|Have you ever wondered why you slice or hook the ball? Understanding why the ball goes a certain direction can allow you a better understanding of not only the swing, but also the equipment that you should use. This article is not designed to teach you the proper swing, rather illustrate why the ball goes where it does and explain several different terms that you might hear from fellow golfers or your local teaching professional.One of the fundamentals of the swing is the stance or how you are aligned to the ball relative to the target line. There are three different stances and each one can influence the swing path and ultimately the direction of the ball. The first is the easiest to understand and it is called a square stance or where the feet and hips are parallel to your target. A square stance will encourage a square impact. An open stance is where the front foot is dropped back away from the target line so the feet and hips are open to the target line. This type of stance encourages a swing path that comes from the outside to in. Finally, a closed stance is where the back foot is dropped back slightly away from the target line so the feet and hips are closed from the target line. The difference in terminology between a square and open stance is often misleading, so examine the diagram to gain a better image between the two stances. For left handed golfers, it would be a mirror image.Stance is important from initial part of the golf swing – the set up. The stance can encourage a specific type swing path but a golfer can manipulate the swing path with how the upper body twists in relationship to the hips. This game is hard enough without trying to understand all the sequences from the takeaway to impact. A good friend of mine summed up hitting the ball the best as he said “Simply hit the back of the ball with the front of the face”. Well it is slightly more complicated than that, but not far off. A straight shot occurs because the golfer hit the very back of the ball with the clubface square to the target. This is also described as a square path.An outside/in swing path occurs when the golfer hits the outside half of the ball. Granted it is not that far off from the back of the ball in most cases, but since the ball is round, impact is made maybe a dimple or two to the outer side of the equator of the ball. A severe outside/in path may be 6 or 8 degrees. As a point of reference go look at a clock. The target line for a RH golfer is a line drawn from the 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock position (or 15 and 45 minute marks). If a golfer struck the back side of the ball, they would have made contact with the 15 minute mark. If contact was made at the 14 minute mark, this would represent the same angle into the ball as a 6° outside/in swing path.
An inside/out swing path is where impact is made on the inside half of the ball. In our clock example, a 6° inside/out path would be the equivalent of making impact at the 16 minute mark. You can see how it becomes easier to hit the inside of the ball with a closed stance just the same as being able to hit the outside half of the ball with an open stance.
The face angle of the club at impact can either be square to the target, open (pointed right of the target for a right-handed golfer) or closed (pointed left of the target for a right-handed golfer). For left handed golfers, the opposite will occur at impact.
The direction is initially dictated by the face angle at impact but any side spin is controlled by the path of the swing. A square path results in no side spin. An inside/out path creates a draw spin, while an outside/in path creates a slice spin. Probably the best image can be found if you ever played ping pong and watched how the ball curved when cutting across the ball at different angles. Another important consideration is the harder the ball is hit at the same given loft the more side spin will result. Also, the greater the difference between the swing path and the target line, the greater the spin rate will be as well.
As a recap, there are three swing paths that the club face can come into the ball, plus there are three different face angles the club can be at impact relative to the target line. This combines to form 9 different ball flight pattern possibilities that can occur at impact.
Let’s look at a diagram of each of the 9 different possibilities individually to understand what can occur on a center shot. Each of the different scenarios are based on a 100 mph swing speeds and the approximate position of the ball is where the ball lands on the fly without any roll. All the numbers on the grid represent yards and the green shaded area is the width of an average fairway (32 yards wide).
Let’s start out with the easiest one and that is the straight shot. Regardless of the speed of the golfer, the ball will land on this same line. However this is a clinic approach as it is nearly impossibly to hit the ball with a perfectly square face and a path that is perfectly square as well. By limiting the face angle and path to factions of a degree from perfectly square, the result can still be considered a straight shot as the direction left or right of the target and any side spin will be minimal.
Diagram B shows examples of a Push-Slice where the path may be square, but the face is open at impact. This starts the ball to the right (RH golfer) with slice spin. Even where the face is only 2° open, it is enough to miss an average fairway width right for a golfer with approximately 90 mph or more.
Diagram C is the opposite of the push-slice just discussed called the Pull-Hook. The hook spin comes from the outside/in path which results the ball going to the left (RH golfer). Again, as little margin as 2° can result into a missed fairway.
Diagram D starts the scenario in which the path comes from the outside/in. With a square face, the result is a Pull, basically a straight shot just going in the wrong direction. Because the path is face is square, no side spin is incurred to further influence the ball flight. Up to 4° outside/in may still keep the ball in the fairway for most golfers.
Diagram E represents a Fade ball flight. A fade occurs when the path is outside/in, but the face angle is open. For a RH golfer a fade will be a situation where the ball goes from left to right. In some cases a fade is good and end up at the intended target and in other cases can completely miss a fairway or green depending upon how many degrees outside/in the path is in relationship to how open the face and the payer’s clubhead speed. For more skilled golfers, they intentionally fade the ball to “work” it around a particular hazard or shape the shot to a specific position on the green. The caption below the diagram shows three different scenarios and underscored the difference in the different types of fades: pull-slice or a push-slice.
Diagram F illustrates a Pull-Hook where that path is outside/in and with a closed face. When severe, this is commonly called a “duck hook”. Rarely will a pull-hook stay in a normal sized fairway or on a green except for those with very slow swing speeds.
Diagram G is the first to illustrate the different scenarios when an inside/out swing path is present. In this case the face is square resulting into a Push. Again, this is a straight shot just going in the wrong direction. Because the path is face is square, no side spin is incurred to further influence the ball flight. Up to 4° outside/in may still keep the ball in the fairway for most golfers.
Diagram H is a Push-Slice or where the face is open at impact causing the push. In addition the inside/out path creates slice spin making the ball go further to the right (RH golfer). This is the opposite of the pull-hook, but the result is the same; the ball rarely remains in the fairway or on the green. The difference between this and a fade is the path, although both are hit with open faces. In both cases if the face severely open can result into the ball going to the adjacent fairway or beyond. But in the fade, the golfer aims further left by opening the stance and hitting the outside of the ball.
The last illustration is a Draw. Diagram I shows this occurs when the path is inside/out and the face is closed. For a RH golfer, the ball starts right and curves back left. Where the ball lands is the relationship between how many degrees inside/out the path plus the number of degrees the face is closed along with the swing speed and loft. When the swing speed is reduce or the loft increase (as in the case with higher lofted irons), the curvature is reduced. For more skilled golfers, they intentionally draw the ball or “work” it around a particular hazard or shape the shot to a specific position on the green. The caption below the diagram shows three different scenarios and underscored the difference in the different types of draws: push-hook or a pull-hook.
These are the 9 different situations that can occur on center shots with the three swing path and face angle possibilities each. Be aware that ball flight can be more complex than this when you factor in the further possibilities of hitting out toward the toe or heel or high or low on the clubface. But we will leave that for another article. But hopefully you get a better understanding or appreciation on why your ball goes the way it does.
Jeff Summitt has been clubfitting custom golf clubs for over 20 years. Call him toll-free on the Hireko technical support line at 800-942-5872.