Balloons and Rainbows

One of the challenges I always face when fitting people with the optimum driver is explaining to them that distance is not dependent on clubhead speed alone. Obviously it has a big influence, but most people would improve their driving by focusing more on angle of attack as well as which part of the clubface makes contact with the ball.

We’ve all been told at some point that we’re supposed to “sweep” the ball with the driver… that impact should happen while the clubhead is on the way up… that all things being equal, an ascending angle of attack will produce more distance.

Using a high speed camera (1,000 frames per second), I took a video of myself doing just that.

This ascending angle of attack caused the ball (at least with my normal tee height) to contact the lower portion of the clubface. The clubhead rotates forward after impact, producing a low launch angle.  The bad news is… unwanted backspin is created due to a phenomenon called “gear effect”.

driver down

Here’s an illustration of how the ball flight looked like.

ballooning trajectory

From the same spot, I took another video of myself with a descending angle of attack.

By the way, the tee I used for the first shot didn’t break. It didn’t even move. It broke after my second shot, proving that there was indeed a difference in the angle of attack.

Because I caught it higher on the clubface, the clubhead rotated backward this time, launching the ball a little higher. Notice the ball disappearing sooner toward the upper portion of frame #5 (below). Check out the logo of the ball in frames #3 and #4. Visibly less backspin than the previous shot.

driver up

The ball flight looks like a rainbow, peaking earlier but becomes more penetrating toward the end. Of course, you just have to take my word for it now. There was no contest as far as the total distance was concerned. The second drive was longer (with a hint of draw).

optimum trajectory

What are the implications here?

In terms of equipment, you don’t necessarily have to decrease the loft of your driver to change trajectory or spin rate. I used the same exact driver for both shots. In fact, when using a driver with too little loft (which is what many people do), the tendency is to swing up, which as I explained may cause unwanted backspin.

Am I saying that swinging up is wrong? Not if you can hit the same spot on the clubface as when you’re hitting down. But to accomplish this, you’ll have to tee the ball higher than normal. Unfortunately, most people are scared to tee it high. Did you know there’s a rule that limits tee height to 4 inches? Why do you think they made that rule?

At this point, it’s important to note that by swinging up, I don’t mean break the left wrist and let the clubhead pass the hands. You want the left wrist to be flat and in the same position relative to the club, just like when you’re hitting down. But frankly, it’s not something that everyone is physically capable of.

And there’s another problem. The swing is like an inclined wheel. So when the clubhead has passed the lowest point and is travelling upward, it’s also travelling inward or left. Swing path going left at impact + face angle square to target = left to right curvature.

Now you understand why slicing is so common. Wrong clubs. Wrong ideas.

Of course, you can compensate by closing your alignment (point your stance line to the right). However, this means you’ll have more than one swing to practice. Isn’t it hard enough to master one swing?

I remember when I was younger, I out-drove everyone with a 13-degree 2-wood. Of course, nobody could explain why. Neither could I for the longest time. As strong as I was, ironically I couldn’t hit a driver to save my life. Like a lot of people, I had this affinity with low lofts. At one point,  I tried a 4.5 degree driver. That ‘s not a typo. Four and a half degrees. Did I hit farther? Yes… farther into the trees right of the fairway.

Same “banana” that many people experience. (Pun intended.)

So… should you try a higher loft? If you’re hitting the ball on the upper portion of the face and the ball is still ballooning, then by all means try a lower loft. With today’s driver designs and smart multi-layer balls, it’s not likely.My advice? Get a loft that allows you to create the optimum trajectory with the least amount of effort. Why? Because that’s what’s going to make you consistent in the long run. Get fitted, preferably with the use of a launch monitor.

Speaking of… I plan to do this demonstration again with a launch monitor and simlutor so you can see real numbers. Watch out for it, either here on this site or on YouTube.

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