If you’ve ever watched professional golf on television, you’ve probably seen players hit approach shots into greens that land softly and stop or, sometimes, spin backwards. These shots seem to defy the laws of physics; the ball’s momentum is taking it forward, but it quickly stops or changes directions without any outside force.
The ability to put backspin on a golf ball is an incredibly valuable one. It allows a player to safely fly their ball all the way to the green without risking a bad bounce on the ground. Without backspin, a player would be forced to land the ball short and hope that it takes a favorable bounce towards the hole.
Spin also makes it much easier to judge a shot’s distance. Instead of guessing how far a ball might roll after it hits the ground, a player who is able to put backspin on the ball knows that it won’t wander far from the initial landing area.
For many players, backspin seems like an unattainable dream, but believe it or not, spinning the ball is actually much easier than you might expect.
Angle of Attack
The first thing a golfer need to understand is how backspin is created. A lot of golfers believe, incorrectly, that they must get under the ball and lift (or swing up) at the ball to get it in the air and spinning backwards. Unfortunately, that’s nearly impossible to do and does the exact opposite; lower backspin rate and trajectory.
Think about it this way, if you try to swing up at a ball that is resting on the ground, then you’re forced to make contact with the ball at the exact point where it meets the ground. Since this is so difficult to do, it often means that the club makes impact with the ground first and then the ball, which slows down the club head before impact and brings foreign objects (dirt, grass, water, etc.) between the ball and the club face.
Instead, backspin is created when a player makes impact with the ball first and the ground second, with a downward angle of attack. The angle of attack is the path of the club head through impact.
Again, if you watch professional golf on television, you’ll notice that players take a huge chunk of dirt (called a divot) with each iron shot. In this case, they are actually creating the divot after they strike the ball. The result of, correctly, making impact with the ball then ground, is a divot that is slightly smaller than a dollar bill and starts immediately after the ball and continues forward.
If you’re able to create this downward angle of attack, you’re well on your way to putting backspin on your golf ball. The next thing you must attend to is your grooves, or the small indents in your clubface placed there to help generate spin.
The purpose of your grooves is to displace grass, dirt, water, and other loose impediments so that your golf ball and clubface connect with the largest possible surface area. They give those objects a place to go so that they don’t get in between the ball and clubface. The more your clubface and ball make contact without anything getting in the way, the more spin you will be able to create. That’s why it’s so important to hit the ball first and the ground second.
This also means that the grass condition you find your ball in will dramatically impact how much you can spin the golf ball. A ball that is hit out of the rough will have significantly less backspin because there is more grass between the ball and clubface. Shorter grass conditions, like the fairway, will allow you to make unimpeded impact with the golf ball.
So, the cleaner you keep your grooves, the more you will spin the ball. Be sure to clean your grooves after every shot to get the best performance. There are also groove sharpeners on the market which allow you to make old grooves look and perform like new.
Next, it’s important to make sure that your clubface is in a square position. There are three possible face positions at impact; square, closed, and open. A square clubface is the only position where backspin can be created because the ball will spin directly up the clubface.
The other two positions, closed and open, will actually put side spin on the golf ball and a ball that has side spin cannot have significant backspin. So, if you make impact with the golf ball and have an open or closed clubface, that sidespin will be the dominant motion of your shot when it hits the ground.
Unfortunately, there is no universal way to correctly make sure your clubface is square at impact, but you can self-check. Wherever the ball finishes (left, right, or straight at your target) will indicate you face position at impact. So, if you hit a slice that starts on line, but ends up to the right of the target (for a right-handed player), then your clubface was open at impact and needs to be closed more.
Next, we need to understand loft. This is the angle degree that is created by the clubface and the centerline of the club’s shaft. A club with more loft is going to create more backspin. So, you may not see a ball back-up after it hits the green with a 4-iron, but that is much more likely to happen with a sand wedge.
Finally, your swing speed also matters when it comes to putting backspin on the golf ball. That doesn’t mean you need to try and swing harder when you hope to spin the ball, but it does mean that a full shot will spin more than a chip or pitch shot. The faster the club is moving at impact, the more of that energy will be transferred to the ball in the form of spin. Consider this when you are selecting your club as well. If you’re in between clubs, taking the shorter club and swinging it at full force will create more spin than clubbing up and swinging easier. Not only will it have more loft, but you’ll be forced to swing a bit harder. There are advantages to both options, but when it comes to spin, the shorter club is always the better option.
One last note, spin isn’t something that you can instantly implement in your game. It takes time and practice to put all of these elements together, but when you do, you’ll see that ball sit and zip back a bit when it hits the green.