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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

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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