Did you know that the average golfer is losing a ton of distance, simply by not optimizing ball launch physics? Most golfers launch the ball either too low, with too much spin, or a combination of both — sapping their game of distance.
I teach at one of the biggest and best facilities in Europe, and am lucky to use Trackman. The average angle of attack I see with players hitting a driver is 5 degrees down on the ball.
What is angle of attack?
Angle of attack (AOA) relates to whether your club is coming down, level or up into the ball through impact. Combine this with the loft of the club, and it affects both our launch angle and our spin rate.
The above picture shows what we call a positive angle of attack, where the club is moving upward toward the ball. I used TrackMan to to test different AOA’s and their effect on the distance the ball went. The results were startling.
Using a typical swing of an amateur, I hit 10 shots with a 5-degree downward blow.
The Red circle shows the AOA at -5.2 degrees. The blue circle shows the carry distance at 216.5 yards. Total distance was 257.7 yards.
Next, I made a change in my set-up position and a small thought change (I will explain at the end of the article). This allowed me to make a 5-degree positive AOA, where the club is coming upwards into the ball through impact. Here are the results:
In this picture, we see the AOA in the red circle (5.8 degrees upwards) and the carry distance jump to 262.4 yards. This happened despite slightly less swing speed. With this AOA, the launch angle basically doubled, and the spin rate dropped a little. Total distance was 288.6 yards – not bad for little a swing speed just barely more than 100 mph.
Next, I tried 10 shots with as much positive AOA as possible. I teed the ball as high as I could, and visualized the club moving upwards though impact. This AOA would be impossible for a lot of golfers to do because the body positions required to do it require a lot of flexibility and mobility. But, just for fun, here are the results:
Here we see an insane AOA of 8.1 degrees up on the ball – this is in the long-drive competitor range. I even threw an 11.4 degree AOA for my last one.
Again, we see the spin rate drop slightly, and the launch angle shoot up past 16 degrees. This results in a massive 272.4 yards of carry distance – a 55.6 yard improvement, and an average of 295.5 yards total.
There are even a few shots more than 300 yards thrown in — with a swing speed of little over 100 mph, which is certainly attainable to a lot of golfers.
Some of you may have noticed that the positive AOA also resulted in a better smash factor and slightly higher ball speed. However, when the results are adjusted for ball speed, the higher AOA still comes out tops.
How I did it
Mainly, the improvements in distance stemmed from an understanding of how I wanted the club to hit the ball, followed by a deep visualization of impact. If you can see what you want the club to do, you will be more likely able to do it.
However, for those of you who want more of a “how-to,” here are some things you can try:
- Tilt your spine away from the target a bit more, so that your head is more behind the ball.
- Your left shoulder should be much higher than your right shoulder at address.
- Feel as if you swing a little more in-to-out. Even close your shoulders slightly at address. This will put the low point of your swing farther behind the ball, resulting in an upward AOA. Because of complex geometry (it’s called the D-Plane), your club will path will still be quite square, even though you feel like you are swinging the club head out to the right.
- Feel as if your hands move upward through impact. Ideally, this is done by allowing your left shoulder to rise through impact, although some great ball strikers such as long-driver Jamie Sadlowski do it by allowing the left arm to bend slightly through impact.
- Look at the underside of the ball as you impact it. This will keep your head back.
It is worth noting that as your AOA becomes more positive you will have to have a corresponding increase in tee height. That’s why long-drive champions tee it so high.
Word of Caution
A positive AOA is needed to maximize distance, but it is not the be-all, end-all of distance. There are more things to consider. I personally settle on around a +3 AOA, as this gives me a nice blend of distance and control. Ease into a more positive AOA and test to see if it is right for you. You don’t want to ruin your game at the expense of a few yards.
However, on that note, I actually hit the ball straighter and more consistently with a +3 AOA than I do with a -5 AOA.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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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
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 1
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2
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