Why is it so hard to hit a golf ball straight?

I, like many others, enjoy playing a round of golf. I like the challenge of a new course and the strategy and planning that goes into every shot. But there is one thing that I can never do on a consistent basis, and that is hit the ball straight, especially on a drive. And while I am far from a professional, this is not a problem solely felt by amateurs. If you watch any major golf match on TV you are bound to see professional golfers slice their drive into the trees or hook an iron into the water, just like me, although much less often than I. In fact, according to this data, and my own calculations, the average professional golfer only hit the fairway off the tee 61% of the time. From a casual onlooker, hitting the fairway wouldn’t seem like a very hard task to accomplish. Fairways are usually fairly wide and simply aiming the golf ball to land somewhere on the fairway doesn’t seem that difficult, but the data shows that it is in fact a very hard task, even for the professionals. So why is it so hard to hit the golf ball straight? The answer boils down to there factors, where the club face contacts the ball, the angle of the club face at contact, and the swing itself. To hit a ball perfectly straight all there of these things must be perfect, but that is much easier said then done. When hitting the driver, there is a spot in the middle of the club face referred to as the sweet spot, this is the spot that will generate the most power when struck against the ball. And it is this spot that all golfers try to hit the ball with. But the problem is that the typical sweet spot on a driver is approximately a quarter of an inch wide and a golf ball is only 1.68 inches in diameter.


This image shows the club face of an average driver. Drivers can differ slightly in size and shape but the sweet spot concept remains the same. Inside the red circle represents the sweet spot. That is the part of the club that must strike the ball to achieve  maximum distance and to keep the ball straight. But this isn’t the only factor in hitting the ball straight. Another, equally as important factor is the angle of the club face upon impact.


This image shows the three ways a club face can impact a the golf ball. On the left, a closed club face is depicted, this can happen when one over rotates their wrists on the swing, causing the face to close when it impacts the ball. For a right hand golfer, this will cause the ball to go left. On the right, an open club face is shown, this can happen when one under rotates their wrists during the swing. For a right handed golfer, this will cause the ball to go right. In the center a square club face is shown, this is how the club face should look when it impacts the golf ball. This, combined with hitting the ball on the sweet spot, will help greatly in hitting the ball straight. But there is another hugely important factor in hitting the ball straight, the swing.

This is a strobe picture of Bobby Jones’ swing. Bobby Jones was one of the best golfers of his era (1920’s – 1930’s). He won many major tournaments and helped found the Masters golf tournament.


Although this picture is more then 70 years old, the golf swing hasn’t changed much, and this picture still represents an excellent swing. This is where physics plays a huge part in hitting the ball straight. There are numerous parts to a swing and all must be perfect to hit the ball straight, but for this blog we’ll focus on the wrists.


This picture shows various points of a swing, and the corresponding wrist position. At point 1, the wrists are straight, at point 2 once the back swing begins, the wrists begin to move back until they reach the 90 degree angle shown at point 3. The wrists stay this way until somewhere between point 4 and 5. Between 4 and 5 the wrists must unlock and become straight again as the club face makes contact with the ball. The hard part is gauging when to unlock the wrists so that they will become straight at the right time. The exact point at which to unlock the wrists to achieve the best contact can be found using physics. This website breaks the whole thing down step by step using math and physics that is far beyond me. But I will try to summarize it as best I can. First one must draw a picture of what is happening in the swing and assign variables to the different points of the drawing. That looks something like this.


Then, after finding all the variables and setting up numerous equations, the people at www.real-world-physics-problems.com, found that the optimal angle to release your wrists is between 55 and 60 degrees. This is shown approximately where the white line is in this picture.


We have covered three very important aspects of hitting a golf ball straight, where the ball makes contact with the club face, the angle of the club when contact is made, and the point at which to release your wrists. And with an average swing speed of 93 miles per hour, the average golfer has less than a second to ensure all three aspects are perfect, and if one is even slightly off, the ball will not go straight. And thus, this is why it is hard to hit a golf ball straight, there are simply to many parts in the swing and too little time during the swing to ensure that everything is perfect every time.

























1 thought on “Why is it so hard to hit a golf ball straight?

  1. Benjamin R Tuohey

    I used to play golf a good amount when I was little but as I got older I didn’t play much. But more recently I got back into golf and man it is much harder then I remember. Golf is such a difficult game but relates to science and physics so well. I enjoyed reading this blog post. I like learning about how physics applies to things especially sports. Science is truly everywhere. I attached an article about physics revealing their ideal golf swing http://phys.org/news/2006-12-physics-reveals-key-great-golf.html

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