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Curved or straight? How should you hit the golf ball

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When you hit the golf ball close to the hole and have a short birdie putt, we call that positive variance. When you hit a less than ideal shot that curves into the woods, we call that negative variance. They both represent the same thing, a change in the average or normal outcome. With that said, almost every first coaching experience begins with an athlete wanting to become more consistent, but once shown how consistently they curve the ball, they quickly change their answer to wanting the ball to land closer to the hole on average.

There are only two ways to help the golfer. Either change the motion pattern to produce a different ball flight that better matches their intent, or help the athlete better understand their pattern and learn to use this consistency to their advantage when it comes to the formation of their strategy for maneuvering the golf ball around the course safely. Both options are valid with one requiring more “work” in the short-term than the other.

Is there a way in which we could use both strategies to improve performance faster, you bet! This is where we learn that aiming the face of the club head exactly at your target and expecting the ball to have zero curvature is an option, but probably not a likely outcome. Therefore, if we know the ball is likely to have some curvature, then we want to make sure that the ball is always curving towards the target, and not away from the target line and towards trouble.

Keep in mind you don’t hit it solid and straight when you hit it out-of-bounds and into the hazard, you hook and slice it into the out-of-bounds and the hazard, therefore learning to minimize curvature is the easiest way for a golfer to improve their score and save money on golf balls.

The Nine Ball Flights from a Physics Perspective

In general, we can swing the golf club head in three directions; left of target (out-to-in), at the target (square-to-square), or right of the target (in-to-out). Similarly, we can only point the face of the club head in three directions; left of the target, at the target, or right of the target. Understanding that we can swing the club head and point the face of the club head in different directions at the same time is key and explains why curvature happens.

If you assume center contact between the golf ball and the club head, the only thing the golf ball is aware of is which direction the club head is traveling in, and in which direction the club face is pointing. Transitioning away from a linear model of the golf swing motion, we now understand that angular momentum is needed to create maximum speed, and when we apply angular momentum (the club head torquing about the mid-hand point) we introduce “twisting” of the club head face about the club shaft. This “twisting” causes a separation between the direction the club head is moving in and the direction the club head face is pointing.

If the direction of the club head (Club Path) and the direction the club head face is pointing (Face Angle) are equal, assuming centered contact between the club head and the golf ball, the ball will fly straight with zero curvature. If the direction of the club head (Club Path) and the direction the club head face points are not equal, the ball will curve.

“The Face Sends It, And The Path Bends It” -Unkown

Assuming centered contact, the golf ball will always curve the opposite direction relative to the direction the club head is moving in (Club Path). Therefore, if you have your club head moving “in-to-out” by five degrees (+) with a club head face pointing (Face Angle) directly at your target (zero degrees), the golf ball will start fairly straight and then curve to the left (away from rightward club path).

The opposite of this is also true. If the club head is moving “out-to-in” by negative five degrees (-) (Club Path) with a club head face pointing (Face Angle) directly at your target (zero degrees), the golf ball will start fairly straight and then curve to the right (away from the leftward club path).

Shallow/Steep | Fade/Slice |Draw/Hook

As learned from Dr. Kwon, the golf club head only travels on an inclined “plane” from mid-downswing to mid-follow through. What determines the pitch of that “plane” has to do with the Biomechanics and the relationships within the human anatomy. Using Mike Adams definitions, a Side-Cover style athlete is going to have a “steeper” or more upright pitched “plane” meaning that the club head (Club Path) will be traveling more leftward at impact. This will tend to produce a more downward decent into the golf ball (Attack Angle). A Side-Under style athlete is going to have a “shallower” or flatter pitched “plane” meaning that the club head (Club Path) will be traveling more rightward at impact. This will tend to produce a shallower descent into the golf ball (Attack Angle). A Side-On Style athlete is going to have a more “neutral” pitched plane meaning that the club head (Club Path) will be very neutral at impact. This will tend to produce a more “average” decent into the golf ball (Attack Angle).

When Does a Fade Become a Slice and Vice Versa?

When the golf ball crosses the target line and begins to curve away from the target, either curving leftward or rightward of the target-line, then it goes from being classified as a draw/fade to a hook/slice. For example, if you line up “straight” at your target and start the golf ball 20-feet left of your intended target line, and it begins to curve back towards the target line, as it curves the amount of lateral dispersion between begins to diminish. The entire time the golf ball is curving towards the target line the “gap” between where the ball started, and the target line decreases. In this example the golf ball is curving rightward and if that golf ball should curve right of the target line while still in the air, it has become a slice and is now increasing the amount of lateral dispersion until the golf ball comes to rest.

Pattern vs. Straight

Without getting into “rabbit-hole” Biomechanics conversations about immobilizing joint segments, we are equipped with wrist that are capable of three translational movements and three torques which creates six degrees of freedom. We also need to create acceleration and force which will require angular momentum to create maximum distance. With that said, we are going to be introducing twist about the handle which will cause the club head face (Face Angle) to rotate open during the backswing and will require “closing” during the downswing.

Due to the rotation of the club face about the club shaft, there becomes an element of timing to having the club head face (Face Angle) equal to the direction the club head is traveling (Club Path) consistently. As Humans, and not machines we have to be willing to accept a certain amount of variance in our movements. It is impossible for a Human Being with as much variation as we have to repeat the same motion time after time consistently. Therefore, attempting to create zero curvature on every shot becomes a very elusive goal and tends to make golf very difficult.

If we are attempting to hit the golf ball with the center of the club head face, create a club head movement (Club Path) of zero degrees or “straight”, and point the club head face (Face Angle) directly at your target (zero degrees), more often than not, you are going to be unaware of which way the ball is going to curve on “non-perfect” golf shots creating a two-way miss.

There are two reasons for this, one is gear-effect which is another conversation, and the second reason is due to human variance. One swing, you may accidentally rotate the club face closed relative to the club path and the ball curves leftward, on another swing, you may have learned from your previous mistake and now you leave the face open relative to the club path and the ball curves rightward.

By Owning YOUR Curve, YOU Can Eliminate the Double Cross!

“Square” is a relative term. If we understand that a contributing factor to the “shallowness/steepness” of the golf swing is the relationship that exist which would be the between the overall height of the athlete and the wingspan of the athlete, for example if the athlete has a wingspan that exceeds their height, the hands will move more away from the center of the body as the hands make the backswing. This will in turn create less hand path “depth” and the athlete will tend to have a more leftward Club Path and a more deciding strike into the ball (Attack Angle). The opposite would also be true for an athlete having a wingspan less than their height, with the hands traveling more around the body during the backswing and swinging more rightward (Club Path) with a “shallower” Attack Angle.

Armed with the knowledge that we are going to swing it either leftward, rightward, or square-to-square, we now can begin to understand where our club head face (Face Angle) needs to be at impact to get the ball to start opposite of the intended curvature. As mentioned earlier, attempting to always have the Face Angle return to zero degrees at impact and getting the golf ball to land near the target is going to be very difficult for a Human Being to accomplish consistently. Therefore, moving them away from a “linear” approach and into a “pattern” approach becomes much easier to accomplish and produces the results wanted more consistently.

Once the Club Path (combination of Swing Direction and Attack Angle) is understood from an individual Biomechanics perspective, we can create a strategy that aligns with how we are designed to move. For example, an athlete has a wingspan that exceeds their height, will create a more “negative” or leftward Club Path at impact. Understanding that the “path bends it” and assuming centered contact between the club head and the golf ball, the ball is generally going to curve rightward (away from the club path). This means that we will need the golf ball to start or launch leftward of the target. Understanding that Face Angle is the first touch point of the golf ball and represents the majority of the factor that will indicate where the golf ball will start in time and space, it now becomes paramount that the club head face (Face Angle) returns “closed” relative to the target line.

Face Angle is a measurement of where the club head face is pointed relative to “square”, which is determined by the position of the Launch Monitor relative to the Target. Face-to-Path is a calculation of the relationship between where the club head face is pointing (Face Angle) and the direction the club head is moving (Club Path). With that said, if we have a leftward Club Path and the club head face (Face Angle) is “closed” relative to the target line, the Face Angle can still be “open” relative to the Club Path which will create a positive Face to Path relationship.

Creating the patterns becomes much simpler due to the simplified approach. If you are determined to create a more leftward pattern from a Biomechanics perspective, then creating a leftward Club Path must be accompanied by a matching “closed” Club Face relative to the target line, and an “open” or positive (+) Face to Path relationship. An athlete wanting to draw the golf ball would need a more “shallow” or rightward Club Path with a matching “open” Face Angle, and a negative (-) Face to Path relationship assuming centered contact.

Consistency Through Built in Margin of Error

Keeping with the idea of creating a pattern when we discuss error, the error becomes much smaller, and it becomes easier to eliminate one of the “misses”. For example, an athlete that is predetermined to make a “shallower” club head path from a Biomechanics perspective will understand that the Face Angle needs to be “open” relative to the target line to match their naturally occurring rightward Club Path. Therefore, if they should swing a little too far rightward, assuming centered contact and the face remains “open” relative to the target line the ball may Hook (cross the target line) some but is still a very manageable miss. This pattern is easy to manage as long as the athlete stays aware that Club Path or Face Angle becoming leftward not only doesn’t fit their Biomechanics, but also produces the worst outcome.

In conclusion, while attempting to create a zero-curvature golf shot can be accomplished, over a large enough sample size is going to produce very few occurrences due to the variable nature of the Human. Also, by understanding the geometric relationships within the golf swing, we can curve the golf ball either way and still maintain efficiency and speed production. While playing from the middle of the fairway is always going to be a great position, it is also important to be able to have a good chance of landing in the fairway/on the green while taking the obstacle that leads to a higher score completely out of play. 

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Graduating from the Professional Golf Management program at Eastern Kentucky University, Michael started his professional career as an Assistant Golf Professional. After a brief hiatus from the industry, Michael began to teach golf part-time at the Kendall Academy where Dave Kendall helped Michael find his true calling and passion in life. In addition to being exposed to Trackman, Michael was also exposed to Scott Hayes and “The Golfing Machine”. Scott Hayes was paramount in exposing Michael to the “science of golf” which has consumed him ever since. Without knowing the difference between kinetics and kinematics, Michael knew that there was a piece to the puzzle that was missing and quickly added his first set of force plates to go along with his Trackman. The force plates immediately unlocked the world of ground reaction forces and Biomechanics which led Michael into the BioSwing Dynamics group including Mike Adams, E.A. Tischler, Terry Rowles, etc. Getting a crash course into how the anatomy affects the motion of the golf swing, as well as how the forces and torques are acting on the anatomy gave Michael the piece to the puzzle that he had been missing all along. Michael wanted to create a performance training environment where everything was measured and quantified, and opinions didn’t matter. In November of 2020, Measured Golf opened for business. In addition to coaching athletes of all skill levels, Michael also works with several tour players and serves as an Advisory Board member to Swing Catalyst. Michael also consults and works with several other industry leading technology companies and continues to attend and present at education events around the world.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. lambs

    May 1, 2022 at 4:30 am

    I’m going to hang myself…straight !!!

  2. Bob

    Apr 30, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    Cliff’s Notes:

    Everybody needs to have and know their preferred curve. If you draw the ball, aim at the right side of the fairway. If it draws, you are in the middle of the fairway. If you hit it straight, you are on the right side of the fairway. Vice versa for a preferred fade.

    Very simple.

    If you hook or slice, quit.

    • Acemandrake

      Apr 30, 2022 at 6:05 pm

      True. I play a fade & my “miss” is a straight ball.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: A Tale of Two Misses

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It seems like I somewhat “touched a nerve” with last week’s post ‘A Defense of Blades’, based on the scoring you all gave my take on that controversial topic.

I do appreciate it when you take the time to score your reaction to my work, as it keeps me tuned in to what you really want me to pontificate about. Before I get into today’s topic, I request that any of you who have a subject you’d like me to address please drop me an email at [email protected], OK?

So, in somewhat of a follow-up to last week, let’s talk today about misses. Those too frequent shots that move your scores in the wrong direction.

Early in my life, I was always part of “the group” of low-handicap players who had various kinds of “money games”, but that put me in touch only with other low-handicap players who were highly competitive. Just as I was getting fully engaged in the golf equipment industry in the early 1980s, I was blessed to be a part of a group at my club called “The Grinders”. We had standing tee times every day…so if you could get away, you played. There were about 35-40 of us who might show up, with as many as 6-7 groups going off on Fridays and Saturdays.

These guys sported handicaps from scratch to 20, and we threw up balls to see how we were paired, so for twenty years, I had up close and personal observation of a variety of “lab rats.”

This let me observe and study how many different ways there were to approach the game and how many different kinds of mishits could happen in a round of golf. As a golf industry marketer and club designer, I couldn’t have planned it any better.

So back to a continuation of the topic of last week, the type of irons you choose to play should reflect the kinds of misses you are hoping to help. And the cold, hard truth is this:

We as golf club designers, engineers and fitters, can only do so much to help the outcome of any given shot.

Generally, mishits will fall into two categories – the “swing miss” and the “impact miss”.

Let’s start with the former, as it is a vast category of possibilities.

The “swing miss” occurs when the swing you made never had a chance of producing the golf shot you had hoped to see. The clubhead was not on a good path through impact, and/or the clubface was not at all square to the target line. This can produce any number of outcomes that are wildly wrong, such as a cold skull of the ball, laying the sod over it, hard block to the right (for a right-hand player), smother hook…I think you get the point.

The smaller swing misses might be a draw that turns over a bit too much because you rotated through impact a bit aggressively or a planned draw that doesn’t turn over at all because you didn’t. Or it could be the shot that flies a bit too high because you released the club a bit early…or much too low because you had your hands excessively ahead of the clubhead through impact.

The swing miss could be simply that you made a pretty darn good swing, but your alignment was not good, or the ball position was a bit too far forward in your swing…or too far back. Basically, the possible variations of a “swing miss” are practically endless and affect tour pros and recreational golfers alike.

The cruel fact is that most recreational golfers do not have solid enough swing mechanics or playing disciplines to deliver the clubhead to the ball in a consistent manner. It starts with a fundamentally sound hold on the club. From there, the only solution is to make a commitment to learn more about the golf swing and your golf swing and embark on a journey to become a more consistent striker of the golf ball. I would suggest that this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the game and encourage anyone who loves golf to go down this path.

But today’s post is about “mishits”, so let’s move on the other and much smaller category of misses…the “impact miss”. As a 40-year golf club designer, this is the world in which I function and, unfortunately, to which I am limited.

The “impact miss” is when most of the elements of the swing pretty much fall into place, so that the club is delivered pretty accurately to the ball…on the right path…face square to the target line at impact…but you miss the sweet spot of the club by just a bit.

Finding ways of getting better results out of those mishits is the singular goal of the entire golf club industry.

Big drivers of today are so much more forgiving of a 1/8 to ½ inch miss than even drivers of a decade ago, it’s crazy. Center strikes are better, of course, with our fast faces and Star Wars technology, but the biggest value of these big drivers is that your mishits fly much more like a perfect hit than ever before. In my own launch monitor testing of my current model driver to an old Reid Lockhart persimmon driver of the mid-1990s, I see that dead center hits are 20-25 yards different, but mishits can be as far as 75-80 yards apart, the advantage obviously going to the modern driver.

The difference is not nearly as striking with game improvement irons versus a pure forged one-piece blade. If the lofts and other specs are the same, the distance a pure strike travels is only a few yards more with the game improvement design, but a slight mishit can see that differential increase to 12-15 yards. But, as I noted in last week’s article, this difference tends to reduce as the lofts increase. Blades and GI irons are much less different in the 8- and 9-irons than in the lower lofts.

This has gotten a bit longer than usual, so how about I wrap up this topic next week with “A Tale of Two Misses – Part 2”? I promise to share some robotic testing insights that might surprise you.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: World Long Drive! Go Mu!

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In this week’s podcast we discuss Wisdom In Golf Premium, new ways to help and fun talk about rules and etiquette.

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Opinion & Analysis

Vincenzi: How the 2022 Presidents Cup actually grew the game

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As fall approached, the world of professional golf was drowning in a sea of continuous division and animosity.

The Presidents Cup, which should have been a silver lining in the most tumultuous time in the history of the sport, had suddenly become a pasquinade.

The Internationals had always been an underdog and had just one win in fourteen tries against the Americans.

In 2019, the scrappy Internationals led by Ernie Els gave the United States team led by Tiger Woods all that they could handle at Royal Melbourne. The United States retained the cup, winning the competition 16–14, but the Els’ team fought to the end. The future was bright for professional golf on the world stage.

In 2022, things were different. The Internationals had just lost arguably their two best players in Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann, plus a handful of other Presidents Cup shoe-ins including Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer.

The International players who had joined the controversial LIV Golf series were deemed ineligible to participate in the competition, which resulted in the decimation of what should have been a deep and competitive team of Internationals. By the time the event started, the United States had ballooned to a -900 favorite.

One phrase that’s been repeated ad nauseum over the past few months has been “grow the game”.

After a bleak opening few days at the Presidents Cup, we caught a glimpse of what “growing the game” looked like over the weekend.

There are plenty of ways to potentially grow the game of golf. One of those ways unfolded in real time at Quail Hollow thanks in part to a spirited group of Asian golfers who refused to let their team go quietly into the night.

First, there was the budding superstar, Tom Kim.

Kim scored two points for the Internationals, but the impact he had on the event dwarfed his point total. The South Korean hijacked the event with his charisma, energy and determination to help his team succeed. Golf fans were treated to memorable moment after memorable moment whenever the 20-year-old was on their television screen.

Kim had already had a handful of moments that will live in our memories for many Presidents Cups to come, but the most memorable came on the 18th hole of Saturday’s afternoon foursomes. Facing a seemingly invincible duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Kim put a 2-iron to less than six feet of the hole. He then sunk the clutch putt to knock off the fourth and fifth ranked players in the world.

Tom wasn’t the only “Kim” to leave a lasting impact at the 2022 Presidents Cup. Fellow South Korean Si Woo Kim had his share of memorable moments as well.

Going into Sunday singles, the Internationals were trailing 11-7 and in need of a historic day. Typically, the trailing team will “frontload” their best players to attempt a comeback. When United States captain Davis Love III called the name of Justin Thomas to lead off in the first match of the day, many expected the international team captain Trevor Immelmann to call the name of Hideki Matsuyama or Adam Scott. Instead, he called the name of Si Woo Kim.

Si Woo did not disappoint. Kim took out the de-facto leader of the United States team 1-up. The 27-year-old didn’t shy away from the spotlight, and matched Thomas both in his ability to sink clutch putts and to bring energy with his animated style of play.

Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim provided some of the most memorable moments of the Presidents Cup, but it’s Sungjae Im who’s been the best player for the Internationals in both 2019 and 2022.

Back in 2019, Sungjae tied with Abraham Ancer for the leading points scorer (3.5) for the Internationals during their narrow defeat in Australia. He was a rookie then, but this year he was depended upon to go against some on the United States best teams and delivered, scoring 2.5 points and knocking off young American star Cameron Young in their singles match.

As influential as the performances by the trio of South Koreans were, the overall impact of Asian golfers cannot be discussed without mentioning Hideki Matsuyama.

The 2021 Masters Champion has long been rumored to be interested in joining LIV Golf, but he was at Quail Hollow competing alongside his International teammates.

Stars were born at the 2022 Presidents Cup, but Matsuyama has been “growing the game” for what feels like a lifetime. Labeled from an early age as the savior for Japanese golf, Hideki has delivered time and time again. The former young prodigy has slowly but surely turned into a pillar of global golf and leader of the Internationals.

After a slow start, Hideki was able to grind out a win and a tie to help the Internationals remain competitive throughout the weekend.

While the Internationals were eventually defeated 17.5-12.5, a more important mission that cannot be measured by wins and losses was undoubtedly accomplished.

Amongst all of the turmoil and strife in the world golf, it’s easy to forget how much the game means to so many people.

Countless young golfers across the world went to bed on Sunday night and dreamt of being the next Tom Kim, Si Woo Kim or Hideki Matsuyama.

That sounds like an excellent way to “grow the game”.

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