The flight path of a golf ball is affected by 2 main factors: your swing path and the angle of your clubface as it hits the golf ball.
In the past golf instructors were teaching students that swing path was the most important factor in golf ball flight patterns. Recent research analyzing thousands of golfer’s swings has proven that theory wrong.
Your swing path is only responsible for 15% of directing the path of a golf ball. The angle of the clubface when it hits the ball determines 85% of the golf ball flight path. These numbers will vary between golfers and clubs but it’s usually very accurate.
This is referred to as the 85% rule.
Swing path describes the direction your club is moving before, during, and after your club hits the golf ball. The swing path is determined by the arc of your swing and the point during that arc that your club makes contact with the golf ball.
Out-to-In: Your downswing starts outside (to the right) of the target line crossing it at impact and continuing on the inside (to the left) of the target line.
In-to-In (hitting it straight): Your club approaches the ball from inside the target line and returns to the inside after impact. Your downswing travels along the target line.
In-to-Out: Your downswing starts inside of the target line and continues across the line to the outside after impact.
The divot test
Next time you head to the range take a look down at your divots.
Ideally your divot should be a perfectly straight line from behind your ball pointing towards your target. This indicates you have an in-to-in swing (hitting it straight/square).
If the divot is pointing to the right of your target you have an in-to-out swing. If the divot is pointing to the left of your target you have an out-to-in swing.
Now that you understand your swing path let’s talk about clubface angle. There are 3 variations on the clubface angle: closed, square, and open. These refer to the direction the clubface is angled at the moment it hits your golf ball.
The clubface angle is the most important factor in determining where your ball goes after you hit it. It’s biggest impact is on the spin of your golf ball.
Spin is what creates the sideways moving arc in your shot, often sending the ball first one direction then the other. The spin can also affect the movement of your golf ball after it hits the ground.
If you have an open clubface the golf ball will generally have a clockwise spin on it. If it’s closed you will get a counter-clockwise spin. A perfectly square clubface will have very little spin.
The more open or closed the clubface is when you hit the ball, the greater spin your golf balll will have.
The 9 golf ball flight patterns
Your clubface angle combines with your swing path to determine the direction your golf ball will go after you hit it.
This is called your golf ball flight path. There are 9 recognized golf ball flight patterns. Every shot you make will result in a variation of these 9.
1. Pull Hook: Clubface closed. Most likely out-to-in swing path but occasionally will be in-to-out or straight. The ball path is far left of the target.
2. Hook: Clubface closed. Swing path is in-to-out. The ball path starts headed right then hooks around drastically to the left.
3. Pull: Clubface square. Swing path is out-to-in. The ball path heads slightly left and goes in a straight line without curving.
4. Fade: Clubface open. Swing path is out-to-in. Different from a slice in that it is
5. On Target: Clubface square. Swing path is in-to-in (straight). The ball heads straight towards the target and lands directly on it.
6. Draw: Clubface is closed. Swing path is in-to-out. The ball path starts out heading right but lands very close to the target.
7. Push: Clubface square. Swing path is in-to-out. The ball path heads slightly right and goes in a straight line without curving.
8. Slice: Clubface open. Swing path is out-to-in. The ball path starts going left of the target but ends up far to the right when it lands.
9. Push Slice: Clubface open. Swing path is in-to-out but ocassionally will be out-to-in or straight. The ball path is far right of the target.
Tracking your progress
Next time you are out on the golf course keep an eye on the path of your golf ball after each shot. Analyze it using the tools in this article and decide if you’d like to make any improvements.
Most golfers won’t be able to adjust their swing very well in a single session and it can feel frustrating if you don’t see any immediate progress.
If you’re using one of our course guide books or even your own little notebook you can record the patterns you notice in your ball flight paths.
Keep the course guide and record any trends you see on different holes each time you play. This is a really good and unbiased way to track your progress, especially when you’ve got a big gap between rounds in the winter season.
Want more golf tips? Check out this article on how to read the grain of a green.