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Understanding swing direction vs. swing path



With the advent of launch monitors that track the club and ball interactions in 3-D, we are able to see things that we “thought” we saw while using video. Knowing that video only shows us a 2-D representation of what’s going on, it’s easy to confuse your swing direction with your swing path!

In this article, I would like to help you understand the differences so you can hit the ball more consistently than ever before.

Swing Direction

Whenever someone hits a shot off-line, they tend to step back and audit the direction of their divot and base their “fix” on moving their swing path and subsequent divot in a more target-ward direction. This sadly, is incorrect in two ways:

  1. Trackman has shown us that the starting direction of the golf ball is mostly controlled by the direction of the face, and not the path at impact
  2. The divot only tells us the general swing direction at the bottom of the arc — nothing more!

I know it is tough to comprehend that divots do not tell you much about swing path, angle of attack, the lie angle of the clubs, starting direction, or even ball curvature, but it’s been proven over and over with the Trackman and its D-Plane data. (See for several great videos on understanding more about the D-Plane.)

NOTE: You can always move your swing’s direction by altering your aim at address, ala Fred Couples, however, for the sake of this article we are going to assume you are always going to line up square to your ball’s target line.

So what does this all mean? The swing’s direction is simply how far left or right of the target line the “direction of the swing” is aimed at the bottom of the swing arc. So, if you look at the photo above you will see that the swing direction of this player is -2.7 degrees, or a couple degrees from out-to-in relative to his intended target line, which is shown by the thin white line running through the ball.

If you wanted to define where the swing’s actual direction is going, then you would obviously look at your divots. But if you wanted to know what the swing’s true path was at impact, then you would need one other piece of information to complete the puzzle.

Swing Path

So to this point, we have define what our swing direction is and how to understand where it is going by looking at the direction of our divots. But how do we know what our swing path is doing when we hit the ball? Your swing path is defined as how far left or right of the target line the club head is traveling through impact. Look at the photo above, and you will see that the swing direction is -2.7 degrees, however you must take into account your swing’s angle of attack in order to understand true path of the club head at impact.

When you hit down on a golf ball, your path is shifted to the right (for a right-handed golfer), and when you hit up on a golf ball your path is shifted more left. With the longer clubs, this is a 1:1 ratio, but with the shorter clubs is not quite that much. So by examining the data above, you can see that indeed the swing direction was out-to-in, but this player hit down on the ball -5.7 degrees and this shifted his actual path to 1.3 degrees from the inside (shown by the blue line). Thus, this player was hitting very slight push draws with leftward pointing divots when his face angle was left of his path.

NOTE: For the purpose of this article, we are going to assume you have a very consistent angle of attack with the iron you are hitting. Obviously, if you hit exaggeratedly “down” or up on the ball then you can get some funky numbers, but we will pretend that you are making the same swing over and over.

Therefore, once again, it is very important that you don’t confuse swing direction with swing path, or you can foul up your whole motion by working on the incorrect thing. If you have a chance and can find someone who has a launch monitor such as the Trackman or the Flightscope, you should hit a few balls with them in order to truly define your actual swing path. If you do so, you can be assured that you will always work on the correct thing.

Hopefully this clears up the swing direction vs. swing path debate once and for all. Take your time and enjoy the process to becoming a better ball striker!

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at tomst[email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.



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  9. Lee Collinson

    Dec 3, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Nice article, however could you please explain to me how this chap would be hitting push draws if his face to path ratio is a positive number? Surely he would be hitting push fades?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but in order to hit any kind of draw the face must be closed to the path?

    • spencer

      Jun 3, 2015 at 2:30 am

      You probably won’t like this answer because it’s in the article but this is the answer. “When you hit down on a golf ball, your path is shifted to the right (for a right-handed golfer), and when you hit up on a golf ball your path is shifted more left. With the longer clubs, this is a 1:1 ratio, but with the shorter clubs is not quite that much. So by examining the data above, you can see that indeed the swing direction was out-to-in, but this player hit down on the ball -5.7 degrees and this shifted his actual path to 1.3 degrees from the inside (shown by the blue line). Thus, this player was hitting very slight push draws with leftward pointing divots when his face angle was left of his path.”

      • Andy

        Feb 25, 2017 at 9:01 am

        I might be completely confused here, but according to the numbers and having a positive face to path angle should result in a fade. But the spin axis is negative which must mean this gentleman is hitting the ball of the toe, which is causing a gear effect and produces a draw. It is correct that due the attack angle the club path changes, but the face to path being positive cannot produce a draw. Face to path is nicely explained in this link

    • spencer

      Jun 3, 2015 at 2:34 am

  10. Jack

    Aug 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I think information like this can be applied to the question posed in another article, “Why don’t golfers improve?” I have yet to find a local teacher who applies this insight.

  11. Nick

    Jul 30, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I just wanted to post that 182 avg carry with a 6 iron with that kind of dispersion impresses me even if he is hitting slgiht pushes.

  12. Martin

    Jul 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I’ve been playing golf since I was 10, I am now 50 and only since I joined this site have I understood this.

    I always thought the push or pull was swing path and the slice or hook was face open or closed. I have a generally controlled over the top move and my ball tends to start left, the only club it ever really causes a problem with is the driver occasionally.

    I have a lesson on Thursday with a new Pro, I will ask him his thoughts on this.

  13. Damon

    Jul 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Great stuff…it’s amazing how many players interchange/confuse the terms direction and path. I find many of my clients don’t understand the angle of attack relationship to path. Other than influencing the dynamic loft and trajectory of the shot, AoA’s only real effect is that it influences the path. If everyone struck the golf ball perfectly level at the bottom of the swing arc the direction and path would be pointing the same direction. I tell my students that the direction helps you understand where contact is being made on the arc, but path is where impact happens on that arc and is what ultimately shapes the ball flight.

    • Nick

      Jul 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      Damon, the explanation that AOA helps us determine where on the arc impact occurs was the last piece of the puzzle I needed to understand this concept. I could understand how path and direction could be different, but understanding how AOA influenced it was going a bit over my head. But if you imagine the swing arc, and then pivoting it up and down in space to change the AOA, you can imagine impact moving on the arc and a corresponding change in path as impact moves on the swing arc by virtue of an AOA change. Thanks man.

  14. Derek

    Jul 23, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Great info, its amazing the lessons i’ve had in the past which were complete garbage and the oposite of the actual truth, cheers.

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The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips



While there are many golfers who barely know where the practice (I don’t like calling it a “driving”) range is located, there are many who find it a place of adventure, discovery and fun. I’m in the latter group, which could be accented by the fact that I make my living in this industry. But then, I’ve always been a “ball beater,” since I was a kid, but now I approach my practice sessions with more purpose and excitement. There’s no question that practice is the key to improvement in anything, so today’s topic is on making practice as much fun as playing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the range, and always embrace the challenge of learning new ways to make a golf ball do what I would like it to do. So, today I’m sharing my “top 5” tips for making practice fun and productive.

  1. Have a mission/goal/objective. Whether it is a practice range session or practice time on the course, make sure you have a clearly defined objective…how else will you know how you’re doing? It might be to work on iron trajectory, or finding out why you’ve developed a push with your driver. Could be to learn how to hit a little softer lob shot or a knockdown pitch. But practice with a purpose …always.
  2. Don’t just “do”…observe.  There are two elements of learning something new.  The first is to figure out what it is you need to change. Then you work toward that solution. If your practice session is to address that push with the driver, hit a few shots to start out, and rather than try to fix it, make those first few your “lab rats”. Focus on what your swing is doing. Do you feel anything different? Check your alignment carefully, and your ball position. After each shot, step away and process what you think you felt during the swing.
  3. Make it real. To just rake ball after ball in front of you and pound away is marginally valuable at best. To make practice productive, step away from your hitting station after each shot, rake another ball to the hitting area, then approach the shot as if it was a real one on the course. Pick a target line from behind the ball, meticulously step into your set-up position, take your grip, process your one swing thought and hit it. Then evaluate how you did, based on the shot result and how it felt.
  4. Challenge yourself. One of my favorite on-course practice games is to spend a few minutes around each green after I’ve played the hole, tossing three balls into various positions in an area off the green. I don’t let myself go to the next tee until I put all three within three feet of the hole. If I don’t, I toss them to another area and do it again. You can do the same thing on the range. Define a challenge and a limited number of shots to achieve it.
  5. Don’t get in a groove. I was privileged enough to watch Harvey Penick give Tom Kite a golf lesson one day, and was struck by the fact that he would not let Tom hit more than five to six shots in a row with the same club. Tom would hit a few 5-irons, and Mr. Penick would say, “hit the 8”, then “hit the driver.” He changed it up so that Tom would not just find a groove. That paved the way for real learning, Mr. Penick told me.

My “bonus” tip addresses the difference between practicing on the course and keeping a real score. Don’t do both. A practice session is just that. On-course practice is hugely beneficial, and it’s best done by yourself, and at a casual pace. Playing three or four holes in an hour or so, taking time to hit real shots into and around the greens, will do more for your scoring skills than the same amount of range time.

So there you have my five practice tips. I’m sure I could come up with more, but then we always have more time, right?

More from the Wedge Guy



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The Wedge Guy: Anyone can be a better wedge player by doing these simple things



As someone who has observed rank-and-file recreational golfers for most of my life – over 50 years of it, anyway – I have always been baffled by why so many mid- to high-handicap golfers throw away so many strokes in prime scoring range.

For this purpose, let’s define “prime scoring range” as the distance when you have something less than a full-swing wedge shot ahead of you. Depending on your strength profile, that could be as far as 70 to 80 yards or as close as 30 to 40 yards. But regardless of whether you are trying to break par or 100, your ability to get the ball on the green and close enough to the hole for a one-putt at least some of the time will likely be one of the biggest factors in determining your score for the day.

All too often, I observe golfers hit two or even three wedge shots from prime scoring range before they are on the green — and all too often I see short-range pitch shots leave the golfer with little to no chance of making the putt.

This makes no sense, as attaining a level of reasonable proficiency from short range is not a matter of strength profile at all. But it does take a commitment to learning how to make a repeating and reliable half-swing and doing that repeatedly and consistently absolutely requires you to learn the basic fundamentals of how the body has to move the club back and through the impact zone.

So, let’s get down to the basics to see if I can shed some light on these ultra-important scoring shots.

  • Your grip has to be correct. For the club to move back and through correctly, your grip on the club simply must be fundamentally sound. The club is held primarily in the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the middle two fingers of the lower hand. Period. The lower hand has to be “passive” to the upper hand, or the mini-swing will become a quick jab at the ball. For any shot, but particularly these short ones, that sound grip is essential for the club to move through impact properly and repeatedly.
  • Your posture has to be correct. This means your body is open to the target, feet closer together than even a three-quarter swing, and the ball positioned slightly back of center.
  • Your weight should be distributed about 70 percent on your lead foot and stay there through the mini-swing.
  • Your hands should be “low” in that your lead arm is hanging naturally from your shoulder, not extended out toward the ball and not too close to the body to allow a smooth turn away and through. Gripping down on the club is helpful, as it gets you “closer to your work.
  • This shot is hit with a good rotation of the body, not a “flip” or “jab” with the hands. Controlling these shots with your body core rotation and leading the swing with your body core and lead side will almost ensure proper contact. To hit crisp pitch shots, the hands have to lead the clubhead through impact.
  • A great drill for this is to grip your wedge with an alignment rod next to the grip and extending up past your torso. With this in place, you simply have to rotate your body core through the shot, as the rod will hit your lead side and prevent you from flipping the clubhead at the ball. It doesn’t take but a few practice swings with this drill to give you an “ah ha” moment about how wedge shots are played.
  • And finally, understand that YOU CANNOT HIT UP ON A GOLF BALL. The ball is sitting on the ground so the clubhead has to be moving down and through impact. I think one of the best ways to think of this is to remember this club is “a wedge.” So, your simple objective is to wedge the club between the ball and the ground. The loft of the wedge WILL make the ball go up, and the bounce of the sole of the wedge will prevent the club from digging.

So, why is mastering the simple pitch shot so important? Because my bet is that if you count up the strokes in your last round of golf, you’ll likely see that you left several shots out there by…

  • Either hitting another wedge shot or chip after having one of these mid-range pitch shots, or
  • You did not get the mid-range shot close enough to even have a chance at a makeable putt.

If you will spend even an hour on the range or course with that alignment rod and follow these tips, your scoring average will improve a ton, and getting better with these pitch shots will improve your overall ball striking as well.

More from the Wedge Guy

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Clement: Don’t overlook this if you want to find the center of the face




It is just crazy how golfers are literally beside themselves when they are placed in a properly aligned set up! They feel they can’t swing or function! We take a dive into why this is and it has to do with how the eyes are set up in the human skull!

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