Learn to Control Your Trajectory

Trajectory (4)

“Working On My Traj”

Whether it’s ducking branches, soaring over trees, cheating the wind, or throwing a flop shot over a bunker, controlling your trajectory (or, “traj” as Tiger says) is an essential part of golf.  In this lesson, I’m going to give you a clear breakdown of how to manage your trajectory and a simple drill to dial in your feels.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You have inconsistent trajectory in your short or long game

You want to add to your shot making

You want to escape trouble more effectively

You want more versatility in your short game

Club Face +Angle of Attack +Club Head Speed +Impact Location

The Components of Trajectory

There are a number of factors that contribute to a shot’s trajectory.  The club face is number one, but the angle of attack, club head speed, and strike location will also play a role.  The relationship between each of these components and the ball’s trajectory is fairly easy to understand.

Club face – The more loft, the higher the ball flight

Angle of attack – The more you hit down, the lower the ball flight

Club head speed – More speed creates more height because the ball will spin more

Strike location – Shots struck low on the face will fly lower than shots struck high on the face.  More on this HERE.

In this lesson, I’m going to focus on controlling the most important element – the club face – both at set up and in the swing.

Flop Shot (9)

Changing Trajectory with Set Up

One of the easiest ways to change your trajectory is by changing your set up.  I’ll discuss two set up changes, but you may find others that work for you.

Changing your ball position is the easiest way to affect your trajectory.  Most players will find that if they move the ball forward in their stance, they will hit the ball higher, and vice versa.  The reason is that when the ball is further forward, you will be swinging “less down” and with more loft on the club face.  It’s important to keep in mind, however, that moving the ball around in your stance can compromise the quality of your strike.  Be sure to make the smallest adjustment necessary to get the desired result.

Another way to change your trajectory is to stand open or closed to your target.  As I showed in my flop shot lesson, the more open you are, the more loft you can give the club face.  The reverse is true for standing closed – the club face can have less loft.  The major caveat here is that standing open or closed can substantially impact the curvature of your shot.

Trajectory (7)Trajectory (11)

Changing Trajectory with Your Swing

If you don’t like changing your set up, you can alter your trajectory with your swing.  That will mean modifying your swing to change the loft on the club face at impact.

Look at the two pictures above – they represent very different trajectories.  On the left, my hands are way ahead of the ball at impact, I’ve greatly reduced the loft on the club, and the ball will come out very low.  On the right, the shaft is nearly vertical, the club has almost all of its intended loft, and the shot will come out high.

It’s easy to say, “Get your hands more/less in front of the ball at impact,” but finding a swing thought or feeling that works for you will take some trial and error.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

-For lower shots, make a more aggressive turn with your body.  Allow your hands to be more passive.

-For lower shots, try a shorter back swing and/or a shorter follow through.

-Use your hands to control the loft.  Try swings with a passive right hand versus a “flippy” right hand.  Try the same thing with your left hand.

-To hit it higher, try “going normal” (hat tip to Brian Manzella and Michael Jacobs).  In the downswing, after the shaft gets parallel to the ground, feel like you’re pulling the grip up towards you as hard as you can.

-Vary the length of your arm swing relative to your wrist hinge.  This is particularly useful in the short game.  For low shots, think of Steve Stricker – lots of arm swing, very little wrist hinge.  For higher shots, think of Sergio Garcia – lots of wrist hinge, less arm swing.

If you have a swing thought or feeling that’s been effective for you, share it in the comments section below.

Trajectory (3)Trajectory (1)

The Drill

To work on your trajectory control, grab a couple of my favorite dollar store training aids: driveway markers (alignment sticks) and a pool noodle.  Using two sticks and a noodle, you can create a goal post that will give you excellent feedback about how high or low you’re launching the ball.

As you can see above, you can use this on both the range and in the short game area.  The height that you set the bar at will vary depending on the club you’re using and what you’re trying to accomplish.

One game you can play with this set up is Under/Over.  Set the noodle at a medium height and alternate hitting shots over and under it.  You can also use it to limbo – start with the noodle relatively high and lower it each time you hit a shot underneath it.  The limbo also works in reverse – start the ball low and raise it after every shot you hit over it.

As you get more proficient with these drills, you can add elements like changing start line and curvature to up the challenge and add to your shot making arsenal.

Matt Saternus
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  1. A trick I use for an angle indicator: Lay the Iron on ground groove side pointing up. Put your foot on grooves to make grooved side level with ground. The shaft will show angle of ball flight. Great for reference to play under tree limbs or to see if ball flight will be high enough to clear top of tree.

  2. wayne Johnson

    Matt, I appreciate your information but my problem for some reason is in my head. I can go and practice chipping for hours and if you saw my results you would say why are you working on chipping your all around the hole and you made a considerable number, but when I am on the course even playing by myself with no pressure, I forget how to chip. It is more embarrassing when someone is there. I try to relax my arms, hands, my whole body but to no avail. I fear the chip shot…A friend told me how to overcome my fears, hit more greens….I tried that…..I hope you have a suggestion….

    • Matt Saternus


      Take a look at Tour Tempo. Thinking about the tones may get you out of your own way.



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