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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Which Is More Important... Swing Path or Clubface Angle?

Lately I've been seeing more commercials for training aids that focus on your plane. I won't name them, and I'm not saying that they're of no use. But amazing claims are being made for some of them -- how much they will help your game, that is -- and I'm shocked at just how little thought is being given to what's really important in a golf swing.

In this post I want to focus on what will improve your game more quickly than this obsession with plane.

While there are a number of variables that can affect ball flight and shot shape, the most important are swing path and clubface angle. Swing path is the primary source of sidespin on the ball, and clubface angle is the primary source of aim.

And it really bugs me that so much emphasis is being placed on swing path, which is basically the same as your plane, and so little on clubface angle. Think about this for a moment:
  • When you see a pro hit a double cross -- they mean to hit a fade but end up hitting a pull-hook -- the problem is clubface angle, not plane.
  • When you see a pro get stuck -- they swing the club on too much of an in-to-out path -- and they either push-slice the ball or snap-hook it, the problem is still clubface angle more than plane. I'll explain this apparent contradiction in a moment.
In both cases, had the clubface been aimed properly at impact, the ball would have likely ended up somewhere close to the pro's intended target. Why is this so?

As I said, the swing path creates sidespin. BUT -- and this is important -- regardless of which way the ball is spinning, whether the ball is hooking, slicing, or flying straight, the ball will always land on a line straight in front of where the clubface is aimed. After the ball hits the ground, the sidespin will cause it to bounce in the direction the ball is spinning -- for example, a hooking ball will get a "ground hook". But unless you've put a huge amount of sidespin on the ball, it won't hook too dramatically after it hits the ground.

In the double cross, the swing path is the same for the correct swing as for the faulty swing. But since the clubface is closed relative to the flight path, the ball hooks. Had the clubface been properly aimed at the target, it would have been OPEN relative to the flight path and the ball would have sliced.

And while the plane is incorrect when the pro gets stuck -- the pro made an in-to-out swing when he or she intended a straight or out-to-in path -- the ball would have flown toward the target if the clubface had been aimed correctly. If the ball was a push-slice, the face was open relative to the target line; if the ball was a snap-hook, the face was closed relative to the target line.

So I think that when you make a shot, your primary goal should be to make sure the clubface is aimed where you want the ball to land. When the ball hits the ground it will bounce in the direction of its sidespin, so you want to allow for the ball to bounce that way after it hits. If you mean to hit a fade but your swing path is wrong and you end up hitting a draw, the ball will still hit the ground where you planned if your clubface is aimed correctly. The ball will just move a little farther sideways away from the pin than you intended... but it should still be in play.

I did a post on clubface awareness a couple of months back, and I included a video from Martin Hall where he explained clubface awareness. Here's a still I snagged from that video, where Martin put a glove on his trailing hand and drew a clubface to help you imagine where the face was pointing and how you should move your hand to get the face square to your target.

Clubface orientation drawn on glove

How do you improve your clubface awareness? My suggestion is to practice it on the range. Start with a chipping stroke -- no wrist cock. Take the club back so the shaft is parallel with the ground, then try to square the clubface at impact. Don't make a huge exaggeration with your swing; I'd suggest trying to get the clubface square about six inches before impact, and try to keep it square until it's about three inches past the ball.

A quick side note: I'm not crazy. That's only nine inches, and I know you won't be able to be that exact. But that's enough to get you thinking about squaring the clubface without altering your swing in some bizarre way. Unless you've been twisting your forearms a lot when you swing, this should be enough to get you "thinking square." If you HAVE been twisting your forearms too much, this should help you quiet them down.

Now, as I was saying, start with a chipping stroke. Once you can do that pretty well, add a little bit of wrist cock. DON'T make the swing longer, just add a little wrist cock. When you can hit that pretty well, make your full wrist cock on this short swing. Are you with me so far?

When you can hit that short shot pretty well -- and try mixing up your practice, with varying amounts of wrist cock -- when you can hit that shot pretty well, try a longer chipping backswing (maybe with your forearms parallel to the ground) without any wrist cock. Work through all three levels of wrist cock with this backswing.

Then try all three levels of wrist cock at a three-quarter swing. Once you get that trio of shots down, you should be able to make reasonably square contact with a full swing.

REMEMBER: If you want to really improve your shotmaking, then you want to work on getting your clubface square at impact. If you want, you can work on your plane also; there's nothing wrong with that. But time spent developing clubface awareness will give you quicker results in less time.

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