Ball Flight Laws #4 – 3D Club Path

3D-Glasses

Time to Think in 3D

Ok, class, strap on your thinking cap, because this lesson is going to bend your noodle.  Today, we are going to leave the 2D world behind and move into 3D as we discuss the 3D Club Path AKA Resultant Path.

Do You Slice Your Driver But Not Your Irons?

I can’t tell you how many players I’ve coached who have come to me with that issue.  “Matt,” they ask, “Why can I hit my irons straight but not my driver?”  The answer: you have very different Resultant Paths with your irons vs. your driver (yes, loft and length are issues, too, but we’ll talk about that another day).

The Golf Swing is Three Dimensional

Everyone knows that the golf swing is, roughly speaking, an arc that exists in 3D space.  However, most people think about the club path in two dimensions (i.e. “Swing to the right of the target”).

To really understand ball flight and club path, we need to recognize that the 3D Club Path is made up of three things:

Horizontal Swing Plane or Swing Direction – Swinging right or left of the target, from a bird’s eye view

Vertical Swing Plane – The angle of the swing arc, relative to the ground

Angle of Attack – How much up or down the club is moving at impact

But all those words…not very helpful.  Let’s get some pictures to clear things up.

The Resultant Path

In these photos, we are going to use the hula hoop as a stand in for the arc of the swing (Swing Direction) and the Sharpie will indicate the 3D Club Path.

Straight

Here the hula hoop (Swing Direction) is pointed straight at the target, and so is the Sharpie (3D Club Path).  The Swing Direction and Club Path are the same because the Angle of Attack is zero, the club is moving perfectly level to the ground at this point.  Keep in mind, the Swing Direction and the 3D Club Path are the same at one point in the swing.

HSP 0 AoA Neg

In this picture, the hula hoop (Swing Direction) is pointed straight at the target, but the Sharpie (Club Path) is actually pointed to the right.  This is because the club is moving down (negative Angle of Attack) which shifts the Club Path to the right.

Straight and Up

This picture shows the opposite of the last one: the Swing Direction is still pointed straight at the target, but the Club Path is pointed to the left.  This is because the club is moving up (positive Angle of Attack) which shifts the Club Path to the left.

What would we have to do to get a positive Angle of Attack and a “straight” Club Path?

Zero Out

To “zero out” the Club Path with a positive Angle of Attack, we need to shift the hula hoop (Swing Direction) to the right.

Practical Applications

I know that’s a lot to get your head around, so here is the Cliff Notes version:

When you hit down on the ball, your club path is more to the right.

When you hit up on the ball, your club path is more to the left.

So in terms of practical application, it is easier to draw the ball when you’re hitting it off the ground (hitting down) than when you’re hitting it off a tee (hitting up).

What You Should Do

Hopefully, as we have moved through these lessons you have learned more about more about your swing and your tendencies with each club.  This lesson gives you a more detailed understanding of why some of those tendencies exist.  For example, you may have found that you hit your 7I straight, but the 9I and wedges tend to draw.  Now you know why: by hitting down more, you are shifting your Club Path further right, promoting a draw.

I will be creating lessons to help you control your Club Path and Angle of Attack in the future, but if you have any specific questions or lessons you’d like to see, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Understanding Ball Flight

Part 1: Start Direction

Part 2: Curve

Part 3: Spin

Part 4: 3D Club Path (Resultant Path)

Part 5: Gear Effect

Watch the Video

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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5 Comments

  1. Mark Burns

    Absolutely great explanations that I can easily apply. Well, maybe not easily, but…. Now I under stand why opening my driver a couple of degrees helps to control my draw. I found your sight by searching “gear effect”. Thank you.

  2. hey matt,
    just got fitted for a ping g driver with the stock Alta shaft and have some questions after reading your ball flight laws. i averaged an 80 mph swing speed a 14° angle of attack with 2200-2300 back spin. the guy tells me I need more back spin around 3000-3500 and lofts the head to 11.5 which brought it up to 2500-2600 he says i consestantly hit down on the ball so I need to widen my stance to get more spin this seems to be the opposite of what I’m reading here. what is the optimal back spin for an 80 mph swing if there is one. after following your reviews and instructions since 2014 I have way more trust in your judgement and advice.

    • Matt Saternus

      Bobby,

      Thank you for your continued readership and trust.
      I’m going to guess that you meant 14* launch angle, not angle of attack – that would be REALLY extreme.
      Let’s start here: if you have an 80 MPH swing, your optimal carry would be at or slightly over 200 yards. 14* and 2500 at 120 MPH ball speed should be about 186 yards.
      To get to 200 yards at 120 MPH, my simulator shows that you would need 24* and 1900 RPM, which might require a long-drive style upper cut swing.
      If you keep your 120 MPH ball speed and 14* launch, I think going from 2500 to 3000 RPM would actually cost you a couple yards.
      All that to say, your numbers are pretty good. I would not mess with my swing to try to get a couple hundred more or less RPM. If you want more distance, you’re much better off working on your swing speed.
      I hope that helps.

      Best,

      Matt

  3. by the way can you recommend a game improvement 3 wood for hitting off the ground. if I can fix that I think I could break ninety. I usually top it and the 5i only gets me about 150 yds same as the 4 hybrid I have.

    • Matt Saternus

      Bobby,

      I would suggest taking a look at the PING G400 or G series, and consider a 5W instead of a 3W. In my recent PING fitting, I actually carried the 5W farther due to higher launch.

      Best,

      Matt

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