Basics of Ball Flight in Golf

Understanding the Simplest Causes and Effects

Golfer tees off, viewed from behind
Alex Robinson/AWL Images/Getty Images

Do you understand the basics of ball flight in golf? That is, do you understand what the most common ball flights are and why the golf ball flies in those ways — the ways your swing path and club face position influence the flight of the golf ball?

Ball flight faults and fixes can be broken down into some simple charts and simple instructions, but can also be made very complicated and complex. We'll stick with the simpler stuff here.

We spoke with PGA Teaching Professional Perry Andrisen, who has worked at The Bridges Golf Club, Indian Wells and Hazeltine National, among other locations, about the basics of ball flight.

Andrisen noted that failing to understand why the golf ball is reacting the way it does to your swing flaws is an easy way to ratchet up frustration on the golf course.

"Struggling golfers are often willing to try anything and everything," Andrisen noted. "One way you can put a stop to that downward spiral of frustration is to learn the basics of ball flight. That way, you don't have to depend on others when your golf ball starts doing funny things, things you weren't expecting and don't want it to do. And learning the basics of ball flight is very easy — it takes just a minute or two to grasp the simplest, most common explanations for why the golf ball does what it does in flight."

Having the most basic understanding of ball flight cause-and-effect lets every golfer do his or her own coaching.

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This Chart Will Help You Grasp Ball Flight Basics

The colored rectangles represent swing path, the dotted lines ball flights
The colored rectangles represent swing path, the dotted lines ball flights. Perry Andrisen

This graphic demonstrates the six basic ball flights and their causes, so long as you know how to read it. So, here's how to read it: The dotted lines represent the different flight paths of the golf ball; the colored rectangles represent swing path (for example, and outside-to-inside swing path is represented by red-to-yellow). Note that the ball flights represented in the graphic are for a right-handed golfer who is properly aligned.

These are the six basic ball flights that are pictured on the graphic. The first four are shown on the left side of the graphic, as described by golf instructor Andrisen:

Hook (pink line): Cause — closed clubface at impact. Effect — ball curves to the left. (Note again that we are using a right-handed golfer in these examples; lefties should reverse the directional elements.)

Slice (orange line): Cause — open clubface at impact. Effect — ball curves to the right.

Pull (yellow line): Cause — red-to-yellow swing path. Effect — ball starts left of target and flies straight.

Push (blue line): Cause — green-to-blue swing path. Effect — ball starts right of target and flies straight.

A draw and a fade (not depicted in the graphic) are nice descriptions of a slight hook and slight slice.

None of the ball flights described above will get the ball to the target, unless your alignment is off (or you intentionally aim in a way that takes into account an expected flaw in your ball flight). But a combination of two of these ball flights can get the ball to the target. Those are the other two ball flights, show on the right side of the graphic.

Pull-Slice (yellow-orange line)
Cause — red-to-yellow swing path with an open clubface. Effect — ball starts left of target and curves right. Some characteristics of a pull-slicer:

  • Usually toe-deep divots that point to the left. Toe-deep means the toe of the club digs into the ground more than does the heel of the club.
  • Battle scars (skymarks) on the top and toe of the driver from hitting the ball straight up.
  • Tee marks on the bottom of the driver that are at an angle.
  • Contact on the toe of the club.
  • Ball flight is high with a loss of distance.
  • Fights a slice.
  • Best feeling shot is a pull to the left.
  • Tension, tension, tension.

Push-Hook (blue-pink line)
Cause — green-to-blue swing path with a closed clubface. Effect — ball starts right of target and curves left. Some characteristics of a push-hooker:

  • Usually heel-deep divots that point to the right.
  • Divots are usually very shallow or may be non-existent.
  • Usually a good player, but one who fights a hook.
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Face Position Over Swing Path

"Clubface position has a bigger influence on direction than the path of the swing," Andrisen said. "You could be making a pull-slice swing but because the clubface is very open the ball might not fly to the left before it starts slicing."

Therefore, a pull-slicer should try to swing like a push-hooker, and vice-versa.

"There are a million swing thoughts to correct ball flight, but before you can figure out what's going to help correct a particular ball flight, you must know why the ball is flying that way to begin with," Andrisen said.