Ball flight Law

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
Golf ball flight patterns

Angle of approach:

Let’s start by getting your golf ball airborne. Another term for this law is “angle of attack”. Because of the semi-vertical swinging arc, there are three angles the clubs head will approach the ball at impact. Descending/down, level/shallow or ascending/up into the ball. One way to think about this is to imagine a big circle in front of you while taking your set up. The circle represents your club heads arc during your swing in motion. If you were to draw a line straight down from the center of that circle you would intersect the lowest point of that circle. That lowest point also represents the lowest point of your club heads swing arc. While at set up looking down at the ball, if the ball is just behind that lowest point or to the right at impact the club head would descend into the back of the ball. If the ball was directly at the bottom of the arc, your clubs head would approach the ball on a level/shallower approach. And if the ball was just in front or to your left of that lowest point the clubs head would approach 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 level/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, the ball has less backspin while in the air so 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:

The face angles function is to launch the ball in the direction the face is pointing at impact.There are three possible face angles. Open, square and closed. Two of them (open and closed) can be in 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”. Through research, science has determined that the ball will start its flight perpendicular to the faces angle (launch direction). For a right handed golfer, if the face is pointed to the right of the target line (open) the ball will launch to the right of target. 

Our second goal: Produce a face angle that is facing our target squarely at impact.

Club head path:

This is the path the club’s head (club-head) is traveling through impact or in other words the direction it’s going during impact. Because of the semi-horizontal swinging arc, there are three possible directions the club-head will travel through the ball during impact... To the right, to the left or straight down the target line. Again for a right handed golfer, let’s make an imaginary ball to target line by picking a target and going back behind the ball. Let’s straddle that imaginary ball to target line with our feet and look straight down that line towards our target. The line is running between our feet directly under us with the right foot on the outside or on the right-side and the left foot to the left-side or inside of that imaginary target line. Because golfers swing on an inclined arc (not directly vertical or directly horizontal) but in between the two, the club-head path has three possible directions, outside to inside, inside to outside or down the target line during impact. And just like face angle, these paths or directions can be at various degrees in respect to the target line. The direction of the club head’s path can also be in various degrees in respect to the faces angle as well. Just because your path could be going in the direction of the target line doesn’t mean your ball will go straight at target. At impact, if the clubs face isn’t pointing in the same direction the club heads path is traveling, the ball will have curve.

Our third goal: Execute a club head path or club head direction to travel down the ball target line at 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.