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How to Optimize Your Angle of Attack

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

When I first get a student or a Geek/Krank custom fit driver customer on the Trackman Pro launch monitor, one of the pieces of data that I look at is the angle of attack.

Angle of attack describes how the driver comes into the ball in the vertical plane.  If you struck a golf ball at the very bottom of your swing arc, your angle of attack would be zero degrees.  Strike it anywhere before the bottom of the arc and your attack angle (also known as AoA) will be negative, or downward.  After the bottom of the arc, you will strike upwards on the ball for a positive AoA. 

Research with Trackman has revealed that to hit your longest drives, you must strike the ball with a +5 degree, or upwards, angle of attack.

So it is left to the golf instructor to figure out how to position their students to acheive this optimum strike.  And since the average AoA on the PGA Tour is downward between 1 and 2 degrees, there are many teachers out there that aren't doing a great job doing this.

What I know, and have seen personally in hundreds of cases is - that the Mike Austin swing virtually takes care of getting an optimum attack angle on the driver.  He always encouraged us to hit 'under, up, and out!'  This perfect upward strike is just one of the secrets that Mike employed to hit the ball 515 yards back in 1974.

Here are a few keys that I use with my students to help them raise their angle of attack with the driver:

1.  Adjust Your Ball Position - Every book I ever read or video I watched told me to play the driver off my left heel.  With the new ball flight laws, established by Trackman, this is probably antiquated. 

Here is a shot of the 'traditional' left instep ball position.  This position makes it nearly impossible to attain a positive attack angle into the ball.  The new optimal ball position for a driver is off the big toe of your front foot.  And if necessary, you may even need to play it off the middle toe.  This is a couple of inches further forward than what was previously taught.

2.  Swing OUT - Swinging outside in, or even inside to square, will give you little chance of ever attaining the proper angle of attack.  The ideal path on a well struck driver will be between 5 and 7 degrees horizontally to the right.  Most people I showed the Mike Austin technique predicted that I would push the ball - but this is not the case. 

Two-time World Champion Jamie Sadlowski is seen here swinging out.  Since we are catching the ball on the upswing, the clubhead is heading back to the left on the arc, and will hit the ball straight.  Thus, even though your swing plane is several degrees right, the resultant true club path will be 0 degrees, or straight.  So swing out to the right - it promotes an upward strike!  Cutting across to the left, conversely, promotes a downward angle of attack.

3.  Tilt the Spine - The current fad in elite golf teaching is to attempt to keep the spine level through the impact zone, which is extremely inefficient and has a higher risk of injury.  Yet pro golfers like Stuart Appleby, Sean O'Hair, and even Tiger Woods are all attempting to do it.   This ensures a steeply downward hit with the driver, and less distance with more effort.

 Professional long driver Eddie Colon demonstrates the proper tilt of the spine caused by a solid pivot.   To properly hit up on the driver, we must swing our lower spine over to the front foot while keeping the head centered.  Swinging the navel area in this manner sets our spine at between a 20 and 30 degree tilt at impact and promotes an upward strike.

The difference between a 5 degree downward strike and an optimal 5 degree upward strike is about 25 yards with a 90 mph swing speed.  Most golfers I work with for the first time have a negative AoA.  Therefore, if you want up to 25 yard of free distance, follow my 3 steps and outdrive all your buddies next weekend!

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