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Opinion & Analysis

What makes a golf ball curve? (GolfWRX explains)

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At some point, every golfer has asked the question “Why did that shot slice? Why did that shot hook? How did that shot go straight?”

The simple answer is physics, but the actual reason is a little bit more complicated and has to do with the relationship the golf ball has with the golf club as it approaches contact, but that’s why we’re here to explain why your golf ball travels where it does.

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It’s all about spin axis – AKA “sidespin”

Spin Axis – Trackman Golf

Side spin is the commonly used, but incorrect way to describe the spin axis of a golf ball as it travels through the air. Rather than try and define it myself, I will refer to the experts at Trackman to help me explain what’s really going on.

“Spin Axis is the tilt angle relative to the horizon of the golf ball’s resulting rotational axis immediately after separation from the club face (post impact).”

“The spin axis can be associated to the wings of an airplane. If the wings of an airplane are parallel to the ground, this would represent a zero spin axis and the plane would fly straight. If the wings were banked/tilted to the left (right wing higher than left wing), this would represent a negative spin axis and the plane would bank/curve to the left. And the opposite holds true if the wings are banked/tilted to the right.”

Unlike a plane in the example used by our friends at Trackman, a golf ball has no propulsion system, and all the force that causes it to move comes from the golf club. Depending on how the club makes contact with the ball will result in how the ball will fly. It’s no different than how a tennis or ping-pong ball travels through the air after it is struck with a racket or paddle – a golf club is just a “paddle” with a much longer handle length.

Why does a golfball curve right and left?

There are 2 main factors of the impact that influence how a golfball will curve;

  • The direction the clubface is aimed relative to the target line at impact
    Face Angle

  • The direction the club is moving at the moment of impact
    Club Path

Face-to-path – How to hit a draw

So now that we have a better understanding of why the golf ball curves in one direction or the other, the video below from TrackMan and Martin Chuck does a great job explaining the relationship of face to path, and how to hit a draw.

How to hit a straight golf shot

Being able to hit a straight shot is one of the most difficult things to do in the game of golf. The reason professionals don’t intentionally hit straight shots very often is that when it’s not executed properly it can create a shot that misses both right and left and if there is one thing professionals and low handicap players like to see is a golf ball that misses in one direction.

Face Strike Point

Beyond the relationship between the clubface and path, hollow golf clubs also have another factor at play, and that is the bulge and roll – curvature of the face from top to bottom and side to side. This curvature combined with the gear effect of hitting a shot outside the sweet spot results in the club imparting a higher measured spin axis and as a result the ball curves even more.

Check out this video below by TXG demonstrating how strike location on a driver has an effect on how the golf ball curves.

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Ryan Barath is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Joe

    Nov 21, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    You say the reason the ball curves is physics but then you don’t even give the right physics explanation. You give a good explanation of how to tilt the spin axis of a golf ball but zero explanation of why a ball actually curves in the air. Just call the article how to affect the spin axis because the content here has nothing to do with how the ball curves.

    • Marc

      Nov 22, 2020 at 10:37 am

      Yup, totally useless article. “How to hit a straight shot…” answer: it’s difficult, so even pros don’t attempt it lol. Fails to explain even a little of the face-to-path relationship. Don’t understand how this guy is a featured writer on here.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: More on a sound setup

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Last week I started the conversation on the crucial importance of a sound posture and setup. Very simply, quality golf shots and consistent performance absolutely require it.

As you watch golf on TV, or when you page through the golf magazines, pay particularly close attention to the setup posture of the players, especially when the cameraman is directly behind the golfer, looking down the target line. While you will see some degree of “personalization” of address posture, it’s not nearly as much as you notice even in your own group of golf buddies. The basic fundamentals of a good starting position are not really all that flexible.

To get your body in position to execute a powerful and repeating golf swing, certain things are just not negotiable:

  1. Your legs have to be flexed at the knees so that you are in an athletic position, which allows your body to move properly.
  2. Your upper torso should be bent over at the hips, not the waist so that your spine is relatively straight. That allows your shoulders and hips to turn on the same plane, back and through.
  3. Your head should be up so that your left shoulder can turn under your chin without getting trapped.
  4. And most importantly, your left arm should be in an almost vertical position, hanging naturally from your shoulders. This positions your hands almost directly under your shoulders and creates a definite angle formed by the left arm and the shaft of the club.

While you can see all sorts of contortions from this set of fundamentals, I believe the most common error I see in golfers at address is that their hands are too far from their body, reaching toward the ball so that their left arm and the shaft form almost a straight line. That is not a power position at all as it severely restricts the proper motion of the clubhead through the impact zone.

With the hands starting in a much more natural “low & close” position at address, they can more easily “find” that position as they pass through the impact zone. And only from this position can you accurately achieve the powerful and proper rotational release of the club through impact.

I’m convinced one of the real “secrets” to playing good golf is the understanding that the release through impact is not as much an unhinging of the wrists as it is a rotation of the arms and hands that produces a tremendous magnification of clubhead speed as a multiple of arm speed. And that’s what we are all after.

What you are trying to achieve in your setup is to get in the right athletic position to execute a sound and powerful golf swing. And what your routine is designed to do is to get you in exactly that same position each and every time you take a shot.

I hope you are enjoying this deep dive into the basics of good golf that happen before the club even moves away from the ball.

Next week, I’ll wrap this up with a detailed examination of just how to build a proper and repeating setup that anyone can learn and use to improve their golf almost immediately.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Bandon Dunes trip recap

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Back after a week at the legendary Bandon Dunes resort. Talking about my time there last week and the courses I loved as well as the ones I struggled with! Also, a little ramble on my bag setup for my guys’ trip this weekend.

 

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(NEW PODCAST!) Be the Number: WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Fantasy, betting picks and preview

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In the inaugural episode of GolfWRX’s new betting and DFS podcast, Be the Number, stats and strategy guru Spencer Aguiar (@teeoffsports) and former D1 golfer Josephine Chang (@jchang1020) introduce themselves and dive deep into the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Tune in for picks, predictions, DFS, GPP, draws, fades, bets, and more!

 

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