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Increasing ball flight awareness

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There is plenty of content out there explaining ball flight laws and why golf balls do as they do when struck. The problem is, many golfers still don’t understand them, so they spend valuable practice time less than effectively.

As a coach, I know the best thing is to book a program (not just swing lessons!) with your professional and make big changes where you are involved in the learning process. That way, you can start to discover and understand your own game. However, for the other 90 percent of the time, when you are golfing solo, you need to be able to understand the how and why of your ball flight. As Tiger’s instructor Sean Foley said recently, his goal is to allow the player to move away from being reliant on him as a coach. That’s going to be difficult to do without an understanding of the flight of your golf ball.

In this article, I will give some facts of impact and ball flight and explain how to analyze what you do. You may need to read this a few times over, so I suggest you don’t try to memorize it right away. This is not a test! Instead, use this as a benchmark to change your awareness. For ease of understanding, everything written is for a right-handed golfer. Don’t feel bad, lefties — you’ve got a lot going for you. Fewer people try to offer you swing advice on the range, and all you have to do is just flip my info around for it to make perfect sense.

First, you need to know that the flight of the golf ball is determined by four factors, which I’ll go into more detail about below:

  1. Club face orientation
  2. Club head direction
  3. Speed
  4. Point of contact

Club face orientation

Club face impactDepending on the club used and club head speed, the club face direction at impact (left/right/straight) has been shown to give between 60 to 95 percent of the ball’s starting direction. This also is the case with the club face’s dynamic loft (loft on the face at impact). Here, the ball launch angle is again, mostly influenced by the club face, rather than the angle of attack.

Easy tip: Although it’s not 100 percent accurate, in simple terms, club face = launch! When practicing, push an alignment stick into the ground 10 yards away from the ball, hit a shot and you can easily see the starting direction and therefore deduce the club face aim at impact.

Club head direction

Impact is very fast; as quick as 0.0004 seconds! Definitely not long enough to sense the club face position and try to correct it whilst the ball is on the face. The curve on a ball is predominantly due to the difference between the club face at impact and the direction of the swing path.

Easy tip: Imagine hitting a tennis shot or kicking a football…if the path is to the right of the face, the ball curves left. If the path is to the left of the face, the ball curves right.

Speed

Increased speed leads to higher spin rates, exaggeration of any tilting of the spin axis, more curvature, longer distances and higher shots. I am sure you all see young juniors at your course who never miss a fairway because they swing so slow. It does get a bit harder to hit it so straight with some extra speed for sure, but it is definitely possible with some extra understanding.

Easy tip: A good way to build some control with your swing and have some fun: Make some full swings but hit shots with 20 percent effort (great for working on swing changes) and then do the same at 95 percent and see how you get on before finding your best compromise between of distance and control. For you juniors out there…hit it hard and work on control afterward. Believe me, you will thank me later on when you have the control and the distance.

Contact Point

You know what I said about face and path? Well, just to confuse you, there is one more, very important factor: contact/impact point of club and ball in comparison to the center of gravity of the club. Many golfers strike the ball from the sweet spot much less often than they think and this influences ball flight hugely. A shot contacted off center on the face (due to something called horizontal gear effect) imparts spin on the ball which can exaggerate or reduce curvature. A toe shot increases curve to the left (or reduces curve to the right) and a heel shot increases curve to the right (or reduces curve to the left). Due to vertical gear effect, shots hit lower on the face tend to launch lower and have increased spin; contact high on the face leads to higher launch and reduced spin.

Easy tip: Check your contact point habits often, by simply using a whiteboard marker on the face.

My challenge to you: Next time you are on the range try to hit lots of different shots with differing heights, curves and launches. Use some of these tips to alter your face and path to affect ball flight and be more in control of your game. Focus on the result of the shots, not the technique that goes into it. Get some help from a coach who can help you with your exploration. Have fun and let me know how it goes!

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Andy is currently coaching in Shanghai, China. He is a UKPGA member and graduate of the AGMS degree at the University of Birmingham. Andy has coached in more than 30 countries and traveled to work with many of the best minds in golf to constantly improve his coaching. His No. 1 desire is to help golfers reach their dreams, and to enjoy the process! Website: andygriffithsgolf.com Online Lessons: swingfix.golfchannel.com/instructors/andy-griffiths Twitter: twitter.com/andygriffiths1 Facebook: facebook.com/andygriffithsgolf

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Andy Griffiths

    Feb 6, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Mark: Yeah, that is exactly what I meant. This awareness of current habits and associating feeling with visible contact point is very important.
    Great to hear and thanks for the feedback, I find very often that players improve quickly when they know what and why they are changing something! All my social media links are in profile, would be great to hear how you get on! Good luck.

  2. 3Puttnomore

    Feb 6, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Can you explain about using the white board marker to check contact points… Do you mean record the observable contact point?
    Great article!… I THRIVE when the reasons for things are explained to me. When I understand what’s going on behind the scenes and have it in my head, it’s much easier for me to know where I’ve gone wrong… or right!
    Too much snow on the ground to try this stuff outside, but I’ll head to my local dome for some fun.
    Again, thanks!
    Mark Rice
    Brampton, Ont.
    Canada

  3. Ben Alberstadt

    Jan 31, 2013 at 9:51 am

    “For you juniors out there…hit it hard and work on control afterward. Believe me, you will thank me later on when you have the control and the distance.” Classic, Nicklaus-esque tip. Nice breakdown of the components of ball flight, Mr. Griffiths.

    @trackman: Great video. Thanks for the link!

  4. Andy Griffiths

    Jan 31, 2013 at 5:16 am

    Thanks guys for the comments and good luck with your golf. Would be great to hear on here/twitter/facebook how you are going!

    Paul: Launch monitors show that horizontal gear effect is definitely alive and well with irons too. The figures in terms of effect on spin axis tilt is definitely less than seen with woods but definitely will lead to draws, or reduce rightward curve.

    Troy: It sounds like he definitely did; for me and my coaching, ball flight is vital! It is possible for divots to be misleading to where the true path is so just be a bit wary.

  5. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Good stuff Andy,

    The first question my golf coach asked me was what was my normal ball flight. I guess he knew what he has doing!

    Watching the direction of the divots can also be beneficial as well.

    Cheers

  6. Paul Byrne

    Jan 30, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Hi Andy,

    Excellent article.

    Be good if you could clarify how an off-centre hit affects woods and irons differently.

    With woods hge will cause a toe hit to curve to the left. With irons there is hardly any hge, if any at all. A toe hit will cause ball to start further to right due to clockwise twisting or rotation of clubhead.

    Cheers
    Paul

    • Trackman

      Jan 30, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      It is a phenomena called gear effect. Reference the video previously attached.

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Instruction

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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