Whenever I’m coaching I make an assessment of every shot the player hits. I look at the ball’s initial direction and trajectory as well as whether or not it curves. I listen to the sound of contact; the contact point on the clubface and how the club meets the ground (or mat). From there I work backwards applying my understanding of cause and effect and how it relates to golf shots and the golf swing to consider the improvements I am going to recommend to a player. That is a simplistic explanation, but essentially what I do.
A critical component of this process is having a correct understanding of what causes the ball to fly the way it does. Having explained the influences of clubface and swing path hundreds or possibly thousands of times, I’m no longer surprised by the confusion this creates in most golfers.
The basis of the confusion is a misunderstanding of how the clubface and path influence the ball flight. In 1968 Cochrane and Stobbs wrote “the ball will always leave a clubface… nearer the direction along which the clubface is pointing than along which it is being swung.”
What this means is that the direction your ball starts is mostly determined by the direction your clubface is aiming at impact. Whether the ball stays on its start line, or not, depends on whether the clubface and the swing path are square to one another. If the ball is struck somewhere other than the centre of the clubface, this will also have an influence, but for the moment let’s keep it fairly simple.
If your ball starts to the right of the target, your clubface will have been open at impact. The further right it starts, the more open the clubface. If the clubface is square and the path of the club swings to the left (outside-in for the right-hander), the ball will start relatively straight and then curve to the right (a slice).
Many golfers still analyse their shots mistakenly thinking that it is the path that determines the initial direction. Think of the confusion, and poor shots, that this causes! If a player’s ball starts to the right of the target and they believe that it was caused by the club path going to the right, then the logical correction in the player’s mind is to swing the club further to the left. This actually leads to a greater difference between the clubface and the path, causing a small slice to become a massive slice, especially with longer clubs, such as the driver.
If that same player believes his open clubface caused the slice then the logical correction is to close the club face at impact. An outside-in swing with a closed clubface (for the right-hander) will cause the ball to travel straight left; a pull shot.
So as you can see mixing the effects of clubface and club path will actually send you further down the wrong path, so hitting good shots is less likely.
For extra points (and possible mental strain) in your understanding of these concepts consider a right-handed golfer hitting a draw. For the ball to start to the right of the target, the clubface must be opened at impact. For the ball to curve back towards the target the club head must be travelling further to the right of the target than the direction the clubface is aligned. For example if the clubface is 2° open and the club path is 4° to the right of the target, then the ball will start to the right and curve back to the left.
The use of technology such as TrackMan has made understanding these concepts much clearer. We are using TrackMan at Yarra Bend and it is helping golfers understand the cause and effect of their impact much better.
“To learn is to change. Education is a process that changes the learner.”
George B Leonard