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High Performance Golf
Ball Control is the #1 Essential Skill of Golf. As we have discussed, Ball Control is comprised of three skills within the skill: Solid Contact. Predict the Flight. And Hit it Far Enough to Score. I am sure you are not surprised to hear that Predict the Flight is comprised of three skills within the skill: Club Face Control, Club Path Control, and Centeredness of Hit. Assuming centered (sweetspot) contact, the club face angle gives the ball its starting direction. If the club face is pointing right of the target when the ball leaves it, the ball will take off right. But we don’t necessarily what the ball would have done in the air yet, because we have complete information. The club path relative to the face tells the ball whether or not to curve in the air. If the club path is moving to the right of the club face, the ball will curve left. Conversely, if the path is moving left of the face, the ball will curve right.
Rule: The ball takes off in the direction of the face and curves away from the path relative to the face. These diagrams will help you fully understand the concepts: In the club and ball diagrams, the dark blue arrow shows the club path. The red arrow shows the club face angle. And the dotted black line shows the ball flight.
Starting from the left diagram, we can see that when the club path and club face are headed in the same direction, the ball will fly straight, just like an airplane taking off, the ball will rise upward. The backspin imparted to the ball at impact will be what I call “perfect backspin:” tilted to neither side. That’s called zero spin axis tilt. When the wings of the airplane tilt to the right, the plane will turn right. Similarly, when the ball’s Spin Axis tilts to either side, the ball will curve. When the club path moves to the left of the club face, the spin axis tilts to the right and the ball curves right. And when the club path moves right of the club face, the spin axis tilts to the left, and the ball curves left.
Drill: The Club Path Gate
While you are learning Ball-Then-Turf Contact, you are only working on one of the three essentials of ball control. The ball my not go toward the target because we need to add club path and then club face control to the swing so we can learn to predict the flight. The Gate Drill provides excellent feedback as to whether you are moving the club into impact from the inside-out to the ball.
Three balls are placed in a straight line at 45 degrees to the target line apart as shown. The balls are one club head apart (no more than four inches). And, as shown in the first photo, there is enough room for the club head to move straight through the gate or from inside-out, but no room for the club to move from the outside-in. You may want to remove the object ball and simply practice swinging through the gate at first. It’s not as easy as it looks. Then introduce the ball.
For an additional club path drill (not shown), use a stick like the yellow one you see in the photos placed on the target line and behind the ball by 6 inches and make sure the club head approaches the ball from inside the stick. You can see it. You just have to look for the blur of the club head and take your attention off of the ball. Hint: To control your club path, you have to be focused on what you are doing with the club rather than on the ball. Your job is to swing the club. The club’s job is to hit the ball.
It can be helpful to keep in mind that the club path is simply the direction in which you swing. You are holding the club: you can and must control the direction in which you swing it! Practice swinging in whatever direction you wish. You may want to swing over top of a tee that you place nearly all the way into the ground while you practice path control. Then place the ball on the tee and focus on the path you will swing the club into the ball, not just the ball itself. That sounds simple, but, as with most things in golf, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Ball flight Control requires all three skills within the skill: solid contact, path control, and face control. In this drill, you are working on club path. The ball might not go to the target yet, and that’s ok, because we have not yet concerned ourselves with club face control. You’ll have to add that to the equation in order to predict the flight. So as soon as you can swing through the gate, add club face control to start predicting the flight. That said, if your grip (the manner in which you place your hands on the club) is correct for you, the club face may take care of itself. Have fun experimenting with making the ball go left, right and straight. We are looking for a sense of, “when I do this, the ball will do that.”
Hit ‘em Great!
John Dunigan is a PGA Master Professional and Director of Instruction at White Manor Country Club in Malvern where he runs the John Dunigan Golf Academy. An expert in Junior Golf, John received the prestigious PGA Philadelphia Section Junior Golf Leader Award for 2012, and was named Philadelphia Section Teacher of the Year in 2008.He lives in Kennett Square.