Ball flight Law

Published on 31 March 2009 by in Lessons Articles

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All my students will find it helpful to know why the golf ball flies as it does. Whether the shot slices, hooks, doesn’t get off the ground, pops up or has no distance. These ball flights are laws and are based on the principles of physics.

Let me simplify what the club causes at impact to produce these effects. There are five causes that effect the pattern to your golf balls flight.

  • Angle of approach
  • Club head path
  • Face angle
  • Centerness of contact
  • Club head speed

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Angle of approach:

Let’s start by getting your golf ball airborne. Another term for this law is “angle of attack”. There are three angles the clubs head will approach impact. Descending down into the ball, level or shallow through the ball or ascending up into the ball. One way to think about this is to draw a circle. The circle represents your club heads arc. If you were to draw a line straight down from the center of that circle you would intersect the lowest point of the circle. That represents the lowest point of your swing arc. If the ball is just behind or left of that lowest point the club head would descend. If the ball was directly at the bottom of the arc, your clubs head would approach the ball on a shallower approach. And if the ball was just in front of that lowest point or to the right the clubs head would approach the ball ascending up into the ball. You want your clubs head approaching down or descending into the back of the ball with wedges and irons to create backspin so the ball stops on the green. You want your putter shallowing into the ball or just slightly ascending into the back of the ball to create top or forward spin so it will roll to the hole. When you swing the driver, which has less loft than wedges and irons, your ball rests on a tee 1-3 inches off the ground which is placed just in front of your bottom most portion of your swing arc. That way the driver swings through impact at a shallow approach to slightly ascending so you create less backspin than an iron or a wedge. So with the driver, when the ball lands it can reverse its spin and tumble over to create roll.

Our first goal: To get the ball airborne.

Face angle:

There are three face angles. Open, square and closed. Two of them (open and closed) to various degrees. Really open, really closed, just a little open or just a little closed. Square is square. But it’s the combination of the clubs face angle in respect to the club heads path through impact that is going to determine the spin or shall we say “the curve of the golf balls flight” or in a scientific term the “spin axis”. Through research, science has determined that the ball will start its flight perpendicular to the faces angle. For a right handed golfer, an open club face (cause) produces a golf ball to start to the right (effect) of the club heads path and a closed club face (cause) produces a shot that starts to the left (effect). For the ball to start right or left and curve back to the target the spins axis has to be 2.5 times greater than the face is open or closed. Just a little open or closed with respect to the club heads path would impart spin to the right (fade) or left (draw).

Our second goal: After the ball is airborne, produce a face angle that is facing our target squarely at impact.

Club head path:

This is the path the club’s head is traveling through the impact zone. Now, let’s make an imaginary ball to target line by getting back behind the ball, straddle that imaginary ball to target line with our feet and look straight down that line towards our target with the right foot on the outside or to the right and the left foot on the inside or to the left of that imaginary ball/target line.  So, if the golf balls flight pattern spins to the left, the clubs head was traveling along a path from inside to the outside (cause) in respect to the clubs face during impact. The opposite holds true for a shot that spins right of the imaginary ball/ target line. The clubs head traveled from outside to inside with respect to the clubs face.

Our third goal: With a descending blow into the back of the ball so the ball got airborne while at impact a face angle that is square to the ball/target line and producing a club head path that was down the line through impact.

Center-ness of hit:

You can contact the ball on the toe of the clubface (the farthest part of the clubs face from the golfer) inducing a hook shot. Or, contact can be on the heel (the closest part of the clubs face to the golfer) inducing a slice. God forbid you hit it on the housel (where the shaft is inserted into the head of the club) inducing a …, well I won’t even completely spell it much less say it. It’s golf’s dirtiest word, starts with sh___, but has three letters, not two. You could whiff it. Which still counts as a stroke, but one stroke better than long and wrong into OB (out of bounds) territory. I think most readers of this article understand it’s better making contact in the middle of the clubs face (sweet spot) than anywhere else on the club. The golfer will get a more dynamic efficient strike on the ball by making contact on the sweet spot of the clubface. This does take practice. Lots of good practice.

Our forth goal:  After starting with a descending blow into the back of the ball so the ball got airborne and a face angle that is square to the ball/target line at impact with a club head path that was down the line at impact you want to make contact with the back of your ball with the center of the clubs face.

Club head speed:

Or the speed to which the club head is traveling during impact. A no brainer, the faster the club head goes through impact the more velocity or speed the golf ball will have, providing you make contact (sorry, I couldn’t help it). If I throw a baseball with fast moving hands the baseball will have more velocity or speed. We call that a “fastball”. If  I toss the baseball underhand with slow moving hands, well, we usually reference that to “slow pitch softball”. So, more club head speed (cause) the more golf ball velocity (effect) which produces a shot that goes farther.

Our fifth goal: Linking the aforementioned laws together with club head speed.

In summary, it’s very helpful to first know what your club is telling the ball what to do. If you don’t know what the clubs doing to the ball, how do you know what to do to the club? These five laws of flight are set in stone. They’re based on physics, or the natural order of things. Call it what you will, but you can’t descend down into the back of the golf ball and give it topspin, it’s law. It won’t happen. You can’t throw a baseball forward and have it travel backwards.

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