning wedge shot is hit too far down into the back of the ball. While hitting down on the ball increases the amount of spin you’re putting on it, it also greatly increases ball flight. If you’re positioned under those trees mentioned in the beginning of this article, you’ve just clipped the branches. Concentrate on brushing the top of the ground with your club face through your shot, not taking a divot at all.
Another mistake is making a full swing. This isn’t an ordinary shot. It doesn’t call for a full body rotation. Doing so will, again, encourage higher loft as well as greater distance. You certainly want to rotate your body as you finish your shot but concentrate on keeping your hands and arms low, mimicking the low flight path you want your ball to take.
Deceleration is the mistake of just about any golf shot. It almost always happens when a player doesn’t have confidence in the outcome of the shot, or when the mechanics aren’t making sense to him yet. The only cure for lack of confidence is practice and consistent playing. The more you’ve played this shot, the better you understand it.
Another mistake is coming over the top during your downswing. Coming over the top not only means you’re more likely to create a divot and hit into the back of the ball, it also means you’re losing accuracy. Work on keeping your backswing low and abbreviated. Your follow-through should actually be longer than your backswing for this shot.
There’s No Replacement for Practice
When you’re just a weekend player, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to work out your game on the course. Yet nothing replaces practice. Make time to get to the range a few times a week and work on this shot.
The key points of the low spinning wedge shot are:
- Put the ball in the back of your stance
- Lower the club shaft angle
- Make a low, shortened backswing
- Make a full body rotation through the shot
- Keep your club low at finish
Remember to brush the grass with your club head and make no divots before or after impact. Choke down on the handle if this helps you achieve this.
Practice, practice, practice. Bear in mind that this isn’t a shot you’re going to use often, so practice is the only way to keep it fresh in your mind when you actually do need it.