It was at Augusta National Viktor Hovland was digging up the beautiful, green Masters turf. He had a wedge in his hands, but on this occasion, it might as well have been a shovel.

With a bunker between him and the practice green’s pin, Hovland was intentionally taking enormous divots after each shot. Then, once the ball was gone, he’d make practice swings, again swinging so each divot was deeper than the last.

“Mark my words,” Hovland’s coach, Joe Mayo, said not long after. “In a few months he’ll be one of the best chippers in golf.”

By August, Hovland would be ranked 60th in scrambling on the PGA Tour. He got up and down 12 times from the 14 greens he missed over four rounds during his $US18 million Tour Championship victory at East Lake.

Hovland, with a group of golf balls by his side on the fringe of the green, was only a few yards from the nearest ping, but was making long, aggressive swings. But whereas the occasional shot from a few months earlier at Augusta would come out hit and skid across the green, each of these floated softly into the air. For such an aggressive swing, they landed almost delicately. Something had changed.

That something, was Spin Loft.

Spin Loft, explained

The 2023 PGA Championship seemed to be something of a turning point for Hovland’s short game. He finished second that week at Oak Hill, and in doing so, began his ascent from one of the statistically worst chippers on tour, to objectively, one of the best. He’s won three times since then — including the FedEx Cup — and comes into the Ryder Cup the form player in golf.

One of Hovland’s greatest assets in his full swing is his ability with a shallow angle of attack. In oversimplified terms, Hovland sweeps the ball at high speed, which allows him to hit low-spinning power fades.

But around the greens, his similar technique had Hovland struggling to generate enough spin, and his mis-hits would often cause him to chunk shots by hitting too far behind the ball. It was why, a few years ago, Hovland admitted he “sucked” at chipping, and attempted to solve the problem by changing the way he was hitting the ball. Specifically, the way his wrists worked through the ball.

When Hovland and Mayo teamed up, they abandoned that idea. Rather than making large alterations to technique Hovland used to hit the ball, they focused acutely on how Hovland was hitting the ball. That’s where the concept of Spin Loft came into play.

Spin Loft is a shorthand metric teachers use between the difference between the loft of the club at impact, and the direction of the clubhead. Hovland’s coach Mayo says it’s “one of the most important” metrics to understand, and has talked a lot about how crucial it is around the greens. Shot 2023-08-28 at 3.48.17 PM.png

The lower your Spin Loft, the more ball speed you’ll have, and less backspin. That’s great for long drives, but not so much around the greens. It’s something many amateur golfers struggle with, too. Slicers have too much Spin Loft off the tee—which is why they hit high, weak drives out to the right—and others don’t have enough Spin Loft around the greens. When that happens, the ball will run across the surface low and hot, with no spin. If that sounds like you, you could be struggling with a Spin Loft issue.

That, effectively, is what Hovland was struggling with, too. His task became generating more Spin Loft, which meant swinging more down as he hit the ball. The pair did this by shifting Hovland’s weight more towards the target during his pitching motion —and yes, taking huge divots. That helped Hovland hit the ball on a steeper, descending blow. The more Hovland did that, the more Spin Loft he could create, and the more Hovland was able to hit solid, spinny chips.

As coach Mayo explains:

“The steep angle of attack forms the bottom of the Spin Loft angle, which slows the ball down, creates high spin, and also pulls the launch angle downward…It’s a high friction situation. It slows the ball down and it can help us spin the daylights out of it.”

Golfers often like to get mystical about the game. One that is primarily driven by the heart and soul and will of the Golfing Gods. In doing so, we often overshadow the fact that this is a game with science at its core. One driven by angles and mathematics and geometry. It was unlocking those that spurred Hovland into his hot streak. And a lesson the rest of us would be wise to learn from.