Ever been in one of those streaks where nothing seems to go the way it was planned? I know I have! Understanding why something happens is critical to the learning process so that we can practice and play with more enjoyment. That is why we play this funny game, isn’t it?
The first step to understanding ball flight is to recognize that there are two main elements at play, and two other elements that are often overlooked.
- The orientation of the clubhead
- The movement of the clubhead.
- Vertical gear effect.
- Horizontal gear effect.
Lets dive in on the main elements.
ORIENTATION OF THE CLUBHEAD
The orientation of the clubhead refers to both the horizontal and vertical alignment of the clubhead. In simpler terms, it is the Face Angle in relation to the target(horizontal) and how much Dynamic Loft in degrees (vertical) is being presented to the golf ball. What is making the ball start right or left and what is making it start up in the air. In the above images, these elements are represented by the red arrows. For the purposes of this article, 75% of a golf ball’s start direction is determined by these factors. There are differences depending on the club and a few other things, but we won’t get into that for now.
MOVEMENT OF THE CLUBHEAD
The movement of the clubhead refers to the horizontal and vertical movement of the clubhead at max compression (For TrackMan users. Other systems might look at it differently). At impact, the club is moving either right or left of the target line and it is also moving up or down. The left or right aspect is referred to as the Club Path, and the up or down movement is referred to as the Angle of Attack. As a general rule of thumb if the ball is on the ground, then we want some amount of downward (negative) Angle of Attack. Preferably, we would have an upward (positive) Angle of Attack with the driver. As with anything in golf, it depends on the player and what they are trying to achieve.
How do they work together?
FACE TO PATH
In the image above where you are looking down at the club, the difference between the red and blue arrows is what we refer to as ‘Face to Path’. Assuming a centered strike, if the face is pointed left of the path the ball will curve left. And just the opposite, if the face is pointed to the right of the path the ball will curve right.
In the image above where you are looking at the side of the club from a worm’s-eye view, the difference between the red and blue arrows is what we refer to as ‘Spin Loft’, or the difference between your Dynamic Loft and Angle of Attack. Why do we call it that? Not really sure to be honest. I think it was named that because it is the simplest term the could come up with. Just know this – the greater the Spin Loft, the greater the amount of spin you can generate and the lower amount of ball speed you can generate. As we all know, some clubs are designed for more spin and some are designed for more ball speed. The ideal amount of Spin Loft depends on the club being used and the clubhead speed that the player can generate. Faster swingers can have lower Spin Loft than slower swingers. Again, it all depends on the player and what result they are trying to achieve for a certain club or shot.
What about impact location?
HORIZONTAL GEAR EFFECT (Heel or Toe Strikes)
Impact location can have a significant impact on ball flight. In the image above, what is shown is how a heel or toe strike can make the ball curve a certain direction. For a right handed golfer, a heel strike can cause the ball to curve to the right or curve less to the left. A toe strike will make the ball curve left or less to the right. Keep this in mind – the lower the loft of the club, the effect is more dramatic on heel or toe strikes.
VERTICAL GEAR EFFECT (High or Low Strikes)
An impact location that is higher than dead center on the clubface will generally reduce spin, and a strike that is low on the clubface will increase spin. The tricky part about this is that for most golfers it can be hard to tell based just on the ball flight. Just because a ball has less spin or more spin, doesn’t necessarily mean the ball will fly lower or higher. Having access to something like TrackMan is a great resource to find out just what is truly happening.
The even more tricky part – its all 3 dimensional!
All of these components collectively create a 3 dimensional launch condition that creates a ball flight. Face to Path and Spin Loft create a certain amount of spin and a certain amount of Spin Axis (no such thing as side spin on a golf ball. The ball only spins on one axis, and that axis can be tilted like the wings of an airplane). And Horizontal and Vertical Gear Effect can override or amplify the amounts of Spin and Spin Axis.
How can I use this to practice and learn?
If the ball is not doing what you are expecting, I’d first inspect your Impact Location. If you aren’t consistently hitting it solid, then all bets are off to be honest. But if you are hitting it relatively well, start trying to work through different ways of altering the Face to Path relationship to make the ball curve the way you want it to. When it comes to trying to trying to alter your Spin Loft, that is where TrackMan and possibly a clubfitting almost becomes a necessity. With what we do at our location, we never want to guess as to what is happening. We want to know for sure, because it can be a slippery (and expensive) slope to travel down when you are trying to fit a club to mask a club delivery issue.
A final comment about mindset.
Your mindset when it comes to learning to improve in this game is arguably the most important aspect. If you cannot be honest with yourself about the cause of the results you are achieving, and cannot take failures as opportunities to learn, then this game will frustrate you almost beyond comprehension. The best golfers in the world are the best problem-solvers, mainly because they don’t take their talent for granted. When something isn’t working, they work to figure out why. I think that can be said about anybody who has worked themselves into the best in their business. See the image posted below.
He didn’t get angry. He worked to understand how to get better.