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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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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Reviewing KBS PGI iron shafts and an updated what’s in the bag!

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The PGI graphite iron shaft is new from KBS and it is a great playable option for any player. The PGI comes in multiple weights and launches mid/high for soft landing shots into the green. Easy to square up and hit straight, even in the heavier weights. Finally, it is time for an updated WITB since a few things have changed over the summer.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Lessons from the round of a lifetime

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To all of us “senior golfers,” the notion of shooting our age is one that carries great appeal. It answers the burning question:

“Can I keep my skills sharp enough to withstand the hands of time?”

Earlier this year, I had made the proclamation to my golf buddies that my goal was to shoot my age before I turned 70 next March. That meant I needed to work on my game a little more, given that I had let my handicap slip up to 5 at the time. Over the past few months, I’ve brought that down to 2.5. My ball-striking has been solid, but have struggled with the greens at my new club since moving to a great little coastal town of Rockport, Texas. And I lose my mental focus too many times in each round.

So, I hope you don’t mind me sharing with you this week that Sunday was the most glorious round of golf I’ve played since my 20s. Not only did I shoot my age, but I shattered that goal with a six-birdie, no-bogey 65 – a round of golf that was remarkably “easy” as I experienced it and as I look back on it.

And of course, being the analytical type that I am, I have spent time reflecting on just what happened to allow me to shoot the lowest score I’ve carded in over 40 years. I believe I have come to understand what caused the “magic” and want to share that with you this week. Maybe these tips can help some of you to a career round soon.

  1. One of my favorite movie lines comes from Mel Gibson in The Patriot, when he tells his young sons “aim small, miss small.” Because I had a guest who hadn’t played this course before, I was giving him very specific target lines off the tee. Instead of “the left side of the fairway,” I was pointing out “those two trees that make a ‘y,’” “that child’s playset in the back yard straight away.” And that made me focus on smaller targets, too. Sometimes, we can forget those things we know. Aim small, miss small.
  2. A new flatstick. Well, new to me anyway. I had not been putting very well, so I went to the bullpen and drew out one of my personal favorite putter designs. It’s a little Bullseye-inspired brass blade with some technology weighting; I designed it in the early 1990s for Ben Hogan, who marketed it as the Sure-In 1. The point is, sometimes a fresh look gives your putting new life.
  3. Stay in the moment. With every shot, I found myself more focused because of the guidance I was giving my friend, and that allowed me to stay more focused on each shot’s execution. I don’t recall any shot where my mind wandered.
  4. “See it. Feel it. Trust it.” Another line from a great golf book and movie, Golf’s Sacred Journey – Seven Days in Utopia. Robert Duvall’s Johnny character extolls our hero to do just that with every shot. And that’s what I was doing. Seeing the shot, feeling that I’ve hit it many times before, and trusting that I could do it again.

Thank you all for indulging me in telling my story of shooting my age. I’m sure this isn’t my “new normal,” but it was certainly lightning in a bottle for an afternoon. And as we all should from every good shot or good hole, or good round, I’m going to carry that feeling with me the best I can for as long as I can.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: A new way to line up your driver for center ball contact

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Fine-tune your driver and tighten up your impact and your dispersion with these awesome references.

 

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