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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fixing Path Problems, Part 1

Part of the Route 67 series

Yesterday we broke down your swing into 9 possible ball flights which were a combination of your swing path and your club face position, the former being controlled by your body and the latter by your wrists. Today I want you to understand what kind of effect this has on your accuracy; tomorrow we'll look at how to fix it.

If you've taken even a cursory look at my lists of basic principles for the various shots in the game (if not, please take a moment to check out the posts in the "Basic Principles of the Game" category), then you know that your club face position is controlled by your wrists and forearms. If you're not squaring up the club face, then you're rotating your forearms. DON'T DO THAT! Once you stop, you'll square the club face up much more consistently.

However, as I said yesterday, it does no good to work on your club face position if your club path is off. Why? Because the big muscles are going to override the little muscles. Here's one of those ironies that plague our game: The club face position has a much bigger effect on where the ball goes than the club path does, but you have to fix the club path first or you'll never get that club face square on a consistent basis. Today's post will explain why.

If you're a Dave Pelz fan (and who isn't?), you know that Dave does all kinds of scientific studies on putting and the short game. He made a discovery about putting that I found very interesting: The face angle of your putter has five times the effect on direction than your stroke path does. (That information is on page 85 of Dave Pelz's Putting Bible, for those of you interested in checking it out yourself. Dave's actual figures are 83% vs. 17%, which is about 5-to-1.) Let me put that in somewhat simpler terms.

Let's say you're facing a 10-foot putt (120 inches). You make a putting stroke that travels on a line that's 6 degrees from inside-to-outside. According to Dave's figures, if you hit the ball with a square face, the ball will travel toward the hole on a line only 1 degree off. It will be 2.1 inches offline when it reaches the hole. (That's simple trigonometry; here's an online calculator if you want to check it yourself.)
A small miss

However, if you manage to get the stroke itself straight toward the hole BUT the club face is NOT square (it's 6 degrees off), the ball will be offline by 5 degrees. At the hole, you'll be 10.5 inches offline.
A small miss

The first putt could possibly die into the hole, even though your stroke was offline and you're several feet away because the hole is 4.25 inches wide, or 2.125 inches from the center. That second putt... it ain't going in, even if you're only three feet away. (You'll be 3.1 inches offline then.) The face angle made a bigger difference than the stroke path. Therefore, all of you putters out there struggling to get your stroke perfectly online... stop worrying so much about it! Make sure your club face is square when it strikes the ball; as long as your stroke path is pretty close to straight, you'll probably be ok.

Now let's take that information and apply it to the full swing. It's really interesting!

Let's hit a 250-yard drive with our club face square but we're coming at the ball from 6 degrees inside-to-outside. Do you know how much offline your shot will be? A mere 4.4 yards! But suppose your swing path is online but your club face is pointing 6 degrees to the right? A whopping 21.9 yards! That would miss a lot of fairways.

But wait! Unlike the ball on the putting green, this ball is going to spin sideways in the air... which means the second shot is going to go even farther to the right. This would be the #6 ball flight pattern in yesterday's charts -- that one would be considered a desirable option by most pros! But it really is desirable if you hit that first shot... because it's going to spin back toward the target line!

So you can see that the face angle has a bigger effect on your accuracy than your swing path. So why not fix the face angle first? Because your wrists and arms, which control the face angle, are connected to your shoulders. If your shoulders get tilted, your wrists and arms get tilted... and there goes your face angle. And if your shoulders tilt differently with each swing... well, you can see where that's going to lead. It's a game you can't win.

So tomorrow I'll show you how to start getting a handle on your swing path. It's really much simpler than it seems.

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