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Stickney: Correctly auditing your ballflight without technology

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One of the biggest advances in golf instruction, in my opinion, was the adoption (by the masses) of the “new ball-flight laws.” While this information was first identified in “The Search for the Perfect Swing” as well as “The Golfing Machine” books it was not truly taught in the mainstream by teachers until the last decade. In fact, there are still millions of golfers who are still in the dark as it pertains to how curvature is created.

Thankfully, launch monitors have become more popular and now most people have some type of ability to hit balls using Trackman, etc., and this has helped inform the masses as to what is really happening during the impact interval. In today’s article, I want to show you how to audit your ball-flight if you DO NOT have access to a launch monitor. And if you’ll ask yourself these few simple questions you will have a much better idea as to what is happening and why your ball is doing what it’s doing!

“The New Ball-Flight Rules”

  • The ball begins mostly in the direction of the face angle direction at impact (Face Angle)
  • The ball will curve away from the path with a centered hit on the face (Path)
  • The amount of curvature at the apex is mostly determined by the difference in direction between where the face points at impact and the direction of the path at impact (Face to Path)
  • The impact point on the clubface can render the above obsolete or exaggerate it depending on where it’s impacted on the face (Impact Point)

Now that you know and understand the rules, here’s how you audit your ball’s flight without a launch monitor present…

Find your Impact Point Before Making Any Other Judgements

Before we begin delving deeply into your ball’s flight, let’s first stop for a second and figure out what our impact bias is currently. Yes, everyone has an impact bias—some are more toe-based while others are more heel-sided. It’s just the way it works and it’s mega-important. If you don’t have control of your impact point then all else is moot.
In order to do so, first hit a few balls on a flat lie and spray the face with Dr. Scholl’s spray, then take a look at what you see on the face, where are the marks? I’m not asking you for perfection here, because if you hit it slightly on the toe or slightly on the heel then you’re ok.

However, if your average clustering of shots is extremely biased on the toe or the heel then stop and figure out WHY you are hitting the ball off-center. Until you can contact the ball in the center of the face (within reason) then you will not be able to control your ball’s curvature due to gear effect.

If your impact point clustering is manageable, then ask yourself these three questions to truly understand your ball’s flight…

Number 1: Where did the ball begin?

I want you to draw a straight line from your ball through your target as you see in the left photo in your mind so you now have a “zero” reference. If you need to create this visual on the practice tee then you can put a rope or some string on the ground between the ball and the target creating a straight line from the ball through the rope and onward to the target itself.

Now back to the shot above, as you can see at impact, this player’s ball started slightly LEFT of his target-line—as shown by the arrow in the left frame which depicts the face angle at impact. In the right frame, you can easily see the ball beginning a touch left right from the beginning.

The numbers prove what we discussed earlier

  • The face direction at impact was -2.8 degrees left of the target
  • The ball’s launching direction is -1.7 degrees left of the target

As we know the ball begins mostly in the direction of the face and since the face was left of the target the ball also began slightly leftward as well.

So by paying attention to your ball’s starting direction as it pertains to the “zero line” (or where you’re trying to go) you can guess where the face is pointing at impact.

Number 2: Which direction did the ball curve?

Now, take a second and look at the right frame: We see that the ball curved leftward which means the path had to be more rightward than where the face was pointing at impact. If the ball begins where you want it to start and curves the way you want then you have the face and path in the correct place!

If we want to audit the numbers just to be sure, then let’s take a deeper look:

Trackman shows that the club path was 1.9 degrees right of the target and we just saw that the face was -2.8 degress left of the target on this shot. With centered impact anytime the face direction at impact is left of the path the ball will curve leftward. The negative spin-axis of this shot of -7.9 tells us that the ball is moving to the left as well.

If you want the ball to curve to the left then the path must be further right than that and vice-versa for a fade…pretty simple, right?

Number 3: How Much Did the Ball Curve at The Apex?

Question three is an important one because it helps us to understand what our face to path relationship is doing.

Curvature is created when the face and path point in different directions (with a centered hit) and the bigger the difference between the face and path direction the more the ball will curve…especially as you hit clubs with lower lofts.

Every player wants to see a certain amount of curvature. Some players want very little curve, thus their face to path numbers are very close together while others want more curve and the face to path numbers are larger. It does not matter what amount of curvature you like to “see” as the player…all flights will work. Think Moe Norman on one extreme to Bubba Watson on the other.

To close…

First, you must hit the ball in the center of the face to have a predictable curvature if you hit it all over the face then you invoke gear effect which can exaggerate or negate your face to path relationship.

Second, where did the ball begin? Most players whom draw the ball fear the miss that starts at their target and moves leftward (as depicted in the photo above) this is a FACE issue. The face is left of the TARGET at impact and thus the ball does not begin right enough to begin at the correct portion of the target.

If you hit the ball and it starts correctly but curves too much from right to left then your path is to blame.

Third, if your ball is curving the correct direction then your path is fine, but if it’s doing something other than what you want and you are starting the ball where you want then your path is either too far left or right depending on which way the ball is curving.

Fourth, if your ball curvature at the apex is moving too much and your ball is starting where you want then your path is too far left or right of your face angle at impact exaggerating your face to path ratio. The bigger the difference between these two the more the ball curves (with a centered hit) with all things being equal.

Samples to view

This is a path issue…the ball began correctly but curved too much rightward. Don’t swing so much leftward and the face-to-path will be reduced and the ball will curve less.

This is a great push draw…the ball began correctly and curved the correct amount back to the target

This is a face issue at impact…the ball did not begin far enough to the right before curving back leftward and the target was missed too far to the left

Take your time when auditing your ball’s flight, and I believe you’ll find your way!

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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

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Ryan

    Sep 12, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Could you imagine if Nelson, Hogan, or Snead had the use of this technology back in the day? Shoot even Nickalus in his prime.

  2. Jaime

    Sep 11, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Great article. What I would point out is that finding the middle will vary by iron. As an example – my Ping S58s have the sweet spot closer to the hosel than what I think is the center of the head. A quick ball bounce check across various points on the face will give you an idea of ideal center.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Sep 11, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    Spot on Tom. Mike Neff has a great term for this he calls “face mapping” and it is often overlooked but, as I explain to everybody I teach, they cannot tell anything from their ball flight without finding the middle. I’m doing an article in my senior series about this as well. I go through 5-6 cans of Dr. Scholl’s a season for this reason.

  4. Randy Bernard

    Sep 11, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    I agree: helpful article, and the third picture is a duplicate of the second one. Which points toward my other suggestion (plea): Get a proofreader. I’m a professional, and I doubt that it’s worth paying for someone like me for this sort of article for this audience, but if you know someone or have someone on staff who could take a quick look—and no, spell checkers aren’t enough—that would potentially help people like me keep from pulling their hair out—and potentially boost your credibility to a larger audience. (Same issue, btw, with the whole website.)

  5. John Comninaki

    Sep 11, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Once again a concise and well organized article that should be helpful to many of the readers. Thanks and nice job.

  6. Editor

    Sep 11, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Very nice article, but I believe the last graphic is not the one you had intended.

  7. Doesnotno

    Sep 11, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Great article, thanks – well explained. The third picture in the samples needs changing!

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Kyle Berkshire’s long drive wisdom wins!

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This one is a doozie! So many awesome elements to take away from Kyle Berkshire and implement them immediately in your golf swing for effortless power in the swing. From the set up with strong grip to the timing mechanism to start the action and give it a heavy flow, to the huge backswing and massive load in the ground in the transition to the deepest delivery towards the target there is in the sport! Watch and learn long ball wisdom right here.

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100, 000 SUBSCRIBER CONTEST STARTS NOW! MAKE SURE YOU SUBSCRIBE TO OUR CHANNEL TO BE ELIGIBLE TO WIN! Our premium members get 2 extra chances to win.

Today’s video is a big one too! So many are wondering when to let the wrists hinge in the backswing; too early and you cut off too much arc and loose width; too late and you throw your center off-kilter and ruin your contact and direction! This video gets you dialed!

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Practice like you play! No, really!

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It’s a Sunday night at our golf course in Wisconsin. It’s August, hot and over 90 degrees at 6:00 pm, however, that doesn’t stop folks from coming out to practice. There is actually a surprising amount of people. At the end of the range are some college students hitting only driver stubbornly trying to fly the fence sitting over 300 yards away. In the middle of the range are a few seniors trying to hit the perfect shot—occasionally I see a club slam as they are unable to replicate the same swing again and again. Finally, there is a high school team closest to me constantly trying to best each other and hitting shot after shot rapid-fire with no purpose or goal.

What I’ve described above is all too common in golf practice today. We continually beat ball after ball mindlessly in search of this elusive “perfect swing,” but it is time that the story stops. I’ve found, and the research proves, that hitting ball after ball trying to find that next “thing” to hit good shots doesn’t work. Through this article I am going to explain to you how to practice effectively. I’m sorry to say that hitting off of a perfect lie and perfecting a swing isn’t the answer. I am going to share with you how to take those boring range sessions and make them into something fun, efficient, and productive that is proven to work.

It takes courage to break the status quo but, in golf and in life, it is what separates the good from the great. The status quo in golf practice is to hit balls and perfect your technique, but honestly, that is taking the easy way out. Think about it, how many times have you left the range feeling like you had a great session, only to come out the next day and play terribly? To change these results we have to practice like we play. In fact, we need to practice even harder so when we go out to play we can be easier on ourselves. Let me explain.

Please don’t mistake the word harder for agony. I probably should say practice smarter. Last season one of my college golfers came to me feeling extremely proud because he hit balls on the range for four hours “working on his swing.” Thinking he was a young Ben Hogan, he went on to say how much time and effort he put into the session. My answer to him certainly caught him by surprise as I said, “is that meant to impress me?” My point was that he was getting caught up too much in the time he spent rather than what he was accomplishing. The session had no focus as he was simply tinkering with his swing and scraping over another ball when he didn’t hit the previous one well, and that is not golf.

In golf, you have one shot that you have to execute at a specific time under pressure. There is a scorecard and inevitably expectations that we set upon ourselves. Why in golf do we hit balls on the range with no real consequence, yet expect to be able to stripe a ball down a tight fairway when we know if we hit it OB that a double bogey is surely the consequence? The reality is our practice is lacking focus and not game-like at all. Our practice needs to simulate pressure and game-like situations in order to be most effective. This will make our on-course experience feel much easier if done correctly.

An example of this practice smarter mentality would be going out and making 10 putts in a row from four feet. Those ten putts are going to be made by making your way around a hole on a slope, creating different putts that are uphill, downhill, right to left, and left to right. The important piece here is we are going to track this with a scorecard. If we miss a putt, we still have to go to ten and see how many we make; I/E 8 out of 10, but since we missed two, we’d need to do it again until we make all ten in a row. So what have we changed?

  1. We’ve put high expectations on ourselves, training under pressure.
  2. We now have one golf ball and different types of putts we are going to hit.
  3. We now have a scorecard to track results like we do on the course.

This is simulating play. This is practicing like you would play on a golf course with one golf ball, a scorecard, and added pressure. When I would do this with my students, that tenth putt would be filled with immense pressure because if they missed they knew they’d have to be there for another 30 minutes potentially. Many students and college athletes even claimed to be more nervous over those putts in practice than over any putt on the golf course and that is key to lower scores and playing your best golf! When you don’t practice under pressure, you’re not getting good under pressure.

Let’s revisit my college athlete’s story. Why was I not impressed by this time he spent working on his game? Well, he was falling into the trap like most folks visiting the driving range. It simply lacked focus and was not simulating what would inevitably be upcoming on the golf course. Again, it’s not about the time you log, but the results you get.

With me as his coach, his practices started to look like this after we changed his approach

  1. Make 10/10 from 4 feet
  2. 9 Holes Chipping: 7/9 up and down in 2
  3. On Range: 9/10 to a green 150 yards away.
  4. On Range: Hit 7/10 drivers in between a 30-yard target fairway.

In total, practice like the one mentioned above would take around 60 minutes or so to complete, and proved to be much more effective. That was an example session, as we tailored these sessions to work on areas he was struggling on during tournaments. Additionally, we changed up some scenarios to match tee shots at upcoming events, for example, making sure to keep the ball right or left of simulated trouble. So what makes this more valuable than simply “perfecting a golf swing and working on technique?”

  1. We are always training toward a target like on the golf course
  2. We are always simulating the pressures of the golf course
  3. We prove to ourselves that the results are inside of us, taking the pressure off of the actual on-course round, similar to a boxer boxing 15 rounds for a 12 round fight.

So I want you to ask yourself, how am I practicing? Cut down on the amount of time you practice and start to make it effective and efficient. Commit to using one golf ball. Set a specific target that you will accomplish at every practice, and simulate as best you can what you will be doing on the golf course. If you start to do this in your practice whether it is on the course, on the range, or on the practice green, I guarantee you will shoot lower scores.

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