Angle of attack is the direction the clubhead travels into the back of the ball. Whether it be downward, upward or level with the ground, your angle of attack changes with the length of your clubs. The longer the club, the shallower your angle of attack–that is, not counting the driver, which is the only club in the bag where you actually want to hit up on the golf ball.
One of the most common mistakes I see from my mid- to high-handicappers who struggle with the driver is that they have an angle of attack into the ball that's far too steep. And one of the main reasons why this angle gets too steep is that the head gets too in front of the golf ball before the clubhead makes contact with the ball. This steepens your swing tremendously, resulting in ugly pop-ups like crazy.
If pop-ups are familiar to you, consider this simple drill. Grab a sleeve of balls and place it about 12 inches in front of the ball you're trying to hit. The goal is to create an upward angle of attack without hitting the sleeve of balls.
As you can see in these photos, when I hit the ball, I have my head leaning backward behind the ball. This helps me shallow out my angle of attack into the ball, and if anything, allows me to ascend into it. Give this simple drill a try, and not only will you stop the pop-ups, you'll hit the ball higher and farther than before.
Remember back in the day when we worried about spin rates with the driver? I can remember using low-lofted drivers to keep spin rates down and prevent the ball from ballooning up in the air. In fact, the goal way back then was to launch the ball as low as you could with as much speed as you could muster. At least, that's what we thought was the key for more distance off the tee.
Well, thank goodness those days are long gone. And, boy, were we wrong! Today's drivers and golf balls are designed for much higher launch angles and for less spin. Why? Simply put, if you launch the ball higher with less spin, it will carry more and land on a flatter trajectory. Now here this: When we say "less spin," that doesn't mean "no spin." Every shot you hit (even with a driver) needs backspin to lift the ball into the air. Without it, we'd hit knuckleballs that fly short distances and wobble uncontrollably in the air.
For all intents and purposes, don't worry about your spin rate and instead focus on hitting drives that have a high initial launch. A clubfitter will help you rein in spin (if you have too much or too little), and sometimes adjusting what type of ball you play or shaft you use will do the trick.
Justin Klemballa, PGA, teaches at the Jim McLean Golf School at SunRidge Canyon Golf Club in Fountain Hills, Ariz. For more info, visit www.sunridgegolf.com.