A straight ball flight at your target is produced from a centred strike on a clubface that is perpendicular to a swing path travelling at your target at the point of impact. In the case of straight ball flights to the right or left of target, the clubface and swing path are equally aimed to the right or left of your target.
When the face and path are aimed in different directions at impact, shots will start closer to the direction the face is aimed in at impact and then curve away from it. The starting direction and curve in flight will vary depending on several factors such as the loft you are using, speed of swing, centeredness of strike, the lie and weather conditions.
An easy way to demonstrate the starting direction of the ball relative to the face and path is to hit several 18” putts at a target. Once you have hit your target a few times, aim your putter face to the right or left and hit some putts keeping the path travelling at your target. You will notice that the ball starts offline immediately unless you compensate.
Below is a brief description of the influencing factors that affect ball flight and the most common ball flight amongst golfers.
The clubface has the largest influence over the direction of your shots. A ball struck from the centre of the clubface will leave closer to the direction it is aimed in at impact rather than the direction it is moving in and the difference between these two elements determines the ball flight.
CENTEREDNESS OF STRIKE
When the ball is struck off centre there will be less resistance on the opposing side causing it to overtake and miss align the clubface so strikes nearer the heel will close the clubface and toe strikes will open the clubface. These off-centre strikes reduce the amount of energy transferred to the ball that result in a loss of distance.
Off centre strikes cause the clubface to rotate and the ball rotate in the opposite direction just as a gear would. For example, if the clubface rotated clockwise, the ball will rotate anti-clockwise and vice versa. Gear effect is more noticeable when using a driver, fairways, and hybrids.
The swing path is the forward direction of the club head in relation to the target and the difference between where the clubface is aimed and the direction the club head it is travelling at impact shots, a curve in ball flight is created, the greater the difference, the greater the curve.
Apart from off centre strikes, lob shots and bunker shots when we don’t strike the ball on the clubface, the faster the club head speed with centred strikes, the further the ball will travel. If the clubface and club path are diverse, greater club head speeds will produce more spin and curvature in flight if the clubface and swing path are at odds.
THE SWING PLANE
We swing to strike a ball that is on the ground to the side of us, so our swing arc is at an angle to the ground. The ideal angle is neither vertical nor horizontal but approximately between the two. If a club approaches the ball from too far above or below a neutral swing plane, strikes will be too descending or ascending on the ball.
LEFT TO RIGHT FLIGHT FOR A RIGHT-HANDED GOLFER
Right-handed golfers that produce a left to right ball flight have their clubface aimed right to the swing path. The open clubface adds loft, so a well struck shot will fly higher and shorter losing a golfer up to 50 yards in distance.
The instinctive reaction then for most golfers is to swing harder which only exaggerates the curve and height as it creates more spin! In addition, golfers aim their swing to the left making the difference between the clubface and path even greater and the greater the difference, the greater the curve in flight. Usually, this combination also creates a step angle of approach which causes mishits along and the tendency for the clubhead to return ahead of its original starting position, heel strikes are common.
Depending on the club being used and the type of shot being played, the family of shots played can include:
Excessively curved left to right ball flight using less lofted clubs
Higher/shorter shots using more lofted clubs
Skied shots with drivers, fairways, and hybrids
Hitting behind the ball or taking deep divots with irons
Shots that are higher and shorter
Mishits from the heel or toe of the club
Hitting too much sand bunkers