The Truth About Ball Flight

Why things happen the way they do in the golf swing

By now, you've probably seen and heard a fair share of video commentaries on the golf swing, notably, those midround reviews of Tour players during tournament broadcasts. You know, the ones shot with high-speed cameras that come with audio commentaries from commentators and instructors articulating what the viewer is seeing on screen. Those swing analyses are always my favorite part about watching a golf telecast, not so much because I learn about a player's swing. I'm also about to give some more in-depth critical thinking and reasoning to what I see and hear.

Here's the rub, folks. No disrespect to those who conduct those swing analyses on television, but sometimes what you hear and what you see isn't actually the truth behind what's happening on screen. You see, a slow-motion swing certainly shows a lot. I actually like using slow-motion with my lessons. But what a slow-motion camera doesn't show is why things happen the way they do in the golf swing. Even slowed down, you can't see things with the human eye that a TrackMan can see. "What things?" you ask. Turn the page to find out.

MYTH: CURING A SLICE MEANS YOU HAVE TO SHUT THE FACE AT IMPACT

How many of you have heard this one before? "To fix a slice, you have to square or close your clubface at impact." I'm here to tell you that if you've been on the receiving end of such advice, you've been fed some bad medicine! The reality is this: The angle of the face is the primary indicator for the initial direction the ball is going to fly. So, yes, you do want to have some control over how the face is aligned at impact. But shutting it closed isn't necessarily the right course of action. You can sometimes square that clubface perfectly with the target at impact, or even have a closed clubface at impact, and still hit a big, nasty slice! I'll bet the real problem with your slice is that the path your clubhead travels on is too much from outside-to-inside the target line. Squaring or closing the face at impact will only add some initial leftward ballflight to your shot, but it will do little to counteract your slice if you don't fix your big, outside-to-inside swingpath first. And in the rare occasion where attempting to square your face at impact actually happens, what kind of shot do you usually hit? That's right, a dead pull to the left. Sound familiar?

So what's the right way to fix a slice with your driver? Start learning to swing the club more from inside your target line to outside the target line. That's one of the most important steps to killing a slice! It's not in flipping the hands over, like so many instructors have maybe inadvertently told you. The goal in slice-fixing is to get the ball to have less backspin tilt to the right (sidespin is actually backspin on a tilt, folks), and doing that requires you to swing the club from inside-out with a clubface angle that's slightly closed relative to that path.

Did you catch that last part? Don't worry, the next page explains what clubface angle is all about and just how much it matters.

_È_DON'T FLIP THE HANDS At some point in the swing, your hands will, in fact, release. But forcing your hands to flip over is never a good idea because it leads to all sorts of inconsistent shot directions and ballflights. Also, any manipulating of a free-flowing swing is a detriment to your ability to swing the club freely on an arc. Instead, I want you to be more aware of how your body is turning through the shot and use your body to influence the direction the golf ball flies, not necessarily the hands.

When I see a lot of hand action in some of my students, it's usually because they're trying to manipulate their ballflight. That's a big no-no!

TRUTH: ALIGN THE CLUBFACE WHERE YOU WANT THE BALL TO START

The truth in slice-fixing (or hook-fixing, for the matter) is understanding what actually happens at the moment of truth. As I alluded to on the previous page, the clubface is what primarily determines the initial direction the ball flies. The path is what influences the spin axis to either the left or right, meaning, you can easily hit slices and hooks with a square clubface relative to the target line at impact. I know, I've seen many of my students do it over and over again.

Here's another way to look at it. The relationship the clubface has with the path the clubhead travels on is of utmost importance. To hit a fade, which starts to the left of the target and curves to the right, you have to align the clubface to the left of the target and swing on a path that's even more to the left! So many times, I've seen people assume they need to align their clubface open to the target line and swing across it from outside-inside the target line. When you do that, what do you think happens? Yep, a lot of push slices and hosel rockets.

In order to hit a fade, for instance, what I want you to do is always start by aligning the clubface so it's aiming where you want the ball to start, which in this case is left of the target. Then, you need to make sure the path of the clubhead is further to the left than the face is aligned. And, get this, even though the clubface is open to the path, it's closed relative to the target line!

That, folks, is one of the biggest misconceptions I've seen from golfers who struggle with shaping their shots. To hit a draw, you basically do the same thing in reverse. Start by aligning the face in the initial direction you want the ball to go, which is to the right of the target line, and proceed to swing the club on a path that's even further to the right than the angle of your clubface. Do that, and you'll hit draws all day long!

BETTER IRON PLAY DOESN'T REQUIRE HUGE DIVOTS Okay, I know you've probably seen Tour players make huge divots after they make contact with the ball, right? So have I. And if you have Tour player-like swingspeed, hitting down on the golf ball will certainly allow you to shape the ball to your advantage.

But what if you're not a Tour player and you have an average swingspeed? I'll tell you right now, hitting down on the ball with the intent of making a big divot is going to hurt you more than help you. Without the necessary swingspeed to impart extra backspin on the ball, you'll end up hitting the ball lower and shorter than you should. Instead, what I suggest for better iron play is to hit the ball on as shallow an angle as you can while still aligning the iron's sweet spot behind the ball at impact. This doesn't mean hanging back or trying to lift the ball up. No, sir, if anything, you still need to hit down on the ball (it's on the ground, after all), but you just don't need to hit down as steeply as you might think. Instead, think of sweeping your iron shots and playing the ball at the low point of your swing arc. Once you let go of the fixation to hit down on the ball, you may soon find it a lot easier to hit solid iron shots. If you've been told hitting down on the ball steeply makes it go up, well, that's not true either!

SET UP FOR SUCCES

Set up in a way that helps you hit more fairways. Be confident, and align to the right to hit a big powerful draw.

To start the swing correctly, you have to set up correctly. With a driver, that means I want you to set up with the ball forward in your stance, the hands slightly ahead of the shaft and the lower body orientated to the right of the intended target. This helps you hit on that desired inside-to-outside-the-target-line track.

With an iron, because you want to catch the ball slightly before the low point, play the ball center to slightly forward of your stance, and align the shaft so it acts as an extension of your left arm. I like to flare my toes a little to help me make a better rotation. Why slightly forward? Simple. When you make a downswing, there's always a natural slide that occurs, moving the arc to the left.

SWING OVER THE TEE

They're hard to see, but placing two tees in front of the ball is a quick way to practice swinging on the right path.

This is a great drill for practicing that inside-out path with the driver. First, tee up a ball as normal, then place one tee directly in front of it about 2 feet along the target line. Then, add a second tee a few inches to the right of that tee. The goal is simple. Align your clubface at the first tee in front of you, but consciously try to swing the driver out and above the tee to the right. Sometimes simple visual cues like this are what you need to practice to develop the right path for hitting your driver.

UNDERSTAND WEIGHT VS. PRESSURE I've heard this one get mixed up a few times. The reality is, how your weight is positioned in the swing is related to, but isn't the same as, how you adjust the pressure in your swing. Think more in terms of applying pressure from one leg to the other as you move through the downswing. This will help you shift your weight in a smoother fashion as opposed to artificially shifting and sliding all over the place.

At the top of my swing, I can feel my weight over my right leg. As I start the downswing move, I apply pressure toward the ball of my left foot. Here, you can see I'm still thrusting down into the ball of my left foot. It's almost as though I'm trying to stomp a ball under my foot, into the ground.

3 KEYS FOR BETTER IRON PLAY

1. GET TO YOUR LEFT SIDE Here are two keys to keep you smooth and confident on your pitch shots. First, hitting a solid pitch shot requires soft arms. Feel that the arms are relaxed and remain loose on both the backswing and followthrough. You'll want to match the length of motion on both sides to ensure a smooth motion. Second, have a metronome-like tempo. Keeping your tempo the same back and through will reinforce being smooth through the shot. I use a metronome app on my phone to swing back and forth on the same tempo. It works wonders.

Move over! If you're hanging out behind the ball at this point in the downswing, you're in for some trouble.

This is what you want! Get your weight over to your left side as the arms and hands drop into the hitting zone.

2. HANDLE FORWARD AT IMPACT A result of getting over to your left side and not trying to flip the hands, it's perfectly acceptable for there to be some forward shaft lean at impact. This doesn't necessarily mean hitting down steeply onto the ball; it means hitting the ball the way the iron is designed to be utilized. The key to having this shaft alignment at impact is a matter of experimenting with what iron ball position produces the optimal shots for you. For most, it will be somewhere center to just ahead of center of your stance.

3. FULL EXTENSION OF THE ARMS Just because irons are shorter than woods and drivers doesn't mean the swing is much shorter. A full extension of the arms indicates a full body rotation up into the finish. Try and feel as though the arms feel longer post-impact, and keep that feeling as you draw your arms into the finish. Do that, and you'll find the body doing more to help you finish the swing, not your hands.

Joseph Mayo is the director of instruction at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, Nevada. He's cofounder of Waite Mayo Golf with PGA Tour veteran Grant Waite. Visit waitemayogolf.com.

5 QUESTIONS With Joseph Mayo, cofounder of WAITE MAYO GOLF

1 What's the number-one fallacy in golf instruction?

Without question, the biggest fallacies are the ballflight laws. The face is primarily responsible for starting the ball, not the path. Also, rotating the face doesn't draw the ball. A lot of instructors, commentators and experts have it all wrong.

2 How do you use TrackMan with your lessons?

In my opinion, TrackMan is the greatest invention we've ever seen in the history of golf instruction. I use it every day. It tells me exactly what the golfer is doing, that I can't, nor can any instructor, see with the naked eye. It tells me things that the camera can't record, either. Without it, you're guessing, and I refuse to guess.

3 You're friends with Touring professional Grant Waite. How was that relationship forged?

Grant and I first did a golf school together in Las Vegas about three years ago. We were brought together by a mutual friend. Grant was told of my ability with TrackMan and he wanted me to present my information at his school. We really hit it off and developed a great friendship and, ultimately, a business relationship. Grant has opened many doors for me and helped me tremendously. I hope that somehow I've been able to help him, too.

4 Who has your favorite swing on the PGA Tour? Who has the worst?

My favorite swings are mostly from players of the past. Greg Norman is a favorite of mine for his driving and fairway wood ability. I like Lee Trevino for his amazing short iron play. And, like many, I've always admired Couples for his seemingly effortless power. As for the worst swing on Tour? I don't want to answer that one! I have to see those guys each week and don't want to open that can of worms!

5 How can Golf Tips readers reach you? Golf Tips readers can reach me at www.waitemayogolf.com or t[email protected]. They can also follow me on Twitter at @trackmanmaestro. Grant can also be followed on Twitter at @grantwaite.

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