This article is an excerpt from a book I wrote with Jim McLean entitled, "The Ultimate Guide to TrackMan Swing Analysis.” For more information about purchasing the book, click here.
THE BENEFITS OF IMPROVING CLUB PATH
I decided to write this article because I noticed bad habits being formed in golf swings when attempting to prevent a particular club face position at impact. Since this can be related to the path at impact, I took a deeper look at those habits and how the path can influence the degree to which these habits are formed. The article also proposes the potential benefits of a square (neutral) CLUB PATH and how this can help prevent bad habits from being formed in your swing.
For simplicity, imagine three golfers 150 yards from the green in the middle of the fairway. Let’s name them Player A, Player B, and Player C. The pin is located in the middle of the green and the green is 25 yards wide. Each golfer uses a 6 iron, aims perfectly at the pin, and has the same swing speed as the average male amateur with a 6 iron (80mph). Below is a description of each player’s swing with regards to their CLUB PATH and FACE TO PATH.
Player A has an outside-in CLUB PATH of -8 degrees. Assuming a centered strike, Player A must have an open FACE TO PATH to hit the green. Using TrackMan’s ball flight calculator, the exact range is 2 to 6 degrees open at impact. If the FACE TO PATH is anywhere outside this range, Player A will miss the green.
Player B has an inside-out CLUB PATH of 4 degrees. Assuming a centered strike, Player B can have a square or closed FACE TO PATH to hit the green. Using TrackMan’s ball flight calculator, the exact range is square (0) to 5 degrees closed at impact. If the FACE TO PATH is anywhere outside this range, Player B will miss the green.
Player C has a square CLUB PATH at impact. Assuming a centered strike, Player C can have a square, closed, or open FACE TO PATH to hit the green. Using TrackMan’s ball flight calculator, the exact range is 2.5 closed to 2.5 open at impact. If the FACE TO PATH is outside this range, Player C will miss the green.
If your CLUB PATH is similar to Player A, you make it very challenging because there is only one option to hit the green - your FACE TO PATH must be open. That means you do everything in your swing to prevent a square or closed FACE TO PATH. For Player A, this can manifest itself as a weak grip, open club face at setup, open club face in the takeaway, cupped left wrist at the top of the backswing, cupped left wrist through impact, too much tension in the hands and arms, chicken wing elbow, etc. Golfers like Player A, whether they know it or not, are using these habits to ensure they hit their target. Over time, however, these habits become highly ingrained and lead to inconsistency and poor performance.
If you’re like Player B, you have a better chance because you have two options to hit the green - with a square or closed FACE TO PATH. Having two options instead of one allows a little more freedom because there’s only one club face position you’re trying to avoid, an open FACE TO PATH. For Player B, this can manifest itself as a strong grip, closed club face at setup, closed club face in the backswing, bowed left wrist in the backswing, body stall through impact, exaggerated flip (roll) of the hands through impact, etc. If the path becomes more inside-out, these faults become more exaggerated. But since the path was only slightly inside-out, these habits don’t become excessive. Overall, golfers like Player B may develop bad habits, but not nearly to the same degree as golfers like Player A.
If you’re like Player C, you’re giving yourself the best chance because you have all three options to hit the green - with a square, closed, or open FACE TO PATH. You must be within a good range – of course – but having all three options gives you the most freedom because you’re not desperately trying to avoid a club face position. In my opinion, learning to swing like this (or at least train like this) is one of the ‘healthiest’ things you can do for your swing. For golfers like Player C, I often see more speed, lower tension levels, consistency of strike, better ball flight dispersion, etc. Overall, bad habits are less likely to develop in this type of swing. These are the reasons a square (neutral) CLUB PATH can benefit your swing.
There are exceptions of course. Some tour players have exaggerated CLUB PATH numbers and probably should not change it. In fact, changing their path could possibly do more harm than good because their patterns are so ingrained and predictable. Instead, they should work to maintain their CLUB PATH rather than change it. Amateurs, on the other hand, would benefit from learning to swing like Player B or Player C, especially if they are just getting started in the game and have access to a radar like Trackman. As we learned, this can help avoid developing bad habits in the long run.
To get started improving your CLUB PATH, you must analyze your numbers using accurate technology such as TrackMan. Once you learn your baseline average, the next step is working with a coach to come up with key feels to move your path closer to neutral. You may not maintain these same exact numbers when you play on the course, but it will be a good training for your swing. Think of it as “calibrating” your path and helping to reduce excessive patterns (bad ones) developing in the long run.
If you develop a neutral path, shaping shots becomes easier. That’s because all you have to focus on, after you adjust your aim, is club face control. Here’s an example on how to play a fade; aim your body to the left (for a righty) and focus on extra grip pressure in your lead hand. As long as you swing down your stance line, your path will be outside-in and the extra grip pressure will keep the face slightly open to the path to produce the fade. This approach to shaping shots may be more simple and easier to repeat for most golfers if they reach this level of control with their swing.