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Impact location by handicap



I was teaching a PGA Tour professional the other day and while we were hitting drivers on the Trackman, I sprayed the face with Dr. Sholl’s Odor X in efforts to see the impact point on the club face. Just as I was doing this another student came into the learning center and asked me a question and while I was answering, the Tour pro continued to hit balls — around 10 or so until we could resume our work. Now that we could focus our efforts again, I wanted to reapply the spray to the face so that I could focus on his impact location.

As I walked over to wipe the face this is what I saw:

PGA Tour professional impact location (10 shots)

After 10-or-more shots, the impact location was VERY consistent and it led me to thinking… What did other handicap level impacts look like after just five shots?

30 Handicap

25 Handicap

20 Handicap

15 Handicap

10 Handicap

7 Handicap

5 Handicap

0 Handicap

So what does this all mean from an observation standpoint?

  • The higher the handicap, the more random the impact location in general.
  • Radical horizontal off-center impact locations invoke gear effect, making shot curvature prediction impossible.
  • Extreme vertical off-center impact locations cause excessively high and excessively low spin rates, making driver distance vary dramatically.
  • Higher-handicap players tend to have swing plane issues, causing impact to be too high toward the crown of the club, leading to a the pop-up.
  • Mid-handicap players tend to have pivot issues that cause them to hit too much up on the ball, thus hitting shots that are topped, flat, or very low.
  • As handicap levels go down, players tend to find the center of the face more often.
  • As mid-handicap players move down to into the lower-teen handicap levels there tends to be a consistent impact location toward the toe or heel.
  • At the single-digit handicap levels, centered impact isn’t that big of a problem and gear effect is very minimal.
  • As the handicap lowers closer to zero, vertical impact location becomes increasingly important.
  • Tour players can easily control their vertical impact location to launch the ball with more or less spin depending on what type of shot they desire.
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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. 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 60 people in the world.



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  2. Richard

    Aug 24, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I’m looking for this exact same data but for irons. Do you know if it exists? If not, can you do the same thing with a mid/high iron?

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  4. Joseph

    Apr 6, 2014 at 2:13 am

    If I apply the Dr. Scholls with a Left to Right Stroke will it make my Slice disappear or make it worse?

    • Tom Stickney

      Jun 25, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      Dr scholl’s works better than impact tape which tends to skew the spin numbers and spin axis.

  5. Mark in Louisville

    Feb 20, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Finally a 70º day to try out the Dr. Scholls spray on the range. Thanks for the tip Tom. The stuff works like a charm providing me with accuracy feedback and is infinitely better than tape labels. Dr. Scholl’s better start making more of that spray because I think a lot more amateurs will be buying it up this season. Interestingly for me the majority of my impact locations are just to the toe side of center albeit not nearly as tight as the Tour Pro.

    • Tom Stickney

      Feb 21, 2014 at 12:23 am

      Thank the early TrackMan guys for the dr scholl’s idea…just following their lead.

  6. Steve

    Feb 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Tom, I have a big problem : shank wedges. I hit driver well, 8-9 fairway s, mid- and long irons good, but repeatedly hit 45* right off the hosel with wedges. My hc went from 10 to 13.4. Very frustrating to bomb a good drive, pull out wedge and blast a hoselrocket off into the bushes! At the range, I tried gate drill with 2 tees, blasted toe tee off 20 yds. Slow swing, no good. Lined up with ball at toe, tried to hit toe, got dead center. Don’t know what to try next. Please help.

    • tom stickney

      Feb 17, 2014 at 11:06 am

      Tough to guess without seeing you, but make sure you are not picking up your wedges and/or falling into your toes on the way down

      • Steve

        Feb 19, 2014 at 6:21 pm

        Tom, thanks. I think I was falling forward towards the ball on my downswing. I concentrated on keeping my weight over my arches, and tried to make the wedge swing much more upright. Last 2 rounds were almost shank free. I slowed down my swing all around, but kept a full shoulder turn, trying to ensure a smooth release hitting the ball in the center of the club. Making solid contact as long as I don’t rush myself. Much happier!

        • Sboss1

          Feb 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm

          The other main cause of shanks with the short clubs is the tendency to move your body too far forward on the downswing. This leads to the club running out of room and the hosel is all that is left to hit the ball. Stay behind the ball on all shots and that will go away.
          Your likely moving forward on other clubs as well but because they are longer, you catch enough club to prevent a shank. What tips me off that this may be your issue is the short length of the club and the fact that you shank wedges only. Good luck…

  7. Loz

    Feb 16, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I found my old steel shafted Maxfli Tour Ltd driver at my parents house over Christmas. Looking at the size of the face to these modern 460 heads some of these strikes might have been air shots or certainly off the end of the club head. I personally think my overall game has suffered since the introduction of these clubs with massive heads and overly long shafts. I used to be a pretty good ball striker (3 – 4 hcp 20 years ago) and would typically hit 10 – 12 fairways, 12 – 14 greens and shoot 72 – 75, par 71. I was never a good putter, always 34 – 36 putts per round. My long iron play was particularly good back in the time of wooden headed clubs when I could only hit a 3 iron 180 yds. These days that’s a 6 or 7 for some people and I really think my game has suffered as a result of using new technology. I’d be tempted to try my old War Bird steel driver or an older titleist, back when a Tiger used to hit it well and long, and see what the results are like.

  8. Alex

    Feb 11, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Great article!

    Can you explain a little more about this: “Tour players can easily control their vertical impact location to launch the ball with more or less spin depending on what type of shot they desire”

    Does hitting the ball higher on the face cause more spin and lower on the face cause less spin? Or it the inverse?


    • tom stickney

      Feb 11, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      The higher you hit the ball in the face the lower the ball will spin and the higher it will launch…

  9. Denis

    Feb 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Great article Mr. Stickney,

    Wondering if you have you ever done or thought of something similar for irons?
    Would be interested to see what other factors could also influence impact position on irons given the sole comes in contact with the ground and what effects ill-fitted lie angle could have as well as other factors.

    Maybe that’s a project for another day.

    • tom stickney

      Feb 10, 2014 at 7:27 pm

      I have not, but it’s easy to do…grab a few buddies and get some dr sholl’s and hit balls off a dry golf mat…you’ll see some common trends for sure…especially when the irons are ill-fit

  10. Christian

    Feb 10, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    The pro’s impact makes me sad and angry.

    • tom stickney

      Feb 10, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      I feel your pain…knocked my socks off as well!

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  12. Keith

    Feb 4, 2014 at 2:10 am

    Fantastic article Mr.Stickney! Really opens my eyes to how good the pro’s really are..

  13. Carter

    Feb 4, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Does Dr. Scholls work with putters too or is there something better for that?

  14. Alex

    Feb 2, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Bought a can this morning to take to the range. I may just figure out the driver problem after all..

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  16. Justin

    Jan 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I have to say I’m the 30 handicapper. The beginning of last year I was hitting the ball consistent. As the year progress, I danced in the mid 90’s then I finished the year in the 125’s and lost distance on everything, I was driving around 250 then I couldn’t reach 200. I live in the north east is any drills I could do to help with being more consistent. Thanks

    • Mikel

      Jan 30, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      I’m an 18hc, so, ya know….

      But, I just got over this literally in the past couple days, “turned” out to be that I was fake-turning. I was rotating my shoulders just fine, but not my torso. The drill (there are diff variations) that cured me was to move my back foot so that my toe was in line with my front foot heel. Gave me a pre-turn in my torso and helped me get the feeling back during my normal swing.

      I think my issue came from trying to make sure my shoulders made a complete turn and at some point I stopped turning my torso too.

      Good luck!

      • Justin

        Jan 30, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        Thanks I’ll try that. It was horrible. just didn’t feel comfortable swinging the club anymore.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 30, 2014 at 10:00 pm

      If you have had that type of turnaround within your game I would suggest finding a teaching pro in your area ASAP. Too many things it could be without seeing you but if you’ve list that kind if distance you might want to see someone.

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  18. Tyler

    Jan 29, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    What would be the one characteristic of the golf swing that you would attribute to consistently finding the center of the face? Great balance throughout the entire swing perhaps? High handicaps tend to have terrible balance which would explain the sporadic ball contact locations on the face. Would you speculate that if a high handicap were to swing in perfect balance on every shot regardless of swing path they would consistently hit the same spot on the face?

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 30, 2014 at 2:04 am

      Balance is a huge part of impact location for sure…swing plane would be a close second

  19. Double Mocha Man

    Jan 29, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I tried this out yesterday on the range. Works perfect. Only downside is that yellow can of footspray sitting next to the range mat that every other golfer seems to want to stare at. That, and the voice coming from my pocket that exclaims, “Golf Sense device is now connected!?

    Never knew being on the range could be so embarrassing…

  20. greg

    Jan 29, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Any suggestions on how to ‘tighten up’ your dispersion? Shorter shaft? Slow the swing down until you can consistently hit the middle and then add speed as you improve?

  21. Josh

    Jan 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Since you said all the drivers are 44″ long, would you consider doing a similar test but with different length drivers. I would be interested to see how much impact is affected for the lower handicaps when the length is increased.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 29, 2014 at 1:09 am

      The shorter the driver the more control…for sure.

      • Josh

        Jan 29, 2014 at 12:09 pm

        I know shorter provides more control, but how much control is actually lost by going longer. Any time you add length to a club you will swing it faster, but at what point will adding length be comprised to loss off control. Is it .5″,1″, or something longer than that. Everyone just guesses how much control is lost and no one has ever really looked at what the actual amount is.

  22. David Smith

    Jan 28, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Problem here was that it was a TMaG golf club, not the player.

    In all seriousness though, why is the tour pro hitting it lower on the face? It should be higher up on the face than that.

    • TJ

      Jan 28, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      yeah I was wondering the same thing, in that first pic the impact position was at the very bottom of the face, that seems strange

      • Tom Stickney

        Jan 28, 2014 at 2:37 pm

        Creates a shot that launches too low and spins too much.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 28, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Yep. What he’s currently working on!

      • Double Mocha Man

        Jan 29, 2014 at 11:05 am

        Tell him to tee it up 1/4″ higher and use the same swing. That’ll be 100 bucks, thank you.

    • Harvey

      Jan 28, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      Shut up

    • Lou Boezi

      Jan 30, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      I believe the lower marking on the Pro’s image is in fact his tee!

  23. JCorona

    Jan 28, 2014 at 9:34 am

    at least my driver will smell good even when my game stinks that day

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      And it won’t get athletes’ foot either

  24. Alex

    Jan 28, 2014 at 7:47 am

    good story, mate. It seems my driver’s sweetspot is far from wearing.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 28, 2014 at 8:58 am

      Welcome to my world…sadly we are not alone.

  25. paul

    Jan 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

    This article makes me feel like a freak. I’m a 20 handicap who hits the sweet spot like a 5. Hit 13/14 fairways today, shot 95 cause I hit some second shots into the drink on a tight water course. I use the marker.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 28, 2014 at 8:59 am

      We all have our strengths…fix that second shot and you will be a five!

  26. Guruhe

    Jan 27, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    In this most recent tourney Tiger only landed on the fairway 4 times with his driver in 1 round. Do you think he was hitting the center of the club face every time but the face angle was off? Apparently hitting a centered shot doesn’t guarantee a straight shot.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 27, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      All depends on his face to path relationship with a centered hit.

  27. Q

    Jan 27, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Is there anything I might already have around the house that I could spray onto my clubfaces?

  28. Kelly

    Jan 27, 2014 at 4:54 pm


    With the recent article on shorter length drivers, did you happen to measure the club length of the players drivers?

  29. ParHunter

    Jan 27, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    For readers in the UK where you don’t get the Dr Sholl Odor X spray: I am using an athletes foot powder spray. Works just as well.

  30. snow52

    Jan 27, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Another good trick is to use a marker from a dry erase/white board (make sure it is a dry erase marker, not a permanent marker). You can color the face of your club, and when you make a swing, it will capture your impact position. When you are done, it just wipes off. Might be a little more convenient that carrying around a can of spray. No matter how you do it, this is a great way to improve your ball striking.

    • tom stickney

      Jan 27, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      Good call; tell your golf buddies to use a sharpie! Ha!

      • Duh

        Jan 27, 2014 at 6:21 pm

        NOT a Sharpie, doofus! With a Sharpie you’d need acetone. With a dry-erase, all you have to do is wipe.

  31. Chris

    Jan 27, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Golf Digest did a similar thing with putters and impact tape way back in the day – if anyone remembers it or has the article, would love to see it again!

    For the best putters on tour, the spot was the size of a thumbtack.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 27, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Dave Pelz…in his book

    • other paul

      Dec 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      I put some tape on a putter once and hit balls. I was shocked. As a 12 handicap I had 28 balls in a spot the size of a dime (better then i expected) and two that missed center by 1″ (oops). But it was great feedback.

  32. roger

    Jan 27, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Tom, re the last point, Tour Players can hit the ball on the face higher/lower
    to add/lessen spin as desired.
    Could you expand on this please!Much appreciated!
    I use impact tape or marker pen on balls regularly and play shorter lengths to get Good Impact!
    Mid hcper.

    • Chris

      Jan 27, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      This is a little counter intuitive but hitting higher on the face means ball hits above the COG which causes the face to “roll back” and the gearing effect of this is to reduce the backspin on the ball. Hitting lower does the opposite. This ignores the effect of bulge / roll. Watch the Trackman Maestro on youtube (look for gear effect) he does a better job explaining. All else equal, tee higher = lower backspin, tee lower = higher backspin. Once you understand gear effect you’ll see why.

    • tom stickney

      Jan 27, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      Because of the face design from top to bottom…impact should be higher in the face to give you higher launch with less spin. Most players hit it below the center-line of the club thus gaining extra spin.

      • jm

        Jan 28, 2014 at 11:14 pm

        actually i think (though i could be wrong) that most clubs are truly designed to be hit on the actual sweetspot, which is typically in the center of the face. it usually gives the highest ball speeds.

        impact should only be higher on the face if you need higher launch with less spin. not all players need these specific changes, especially tour players. tour players need a balance of launch and spin to maximize not just distance, but accuracy as well. tour players typically require a higher spin rate than amateurs of the same swing speed in order to keep the ball in play more on the typically firmer fairways on tour.

        hitting it high on the face should also not be the first or even second solution to this problem in my opinion. if you need to hit it higher with less spin there are more efficient, effective and consistent ways to achieve

  33. Chris

    Jan 27, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Thanks for a very intresting article. I always wonder how certain handicaps hit with their driver off the face. And Great idea with the Dr. Scholls spray.

  34. Barry

    Jan 27, 2014 at 10:52 am

    thats weird!im off 10 and thats exactly where i connect with my drives,but i have the odd paintscraper too 🙁

  35. Drew

    Jan 27, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Does this just wipe off when you’re done? If so, brilliant!

  36. Chris

    Jan 27, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Interesting, yet I have read many articles on GolfWRX that have talked about the sweet spot on most drivers being higher towards the outside of the face. So …not really hitting the sweet or hotspot…??

    • tom stickney

      Jan 27, 2014 at 11:35 am

      all depends on where the driver cog is located…a hot-topic as to where the “actual” sweetspot is located

  37. Rick

    Jan 27, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Great article. Also, I can’t wait to try the Dr.Scholls spray to check my impact point. Thanks!

    • tom stickney

      Jan 27, 2014 at 11:36 am


  38. Erickson Leonardo

    Jan 27, 2014 at 3:19 am

    My impact zone is so much better with deep face drivers, but sprayed all over the place with shallow face? Please idea?

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 27, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Some driver design “looks” make people more comfortable…

  39. Andy

    Jan 27, 2014 at 3:10 am

    Well im in the 0 handicap category but mostly leave my clubface open or close, great post. thank you.

  40. Spencer

    Jan 27, 2014 at 1:45 am

    By the far the most valuable piece I got from this was the dr. scholls spray instead tape to mark impacts. I’m getting a can!

    • Glen Metz

      Jan 27, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Same here. I’m wondering if that works on irons as well.

  41. Jack

    Jan 27, 2014 at 1:24 am

    Note to self: Hit the driver more accurately to break into the 10 handicap range, and also buy a can of dr. scholls odor x.

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