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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 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 [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.

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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Instruction

Kelley: Should a Tour player’s swing be the pattern we copy?

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PGA Tour players are the most gifted golfers on the planet. Their ball striking ability is remarkable to the average, even scratch, golfer. With the time to practice all day, usually perfecting their imperfections in their own swings, why are PGA Tour players’ swings always the model we seek?

Look at the progression and expectations in other sports played recreationally. If you start playing Tennis, you don’t expect to serve as fast and accurate as Rafael Nadal. When joining a gym, do we look and replicate the times and bodies of Olympians? However, in golf, players seek the worlds best trying to emulate them. Examining this idea, could this actually be detrimental?

Let’s start with the speed differential. The average PGA Tour driver club head speed is 113 mph. The average male amateur golfer driver speed is 93.4 mph. The average handicap for the male golfer sits between 14 and 15. Below is a chart from Trackman showing the distribution of clubhead speed among male golfers.

*Trackman research shows there is a direct correlation between clubhead speed and handicap.

Speed is mostly a natural talent developed at an early age. It can be enhanced with speed training, gym work and even lifestyle changes. ?With such a differential in speed?, wouldn’t players first be better served focusing on center contact with the most efficient route to do so? This can include modeling simple looking swings.

Besides the speed differential, the world’s best golfers all have unique swings that have been perfected over time. Take for example the top ten players in the world. Different swings with different match-up moves throughout the motion. They have made it work for themselves with countless practice hours. Usually time the average golfer doesn’t have.

A main example would be Rory McIlroy, often a sought out golf swing among students. Here is a quote regarding his swing swing sequence after visiting the Titleist Performance Institute Center. “At the start of McIlroy’s downswing, his left hip spins violently counterclockwise, as it does for every elite, long-hitting player. but then, and only with the driver, Mcllroy makes a funky move you could not teach. a moment before impact, his left hip suddenly changes direction and jerks back, clockwise, and then rotates again.”

With the average golfer on a time constraint?, golfers could actually look at what the greats do the older they get in their careers. The swings become more simple, using their instincts to get their body in efficient and more teachable positions. This is usually in their set-up then backswing, with less excess movement for an efficient strike. Take for example a young versus older Ben Hogan. (Picture below)

Below is another example of a young Jack Nicklaus compared to an older Nicklaus later in his career.

This is in large part due to the concept that less can be more at times. Unfortunately in golf, all to often players are told to do more with their swing, only to jeopardize center contact even seeking vanity over function.

A concept that could be beneficial is next time you want to work on your swing, focus on efficiency and minimizing the ?motion for center contact and a better face/path relationship. Then you can build. Rather then taking a bit from a Tour player’s swing, understand how your body should move to achieve your desired ball flight. Once you have a foundation, then add speed and your own DNA to the swing.

The argument could be made the opposite should be taught for aspiring junior golfers, especially the way the game as going. This article is intended to open a discussion and perhaps change the view of how the golf swing is being taught based on your skill-set and what you are trying to get out of the game. Also, what may be teachable and not teachable. You can change swings with concepts alone.

www.kelleygolf.com

Twitter: @Kkelley_golf 

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Clement: Why laying up = more power

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You have been there before — you can’t get over the hazard on a par 5 and decide to lay up and take the club you need for the distance and the ball makes it into the hazard after you took this smooth swing that smoked the ball 15 yards farther than you expected? We uncover the mystery right here!

 

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Kelley: Simplify your swing with the hammer drill

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Regardless of your handicap, a simple hammer can teach you how to efficiently address the ball, start the swing and then put your body in a dynamic position at the top. If you can hammer a nail, there is no reason you can’t simplify your swing. This drill can also change the parts in the middle of your swing you have been struggling to change.

To start, grab a hammer with your trail hand as if you are hammering a nail into a wall in front of your body. You will notice how this instinctively gives you a slight tuck of the trail elbow and drops your trail shoulder below the lead with angle in the trail wrist.

Once gripping the hammer, move the weight of the hammer as if hammering a nail. This will give you the feel of the takeaway.

From here, the golf swing is no more then a lifting of the arms as the right arm folds and the body goes around a bit.

From this position, holding your spine angle and placing the left hand on the right hand will pull your body into a coil or “turn”. This places your body in a position to efficiently swing the golf club back down to the ball.

A great way to combine the hammer drill with a golf club is to hold a hammer on the grip of the club or tape the hammer down the middle of the shaft. Start with just your right hand on the club and make slow swings.

Once you have practiced this a few times, the hammer can be removed and this feel can be integrated to a normal golf club. To continue this feel, simply turn the clubhead in as if you are hitting the ball with the toe of the club (below picture). When turning the club like this, the center of balance goes more to the clubhead, helping replicate the actual hammer feel.

What’s great about this drill is that the actual task is driving the technique. Rather than being thoughtful of several technical positions in the golf swing, replicating the instinctive motion of the hammer will put you in the proper positions. This drill will also help you place your focus of attention on the actual club, which is often overlooked.

www.kelvinkelley.com

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