The Mechanics of Golf Ball Flight
The physics behind golf ball flight will be familiar to many of you but for those who do not understand what causes the ball to adopt different patterns in flight, here’s a brief explanation. It is something we need to understand. Firstly we need to consider the concept of Swing path.
Swing path can be defined as the path that the club head follows during the swing from the perspective of a viewpoint above the golfers head. The part of the Swing path that we are concerned with here is the section directly in front of the golfer. Ideally this should take the form of a shallow arc.
The initial direction of ball flight is determined mostly by the point in this arc at which the club head makes contact with the ball. If you take a random point anywhere in this arc and draw a tangent on the arc at that point, that tangent will be the initial direction the ball will take if hit from that point. In the image below, the swing path is represented by the circle. The golfer is standing in the circle facing the top of the page. The highest point of the circle is directly in front of the golfer. The three types of shot direction shown will result from the golfer contacting the ball at different places in his swing path. Please click on the image to enlarge it.
The above diagram assumes that the golfer is making ball contact with the club face perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the swing path. This will cause the ball flight to be in that initial direction without diverting to either side. Diversion (curving to the right or left) is dealt with next.
If the club face is open (rotated clockwise from perpendicular to the swing path) the balls initial direction will be that of the tangent with a slight bias to the right, but the ball will curve further right during its flight. The degree of sideways movement in the ball flight will be dependent on how “open” the club face is. This is because the open club face is putting side spin on the ball. Click the image to enlarge.
If the club face is closed (rotated anti clockwise from perpendicular) the balls initial direction will be that of the tangent with a slight bias to the left but will curve further left during its flight. Again side spin is being put on the ball but the direction of rotation is reversed. Click the image to enlarge.
What lessons can we learn from this?
(1) The point in the arc which is furthest from the golfer should ideally correspond with the ball position when the ball is correctly positioned. This is because a tangent drawn on the arc at this point will point along the line of the golfer’s feet, in other words in the intended direction towards the target assuming the golfer has lined up his feet correctly.
(2) The golfer must create this swing path to comply with these criteria.
(3) This will be made immeasurably easier if the golfer remains centred on the ball and swings his shoulders in a plain determined by the swing centre (the upper spine). Geometrically this will assure that the club head is at its lowest and furthest from the golfer when it is opposite the swing centre which the golfer has positioned opposite to the ball. In other words position your swing centre opposite the ball at address and during the down swing. Avoid lateral or side movement during the swing as much as possible. Whilst it is necessary and desirable for your hips and lower body to shift toward the target on the down swing, your upper body and swing centre should remain centred on the ball.
For a practical description of how to put this into effect go to How to draw a golf ball. Golf ball flight and the physics behind it are an important part of learning to play the game effectively. We hope this has helped.