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Gear Effect Basics: How off-center hits cause slices and hooks

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On the lesson tee, I frequently hear players say that the club twisted or slipped out of their hands at impact. So I ask them, “Why do you think it twisted?”

They usually explain that they did something to cause the club to twist or slip. This shows me that most golfers still don’t understand what is really going on at impact, which often leads them to try to fix an issue that never existed.

Have you ever noticed that this twisting of the club never happens when you flush it down the fairway or at the pin? That’s a big clue as to what’s causing the issue.

Line It Up

Both golf balls and golf club heads have what we call a center of mass (COM). This is the point around which the mass of the club head and the ball is evenly distributed, and can be thought of as the middle of the club head, as shown below.

com

When the COM of a club head and ball line up at impact, we get that great feeling we call “hitting the sweet spot.” But what happens when we don’t hit the sweet spot?

The Twist

Think about what would happen if a car collided with a lamp post. If the car and lamp post were to line up perfectly for the collision, the car would stop dead in its tracks. But if the car were to hit the lamp post with one of its headlights, the car would spin off violently. The same thing happens with a golf club at impact.

If the COM of the ball and the COM of the club head do not line up perfectly at impact, the club head spins. For example, if the ball were to be struck on the toe of the club, the point of contact on the face would twist around the COM of the club. That would open it up in a clockwise direction (for a right-handed golfer).

twist

In the graphic above, the club head (moving right to left across the screen) hits the ball on the toe, causing a clockwise twisting in the direction of the white arrow.

How violent is this twisting? Watch the video below I made of some off-center impacts.

You can see that the twisting is quite dramatic, and it sends a lot of vibration up the club shaft and can actively twist the club in golfers’ hands no matter how tight they hold it.

It also leads many golfers to believe that they twisted the club actively, which wasn’t the case. This often leads golfers to grip the club tighter and tighter in an effort to stop the twisting. It’s futile, however, because there is a massive amount of torque created at impact. Further, a tighter grip can cause the swing to become less fluid and kill speed and coordination, leading to more off-center shots.

Curves

Hitting off-center shots also does something interesting to the ball at impact.

During the violent collision, the club head and ball can act like a pair of gears. So while a toed shot causes the club head to open up clockwise, the ball is twisted counter-clockwise (more accurately, the spin axis of the ball is tilted slightly more to the left). This causes the ball to have more draw/hook spin, or less fade/slice spin, depending on the impact conditions.

driver gearing

While it might seem counterintuitive at first, a club head that is opening at impact can cause draw shots thanks to what’s called “Gear effect.” The opposite is true as well: shots hit off the heel actually close the face, creating a shot that has more fade/slice spin or less hook/draw spin. Gear effect is also massively heightened when golfers have a wood or hybrid in their hands for reasons I will explain in an article that will be published at a later date.

Spin Doctors

driver face

Gear effect is vital to understand if you are to fix your own swing and ball flight issues, because not understanding it could lead to you trying to fix the wrong thing.

For example, say a player were to make a great swing, presenting the club head with a neutral path and a neutral club face at impact. In theory, this would hit a perfectly straight shot.

If that shot were struck out of the heel of the club, however, the shot would start left and slice off to the right, leading the player to believe they had come over-the-top and cut across the ball. I often see this self diagnosis on the lesson tee when the exact scenario occurs. This player will then go off and attempt to fix the over-the-top move, which was never the issue in the first place.

“YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHEN A BAD SHOT WAS CAUSED BY A POOR FACE/PATH COMBINATION VERSUS SIMPLY TOE-ING OR HEELING THE BALL.”

Actions You Can Take

Most people take for granted that they are hitting the sweet spot, yet I consistently see it as one of the main issues with the vast majority of golfers. For that reason, it is vital that you build both an increased understanding of what you are doing at impact (through feedback and awareness), as well as an increased ability to improve it.

So here is a simple exercise I get all my players with strike issues to do. Even players without strike issues should do this occasionally, just to make sure no poor patterns are creeping in unknowingly.

Step 1

mark ball

Mark a range ball with a dry erase marker pen.

Step 2

place ball

Place the ball as shown. You can tee it up or lay it on the ground. All the matters is that the dry erase marker dot is on the back of the ball facing the club head at address.

Step 3

see strike

Hit the shot, and check your club face to see where you contacted the ball.

To be great at something takes consistent practice of the fundamentals. Golfers hear so much about the fundamentals of grip, stance and posture, but they are worthless if they don’t strike the sweet spot. So when golfers become aware of their faulty contact point and get to work on fixing it, big improvement often occurs — to their swing and to their scores.

Starting taking a marker pen with you to the range if you want improved consistency, extra distance, better feedback and more awareness about your strikes. It will allow you to better diagnose the causing your poor shots so you can eliminate them from your game. 

Editor’s Note: Adam is Author of the amazon bestseller “The Practice Manual,” where he discusses some of these concepts and more. You can purchase the book here.

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Adam is a golf coach and author of the bestselling book, "The Practice Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Golfers." He currently teaches at Twin Lakes in Santa Barbara, California. Adam has spent many years researching motor learning theory, technique, psychology and skill acquisition. He aims to combine this knowledge he has acquired in order to improve the way golf is learned and potential is achieved. Adam's website is www.adamyounggolf.com Visit his website www.adamyounggolf.com for more information on how to take your game to the next level with the latest research.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Pingback: 3 Keys You Need to Understand About Impact to Play Better Golf - Dan Hansen Golf Instruction

  2. Pingback: Gear Effect Basics: How off-center hits cause slices and hooks - Dan Hansen Golf Instruction

  3. Tim Briand

    Sep 1, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Adam .. This is a great article, and one that most golfers, unfortunately, will not understand, though not for the lack of explaining it properly. For those of you who wonder why this phenomenon occurs, go to Newton’s 1st Law. A object in motion tries to stay in motion along the same vector unless acted upon by another force. In short, the Center of Gravity (CG .. Adam refers to it as Center of Mass) wants to continue travelling in a straight path. A force is applied to the object outside the CG, not in line with the vector the CG is moving. The result is that the object’s CG tries to continue along its vector, but twists to accommodate the force applied outside the CG vector. If you have ever stuck your hand outside a moving vehicle and made contact with something, you know that your hand wants to give way and rotate back. Same thing here. In this example, your hand is the area of the object outside the CG (toe or heel of club) and the CG of the club acts like your butt in the seat of the golf cart (it wants to keep going in line with where the cart is driving).

    As for the GEAR EFFECT… During the moment that the two objects are in contact with one another, there is surface friction between both objects. If one object in contact with another rotates, it causes the other object to rotate the opposite direction (think mechanical gears).

    It should not be understated just how tremendous this force can be when accounting for ball flight.

    The variation in different club designs can DRASTICALLY effect the amount of gear effect, by as much as 1000 RPMs of “side spin” depending on CG location, clubhead speed, and area of strike away from the sweet spot. The factors that mitigate or exacerbate this phenomenon are the Club’s CG, the Moment of Inertia (MOI), and the amount of Bulge & Roll on the face. Because no Doppler launch monitor accounts for these factors from club to club, it can sometimes make errors when measuring club face angle, assuming that the vast majority of the side spin was due to face/path differential, and not accounting for the variations in club design and their effects on side spin with off center hits.

    • Tony Neri

      May 14, 2020 at 5:30 am

      There are tons of articles written by well known golf instructors that say the exact opposite of what Adam stated.Off heel shots cause draws/hooks and off toe shots cause fades/slices.Like everything in golf it boils down to individuals,in most cases there are not fix rules.For example in my case every shot hit off the heel goes left and every shot off the toe goes right

  4. marcel

    Aug 30, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    lessons from AAA+ coach and practice… there is no excuse.

  5. Dugan

    Aug 27, 2015 at 9:20 am

    I sometimes hit a drive on the toe and immediately feel the twisting. But a majority of the time the ball goes straight with reduced distance. What gives?

    • TA

      Aug 29, 2015 at 2:29 am

      You didn’t compress the ball enough on the toe, not got any trampoline out of that area.

    • Tim Briand

      Sep 1, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Unfortunately, TA below is not entirely correct about this. What you are experiencing is Gear Effect nullifying an out-to-in path or open face (or a combination of both factors). If the face is open relative to the path, the spin axis of the ball tilts so that the ball spins with “fade” spin which would normally influence the ball to fade. However, when a player hits the ball of the toe, as described in the article above, Gear Effect causes the ball axis to tilt and cause “draw” spin. When the face is open to the path AND the ball is struck on the toe, the net effect is that the ball spin axis stays neutral, producing a straight flying shot. However a few factors will lead to the ball not going very far, such as loss of kinetic energy transfer due to the off-center hit, as well as loss of energy transfer due to the vector of the force (swing path), not being perpendicular to the striking surface (clubface) . In short, the two factors cancel each other but produce an impact that does not efficiently transfer energy from club to ball.

      Hope this helps..

      P.S. I am a Master Club Fitter for TaylorMade Golf, so my entire livelihood is based on understanding these principles.

  6. Spell

    Aug 27, 2015 at 3:10 am

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertia

    is why you can’t hang on to the twisting club even if you tried

  7. Gubment Cheeze

    Aug 26, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    You forgot about the nails

    • Adam Young

      Aug 27, 2015 at 12:27 am

      I’ll ‘hammer’ out a new article and include them 😉

  8. Paul Wood

    Aug 26, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Nice article Adam. I like the simplicity and clarity you brought to what can be a very complex subject if you really dig into it. I like the idea of using a pink dry erase marker. May have to add that to my bag.

  9. DPavs

    Aug 26, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    It’s probably also important to understand that gear effect is only going to noticeably impact the ball flight if the face of the club is square at impact. Or to say this another way it will not compensate for an open or closed club face. Also because the resultant gear effect is impacted by the further apart the COG of the ball and club are.. there is generally a good deal of it with drivers but far far less with irons .

    • Spell

      Aug 27, 2015 at 3:12 am

      Square to what? You’re not understanding the article

      • Dpavs

        Aug 27, 2015 at 8:14 am

        Spell-
        Let me help clarify this for you. The answer is square to your swing path. I tried to make this clear by indicating that an open or closed face will always dominate the ball flight and gear effect will essentially be negated.

        Just a note too, If you don’t comprehend what someone is indicating it’s great to ask questions but not good form to assume they did not understand.

      • DPavs

        Aug 27, 2015 at 8:18 am

        Square to your swing path, hence my reference to having the face open or closed (at impact).

  10. Adam Young

    Aug 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Hi guys,

    I will be addressing vertical gear effect, difference in COM locations, bulge and roll, the moveable sweet spot and effective face size in later articles.

    This is just a basic primer on gear effect, as the title suggests. For most golfers, the idea that twisting is caused by an off centre hit (and not the golfer actually twisting it) is a revelation for most.

    Hope it helps with fault identification 🙂

    • other paul

      Aug 26, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      Oh good. Thanks Adam. Moveable sweet spot isn’t something I have heard much about at all. Speaking of golfers not actually twisting the club at impact. A golf pro I know tried to convince me that a tour pro he talked could add or reduce loft at impact because he was that awesome. Or that he could twist his club to hit a hook or fade when he wanted. Ridiculous.

    • CD

      Aug 26, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      Should the dry erase mark be on the inner quadrant of the ball?

      • Adam Young

        Aug 27, 2015 at 12:30 am

        That can certainly be a nice way of encouraging a more in-to-out path (for mental reasons).

        Although, the part of the ball the club face strikes will be a product only of the club face angle at impact – with a more open face contacting the inner quadrant and vice versa. Not a lot of folk know that one. You can still strike the inner quadrant with an out to in path (and vice versa) if the face is open enough

  11. Mac n Cheese

    Aug 26, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    This is where torque comes into play with the shaft. The lower the torque number the less twisting that occurs with a miss hit, which equates to forgiveness.

  12. John

    Aug 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Following a poor round in a friendly best ball tournament two years ago, I altered my grip pressure, ball position, stance, takeaway speed, hand and head position because of what I thought (think) was a poor swing path. I can remember it vividly, one poor swing, the clubface hooked right (I’m a lefty), my hands flipped over, and I was convinced I needed a major overhaul.

    You may have saved my favourite pastime because of this simple, and now obvious, cause-effect explanation.

    I’m a moron, bless you.

  13. David M.

    Aug 26, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    That is the most neutral driver club face angle (not loft — club face angle) I have seen. Where does one go to buy that club (one that sits completely neutral at address)? All my drivers sit with slightly closed hosel angles at address – further compounding the issue of gear effect.

  14. spazo

    Aug 26, 2015 at 11:49 am

    i don’t see it mentioned that this works in the vertical direction as well–it’s just not as obvious.

    • saevel25

      Aug 26, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      For the driver,
      Higher on the clubface = high launch, lower spinning
      Lower on the clubface = lower launching, higher spinning

      For irons
      Higher on clubface = slightly higher launching, slightly lower spinning
      Lower on clubface = slightly lower launching, slightly higher spinning

      Typically the swing paths is such that it is very very rare to get the ball high and in the heel. A steeper path is typically one that goes from out to in. That brings the toe more into play. When you get steeper you bring the higher part of the clubface into play. When you swing in to out you get shallower. This brings the heel more into play as well as the lower part of the clubface. I could say the most likely spots for the ball to hit is the upper left quadrant and the lower right quadrant, and some areas in the middle.

  15. other paul

    Aug 26, 2015 at 11:45 am

    You missed closure rate, and its effects. And you missed bulge in the face and how it effects the curve of the ball differently with woods and irons. Article gets a 9/10 but it is also incomplete.

    • Jack

      Aug 26, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      OMG. 99 percent of the folks on here didn’t understand gear effect and now they do. Good article Adam.

      • DPavs

        Aug 26, 2015 at 2:33 pm

        And yet they all have under an 8 hdcp and drive the ball 300 yards… amazing isn’t it?

        • other paul

          Aug 26, 2015 at 7:35 pm

          Its not to hard to hit 300, but the 8 handicap is tough to get to.

          • Dpavs

            Aug 27, 2015 at 11:26 am

            +1

          • Stubaka

            Aug 27, 2015 at 2:44 pm

            Thank you. 300 is not hard to hit. But, can you hit it straight. Then, can you follow it up with a great scecond shot that lands on the green.

            I can hit my driver 300 anytime. 200 straight and 100 right. I can’t control it, hence the reason it’s out of the bag. I’d rather hit my 3 hybrid 225-250 in the fairway, than constantly losing golf balls. Golf is much more fun now grinding for par, instead of looking for lost balls.

  16. MG

    Aug 26, 2015 at 11:27 am

    For driver, i like spraying the face with foot powder spray to see impact position. But yea, dry erase works better with irons due to the powder coming off when taking a divot. good article.

    • Adam Young

      Aug 26, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      Cheers MG – I also prefer the marker pen because you can see the concentration of shots. Face tape ruins spin rate, and spray only really shows the range of shots.

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Clement: Easily find your perfect backswing plane with this drill

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When you get on one of these, magic will happen! You can’t come too far inside or outside in the backswing, and you can’t have arms too deep or shallow at the top of the backswing nor can you be too laid off or across the line either! SEAMLESS!!

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Wedge Guy: The top 7 short game mistakes

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I’ve written hundreds of articles as “The Wedge Guy” and I’ve made it my life’s work to closely observe golfers and their short games. So, I thought I’d compile what I see into a list of what I believe are the most common mistakes golfers make around the greens that prevents them from optimizing their scoring. So here goes, not in any particular order:

  1. Tempo. Maybe the most common error I see is a tempo that is too quick and “jabby”. That probably comes from the misunderstood and overdone advice “accelerate through the ball.” I like to compare playing a golf hole to painting a room, and your short shots are your “trim brushes”. They determine how the finished work turns out, and a slower and more deliberate stroke delivers more precision as you get closer to the green and hole.
  2. Set Up/Posture. To hit good chips and pitches, you need to “get down”. Bend your knees a bit more and grip down on the club – it puts you closer to your work for better precision. Too many golfers I see stand up too tall and grip the club to the end.
  3. Grip Pressure. A very light grip on the club is essential to good touch and a proper release through the impact zone. Trust me, you cannot hold a golf club too lightly – your body won’t let you. Concentrate on your forearms; if you can feel any tenseness in the muscles in your forearms, you are holding on too tightly.
  4. Hand position. Watch the tour players hit short shots on TV. Their arms are hanging naturally so that their hands are very close to their upper thighs at address and through impact, but the club is not tilted up on its toe. Copy that and your short game will improve dramatically.
  5. Lack of Body/Core Rotation. When you are hitting short shots, the hands and arms have stay in front of the torso throughout the swing. If you don’t rotate your chest and shoulders back and through, you won’t develop good consistency in distance or contact.
  6. Club selection. Every pitch or chip is different, so don’t try to hit them all with the same club. I see two major errors here. Some golfers always grab the sand wedge when they miss a green. If you have lots of green to work with and don’t need that loft, a PW, 9-iron or even less will give you much better results. The other error is seen in those golfers who are “afraid” of their wedge and are trying to hit tough recoveries with 8- and 9-irons. That doesn’t work either. Go to your practice green and see what happens with different clubs, then take that knowledge to the course.
  7. Clubhead/grip relationship. This error falls into two categories. One is those golfers who forward press so much that they dramatically change the loft of the club. At address and impact the grip should be slightly ahead of the clubhead. I like to focus on the hands, rather than the club, and just think of my left hand leading my right through impact. Which brings me to the other error – allowing the clubhead to pass the hands through impact. If you let the clubhead do that, good shots just cannot happen. And that is caused by you trying to “hit” up on the ball, rather than swinging the entire club through impact.

So, there are my top 7. Obviously, there are others, but if you eliminate those, your short game will get better in a hurry.

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The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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