The spin on spin; what grooves don’t do; what to do with your belly’s handles

Frank Thomas

I am amazed by the amount of spin the pros put on the golf ball. I’m not having any success doing that at my course although our greens are soft and a little shaggy. I heard one clubmaker claim he can make your wedge bite like the pros by sharpening the leading edge and working the grooves. Should I try it?

Doug Kramer, Toledo, Ohio

No. For two reasons. First, under typical tour conditions, greens (and fairways) are cut tight and play firm, which enhance your ability to put action on the ball. Second, you should not be hitting the ball near the leading edge of your wedge unless you want to skull it over the green. If you sharpen the leading edge, the only thing you’ll be sure to do is damage your golf balls. Grooves make a difference, but only out of the light rough where they increase friction. Sharper or more grooves won’t increase spin. As in the illustration below, pros produce high spinning shots by striking the ball cleanly with a descending blow on an oblique angle (that’s why a 9-iron produces 8,000 revolutions per minute and a driver only about 2,500). Research has shown that when the clubface is dry and no grass gets between the clubface and ball, a sand-blasted face does as well as a grooved face. You also might want to make sure you have a ball that optimizes spin on iron shots. Be careful though. Some balls are designed to spin on all shots, including drives. If your swing speed is high, that could actually reduce your distance (your shot will fly too high) and increase the amount of slice or hook spin on your shots.

I’m 6-feet-2, and I hit my 7-iron 160 yards. I’m using my dad’s old set. He’s four inches shorter than I am. Would clubs that are one-half inch longer be better for me? The longer clubs feel more comfortable.

Ryan Bartolomeo, Raleigh, N.C.

I don’t know why you would need to go to a longer shaft if you are hitting the ball well and you have control of your shots. (160 with a 7-iron is pretty good, no?) In general there are half-inch increments between clubs in a set. Therefore, the length of your 5-iron would be the length of a 6-iron in a set that is a half-inch longer. As you increase the length, the lie angle must change to compensate for the slight difference in swing plane. If you are happy with the results you are getting from your current clubs, you don’t need to change.

In June you stated that “two regular putter grips with flat sides on a long putter would violate the rules of golf.” What if only one of the grips has flat sides? My belly putter has two grips, the lower grip being a conventional putter grip and the top grip being a round grip cut off to about four inches. Does this configuration break the rules?

Mike Renahan, Penfield, N.Y.

Appendix II, 3v in the U.S. Golf Association rule book states that if you have two grips on your putter (and only putters can have two grips), both must have a circular cross section, and the axis of each must coincide with the axis of the shaft and be separated by at least 111/42 inches. (The grip can be tapered but must not have any bulge or waist.) I’m afraid your only option is to get a really long putter grip with a flat side the way you want it. (There is no limit on grip length.) I don’t know of any made this way. So if you don’t want your friends to lay claim to your past winnings, change the grips on your belly putter to conform, and we can keep this our secret. Sorry to give you the bad news, but you asked for it.

Frank Thomas, technical director of the USGA from 1974-2000, is Golf Digest’s Chief Technical Advisor. E-mail him at equipment

COPYRIGHT 2002 New York Times Company Magazine Group, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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