THE TRUE COST OF A SLICE... IN DATA
What launch monitor TrackMan tells us about slicing
Slicing off the tee, the curse of the weekend golfer. We all know why it happens. After all, I'm sure your playing companions on a Saturday or Sunday morning are keen enough to point it out. Common explanations range from "you lifted your head" or " you came over the top on that one" or "you got ahead of that one". I'm sure you've heard all of these and probably a whole lot more.
These pieces of advice are of course well-meant; but unfortunately they can do more harm than good. There may be some truth in the observations, but elements like lifting your head or coming over the top may have nothing to do with why you are slicing the ball. At best, they may be symptoms of a root cause, and changing them won't affect the slice itself.
To truly get to the heart of your slice, you need to understand the facts about what is causing it – and this is where launch monitor technology like TrackMan can help. By translating the slice into hard, cold data, we can see there are in fact just two real causes for that horrible weak flight that peels off into the rough/ trees/bushes. Here, we show a TrackMan analysis of both; by comparing them to a straight shot, you can see just how damaging they can be.
1. STRAIGHT SHOT: Taken from a solid straight blow – if not a perfect strike – this data gives good ballpark figures for an average clubhead speed of 93mph. Spin is below 2500rpm and at 1.45, smash factor (a measure of strike quality) is close to the 1.5 perfect figure. Compare these numbers to the two slicing shots below
THE TWO COMMON CAUSES OF A SLICE... AND WHAT HAPPENS
AT THE CLUBFACE IS OPEN TO THE PATH AT IMPACT
This one feels like a solid strike but when you look up, there it goes o to the right again. There may be numerous reasons why this has happened, but essentially any time you have the face open to the path at impact the ball will cause the spin axis to tilt to the right and curve left to right through the air. That is assuming you hit the ball out the middle of the clubface.
What TrackMan tells us (1, 2), we have two shots, struck with similar clubhead speeds and from a similar, central part of the clubface.
#1. In the first – a straight shot (1) – a strong face-to- path relationship produces a strong set of figures.
#2. In the second – where the face is less than 4degrees open to the path (2) – we can start to see the difference. Distance has dropped by 20 yards and spin has climbed by around 800rpm, making the flight far less stable. Even when the face is only slightly open to the path, it can have a big effect on your shots.
A HEEL STRIKE
The other main cause for a slice (3), which we have only really become more aware of through using launch monitors like TrackMan, is gear effect. Without getting too technical, gear effect occurs when the ball is struck heel-side of centre on the clubface. This tends to feel like a less solid strike and generally results in a loss of ball speed and an increase in spin and a left- to-right spin axis tilt (often referred to as sidespin).
Ultimately this heel strike will travel a shorter distance due to the drop in initial ball speed and excessive spin. Even if you have a "draw" swing where the path is in-to-out and the clubface is slightly closed to that path, it's still possible to slice the ball if you hit it heel-side of centre on the clubface.
A ball struck heel-side of centre basically results in a less e cient transfer of energy from club to ball and can reduce the carry and total distances by more than 10% compared to a centred strike with the face open to the path at impact.
Ultimately a centred strike always has and always will be imperative if you are to eradicate your dreaded slice.
What TrackMan tells us
This time we are matching up our straight shot, hit from the middle of the face, with a heel strike. Note that:
#1. Despite similar club speeds, the ball speed has dropped by 10mph... resulting in loss of distance.
#2. From a club speed just one mph slower, the heel strike's total distance is almost 60 yards shorter.
#3. Spin has almost doubled, creating excessive curvature in the ball.
KNOW, DON'T JUST GUESS
If your slice is causing you grief, rather than relying on your weekend playing companions and their clichéd opinions on what may or may not be the root cause of your woes, do yourself a favour and arrange a session with your local pro to find out the real cause.
Whether it is a heel strike or the face is indeed open to your swing path, a certi ed TrackMan user will not only be able to identify the real cause but help get you back on track and hitting more fairways and greens.
THE TRUE COST OF A SLICE... IN SHOTS
Why hitting the rough may not be as bad as you think
For years, golfers the world over have considered that a slice does for your scorecard what Semtex does for your greenhouse. But it's only in recent years, with the advent of individual shot-related data capture technology like Arccos and Shot Scope, that we can discover the true extent of the damage. Shot Scope is a simple system in which lightweight tags, screwed into the butt of the club, store and send information to wrist-worn device. The result of the shot is known through a GPS reading of where the next shot is played from.
"Over the last 18 months or so, we've collected information from some 14 million shots," says Shot Scope commercial officer Gavin Dear. "It's allowed us to create a clear picture of just how damaging the slice is to the typical club player." The three graphics here display the average shots taken from 120, 140 and 160 yards – from fairway, fairway bunker right, right rough and right trees (left-hander data has been removed). The graphics also show average proximity – distance to the hole – in each scenario. We've pulled out the most significant findings below...
1. The rough is only slightly worse than fairway
At each distance, the average number of shots taken from the rough is only slightly worse than from the fairway. From 140 and 160 yards the di erence is almost negligible, suggesting no major penalty at club player level.
2. Long and wayward is better than short straight
Take a look at 160 yards from the fairway, and 140 from the rough. The typical club golfer averages 4.1 shots in the former, and 3.85 in the latter. This suggests laying up to nd the fairway does not translate into a lower score.
3. Fairway bunker issues
While the di erences between fairway and rough are small, they are much bigger between fairway and sand – almost three quarters of a shot at each distance. This shows the value of the slicer either laying up or blasting away to take fairway bunkers out of play... or of getting better at fairway trap shots!
4. Add on a shot for trees
At each distance, you are almost a shot worse from being in the trees than the right rough. This suggests that while a slice into the rough is not a huge deal, one that heads into the tree line certainly is.
5. Get four times closer from rough than trees
Shots into the treeline tend to mean chipping out sideways or other options where you can't go for the green – and that's why the proximity figures are so much higher; indeed, from 160 yards that proximity total of 465ft (155 yards) means we've barely advanced the ball at all. Contrast that with the 105.8ft (35 yards)figure from rough – we're hitting it around four times closer. The pattern is repeated at all distances, and clearly demonstrates the value of keeping the ball inside the tree line. Further Shot Scope analysis has shown an interesting statistic on positional shots from the right of the fairway – in other words shots where you can't shoot for the green.
When a positional shot is required from the right rough after a tee shot, the subsequent shot is played off the fairway only:
● 54% of the time from 160
● 62% of the time from 140
● 61% of the time from 120
This basically suggests that when in trouble, we are either not very good at taking our medicine or not very good at laying up – food for thought and another great reason to select a club or shot where – even if you slice – you are able to play towards the green.
THE TRUE COST OF A SLICE... IN YOUR HEAD
Your thought process can help or hinder your technical work on taming your slice. Improve your concept and story to make sure it's the former
At first, it may appear a physical and technical issue like slicing a golf ball has very little to do with the mind. But dig a little deeper and you begin to see how the two are linked. For starters, golfers slice primarily because they do not have a clear concept of what they are trying to achieve with the swing and the clubface.
A concept is of course a mental thing; when your mind is giving your body clearer, more effective messages of what you need to do to hit the ball straighter, you can start to make progress. Further, when I talk to golfers who slice the ball, I'm typically given the clear impression that they feel doomed to their fate. They are a slicer, they always have been and they always will be. I've talked in these pages many times about the stories we tell ourselves as golfers, and their power to become self-fulfilling. Label yourself a perennial slicer and that's what you'll be.
"OK," you say. "But the facts are I've sliced the ball for the last 10 years. I went out yesterday and sliced my way round again. How can I not label myself a slicer?"
Fair enough. But that doesn't mean you can't change your story today... and that starts with a commitment to concept, and understanding more about what causes a slice. Elsewhere in this feature, Gareth Johnston explains how the relationship between impact face angle and swing path can increase or reduce the curvature on the flight. He also demonstrates the dominant influence of the face aim, and gives you three ways to get that face squarer. Read this advice, absorb it.
Understand and accept that you slice because somewhere along the line, you open the clubface. Build a new concept of your action, one based around face awareness and control. When you change your concept, you can start to change your story. Perhaps you are not a chronic slicer after all; maybe you're a golfer learning how to draw the ball, or at least groove a controlled soft fade.
Of course you need to experiment with new concepts, put them to the test. It's vital you do this on the golf course itself. This is because your environment has the power to trigger movement. You can spend hours on the range nurturing a squarer clubface or a more neutral path... but out on your bogey hole – the one where you always slice it off into the trees – your old motor patterns will reassert themselves in the face of that familiar stimulus and the old shot will emerge.
I would advise going out on to the course, probably on your own, with some old practice balls. Head to that bogey hole, or the shot where you always seem to slice. Give yourself permission to explore what happens when you place your attention on the face and exaggerate those strengthening moves – the stronger grip, flatter lead wrist, increased forearm rotation.
Do whatever it takes to get the ball moving the other way. When you see yourself achieving that on the hole where you always seem to slice, you disarm its power to prompt that shot... and that's going to be so beneficial on your next proper round. You also write another chapter in your new story that says you are not a slicer. One final thing – even if you hit only one draw or straight shot during the course of the round, write it down in a notebook afterwards.
By writing it out you have to recall it vividly, and when we recall we rehearse. Make this a habit and you begin to create a store of bright, fresh positive memories and experiences. You will begin to struggle to tell yourself you are a slicer, because you have so much great evidence to the contrary. With a poor concept and story, your mind will constantly work against all the hard physical work you put in to get on top of your slice. Change them both and your progress will be easier, faster and enduring.