Ball Flight Lies

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

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Growing up, I was always told that the ball started in the direction the club head was swinging, “the path” and the “face angle” was responsible for the curve of the ball in flight. Does that sound familiar to you? I spent my entire junior playing career fighting a pull to the left (a pull is a ball that starts to the left of the target - for a right handed golfer). Almost every golf book, then and many still, say that my mistake was a club path that was swinging too far from outside the target line to inside or “over the top.” This is why the ball started to the left. Unfortunately, that is completely wrong.

With help from launch monitors we know much more now than we did in the past. In fact, the data these computers are spitting out in reference to ball flight is amazing. What was taught to me, and what many people still believe, is wrong. How in the world are you supposed to get better if you miss diagnose your ball flight? The answer is…you can’t! 

There are a handful of factors that determine what your ball does from the moment it leaves your club face to when it stops rolling. Two of the most important for accuracy are: the face and the path but not in the sense we thought before.

Face Angle – The ball will come off of the face during impact at a 90 degree angle to the leading edge. In other words, the club face determines the starting direction of your shot. 

Path – The path of the club does influence the starting direction but has much influence on how the ball curves while in flight. For example, if I am swinging the club head 3 degrees from the inside of my target line and my club face is square to that path, my ball will push to the right with very little curve. If I swing the club head 3 degrees from the inside and my face is 3 degrees closed to my path, the ball will draw significantly to the left. In this last example, what was my club face in relationship to the target at impact?  If you said square you are correct. Why would the ball curve left if the face was square to the target at impact? Well, the answer is the face was square to the target but closed to the path. This example illustrates that the path can have a huge influence on the curve of the ball while air born.

Confused yet? It is actually very simple and nothing more than geometry. The ball will start at a 90 degree angle to the leading edge of your club head and the face angle in relation to the path will dictate the balls curve in the air. 

Now that we know the correct ball flight and how face and path influence it, golfers have a fighting chance to improve.

John Stahlschmidt is the PGA Head Instructor for the TOUR Academy TPC Scottsdale. Contact John for a lesson at