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Hitting hooks and slices? Here’s how to control your ball’s curvature

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As with most golfers, controlling the curvature of the golf ball in flight tends to be the most common issue plaguing players’ consistency on a daily basis. While there are a ton of fundamental reasons why your swing is causing the ball to curve off-line, the simplest reason is this:

  • When your ball curves too much, you have a face-to-path ratio that is too diverse.

This ratio determines your ball’s spin axis, or the amount the ball will curve in the air in general. Now, I know an off-center hit coupled with the club’s gear effect can also influence the ball’s curvature, but for the sake of this article we will just assume that you have hit the middle of the blade to make things easier to understand.

first

So let’s examine the sample shot I hit above showing a big right-to-left curve:

  1. My target-line is the thin white line directly over the top of the golf balls I have placed at the end of the range.
  2. My path is 16 degrees from the inside to the outside as shown by the blue line.
  3. My face at impact is 3.6 degrees open. With a centered hit, whenever the face is left of the club’s path the ball will curve from right to left.
  4. Thus the ratio between my face (3.6-degrees open) and my path (16 in-to-out) at impact shows a difference of -12.4.
  5. This ball had a spin axis of -13.6, meaning it was curving left. This is shown by the purple curving line tracing the ball in flight.

KEY: Whenever you have a big difference between where you face is pointing and where your path is going, you will tend to have a big curve (as shown in the sample shot above.)  In order to hit the ball with less curve, you need a face-to-path ratio that is very low. This means that your path and your face are going in mostly the same direction give or take a degree or two, as shown below.

last

In order to hit the ball with very little curvature you will need a path and face angle that are more in-line!

One final thought. You can alter the alignment of your body at address to make up for a face-and-path relationship that are in-line, but a touch too much to the right or too much to the left of your target. Please do not alter your aim while you do the drill I’m describing.

So how do we train our hands and body to produce straighter golf shots with less curve, and what drill can you do on the range to best learn how to control this ratio? Line up square to your target-line and then make full-swings in slow-motion trying to hit the ball as straight as possible. Some amount of curvature is inevitable for the majority of players, but the goal is to have the least amount of curve possible while you are hitting these shots.

As you make these swings please, remember to hit the same shot over and over. This means hit the ball the same distance and with the same curvature tendency each time. The better you can get at this drill, the easier it will be for you to understand and feel how to hit the ball straighter when you go back to hitting full speed shots!

Enjoy the process and have some fun. At worst, you are designing a “B” game for yourself if your “A” game is in the tank that day!

Read More Tom Stickney II : What Flightscope and Trackman can tell you (and me)

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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]

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Jack

    Jan 21, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    So basically for players who are struggling with their slice (and I’ve seen coaches do this so it’s not like I invented this) they can do an exaggerated draw with a more extreme inside out path, giving them a ton of room or angle to learn how to close their club face. I think if you tell someone to go from slicing to hitting it straight, it’s nearly impossible since the margin of error is so small. But like in the example, club path angle is basically how much margin of error (for the club face) you can have to hit the ball within the angle between the target line and the club path.

    To me the path is easier to be consistent about, but the face could mean on the green or in the bunker. Having a more extreme path allows the less skilled player to keep their misses to just one side of the target.

    If the club path and target line aligns with the left and right extremities of the green, then the chance of getting on green increases.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 21, 2014 at 10:45 pm

      Remember this is just a feel drill for people to “educate” their hands in order to understand clubhead/clubface control hitting baby shots This is NOT a cure all for path and face issues- it’s just the starting point.

  2. Chris

    Jan 21, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Tom,

    What club were you hitting?

  3. Steve Pratt

    Jan 20, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Open clubface to draw the ball, and closed clubface to fade it. Relative to the target that is!

    Nice work Tom!

    • Tom Stickney

      Jan 21, 2014 at 10:06 am

      Thx.

    • M

      Jan 24, 2014 at 2:20 am

      Not sure if this is in jest, but the opposite is true. I don’t want to mislead anyone that is new to the game. Closed=hook, open=Slice. The key in his example is that he hit a hook because even though the face was open, it was more closed than the swing path. The target means nothing really. For example, If the face is closed 5*, but the swing path is 7* left (out to in), you’ll slice.

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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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