Being able to control your golf ball flight is a function of understanding the relationship between the path (which controls the curve) and the club face (which controls the start direction of the ball). Because your golf clubs are bent at an angle and golf is played from the side, you don’t swing the golf club on a perfectly horizontal plane (along the floor) or vertical plane (up and down a wall), but rather, you swing it on a inclined plane (for instance, picture swinging along the roof of a house).
Though the path and club face matter most during the downswing and at impact, a backswing that follows the inclined plane back, up, and in — again, as if you are swinging your hands and the sweet spot from the gutter to the peak of a roof — will put you in a better position to make a solid downswing.
A good backswing puts you in the position to deliver the clubhead from the inside. The sweet spot will travel diagonally forward, down, and out toward the golf ball.
To practice this, we like to use the grid (Photo 1). Setting rods up like this helps groove the inside-out diagonal sweet spot path. As you can see in the photo, the sweet spot travels from “in” (the right side of the frame) to “out” (the left side of the frame) throughout the entire downswing.
Available technology such as TrackMan and high-speed cameras have proven that the golf ball starts generally in the direction the clubface is pointing at impact, then curves away from the path.
When I teach my students, I use the terms “open” and “closed” face to refer to the clubface orientation relative to the path. If the face is open to the path, the ball will fade, and if it’s closed, the ball will draw. A proper fade is hit with a clubface aiming left of the target at impact, and a proper draw with one aiming right of the target at impact.
The ball flight laws can be categorized as path, club face angle, strike, angle of attack, speed, and loft. Sometimes angle of attack is lumped together with path (as it is effectively the vertical path of the club), and often times “loft” will be lumped in with face angle — as it is effectively the face angle, but gives the shot height rather than directional control as we understand it.
I have broken the terms down simply for ease of understanding.
FACE ANGLE AND PATH
It is very difficult to talk about one without the other, as it is the combination of both which determines the direction of a shot (barring a poor strike).
The path of the club is essentially the direction the cub is swinging through impact, and the face angle refers to the direction the clubface is aiming at the point of impact. Club face angle accounts for around 75 percent of a shot’s overall starting direction, with club path being only 25 percent (contrary to the old wives tale that the ball starts on the swing path). Although this percentage varies a little from club to club, face angle is the dominant influence on direction.
This is vital for a player to understand, as failing to do so can severely inhibit fixing problems. For example, the typical player hits a ball right and tries to fix it by swinging more to the left. This could potentially make matters worse (especially if club/path ratios get increasingly dissimilar).
In Photos 2-4, the white line represents the club path, and the red line represents the target line
In Photos 5-7, the red line represents the path, and the yellow represents the clubface angle.
Photo 5 shows a square path and face. When this happens, there is no tilting of the spin axis (fancy way of saying no curvature produced), as long as the strike was from the middle. There is a tiny bit of gear effect created from the closing of the face, but don’t worry about that.In Photo 6, the clubface is open (more right of) the path. If struck from the sweet spot, this would produce a shot which starts close to the yellow line and curves further right.
In Photo 7, the clubface is closed to the path. This would produce a shot which starts close to the yellow line and curves further left.
To hit a straight shot is easy, in theory: Just get the clubface and swing path aiming in the same direction (preferably towards the target) at the point of impact.
But what happens if they are not aimed together?
The rule to remember here is, “The ball starts roughly on the line of the clubface and then curves away from the path.” Understand that and you’re on your way to better club face control — and lower scores.
Bob Grissett is founder of Bob Grissett Golf. He teaches at the Don Law Golf Academy at Osprey Point Golf Course in Boca Raton, Florida, and at Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course in Palm Beach. Visit him at www.bobgrissettgolf.com.