Your crash course in golf terms and definitions. Chapter 1, Part 1: Shot launch conditions

By GolfTEC Digital

You’re about to get schooled. Forget anthropology, chemistry or advanced physics — well, that’s not entirely true, we’ll need physics — because we’re talking golf terms and definitions.

At GolfTEC, we pride ourselves on knowing golf as well as Doc Brown knows flux capacitors, and we’re on a mission to make sure you do, too. Our new series tackles various golf terms and definitions for this reason, because there’s a lot of golf lingo out there many don’t understand.

This means if you don’t know your dynamic loft from spin loft then read on, because this week we give basic meanings to some common terms related to golf shot launch conditions. And, there’s more to come on this subject, so study up on Part 1 for now and share with your golf buddies so they’re in the know, too!

Golf Terms & Definitions: Shot launch conditions

Spin Rate:  Amount of ball spin right after impact

This measurement influences curvature and distance. Generally speaking, too much backspin causes the ball to “balloon” up and lose distance, too little backspin limits carry distance and spin, and “sidespin” (the ball spinning on a tilted axis in relation to the horizon) creates a slicing and drawing ball flight.Spin Rate

Ball Speed:  Initial ball velocity right after impact

Ball speed ultimately determines distance. Directly tied to club speed and smash factor, this is the biggest factor in how far the ball travels.

Fun facts: The fastest ball speed measured on the PGA Tour in 2016 was 190 mph, and the Guinness World Record for ball speed is a whopping 235.1 mph!

Clubhead Speed:  Clubhead velocity right before impact

Clubhead speed is used in conjunction with ball speed to find smash factor and a golfer’s distance potential. It provides the main transfer of energy from the club to the ball.

Fun fact: PGA Tour Player of the Year, Dustin Johnson, was near the top of the rankings this season. His fastest clubhead speed was clocked at 126 mph!

Smash Factor:  Ball speed divided by clubhead speed

Smash factor is an indication of energy transfer between the clubhead and ball at impact — the ratio of ball speed to club speed. In basic terms, this is a measure of how solidly a ball is hit. For example, if a golfer swings the club at 100 mph with ball speed of 140 mph, the smash factor is 1.40 (140/100).

Fun fact: According to TrackMan Combine, a 10-handicapper should strive for a 1.45 smash factor from the tee.

Launch Angle:  Initial vertical angle of the ball in relation to the horizon
Golf Terms and Definitions: Launch angle

This vertical launch angle relative to the horizon (or plane) the ball sits upon at impact is important when assessing the distance and trajectory of every shot. Launch angle combined with ball speed help determine optimal backspin needed for maximum distance. The club’s dynamic loft at impact is mostly responsible for launch angle.

Fun Fact: PGA Tour players generally have driver launch angles between 7-14 degrees, while LPGA players (averaging less clubhead speed) have higher launch angles.

Carry Distance:  Distance the ball travels in the air

This measurement is important for proper distance and gap control when fitting clubs. It’s also important for all golfers to know an average carry distance with each club for efficient course management and club choice on every shot.

Attack Angle:  Vertical movement of the club at impact
Golf Terms and Definitions: Attack angle

Attack angle (or AoA/angle of attack) is a vertical measurement of how the club is moving through the ball at impact.

Fun Fact: GolfTEC’s Chad Miller recently wrote an article on how to help your attack angle from the tee.

Dynamic Loft:  Amount of club loft at impact relative to the horizon

A critical measurement for determining launch angle and spin rates for optimal distance. Too much dynamic loft often occurs when the angle of attack is too steep (downward) and creates a higher trajectory with too much spin, while too little dynamic loft creates a lower shot trajectory that often limits carry distance and doesn’t spin enough. Both ends of the spectrum affect overall distance.

Fun Fact: As GolfTEC’s Patrick Nuber highlighted in a recent article covering some of Rickie Fowler’s measurements, his dynamic loft was measured on the GEARS system at around 10 degrees with his driver. 

Rickie Fowler Spin Loft graphic

Spin Loft:  Difference between attack angle and dynamic loft at impact

Spin loft represents the primary variable determining how much backspin is on the ball. It can also be a key indicator noting differences between more and less skilled golfers, as large gaps in the spin loft spectrum are often seen with a driver swing. Most golfers have too much spin loft due to a far too downward AoA, too much dynamic loft and an open face-to-path relationship.Golf Terms and Definitions: Spin loft

Fun Fact: Nuber’s same article on Fowler covers the significance of spin loft in depth, comparing his spin loft numbers to a typical amateur’s as measured on GEARS. The 17-degree difference noted between the two players also closely represents their spin rates and shot distance.

Club Path:  Horizontal direction of the clubface at impact

Golf Terms and Definitions: Ball flight laws exampleClub path is measured relative to center, or the target line. As we recently outlined in our piece on golf ball flight laws, club path is typically referred to as being in to out, or out to in. Combined with the club’s face angle, club path is a complementary indicator of the shot’s curvature.

Face Angle:  Direction of the clubface at impact

Face angle determines the initial direction of the shot. Often referred to as open, square or closed, this angle in relation to club path also determines the curve of the shot. For righties, a closed clubface at impact will create shots starting left of the target, while an open face will initially push shots to the right.

Still need more clarification? GolfTEC’s Nick Clearwater goes deeper into ball flight in this Lesson Series video.

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