What angle of attack should you have? | Fully Equipped Mailbag

In this edition of the Fully Equipped Mailbag, we tackle angle of attack and what it means for every club in the bag.

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Welcome to another edition of the Fully Equipped Mailbag, sponsored by Cleveland/Srixon Golf, an interactive GOLF.com series in which we field your hard-hitting gear questions.

Is there a particular angle of attack that I should have with all my clubs? – Wayne N., California

That’s a great question and we’re happy to clear things up. Your “angle of attack” is essentially the amount (measured in degrees) upward or downward the club head is traveling relative to the ground. And because we swing on an arc, you’re either descending, ascending, or contacting the ball at the low point of your swing arc.

Angle of attack plays a major factor in ball flight and spin Getty images

We can’t think of a definitive formula and precise degree for what your angle of attack ought to be with all your clubs (everyone is different, and we all have different swings), but there are some general rules that make sense for everyone. To simplify, we’ve broken it down by club category below:

Drivers: Ascend into the ball

The modern-day driver is designed to strike the ball as the clubhead is ascending the swing arc, meaning the club is past the lowest point in the swing and moving up from the ground. Equipment manufacturers know this, but they don’t always expect all of us to swing perfectly. This is why they design driver heads to make the most of less-than-ideal impact positions.

Optimal launch and spin chart to maximize distance Ping Golf

For instance, deep and low weighting in a driver clubhead will help you hit the ball higher with more lift (spin), helping to negate a steep or choppy path down into the golf ball. Conversely, if you are pretty good at ascending through the ball, you’ll knock down spin and add loft which will help you hit it longer too. There are a few other variables here we could cover here, but just know that almost every driver on the market today will produce better results for you if you’re hitting up on the ball and not down into it.

Fairway woods: Make contact slightly descending when off the ground; slightly ascending off a tee

Fairway woods can be confusing because there are two ways you can produce solid results.

Off the ground, you’ll want a slightly descending path into the golf ball to ensure you contact the ball first and the ground second. A fairway wood with a shallow clubface and deep/low internal weighting will help add spin and promote a higher flight, while a more compact fairway wood with a deeper face will be more workable. Either way, hitting down (slightly) is key, even if it means making a small and shallow divot. The exception to the rule is when hitting off the tee it’s okay to play the ball a little more forward in the stance for a slightly ascending strike. If you do that, the ball will fly higher and likely with less spin.

Hybrids: Descend into the ball (more than you think)

Most people assume (wrongly) that hitting a hybrid is akin to hitting either a fairway wood or a long iron, both of which are hit on slightly descending attack angles. In actuality, most hybrids work better when swung like a middle iron with a steeper descent into the ball. A good hybrid strike should produce a divot and requires a more descending attack angle than a fairway wood and/or long iron does.

Irons: Descend into the ball and progressively get shallower with longer irons

This one is the most obvious. You should always strike your irons with ball-first/ground-second contact. The shorter the club, the steeper the swing will naturally be and in most cases the deeper the divot. When it comes to middle or long irons, you’ll want to shallow things out but you still need to catch the ball on a descending path. Also, most progressive sets come with wider soles in the longer irons to make it easier to hit down on the ball without excess digging, which will help get those long irons into the air and stopping faster.

Wedges: It depends on what you’re trying to do

On a flat surface from 100 yards out, hitting down on your wedges makes sense. But with pitching and chipping, you may want to meet the ball closer to the low point, or in some cases, even a little on the upswing. It all depends on the type of shot you’re trying to hit, what kind of lie you have and how high or low you need the ball to carry.

Proper technique with a wedge will create better distance control Getty images

A wedge with more bounce will prevent digging (when hitting down on the ball) and a wedge with a less bounce will allow you to make contact at or nearer the bottom of a shallower arc. When the ball is in the sand, not only do you want to descend into the ball, you want to keep descending under the ball to use the sand to lift the ball out.

Putters: Just after low point while ascending

Good putters know that the ball rolls better and on its intended line if you strike it with a slightly ascending angle of attack. The ball needs to lift from its impression, but if you hit too far up on it, you’ll pop the ball too high in the air and generate too much backspin, making distance and directional control more difficult. A slightly upward (we’re taking a degree or two up) is just the right angle for most golfers to lift the ball and get it rolling faster with minimal skid.

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Ryan Noll

Golf.com Contributor