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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: VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft review and a big golf week for me!

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This week is a big golf week — playing in a member invitational! Got the bag sorted out and there are 14 clubs that I am going to live or die on the course with. I have been hitting the new VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft and am very impressed. A great counterbalanced option with a mid-low launch and low spin.

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Opinion & Analysis

Book review: The Golf Lover’s Guide To England

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There is this notion in the British isles, completely foreign to America, that states that visitors shall have access to all but a smallish passel of private clubs. In abject contrast, the finest clubs of the USA do their level best to keep their gates closed to both the riff and the raff, neither of which is nearly as detrimental to their continuity as some fearful members might believe. In this era of the database, would it be that hard to allow a visitor access once in her/his/their lifetime to Cypress Point, or Friar’s Head, or Prairie Dunes? Into the database their GHIN number would go, and if said individual were fortunate enough to win the lottery for a coveted golden ticket, err, tee time, that would be it for all time. I digress, however, as that rant is not the purpose of this book review.

The Golf Lover’s Guide To England, written and compiled by Michael Whitehead, lists 33 elite golf clubs across that country, divided into four regions, which are further divided into nine districts. Each of these clubs would be identified as unlikely in the USA, but is certainly accessible in England. The short story is: this nearly-pocket-sized compendium should accompany any traveler of golfing purpose, as it is invaluable for understanding the ins and outs of making contact, locating courses, and learning of their nature and history. The long story goes quite a bit deeper.

Michael Whitehead has the forethought to organize his works (Scotland was his first TGLGT volume) in meticulous fashion. The volume opens with a colorful map of the targeted country, complete with numbered flags to identify each of the courses reviewed within. The entire book explodes with wondrous colors, both in page background and course photography, and heightens the sensory experience of its study.

A delightful touch is the location of the Acknowledgements section in the front of the book. Typically relegated to one of the final pages that we skip past, before closing the cover, this is not the case here. Whitehead recognizes the invaluable assistance of his supporting cast, and situates them front and center. Good for you, Mr. Whitehead.

A brief history of the game in England is followed by the first of the four (North, Midlands & East Anglia, South East, South West) regions. The most populous of these is the South East, and we will use it to break down the districts. Five courses occupy an unnamed, scattered district. Five more are situated in the Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt, and four of those sites offer 36 holes on property. A final three fit into the Kent Coast district, and one of them has 27 holes within its confines. Thus it goes throughout the other three regions, albeit at a less-frenetic pace.

Moving along, each of the 33 seminal courses is granted six pages for description and assessment. Whitehead assigns color-coded price guides to each course, ranging from the up-to-49-British-Pounds entry point to the over-200-British-Pounds stratum. He also offers seasonal stratification, identifying the High (expensive) season, the Shoulder (mid-range) seasons, and the Low (economic) season. To facilitate contact with the club, Whitehead does his level best to provide online, email, and telephone booking options for each of the clubs. He adds in area courses of interest, in case the reader/traveler is confined to a specific locale. What more could one need, in advance of the golf trip of a lifetime?

For starters, one might wish to know a bit more about the course. Mr. Whitehead goes into the distances of teeing grounds, the need (or not) for a handicap certificate, the availability of caddies and rentals (push cart, electric push cart, clubs and motorized carts), the dress code, and (if any) tee time restrictions. In other words, any botched planning falls squarely on the shoulders of the golfer. Michael Whitehead has led the horse to the trough, filled it with water, and essentially dunked the equine mouth in the aqueous substance.

I’ve a friend who hates to know anything about a course he has yet to play. Attempt to mention any facet of the course and his response is a loud and grating LA-LA-LA-LA-LA, ad infinitum or until you cease your attempt at enlightenment. For the rest of us sane travelers, a bit of back story about the property, the architect, and the laying out of the course adds to the anticipation. As an architecture aficionado, I base the majority of my trips around the works of the golden-age architects, here in the USA. If afforded the opportunity to travel to England, I would seek out the works of Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie, Herbert Fowler, and their contemporaries. Thankfully, all of this information is listed in Whitehead’s thorough volume.

The old carpenter’s motto of measure twice and cut once can certainly be applied when considering a purchase of this volume. Abandon its opportunity and you risk a return trip to the lumber yard, at considerable expense. Take advantage of what it has to offer, and your trip’s chances at success are doubled at the very least.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: What’s your target score?

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Without a target score, you are just wandering in the field like a feather in the wind. The North Star for your mindset starts with a target score!

 

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