Ball Flight Laws #4 – 3D Club Path


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.


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
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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One Comment

  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.

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