Understanding Ball Flight - Your ball is your best teacher.
Learn from your ball on every shot – Your golf ball does not know or care who is hitting it or how good you are. How the ball behaves after the message is delivered (impact) is pure physics. In terms of direction there are only two relevant factors contained in the “message” that the golf ball responds to. These are;
Swing path – in relation to the BALL to TARGET lineThis is the direction in which the club head is travelling as it makes contact with the ball. There are three possibilities:
- Straight down the target line
- Left of the target line (OUT to IN)
- Right of the target line (IN to OUT)
Club face angle – in relation to the SWING PATH
- Square to the path (90-degree angle to the swing path) – no side spin and ball flies straight
- Closed to path (pointing left) – ball curves in flight right to left
- Open to path (pointing right) – ball curves in flight left to right
Reading your shots (only 9 to learn) – One of the fastest ways to improve at golf is to learn something from every shot that you hit. This is called “instant feedback”. By observing how your ball flies after impact you should be able to deduce precisely in what direction the club was travelling (swing path) and where the face was pointing relative to that path (clubface angle) as the ball was struck. In most cases the starting direction of your shots will give you a pretty good idea of the swing path. From there, club face angle relative to the path of the swing will determine the side spin. By observing the curvature of the ball flight you will be able to determine if the club face was open, closed or square.
For example, let’s examine a typical shot for a right-handed player that starts well left of the target but slices off to the right of the target. With a ball flight that starts to the left, we know that the player’s swing path is coming across the body (IN to OUT), heading to the left of the target. In order for the ball to curve to the right, clockwise sidespin must have been created. This happens when the clubface is left open, or to the right, of the swing path.
Check your divots – If you read my November article “Strike it Better” you will understand that after most iron shots there should be a divot taken out of the turf. The divot is the easiest way to gather feedback about your swing path. If the divot points to the left of the target, you are swinging OUT to IN. Conversely, if your divot is directed right, you are swinging IN to OUT. The only way to have a square divot is to swing straight down the target line through impact.
Understanding the effect of loft – It is important to understand that not all the clubs in your bag behave the same way. I often see people who say, “I hit my 7-iron straight enough but I slice my driver.” Normally, upon closer examination we see that the 7-iron curves slightly left to right and the driver violently left to right. This is because EVERY golf ball in flight has BACK SPIN. The more loft on the face the more back spin will be imparted. Back spin is more dominant than side spin and will effectively cancel out any curvature on the flight of a golf ball.
As we go down the bag in search of more distance the back spin starts to reduce and any side spin that we are producing will start to move the ball in the air. A violent slice will have between 500 and 1000 rpm of side spin. The average golfer produces over 10,000 rpm of back spin with a sand wedge and around 3,000 rpm with a driver.
Your golf ball is the best teacher you could ever wish for!