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Understanding swing direction vs. swing path

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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 www.leitzgolf.com 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 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: [email protected]

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. 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 http://blog.trackmangolf.com/face-to-path/.

    • spencer

      Jun 3, 2015 at 2:34 am

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Damon

    Jul 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Tom,
    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.

  6. 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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