If you’re a regular at your local course, you must’ve seen a lightweight player hit 250 yards. Similarly, you must’ve seen heavyweight players who pack a lot of power in their upper bodies max out at 170-180 yards. It’s everyday things at any course.
Have you ever wondered what’s the determining factor? Or, are you one of those players struggling from distance issues? Then, this post is for you. We’ll solely focus on how launch angle and power can impact distance for a driver or a long iron.
What is Launch Angle?
Launch angle is a widely used term among veteran golfers. In layman’s terms, the launch is the angle the ball launches at in relation to the ground. If we didn’t know any better, we would’ve thought that the launch angle is controlled by the club alone.
In reality, launch angle and the power of the shot are closely intertwined. If how you generate the power for your swing isn’t correct, the club face angle will not be correct. And when your launch angle is faulty, you won’t get the distance you’re supposed to.
So, when you see lightweight players hit tee shots over 200 yards, you’re essentially seeing a spectacular display of launch angle control.
The purpose of this post is to educate you on the relation between launch angle and power so that you can utilize this knowledge to improve your distance. If the concept is too complex for you, simply think of a water hose.
When the hose is angled at 0 degrees with the ground, the water just pours out. As you increase the angle, water starts to go farther. After a certain angle, the water stream will start to lose its distance. According to physics, the maximum distance for a trajectory is achieved when the launch angle is 45 degrees.
While you can’t control the launch angle to the degree, you can at least try to get in the ballpark. The closer you get, the more distance you can achieve without any additional changes to your swing.
How to Get the Correct Launch Angle in Golf?
To master the perfect launch angle, there are certain steps you need to take. Let’s cover the necessary actions you need to take to increase your distance.
Every great step in life comes with a preparation phase. The same is true for getting the right launch angle. Just like any other long shot, your goal is to return to the address position during impact.
Speaking of address position, let’s cover the basics. First up, the ball position. The ball should be in a forward position in relation to your body, standard practice with driver and iron shots. Set up the ball at the right tee height. Tee height will vary from player to player. Ideally, there should be no more than half a ball length sticking out from the top of the driver at address.
Now, weight distribution. This is where things get weird. We mostly say that your weight should always be on the lead side of your body. In other words, you need to put more weight on your front foot rather than your trail foot.
However, to get the best possible launch angle with a driver, you need to put more weight on the trail side. As the ball is placed forward and you move your weight backward, you can hit up on the ball.
Interestingly enough, shots with drivers are usually the only ones where you want to hit up on the ball. Because drivers have the least amount of loft on the club face. In golf, the loft helps to get the ball in the air. As drivers have less loft, you need to help the ball gain height by hitting up on it.
Rotation of the Hips
The next step after address is to get your hip rotation right. How you rotate your hips has everything to do with the amount of power you generate. The power comes from the ground through your legs, then to your hips, and finally to your upper body.
Ideally, you should push your hips toward the target as your come down with your downswing. This creates more room for your trail arm and prevents the infamous chicken wing. Also, when you push the hip forward, you eliminate the chance of accidentally opening or closing the club face.
The ideal angle difference between your upper body and lower body is 45 degrees. What we mean by that is that your upper body should rotate 90 degrees from start to end of the swing while your lower body should rotate only 45 degrees. Hence, the 45-degree difference.
It might not sound a lot, but you’ll be surprised to see how much rotation is 45 degrees if you’re not used to it. You might even struggle to achieve the angle too. A great way to diagnose and fix hip rotation issues is to use an alignment stick. You simply push an alignment stick through your belt to hold it in position.
You’ll need to increase your hip rotation to make room for the alignment stick. When you can successfully avoid hitting the stick, you can confidently say that you have achieved the optimal hip rotation.
Swing Lag/Wrist Hinge
We have a dedicated guide on the wrist action on our website. Swing lag and wrist action go hand in hand. When you rotate away from the target and go through your backswing, your wrists hinge by a certain angle to help the club reach the top.
The final position of the wrist is what you need to retain during your downswing as well. The wrist angle keeps the club shallow and helps with swing lag. Essentially, swing lag is when the club head lags behind your wrist. If you release the wrist too early, you’ll never achieve lag.
And it’s one of the major problems, especially among new players to retain the wrist angle. Most of them release the hinge too early, causing the club head to flick through impact. It also doesn’t let you accelerate through the swing, one of the most important catalysts in getting maximum distance.
After your legs, your wrists are the biggest source of power for the swing. If you manage to time the release correctly, you’ll notice significant distance improvements.
Dialing in the Correct Loft
Most drivers today come with an adjustable loft. It’s usually a dial or a screw at the bottom of the club that changes the loft. In golf, loft is the vertical angle between the club face and the shaft of the club. The more the loft, the more it looks like the club face is facing the sky.
Loft and distance don’t go together well. The more upward angle you have on your club, the higher the ball will fly. And the higher the ball will fly, the lower the distance you’ll get. That’s why wedges have the highest loft while drivers have the least.
Now, should you go with 0 loft? That sounds about right for the maximum distance, right? Well, it’s not that simple.
According to physics, you need at least some angle to launch the ball in the air. If you don’t, the ball will shoot straight. The ball will start rolling instead of flying. When that happens, you won’t get nearly as much distance because the friction with the ground will slow the ball down.
That’s why drivers have between 12 to 14 degrees of loft. Depending on who the manufacturer is, the default loft on the club might change. So, will the adjustability of the loft. The rule of thumb is that the higher price you’re willing to pay for your driver, the more adjustability you get.
Another reason why less loft is better is the spin factor. The immense speed of the club head allows the ball to spin faster. When the ball spins very fast in the air, it creates lift. Paired up with the dimples of the ball, the lift allows the ball to stay in the air for longer. Which ultimately means more distance.
But did you ever stop to think why the driver has only 12 to 14 degrees of loft but the optimal launch angle for a trajectory is 45 degrees?
Without getting into too much physics, the short answer is wind resistance and lift. The 45-degree launch angle was derived in a vacuum. In real life, we don’t live in a vacuum. There’s wind resistance to everything we do. If you factor in the drag caused by the resistance, the optimal launch angle is 35 degrees.
35 is still a very large number when compared to the actual loft of drivers. That’s where the backspin and lift come into play. When lift is factored into the equation, the launch angle for maximum distance becomes 16 degrees.
The rest of the loft is covered by the divot of your tee shot. We know that tee shots have an advanced divot which means the ball is struck after the swing passes its lowest point. So, the actual launch angle is higher than the loft of the club.