The Library

Backspin - Friend or Foe?
By Pat Dolan

Why is it, players most impressed with backspin and wanting to know all about it are usually those who shouldn't ?

Players need to understand one thing about backspin, it usually causes more heartaches than pleasures. Many of the highest scores I've witnessed were due to golfers trying and failing to place backspin on their ball. Their attempts at creating backspin often resulted in bladed or bellied shots flying over the green and out of bounds. Trying to put backspin on a golf ball while playing has ruined thousands of rounds.

On the other hand, golfers have also ruined rounds because they did produce backspin. Too much backspin can back a ball off a green into a hazard causing lost strokes and ruined rounds. While you can produce backspin, you cannot control it.

If you think I am discouraging it's usage, you are 100% right. Any great player given a choice would never want to hit a shot requiring backspin. Why ? Well quite simply they cannot guarantee backspin, nor can they control it's amount. Not even on shots under ideal conditions while using their wedges. One reason is, moisture from a single blade of grass on the clubface can act like a lubricant and eliminate any chance of creating backspin.

I love the story about Sam Snead and backspin. True or not it makes a great story. It seems Sam was hitting balls with his three iron at a practice green about 200 yards away. Often his balls would hit and back up, seemingly due to backspin. A spectator was quite impressed and boldly told Sam he would give almost anything if he could back up his three iron. Sam turned to the fellow and calmly asked, "Sir how far do you hit your three iron ?" To which the man replied, "About 160 yards." Sam then replied in a slightly aggravated voice, "If that's all the farther you hit it, why in the hell would you want it to back up ?"

Okay now you understand backspin has it's downsides lets explain and explore it's upsides. Backspin is great whenever you need the ball to stop or back up upon landing on the green. Oops, sorry that seems to be it's only upside.

So how do you produce backspin on a golf ball ?

That's easy, you simply hit it in a way that causes it to spin or rotate backwards from the instant you hit it. Of course everything needs to be "just right" for it to happen.

Most people have placed backspin on a round ball. Probably a ball they used when playing their favorite sport or game. Spinning a volley ball, beach ball or basketball backwards then tossing it forward so it comes back to you is creating backspin. Reverse rotation of any ball is known as backspin.

In golf it's illegal to pick up the ball with our hands. So how do we produce backspin on a ball that's lying on a surface ?

Those who play billards (pool) know how to put backspin on a ball when it's sitting on a surface. First, you must hit the ball on it's backside below center with the cue's tip. (In golf we do it with the leading edge of the clubface.) Second the steeper the angle of your cue stick the more backspin you produce. (Same with the downswing in golf.) Third your cue's tip and the surface underneath the billard ball must be dry. (Same in golf.)

Hitting the ball in this manner forces the ball forward yet at the same time it causes it's upper portion to move backwards producing backspin.

Understanding backspin or any ball reaction is far easier when you employ a trick taught by my mentor R. E. "Bumps" Barnes RIP. As he put it, "in order for you to understand any ball reaction, good or bad, you simply become the ball."

To do it picture yourself as the golf ball and put yourself in it's place. Now by facing the direction you want the ball to go, your backside is the balls backside, your head is it's topside, and your feet are it's bottom side, got the idea ? Great.

Now imagine what would happen if someone hit you (as the ball) with a baseball bat (comparable to the leading edge of the golf club) across the upper portion of your legs ? Your legs and body move forward because of the force of the blow but your upper body is falling backwards because you were hit below the center of your body. You are moving forward while tumbling backwards. That's exactly how the golf ball reacts and that is exactly how backspin is placed on a golf ball.

Why is it so difficult to put backspin on the ball ? On all other golf shots your target is "the whole backside of the ball," hitting any part of it could produce an acceptable shot. However in order to create backspin you "must hit" only the lower backside half of it. In other words you only have half a target.

Well now you know how to produce backspin on a golf ball. You can go to the nearest practice area and hit thousands of shots trying to produce backspin as most professionals do. Then just like us, you too can honestly say, "maybe I can back the ball up, one out of three times, if I'm lucky."

Then again you could spend that same amount of time learning course management. Then you could successfully "attack the course" in such a way that you wouldn't need to hit a single shot requiring backspin.

Let me close with this final thought, I truthfully cannot recall a single instance where backspin on any shot resulted in my winning a tournament or setting a course record.

You can rest assured "if one had" I would remember it and be bragging about it because of how extremely hard it is to do, especially when you were trying to do it.

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