Why Are You STILL a Hacker?
by Lawrence Martin
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Table of Contents/ Go to Preface/ Go to Step 1/ Go to Step 2/ Go to Step 3/ Go to Step 4/ Go to Step 5/ Go to Step 6/ Go to Step 7/ Go to Step 8/ Go to Step 9/ Front Nine Quiz/ Back Nine Quiz/ Golf Bibliography/ Internet Sites Listed in Book

Step 4. Understand The Purpose of the Golf Swing: the Fundamentals of Ball Contact And Flight Path.

As one who started the game late in life, but then studied hard to improve, I am surprised at the typical approach to teaching by golf professionals. (This is a generalization, I know, but does reflect my own experience and just about every book I've read aimed at the beginning golfer.) Certainly most golf professionals and authors of instruction books start with "the swing," which includes grip, set up, back swing, down swing and follow through. In other words, how to hold the club, address the ball, and then hit it.

To novices this certainly seems the right place to begin. People new to golf want to swing the club, not (in the beginning) read some book or study some diagrams. The initiate has probably swung the club many times, and found that the ball seldom goes where intended. So of course formal teaching should start with "show me how to swing the club." And this is the typical sequence in which "The Swing" is taught.

"The Swing"


Setup (including posture, ball position, and alignment)

Backswing (takeaway)


Follow through

What could possibly be wrong starting out with these all important fundamentals? What could be more basic than the grip? Everyone acknowledges that without a proper grip you can't play the game. And everyone acknowledges that without proper setup you can't hit effective shots. Obviously beginners need to learn the grip and proper setup.

But as a one time golf hacker, and now a student of the game, I can tell you that along with the basic elements of swing mechanics should be taught the fundamentals of ball contact and ball flight.

Movement of the ball through space is entirely dependent on rather simple laws of physics. Hit the ball a certain way and it will go in some specific direction, always. The beginning player needs to understand these fundamentals: why a ball goes straight, or left or right, or high or low. Only then can he or she appreciate what the swing is for, and learn from the errant shots that will inevitably occur.

There are four fundamentals of ball contact, and they govern where the ball goes:

That's it. That's all there is, except for environmental factors (wind speed and direction, air pressure [altitude]) and the physical makeup of the golf ball itself). While of concern to top players, environmental factors and ball composition are not germane to improving the novice's game (and are seldom the reason for poor shots in any case). Thus, for practical purposes, the four fundamentals of ball contact will determine the path and distance of EVERY SHOT you take.

Here is one example of 9 different shots referenced to the target line, which is straight down the middle. This graphic is taken from the excellent Dave Tutelman golf site. Note that: