Ball Flight Laws

By Bill Herrfeldt

golfer hitting into sunset
Boil down the game of golf, and there are only two factors that need to be addressed: the ball's distance and direction. Unfortunately, five basic factors involving physics can determine both the distance and direction of the golf ball. Three of those factors determine how far the golf ball will travel, and the remaining two will have an effect on direction. Let's look at these five factors because that will allow us to isolate those that we need to work with to improve our respective games.

Increase Clubhead Speed to Add Distance

One of the big differences between our games and those of Tiger Woods is the speed of the clubhead at the point of impact. Most amateurs will be happy if their clubhead speed reaches 85 or 90 miles per hour because that will mean we can hit our drives about 250 yards. On the other hand, Tiger's clubhead speed can reach about 115 miles per hour, which means he can hit his drive consistently more than 300 yards. To increase the distance, you need only to increase your clubhead speed to pick up more yardage.

Angle of Swing Affects Distance

If you break your wrists early in your golf swing, you will encourage a swing that has a steep angle. Such a swing will cause you to hit the ball a shorter distance. Because of that swing, you will hit the ball higher and with more backspin that someone with a more sweeping action, and therefore you will hit the ball a shorter distance. To correct this, do not break your wrists until the golf club is parallel to the ground, thereby widening the arc of your swing, which will translate to longer shots.

Clubhead Contact Affects Distance

Where you make contact with the ball on the clubhead will affect the distance you hit the golf ball. For example, if you hit the ball on the toe of the clubhead, you will make less solid contact, which will result in a shorter shot. The same goes for striking the ball on the top or bottom of the clubface. If your golf clubs have a small, so-called "sweet spot," consider investing in new ones that are constructed with a larger one.

Swing Path Affects Direction

There are only three ways that you can make a swing. You can swing the club outside then bring it in, which will cause the ball to have sidespin, causing a right-hander to curve the ball to the right or slice it. You can hit the ball with a swing that goes from inside and finishes outside, causing a right-hander to curve the ball to the left, but this time it's called a hook. Or you can do neither, which will result in the ball going straight.

Clubface Position Affects Direction

At the moment of impact, if the clubface is pointing to the left or the right of the target, the direction of the golf shot will be affected. Furthermore, if the clubface is pointed to the right and the right-handed player also has an outside-in type of swing, his ball most likely will land even farther right of his target.

About the Author

Bill Herrfeldt specializes in finance, sports and the needs of retiring people, and has been published in the national edition of "Erickson Tribune," the "Washington Post" and the "Arizona Republic." He graduated from the University of Louisville.