Ball Flight Laws – 9 Possible Flights To Master


“swing path sends it and clubface bends it”

Until fairly recently many golfers may have been taught that this is how their swing affects the flight of their golf shots.

The increasing use of launch monitors and high-speed cameras means we have a much better understanding of how the golf ball reacts to the clubface and swing path.

These rules have come to be known as the ball flight laws.

Knowing why your golf ball flies the way it does should help you achieve a greater knowledge of your own golf game and allow you to work on the right things to improve it.

You will also have the right information to allow you to shape shots to reach awkward pin positions or avoid hazards on the golf course.

ball flight laws

Old Ball Flight Laws Versus New Ball Flight Laws

Although it was a simplification and didn’t tie in exactly with the shot, a PGA professional would tend to explain the ball flight to their students as “swing path sends it and clubface bends it”.

Approximately 80% of the starting direction of your ball is influenced by where your clubface was pointing. The amount of curvature of the shot will then depend on the relationship between the path of your swing and the clubface.

Clubface Angle

If you are going to control where your golf ball ends up then controlling the clubface is the most important part of the equation. Presenting the clubface square to the ball at impact will allow you to hit the ball straight as long as your swing path is also square to the target line. 

The only problem with trying to hit shots straight is that it brings misses into play on both sides. If you close the clubface you will be finishing left of where you aimed and if you open the clubface you would be finishing to the right.

This is why most professionals tend to play a particular shape of shot. They are trying to eliminate one side of the golf course as much as possible and minimize the negative effects of any poor shots.

Relative to your swing path the clubface can only be square, open or closed. Similarly relative to your target line the clubface can only have the same three relative positions.

Swing Path

Your swing path is always described relative to the ball-to-target line. Through impact, the club will be moving square (down the target line), in-to-out or out-to-in.

The three different swing paths combined with the face angle make for nine different ball flights.

Square clubface
Square clubface

Square Clubface

If you present a square clubface at impact with a swing that travels square to the target line then you will achieve the Holy Grail of golf and hit straight shots. An out-to-in swing would generate a pull shot to the left of the target and an in-to-out swing would generate a pushed shot to the right of the target. In the image above the driver shaft illustrates the swing path.

open clubface
open clubface

Open Clubface

Presenting an open clubface relative to your swing path will cause the ball to curve from left to right. The amount of curve will depend on how open the face is in relation to the path.

The right combination of out-to-in golf along with an open face may get your ball to finish on your target by starting left and fading back to the right.

A square swing with an open clubface will start the ball to the right of the target and it will move further to the right. An in-to-out golf swing with an open clubface will start the ball further to the right of the target and it will slice further right.

The driver shaft represents the swing path in the image above.

Closed clubface
Closed clubface

Closed Clubface

A closed clubface at impact with a square golf swing would generate a right-to-left both causing your shot to finish left of the target line.

Depending on the exact combination then an in-to-out swing with a close clubface may produce what many consider to be the ideal shot. A nice controlled draw.

Finally an out-to-in swing with a close clubface is likely to see the ball start left of the target line and then curve further to the left.

How To Create Side Spin?

The amount of side spin being generated is largely determined by the angle between your swing path and clubface.

The more closed the face at impact the more draw spin you will impart. The same holds true for an open clubface. The more open the face at impact the greater the amount of slice.

So far we have been talking about strikes from the sweet spot. However, striking from a different part of the clubface will also affect the flight of the golf ball.

Quality Of Strike

The ball flight laws are a model to describe how impact conditions will generate particular ball flights. While tour professionals will generally hit the sweet spot more often than not most of us won’t. Where we strike the ball on the clubface can also have an effect on the flight of our shots.

Gear Effect

When you strike the ball from the sweet spot then the center of gravity of the club is lined up with the center of gravity of the ball. This will result in a straight shot assuming the club is traveling down the target line and is square to the swing path.

Striking away from the sweet spot will cause the clubface to rotate slightly. This rotation will also cause the ball to rotate toward the center of gravity of the club. So if you hit a shot towards the toe of your club the ball will tend to turn towards the center of gravity adding a right-to-left (draw) spin. Conversely, hitting from the heel will add a left-to-right (fade) spin.

The clubface ball appeared to be “locked” together like cogs hence the term gear effect. In fact, Wilson even came out with a set of irons called “Gear Effect” 30 or so years ago when they were still considered one of the premium brands in golf.

It’s not just heel and toe hits that cause gear effect. Hitting high or low on the clubface will also create extra spin (low) or less spin (high).

Gear effect will be most evident with your driver and fairway woods. It will become increasingly less obvious with shorter and more lofted clubs.

Use The Ball Flight Laws

Assuming that you are striking the ball from the sweet spot more often than not then you can use your ball flight to determine what’s going on during impact in your swing.

If like a majority of golfers your ball is slicing off to the right then that means your clubface must be open to the swing path at impact. The more the ball is curving off to the right then the more open your clubface must be. Similarly, if your shots curve from right to left then that means you have a closed clubface through impact.

Don’t forget that the ball starting direction is also Primarily down to where the clubface is aiming at impact. So if your ball isn’t starting on the line you like and isn’t curving the way you want then you need to adjust your clubface and swing path accordingly.

Other Ways To Affect Ball Flight

Like any model, this is a somewhat simplified viewpoint. The angle of attack, the loft presented and clubhead speed also affects the flight of the ball as well. In terms of being able to shape your shots or correct directional flaws then the clubface angle and swing path will have the greatest impact, however.

For more specific advice on hitting draws and fades you should read this and read this if you want to learn how to master the knockdown.

Ball Flight Laws – 9 Possible Flights: Conclusion

Master PGA professional, John Jacobs, diagnosed his pupil’s swing faults by looking at their ball flight.

You should now have the tools to help you do the same whether you’re working on your game or just struggling during your round.

For other great ways to improve your game check out some of the great YouTube golf channels.

Similar Posts