Golfers want information to be communicated in a simple, understandable form, because human performance has its own sociological complexities. We do not need other complex information clogging the brain when trying to hit a golf ball.
Golfers enjoy simple swing thoughts that work more often than not. However, how we get to those solutions may not be so simple. Getting better at anything in life is not simple, but if approached from the correct end point simple swing thoughts can be the result.
We have to work from the ball flight backwards to find our simple swing thought. Questions that need answering to improve performance are: What is our typical ball flight? What is our typical ball flight when we do not hit a successful shot? What physics actually happened at impact to make the ball fly the way it did? The first two questions golfers can answer themselves, and are part of my questionnaire process with a student to start a lesson. Let me assist with the third question.
If we know why the ball is flying a certain way in the air, we have the most important information in golf performance. The different paths to change our impact physics is subjective, but why the ball is flying the way it did in a golf shot is not subjective. If a golfer can understand impact physics they can self-diagnosis, and make adjustments as needed. A golf coach is still useful for many reasons, but students can be more involved in the process if they understand ball flight physics. Ball flight physics are comprised of club path, face angle, and gear effect.
Club path is the direction the club head is moving (right or left) at impact, relative to the target line. Face angle is the direction the club face is pointed (right or left) at impact, relative to the target line. Gear effect is when you hit a golf club anywhere but the middle of the face (it is really anywhere off the center of gravity of the club, but for simplicity sake we will use center of club), the club head will twist.
Gear effect is very much prevalent when hitting a driver, not so much with irons. With drivers and fairway woods, the twist will impart the opposite twist to the ball. That is, if the club head rotates clockwise, the ball’s spin will be counter-clockwise —just like two gears meshing.
To further explain gear effect make two fists, and put the two fists together with palms facing one another. While moving the knuckles away from each other, keep the bottom of your palms together. This is what happens when a right-handed golfer hits a golf ball off the toe of the driver. In this example, the golf ball would start right of where the impact physics, club head and club face angle would suggest it would, and turn to the left after the ball has taken off more than physics of path and face suggest.
The examples of moving the fist can be done four different ways, thumbs stay together, pinkies together, or knuckles together, moving the opposite side away from each other. If the golf ball is hit in the center of the club face, the picture diagram is 100% correct. This diagram should be studied by all golfers until it is memorized. However, gear effect can mess up what is shown in the diagram. So, do not attempt to fix any ball flight until contact point has been established. Use face tape, or better yet, go see your local golf professional.
This article could go on for pages with very detailed information on ball flight laws, but Fredrik Tuxen, inventor of TrackMan, has provided great blogs, visuals, and other educational pieces about the physics of impact. This is the information students could use on the golf range and course. The information is complex, but understanding the physics of ball flight makes for better results, and simple solutions that suit the individual golfer.
The physics of impact do not care about a golfers gender, handicap, skill level, physical strength, body structure, etc.; it is science, and not subjective. Know the physics, and go see a local pro who will include you in the improvement process. This will make for better teamwork between player and coach. Also, Google “TrackMan ball flight laws” or “TrackMan D-Plane” to find out more. The information you will find is the good stuff, not the typical “Fix your game with these five swing keys.”
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.