One of the most dramatic things anyone can do to a golf ball is apply so much backspin that, after landing, it sucks backwards as if on a string. In addition to being fun to watch, this is a useful shot, especially when you’re playing to rock-hard greens or when you need to get close to a pin that is positioned just beyond a bunker or other trouble.
In order to play this shot successfully, you need to have several factors in your favour, only one of which is the proper swing.
The first essential is a clean lie, to enable maximum application of clubface to ball. It also helps to be playing into the wind and to a green that slopes towards you.
Finally, your chances of applying backspin will be enhanced if you’re playing with square-grooved irons and striking a soft-covered ball.
The key to the technique is to make crisp, brisk impact with the back of the ball. Ideally, in fact, you want to hit the top-back quadrant of the ball, so that you squeeze the ball against the turf for a millisecond. That’s what creates the friction that makes the ball spin.
Begin by positioning the ball a few centimetres behind its usual position in your stance. Don’t move it any farther back, because that will simply produce a low, squirting shot. Grip the club more firmly than normal, to reduce wrist action – you want hand speed but not wrist speed.
The swing should be aggressive from top to bottom. Contrary to common belief, the suck back is played with the big muscles – it is not a flick. Keeping those wrists firm, swing through briskly with the arms as your legs and lower body move towards the target.
You don’t want to pick this ball cleanly, but you don’t want a divot either. You’ll know you’ve played it well when, at impact, you slick down the grass in front of the ball.
The Spinless Shot
I was known as a player who put a lot of backspin on the ball, but the fact is, I also knew how to hit a shot that had almost no spin. This is a handy shot to have, particularly when you want the ball to sort of thud down and stop on the green.
Outwardly the swing for this shot looks much the same as that for any other iron shot. Your ball position should be a bit more forward – perhaps half a ball – than usual, but the difference is in the way you feel during the swing. It’s a loose and ‘oily’ feeling, to borrow one of the great Sam Snead’s words. Whereas on most shots you maintain a certain amount of tension in your legs, for this shot you unlock those muscles in your thighs and calves so that your swing flows with extra smoothness. Your knees don’t fire as they do on other swings, and your leg action is soft and yielding. At impact, your club clips the ball with a 3-wood-like angle of attack, rather than the more downward blow that takes a divot.