Getting the Ball to the Hole: Putters and Bellied Wedges (Lesson 3, Part 2)

Phil rolls one into the hole

About this site: Golf as God Gave It To Us

This post continues our discussion of getting the ball to the hole, once we have taken care to line it up.  It is worth emphasizing that taking care to line a ball up is essential.  An ever so slight mis-alignment at the putterhead makes for a missed putt by some margin.  In this part, we given an example that will allow the golfer to see how top spin (“roll”) is so important to a good putt, discussed in Lesson 3, Part 1.

When we last discussed getting the ball to the hole, we learned that the ball spins when rolling on the hole to the green.  More than that, we learned that this spin is an important aspect of good putting, if not the most important aspect once the ball is struck. Like a spiral in football and a pitcher’s spin in baseball, that roll of the ball – as we see it – that top spin – stabilizes the putt and eases its resistance to the friction of the green.  As we noted, try putting a hockey puck to the green.  That is why hockey is played on ice – or perhaps field hockey is played with a different “puck.”

A putter versus a bellied wedge

An easy way to see the importance of putting top spin on the ball, or rolling it, is to try putting with a wedge – called a bellied wedge.

Some golfers, excellent ones at that, choose to hit a ball on the fringe with the leading edge of a wedge, instead of using the “Texas wedge.”

Setting up for a bellied wedge

The difficulty of putting from certain lies on the fringe is that the putter head travels along the ground.  As a result, the grass can get in the way of a smooth stroke.  On the other hand, the leading edge of a wedge is usually fairly straight and easy to imagine putting with.  (I sank a 6 foot putt yesterday with my wedge, in a practice round.)  Making a standard putting stroke and attempting to strike the ball at its equator (thus the term “bellied” wedge), we can essentially “putt” the ball with a wedge.

There is, however, a difference.  One can see the difference if one tries this at home:  stand 20 feet from the hole; take 5 balls; putt each with a putter; then “putt” each with a (bellied) wedge.

What you will find is very interesting.  The ball struck with a putter will roll end over end smoothly toward the hole, if we’ve aligned correctly.  The bellied wedge ball will, by contrast, appear to bump along the surface of the green.

What is happening?  The bellied wedge “putts” are being “slid” across the green.  Any top spin is accidental.  As a result, it moves toward the hole without the top spin that helps a ball overcome friction and maintain the stability of the balls path. The friction of the green’s surface exerts its full effect on the ball. For the ball to move forward, it acts as though (from a micro perspective) it is trying at each point it touches the green to overcome the green’s friction. Only (in micro) when enough of its momentum pulls the ball over itself does it take a small bounce to its next position on the green, where at first the green’s grass will stop it until the ball’s momentum overcomes that friction and take another (micro) leap forward. With all this jumping around, the ball can not hope to move on a straight line, and it doesn’t.

The putter, on the other hand, has loft to it.  (Yes, loft.)

A Putter Puts Top Spin On, Or “Rolls,” A Well-Struck Ball

When a putter (which has loft) strikes the ball, the forward swing pushes the ball to the hole and the loft, which ensures the putter’s center of gravity “hits” the ball beneath its center of gravity (no “bellied” strike here) gives the ball its roll or top spin. As we discussed in the first part of this lesson on getting the ball to the hole in more detail, a golf ball rolling end over end toward the hole is likely to travel smoothly and “true.”

Stan Utley, in his book The Art of Putting, recommends adding loft up to a putter, up to at least 4 degrees.  [1]  Off-the-shelf putters tend to have loft between 2.5 and 4 degrees.

The putted ball (from the green) is clearly a thing of beauty, the bellied wedge putt is pretty ugly.  Which is why players only use it when conditions prevent them from using a putter from a ball position on the fringe of the green.

Now you can see for yourself just how important that spin on the ball is — and perhaps learn how to execute a bellied wedge from the fringe.

Newton in his casual wig.

I. Newton

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