Yesterday, I asked my friend Ashley what she would like to see on my blog. She said an article about working the ball would be great, so I sat down to write it. I thought it would be fairly simple, because I have given hundreds of ball flight clinics over the years and have taught many people to work the ball on the lesson tee. However, I also knew that doppler radar systems, such as trackman have debunked the ball flight laws that I was taught when I became a pro and that I have been using as a basis for instruction ever since. So, with some time on my hands, I dug into all the research available online, which is ample, thanks to pros sharing on youtube, and discovered that I need to change not only how I think, but how I teach.
The basics of shaping shots haven't really changed, in that the face of the club and its relationship to the path are still what dictates spin. The major difference that doppler has proven is that your swing path has very little effect on the initial direction of the ball. In fact, where the face of the club faces at impact has about an 80% effect on where the ball starts and the ball will work away from the path. I would call this a deflection because the word brings about the right picture for your mind, but I don't think it is necessarily the correct terminology. Check out this video of a tennis forehand and you can clearly see that the racket is moving hard to the left, yet the ball comes off the racket where the strings are facing.
Justine Henin Forehand
The other thing that doppler has shown is where you hit a ball in the d plane or the bottom of your swing plane has a big effect on ball flight. Most iron shots are hit on the downswing while the club is moving to the right. Most drivers are hit on the upswing while the club is moving to the left. I have taught many players, Jamie Hullett comes immediately to mind, who set up a bit closed with their drivers and a bit more open with their irons. Jamie is a very instinctual player and as an instructor, it is important to allow ball flight to be your guide, not working from square. Now, after having read this research, I realize that Jamie's instincts were her guide and she understood how to hit shots based on ball flight, not a pro who told her to square up.
Here is a video of Lucas Glover hitting a high draw with protracer on the ball flight. He is definitely swinging left and the ball starts right.
Okay, so what does that mean for us? Well, the first sort of mind blowing info gathered is that you cannot hit a straight shot with a square club face swung on plane if you are hitting down on the golf ball. Your hit would have to be dead level and that is a rare occurrence, usually achieved only with a 3 wood off of a short tee. In an iron swing, your club will be moving to the right and down, so the face would have to be aimed open to your target line, but not as open as your path. If you catch an iron shot on the downswing, before your club bottoms out, let's say it will be moving 10 degrees to the right. If your club is 5 degrees to the right, you will have a good chance of being right on the target. As you use shorter clubs and your angle of attack steepens, the amount that you are swinging to the right is lessened and has much less effect. That is one of the reasons it is hard to draw or fade a wedge.
The second piece of information that will be immediately useful is how you approach trouble shots. If you are in the woods and you have to hit a ball out to the left and then have it curve back to the right, we now know that an open club face aimed at the target will probably cause you to hit a tree. Instead of taking the approach of setting your shoulders and feet where you want the ball to start and your club face where you want the ball to end, you need to change your approach. Now you need to think of how open your feet are compared to the club face. You will probably be more open with your shoulders and a bit less with your club. That will give you a better chance to get out of the woods instead of hitting another tree.
Check out this video of Hunter Mahan hitting a high iron shot. It shows all that we have discussed in this blog. Let go of the idea that your swing path controls where the ball starts. All of us who teach the game have witnessed the guy who comes over the top and hits it right. The further left he aims, the further right the ball goes. With doppler radar, it is clear that the ball will work away from the path and the relationship between the club face and the path is what creates spin. The bigger the difference in degrees of how open or closed the face vs. the direction of the swing, the bigger the movement.
If you want to hit a push draw off of the tee, you will have to close your stance on set up, because your club will be moving left due to the fact that it contacts the ball in the upswing. When you close your stance, your next task will be to get the face of the club aimed about half as much right as your stance. In order to hit an iron shot with a push draw, you can probably approach the shot with a squared up set up or even slightly open, since you are catching the ball prior to the bottoming out of your swing. Once again, you will need to have a club face that is probably square to the target or even slightly open to hit it straight. This will produce a relationship between the club face and the direction it is moving to put draw spin on the ball.
If you want to shape shots that return to center, nothing has changed as far as the relationship between the club face and the direction the club is moving need to be discordant. They cannot both face exactly the same direction at impact. If they were both 10 degrees open, you would watch a push slice leave the club. If they were both 10 degrees closed, you are looking at a pull hook. However, the interesting part is, we now know that a push draw doesn't necessarily mean you need a closed club face. The face needs only to be closed to the direction the club is working.
Shaping shots is fun. Everyone has different ways to work the ball. Tomorrow we will talk about how you can work the ball so you can experiment and figure out which way works best for you under pressure.
Links to Research:
John Graham Golf Scroll through his uploads and read what he has to say about the D Plane. He has good visual aids and does a good job of explaining things spatially.
Brian Manzella Golf Brian has a lot about the D Plane on his page. He is more mathematical in his explanation, so if your mind is geared toward that, his approach will make a lot of sense.
Steve Bishop Steve, another PGA professional, explains it using a bit more of a physics approach. Once again, if that is your thing, this will make sense to you. What's your vector Victor?
Josh Zander Josh is on TrackMan's website explaining the difference between the attack angles of your driver and irons.