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Hit it farther with the right attack angle

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If you have ever had a lesson or a club fitting using a launch monitor, you have heard the term “angle of attack.” Simply put, angle of attack is a measurement of how much a golfer is hitting up or down on the ball at impact.

With different clubs and under different situations, golfers can utilize a positive or upward angle of attack, one that is more level, or even a negative or downward angle of attack. With the shortest clubs, a golfer’s AoA tends to be more downward. A golfer’s middle clubs are not quite as downward (but still down), and their long irons, hybrids and fairway woods are almost level (but still down). The the AoA with a driver should be more upward, however, for maximum benefit. As always, there are many situations where these AoA numbers can be altered for different effects, but the general outline I just described is usually the way it works.

Most of the time, amateurs have an AoA that is too downward with the driver. This can be caused by a faulty set up, poor swing path or an improper pivot motion through impact. If you possess some or all of the swing flaws above then your driver will have a launch angle that is too low. This generally results in flat, low drives that rely more on roll than carry to achieve distance. Sometimes this can be a good thing, such as when golfers are playing in heavy winds or when the ground is very hard, but with the agronomy on most golf courses today, golfers need to fly their drives as far as possible to achieve maximum distance.

In this article, I am going to explain how a golfer’s set up can influence AoA so that they can optimize their driver’s ball flight ad overall distance.

How to raise your AoA

Higher Angle of Attack

As stated, most amateurs tend to hit too much down on the golf ball causing low ball flight that usually results in decreased distances. If this describes your game, then follow the changes below and your angle of attack will change from too much down to more of an ascending hit. Life off the tee will be much better!

  1. Tee the ball up as high as possible.
  2. Play the ball more forward in your stance.
  3. Tilt your spine away from the target slightly at address.

Whenever a golfer tees the ball up higher, they will automatically raise their angle of attack because it’s much easier to hit up on the ball when it is teed in this manner. Hence, a lower tee height will cause the ball to come out flatter — more on that later.

Playing the ball more forward in your stance tends to raise your AoA because the swing bottom is just under the left shoulder, and if you play the ball in front of your left shoulder you will hit more up as well.

Finally, tilting your spine away from the target at address alters the low point of your swing and causes you to hit more “up” on the ball, ensuring a higher AoA.

Now let’s examine the data on the Trackman showing a ball hit with these setup changes with a sample student.

Capture2

  • You can see that the attack angle is now 5.1 up (the average amateur needs at least 3 to 4 degrees up!).
  • The launch angle was 17.2 degrees, which is not too bad for a ball speed of 147 mph.
  • The dynamic loft of this shot was 18.8 degrees, giving us a carry distance of 255 yards.
  • You can finally see that the landing angle is 41.5 degrees, which shows this ball is landing at just under a 45 degree angle. That’s good for roll.

These simple set-up changes caused the ball to launch higher and carry farther; not bad for this level of player. Now let’s examine the opposite end of the spectrum.

How to lower your AoA

If you are one of the rare golfers who tend to hit too “up” on the ball, or you want to hit the ball flatter due to wind and/or course conditions, then follow these simple setup changes and your angle of attack will be slightly more downward.

Lower Angle of Attack

  • Tee the ball slightly lower — you should only see half the ball above the face of the driver at most.
  • Move the ball back in your stance slightly so that it is more centered (you will have to experiment with this option — there is no magical ball position, just the one that works for you).
  • Center the spine at address so that you are more “over the top of the ball at address.”

By lowering the ball’s tee height, you will instantly lower your AoA and thus flatten your ball’s flight — this is great for hitting tee shots into the wind or for maximum driver control.

Whenever you move the ball back in your stance, you place the ball behind your forward shoulder (which marks the low point of the swing). This new position will decrease your AoA. As stated earlier, this should be a very minor change. Putting the ball too far back in your stance at address with the driver can cause major issues with distance and control if you overcook it!

By centering the spine at address, you place the eyes directly over the top of the ball, not behind it, and this makes people hit more down on the ball.

Now let’s examine the data on the Trackman showing a ball hit with these setup changes with a sample student:

Capture

  • You can see that the attack angle is now 3.0 down.
  • The launch angle was 4.7 degrees, which causes the ball to come out much flatter than usual.
  • The dynamic loft of this shot was 6.7 degrees, giving us a carry distance of 202 yards.
  • When the ball comes out flatter, you will see that the landing angle is also decreased at 17.2 degrees — this causes the ball to roll a mile.

These simple setup changes caused the ball to launch much lower, but as you can see distance is usually compromised.

Remember, you cannot have an angle of attack that is too high, nor can you have one that is too low — both compromise your ability to control the ball and gain the distance you require to play better. Take your time and experiment with these changes — remember a little change in your setup goes a LONG way in influencing your angle of attack!

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

12 Comments

12 Comments

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  5. petie3_2

    Apr 14, 2015 at 12:01 am

    It’s not where the first shot lands, it’s where the second shot lands that’s important. Many times a longer drive just means it’s farther OB. Straight is good.

  6. jt

    Jul 1, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    I really have a problem getting proper backspin with my driver. I used a launch monitor today and on average my Launch Angle is 14 deg, which I think is ok.
    However my backspin rate is about 1000 rpm on average after taking about 10 swings. My driver is a Ping G15 10.5 and I swing about 90-95mph.
    I have always been told I should hit ball on an upswing. Do I need to start hitting down on the ball?
    Right now I am forced to use my 3 wood on the course. My 3 wood has about 2200 rpm of backspin.

    For driver, I tee it up where half the ball is above my clubface, so it should be a fairly typical tee height.

    Any help would be appreciated, this low spin rate is baffling me.

  7. paul

    Apr 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Good article. I used to practice hitting my 3 wood in the winter by painting a little ball on a rug in my garage. That got me doing very well with my woods in the spring. Problem was I always hit low shots with my driver now. If I put the ball higher I just tend to hit higher on the face.

  8. Joe Merlin, PGA

    Jul 14, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Tom,

    It’s good to see the range at Promontory is getting some use. I worked there in 2007 for a summer internship and enjoyed it. Great post, when using technology for analyzing golf swings, do you show your students the data or do you find doing so confuses them? Any other interesting thoughts you may have on this topic would definitely be welcomed.

    Best,

    Joe

  9. Matthew McFarland

    Jul 4, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    This article expresses some valuable points about the effect of AoA on driver distance. I find it to be the most common factor when dealing with amateur players who suffer from a lack of driver distance. However, I feel that this article is incomplete. You can’t discuss the AoA without explaining the effect of spin rate, and more importantly, total distance.

    There is actually very little difference in the distance in the two drives illustrated here. Most of the time a higher AoA proves to be more beneficial in maximizing driver distance, in this example, the shot where the student hit down on the ball proved to be the better outcome. It’s important to understand how altering the AoA changes the balls spin rate. The effect of AoA is mainly factored in to the final outcome of a drive by its impact on the ball’s spin rate.
    – A lower AoA will cause a higher spin rate.
    – The lower the spin rate, the less friction the ball will create when it makes contact with it’s landing surface and the further it will travel along it’s path. A low spin rate will also leave the balls flight path more vulnerable to becoming impacted by the wind.
    -A smoother surface, such as the fairway, will create less friction on the ball than a rougher surface, such as…well you know where that is.

    Imagine these two drives were hit on a course.
    If the fairway runs 20 yards right of target:
    The first drive would likely come to rest very near it’s landing point 255 yards away, in a penalized lie because it was 45 yards to the right. Meanwhile the second drive lands in the fairway 202 out and most likely rolls out to the 240 range before coming to rest in the rough.
    If the fairway runs 40 yards right of target:
    The first drive lands into the rough at a slightly high angle and gets maybe 10 yards of roll to 265. The second drive, landing 13 yards right, will most likely run its full path in the fairway. At 152mph it will have a very good chance of exceeding 265, while remaining in the fairway.

    Therefore when trying to maximize driver distance, you must evaluate the potential total distance of a shot. A golfer needs to understand the relationship the spin rate has on total distance, so they can properly utilize a high and low AoA.

  10. B MAC

    Jun 27, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I play off 5 and hit the ball really low I bought a nike covert driver and had to set it to 12.5 degrees and still hit it low so I left it at home after reading this I used your tips for Raising your AOA and hit it really high might even have to drop it back down !! Thankyou so much

  11. Bart carter

    Jun 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Making contact with the ball is now a major achievment, with any club in the bag. Forget the A.O.A.

  12. Damon

    Jun 25, 2013 at 12:44 am

    Great article Tom. One thing I will touch on that you mentioned is that attempting to achieve a high AoA often leads many golfers to have difficulty making consistent center-face contact. Hitting up on the ball only yields more distance if sweet spot contact isn’t compromised. I’ve found steep attack angles usually correspond with over-the-top moves and when a golfer gets the path, sequence and transition working better the AoA naturally improves.

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Instruction

WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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