Angle of Approach – A Game of What Ifs

Angle of approach (or also attack) is a term used to describe the swing plane of a golfer and is dependant upon the position of the ball relative to the arc of the clubface. As mentioned in another article, an ascending angle of attack is an upward swing into the ball. The only time this should occur is if the ball is elevated off of the ground, such as on a tee or the ball sitting high up in fluffy grass or if the ball is positioned on an incline forward of the center of your stance. For this reason, I like the term angle of approach better in this situation. The driver is almost exclusively teed up when in use, therefore deciding on the proper loft driver is very important to obtain the most distance possible with you strength and ability. In order to explain why, we will use some illustrations as well as advanced software to generate the data.

Since we are not robots, each golfer will have a slight change in their angle of approach (or attack) into the ball. Part of the reason is that when we address the ball, we may stand slightly further away or closer to the ball and the ball may be more forward or back in the stance. When you factor in the ball will be teed at different heights because of the human effort of placing the tee in the ground of various firmness, you can appreciate or understand why we don’t always hit the ball the same height or direction each time. Therefore, fitting is based many times on tendencies more so than absolutes.One tendency of most male golfers is to purchase a driver in a narrow range of lofts. The most common of which is 10.5°. Diagram 1 illustrates the launch angle of three 10.5° drivers. I should qualify that statement as a driver that has a loft of 10.5° and a 0° square face angle and of which, the club is returned to this same 0° square position at impact.
In addition, the impact position occurs in the center of the face with the center of gravity of the head approximately level with the center of gravity or equator of the ball. Impacts made either high or low, toward the heel or toe will make the clubhead unduly twisting causing a loss of energy and distance.In addition, any side spin produced by the different swing paths / face angle combinations will reduce theses numbers as well. It would be nearly impossible to explain every given scenario possible. Therefore we simply want to show the clinical application of angle of attack or approach with a driver.

Even with a level angle of attack, the launch angle of the ball coming off of the face will be lower than the actual loft of the club as some of the energy is deflected upward due to the loft. The interesting part is if the golfer has a 2° descending angle of attack, it de-lofts the club by the same amount of degrees. Conversely, a 2° ascending angle of approach adds the same amount of effective loft. By simply creating a 2° descending angle of attack as opposed to a 2° ascending angle of approach, 19 yards difference in carry distance can occur at 95 mph.

In Diagram 2, we normalized the lofts of each driver with the different
angles of attack so that the launch angle would be the same. A 2° ascending angle of approach with a 10.5° driver (top) theoretically would produce the same launch angle as a level angle of attack with a 13° loft (middle) as well as a 2° descending angle of attack with a 15.5° loft (bottom). Manufacturers are just now starting to offer more of a wider range of driver lofts to accommodate the different angles of attack that are common amongst golfers instead of the one-size-fits-all offerings of the past. Now it is possible to get a proper lofted driver for your natural angle of attack rather than changing your swing or set up in order to hit the ball more efficiently.

It is important to realize though that even if the initial launch angles are the same at the same given swing speed and a centered impact, that the carry distances will be slightly different. The reason for this has to do with the vector forces as energy is transferred from the club into the ball. The higher lofted driver will produce an initial ball speed that is slightly lower due to the obliqueness of the impact, plus the spin rate will be higher. This is why most instructors will advocate hitting up toward the ball with a driver.

But as you can see in this example, if the individual golfer continues to have a descending angle of attack, increasing the loft (10.5° to 15.5°) in this situation does help increase the carry distance by 10 yards with no other change made other than loft.

Driver Launch Conditions at 95 mph

Loft Angle of Attack Launch Angle Ball Speed Spin Rate Carry Distance
10.5° 2° Up 11.3° 139 mph 2770 rpm 218.7 yds
13° Level 11.3° 138 mph 3419 rpm 217.8 yds
15.5° 2° Down 11.2° 136 mph 4062 rpm 210.2 yds

With the increasing access and availability to launch montors at numerous shops across the country, golfer are better able to see more accurately
(with quantative data) why a particular loft might be better suited to
their swing. For golfers with abnormally high or low trajectories this
may very well be caused by let than perfect swings. But in the case of
a semi-repeatable swing, fine-tuning the loft for each indivual golfer
can improve efficiencies. Hopefully this explanation of angle of approach
(attack) provides a better insight into why you might need a different
loft the the customary 10.5° found on most men’s drivers today.

5 comments

  1. [...] and very thorough articles on: 1.  Angle of Attack – Why One Golf Club Does Not Fit All 2. Golf Club Angle of Approach – A Game of What Ifs Jeff has been researching clubhead design for over 20 years and these articles represent his [...]

  2. mark says:

    This article does not print out correctly either.

  3. Raghu says:

    Hi Jeff,
    It seems that with all things like being equal, most improvement in distance can be obtained from increasing the angle of attack. Should one practice in the range with a lower lofted driver than their standard loft to improve their angle of attack? Hopefully the lower lofted driver will force one to hit it higher and at same time decrease the spin rate

  4. Jeff Summitt says:

    Raghu:

    You have to be disciplined to be able to tee the ball higher, further forward and still be able to hit the ball straight. Not everybody is capable of making that swing change and not effecting other parts of their game. I have read in several places how some of the best golfers on the PGA Tour have a negative angle of attack with their driver and they are perfectly happy with their results, even though they may be leaving some distance on the table.

  5. Dante Bellizzi says:

    This is a great article. Really like it.

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