Do You Know How to Accurately Read Your Ball Flight?

John Stahlschmidt
PGA Director of Instruction
JW Marriott Camelback Golf Club
Scottsdale, AZ

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Pictured: This is an illustration of a ball’s spin axis off the clubface. Which way would this ball curve? If you guessed right, you are correct.

The TOURAcademy held our annual head instructor conference in January, 2013. This is where the 8 head instructors from our different locations nationwide get together to train for the upcoming year. This year we were very lucky to have James Leitz as a guest speaker. For those of you who don’t know James, he is a PGA Professional from Louisiana. I would also say that no one in the industry knows more than he does regarding ball flight and how different impact conditions affect this. 

Only until recently have golf instructors been able to truly diagnose ball flight. Advancements in technology have allowed us to correctly break down data so that we can give an accurate prescription to our clients. This is great, as instructors can now teach based on science and not opinion! 

Some of the most common ball flight diagnosis errors I hear are related to the balls start direction.  Almost inevitably, when I observe a client pull the ball to the left (for a right handed golfer) I hear, “I came over the top of that one.” Well, some of the time this might be true but it is important to understand that the face and how it is aligned to the target at impact dictates the start direction of your golf ball. For example, I could swing down from “the inside” and if my clubface is closed in relationship to the target – guess what… my ball will start to the left. This is a really tough one to wrap the mind around because for years we were always taught that the swing direction creates the balls start direction – not true.

So, what makes the ball hook or slice? There are a few factors that affect curve. When the ball is curving in either direction, the ball is spinning backwards and is tilted from its start position. Imagine drawing a line parallel to the ground on the equator of a ball. Imagine after impact, the line was tilted either left or right. Now, think of an airplane. If the plane is turning right – the right wing lowers. If the plane is turning left, the left wing lowers. This is the same for a golf ball. The ball curves because it leaves the clubface either tilted one way or the other as it is spinning backwards – the more tilted the more curve. So, what are the factors that create this tilting affect? The first is how the face is aligned to the path the club is swinging on. If the clubface is closed to the path, the ball will curve left and vice versa. Often times, I will attempt to have a slicer client of mine swing more from the “inside” as this effectively will help close the face to the path. In addition, the point in which the ball hits the face can affect curve. If you are consistently hitting the heel or the inside of your clubface, you will get a ball that curves right and vice versa for a toe hit – if you are a right handed golfer. 

Golf is a very challenging game. I still haven’t met a golfer that doesn’t want to get better. Understanding ball flight is an essential step needed so that you can diagnose correctly. Once this occurs, you can accurately make changes to your swing so that you will achieve better results. Trust me when I say, this is what the best players in the world do.

John Stahlschmidt is the Senior Head Instructor at the TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale.
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