Golf Club Face Angle, Finally Angled from the Proper Perspective: Part One

Before embarking on this next topic, I first steer one’s attention to the most recent press release widely distributed by the WaggleWeight® Company on February 7, 2013.  There are uncounted other websites, publications, or other media-type outlets, particularly but not expressly limited to golf-related outlets, that have had the opportunity to conveniently view and present this press release through their own mediums as information that golfers and the golf industry need very badly for this industry to achieve better health overall and potentially grow into the future (especially the clubfitting trade, which literally continues to self-destruct at the time of this writing).  For one that regularly visits or discovers any of these other outlets and that has not yet seen this press release, I urge one to read it now and draw one’s own conclusion(s) as to why any given outlet chose not to clearly display this particular release if given the chance to really help golfers and others throughout the golf industry, perhaps even asking the outlet why to potentially acquire a better sense of this industry if desired.  And in light of the insight shown and long-overdue corrections already made and that will continue to be made in entries such as this one within Waggle Weight Wisdom™, I ask one to please consider spreading word of this press release to as many recipients as possible as soon as possible.  The extremely poor performance record and reputation especially of the clubfitting trade universally have become so well known among golfers and others in recent times that the entire golf industry in general has been affected.  And until the source(s) responsible for this is widely exposed and appropriate improvements made, the clubfitting trade and its parasitic effects will continue to weigh very heavily on the golf industry as a whole.

As I work toward a needed break from writing this column, which I will begin after my March entries and which I will partly utilize to work on other needed facets of developing the WaggleWeight® Company business, there are a few more select topics I desire to get written down and copyright registered before I begin that break.  The following subjects that mainly deal with clubfitting issues are not necessarily presented in a particular order in which they should be attended to when contemplating golf club fitting and a specific arrangement order for fitting them could be discussed more in the future.  But there are critical elements regarding these topics that need to be discussed here and now.  These elements can be considered quite fundamental in nature and it is crucial to comprehend them toward properly and thoroughly understanding these subjects.  And despite that they are very rudimentary elements, I have never, ever really seen these particular elements even vaguely touched on from a clubfitting standpoint let alone discussed in more detail, yet more evidence of how much the clubfitting industry remains in its infancy to this day.  Unfortunately, these disclosures will prove that, at least in the golf club fitting trade, the most important attribute of clubfitting in the end, which is human reasoning performance, lags far behind the technical capabilities of the clubfitting devices utilized today that are meant to supplement (not take over for) that human reasoning.  This will for the most part become abundantly clear when these disclosures are made.

Anyway, this particular topic deals with golf club face angle, yet another important topic that remains poorly understood and applied within the clubfitting trade, especially at the true root level of this golf club specification when it is properly analyzed.  This is also a topic that past so-called clubfitting theory and practice experts have been quite deficient at explaining appropriately, with the downright arrogant behavior of some of these people regarding what they think they know correctly about certain, even extremely fundamental clubfitting elements being nothing less than pathetic.  Now of all the clubfitting subjects that need to be revisited, thoroughly reanalyzed, and presented far better than before, golf club face angle might be the subject I have been more anxious to get into than any other.  This is not because I consider this particular golf club specification to be of the utmost importance within an exhaustive clubfitting process (although some clubfitters certainly do believe it is).  Rather it is because I have witnessed so many individuals over time that have come so very, very, very close to explaining the face angle specification correctly and entirely (but not quite) that I figured I would surely come across one or more entities explaining it correctly before I had a chance to finally get to the specification.  But I just have not seen that to date and to the very best of my knowledge this specification has not been properly explained in its entirety as of yet.  Well now it is my turn to explain it.

I next assert here that when it comes to other clubfitting subjects I have examined to date, I have often been able to authoritatively state that past clubfitting theories and practices regarding the fitting of various golf club specifications has been just plain wrong.  In the case of golf club face angle, however, this is not entirely true.  In this case, much of what has been taught in the past regarding face angle can be considered true, but to this point in time it can instead be said that the workings of this specification have essentially only been half revealed.  This declaration is derived from the plain fact that direct golf swing performance and golf ball travel results are two elements that are quite distinct from each other, that commonly provide indications completely contrary to each other, and that can be decidedly separated for analysis, a fundamental principle I have repeatedly stated here.  The fitting of many (although not all) golf club specifications can be analyzed from both perspectives, with each perspective being so unlike in nature and context that one would never even know one is referring to the same golf club specification unless specifically stated.  Golf club face angle is one of the club specifications that can be analyzed from both perspectives.  But the clubfitting trade to this point has been unwilling or unable to analyze the specification from the perspective of one’s golf swing performance, routinely dissecting the specification’s workings only from the viewpoint of golf ball travel results.  This is certainly not a good thing concerning capably understanding the specification, as both perspectives need to be thoroughly comprehended in order to fit the specification of face angle competently.

Although the so-called commercial clubfitting trade can still be considered in its infancy in several respects, this trade has still been around long enough already to be able to call its ongoing performance pretty pathetic and it has certainly earned and certainly deserves it overall poor reputation to this point.  And just one of a multitude of manifestations of this overall continuing circumstance is in the way golf club face angle has been analyzed, presented, and fit within the clubfitting industry to this point.  I can revisit any number of disclosures I have already made that continue to contribute to the utter failure of the trade to do better in various ways.  Perhaps the most obvious one is the continuing, widespread, and very deep-seated belief or attitude that golf ball travel result authoritatively indicates the quality of one’s direct golf swing performance.  Not only has this highly flawed belief substantially remained in place within the clubfitting industry, it has in plain fact gotten even stronger in recent times with the increased use of devices like launch monitors that provide so much data related to ball travel results that one’s true golf swing performance is commonly not even considered anymore.  Golf club specification values are commonly chosen strictly “by the numbers” spit out from launch monitors or other high-tech devices with no regard or respect whatsoever for one’s actual golf swing performance.  This is an extremely common expression used today throughout the clubfitting industry (comprising golfers, clubfitters, and others) through which one can pretty easily surmise the priorities currently in place for this industry.  And what is surmised is pretty pitiful.

Considering ball travel result and direct swing performance quality to consistently be one and the same is about as ignorant as it gets in clubfitting (and hardly limited to the realm of golf).  Even beginner performers learn relatively early on that a good ball travel result frequently emanates from a poor swing and vice versa (in the performance of any activity and not just golf), and rest assured this common occurrence does not magically disappear just because one might eventually perform good enough in a given activity to be called a professional at it.  (Do not lose sight in this of the preeminent pursuit that still applies of better swing performance still generally resulting in better play overall).  I cannot justly come to a firm, even very generalized conclusion as to whether there are really that many clubfitters in golf that are that inexperienced at performing themselves that they are truly unaware of such performance attributes, or whether there are possibly so many clubfitters in golf that do know better and are looking to take advantage of Mr. Gullible Golfers as much as possible.  (I have also previously noted that golfers are generally easier to take advantage of in clubfitting [not really much different from all of the swing improvement gadgets that golfers routinely purchase that their counterparts in other activities do not] because golfers as a whole [largely due to general attributes of the game as a whole] are routinely less experienced at equipment fitting than their counterparts in other activities).

Another of my past disclosures continuing to contribute to this situation is another highly flawed and extremely widespread belief that a golf swing itself is technically much more difficult than it truly is, which is a far bigger joke than any sarcastic remark I have made anywhere to date.  I will just briefly note some examples here of agents that individually or jointly help keep this faulty and senseless belief or attitude going of a golf swing being more difficult than untold other activities, when in fact these untold other activities would figuratively eat golfers alive.  First there are golf swing instructors and makers of swing aids that make better livings by keeping a golf swing more complex.  Whether true or not, there is a perceived heritage of an abundant number of golfers being financially well off and egotistical, accompanied by an insistence that the swing in their game must naturally be harder and/or more sophisticated than the swings in games played by those financially less well off (even if other games might never have even been attempted by such golfers).

Yet there are also an abundant number of golfers that in essence are nearly the opposite of those just mentioned.  These are golfers that have not been qualified enough to make other, perhaps more athletic teams or otherwise compete in other activities but can play golf as long as they can pay for it, and for whom a golf swing might seem more difficult than it would to others.  And then there are the numerous faulty clubfitting theories and practices of the past, which when applied the way they have been can make performing a golf swing consistently effectively much more difficult for any level of player, another agent that makes a golf swing seem technically more difficult than it really is.  The faulty belief that a golf swing is harder than it truly is also contributes to being fixated on fitting golf club face angle based upon ball travel results.  These are just some of the factors that to varying degrees have contributed to the continued poor state of the clubfitting industry.  None of them further a healthy and efficient clubfitting trade of course, and being tangled up in any of these factors might potentially blind and prevent one from observing certain elements that are essentially right in front of one’s nose so to speak.  And this has indeed been the case within the clubfitting (and also the swing instruction) industries.  There are extremely critical and yet positively simple elements of golf club face angle theory and practice (and other club specifications) that have yet to be judiciously divulged within a proper and thorough analysis of the workings of this club specification.  I will make such an analysis here, but even here certain elements not exposed before will only be vaguely introduced and feasibly require more detailing later.

While this particular paragraph is slightly off topic, I will note here that there are multiple people in the golf industry that attempt to wear multiple hats so to speak and are heavily involved in producing golf club fitting materials and golf club head designs for example.  In my case I am certainly not a clubhead designer and I do not have any interest in doing so, yet I have needed to learn just a bit about certain clubhead design elements along the way in order to learn certain golf swing performance and clubfitting elements effectively.  In every instance I have come across to date within the clubfitting theories and practices produced by such people, I have found that they do not really even come close (basically half again) to explaining golf club face angle (along with other topics) comprehensively and/or correctly.  This would seem to indicate a deficiency in comprehending face angle that actually involves understanding certain clubfitting, club head design, and even golf swing performance elements that is apparently more than just minor in nature.  Yet these people are trying to implement the very relevant golf club specification of face angle into various clubhead designs of theirs.  This could be a cause for concern and one might keep this information in mind as the rest of this topic is disclosed.  One might then reevaluate the applicable clubfitting teachings of those who design clubheads as well in light of that disclosed within Waggle Weight Wisdom™ to see if any additional concern is warranted.  It is natural to be concerned about any given clubhead design in which the golf club face angle specification is integrated into the design when the clubhead designer cannot really fully and properly analyze the specification in published clubfitting material(s).  Sound clubhead design is an important part being able to play golf well, and it stands to reason that sound clubfitting and golf swing performance knowledge is integral in order for one to accomplish sound clubhead designs.

Now to get more into the technical elements, I will begin by just very broadly going over certain elements of golf club face angle but not detailing these very much here, perhaps expanding on certain details at a later time.  So first, know that face angle in its broadest sense is a measurement of which way and by how much, relative to being perpendicular to the centerline of the golf shaft, the plane of the clubface of any given golf club points when the clubhead is placed with its sole flat against the ground (with the clubhead also situated in its proper lie position).  (For introductory visualization it might be simplest to consider a flat clubface sole being placed on flat, level ground and any deviations can be considered from there).  Represented differently, if the clubhead of any given golf club is placed with the sole of the clubhead flat on the ground and with the centerline of the shaft scientifically lined up to exactly a ninety degree angle to a determined target line, if the plane of a determined point or area on the clubface is also scientifically in line with the determined target line then the face angle of that club is commonly said to be square.  If the plane of the clubface is pointing to the left of the target line (for a right-handed golf club) then the clubface is said to be closed (other terminologies used are hooked or draw biased as examples) and its measurement is traditionally listed in a number of degrees the clubface is angled to the left of the target line.  If the plane of the clubface is pointing to the right of the target line, then the club’s face angle is said to be open (or biased toward a slice or fade ball travel result [left to right travel for a right-handed golfer]) as measured in degrees angled away from the target line.

Next, again in a very broad sense, and although the terminology utilized can be different depending on what kind of club is being discussed (which could potentially cause some confusion), know that any type of golf club can technically have a face angle associated with it, regardless of whether it is a wood, hybrid, iron, putter, or any other kind of club.  But with that said for initial simplicity, various elements can certainly get more complex when getting into the finer details.  As one example, sand wedges generally always have the equivalent of a closed face angle designed into them (though called a “bounce angle” on such clubs).  However, because of other design attributes of such clubs including but not limited to typical clubhead lofts and how that attribute generally moves the center of gravity of these clubheads more rearward, placing such clubs on the ground in a typical playing position frequently results in the clubheads naturally fanning open even though their soles have the equivalent of a closed face angle design (many exceptions might be seen depending upon numerous golf club and/or clubhead design elements).

And when analyzing wood-type clubs, certain elements used to be simpler like relatively flat and unchangeable soles.  But now many woodhead soles are markedly more curved (mainly referring to a front to back direction here), making it more difficult to determine the correct technical placement for many such clubheads even on flat surfaces so the face angles of such clubs can be scientifically measured accurately.  Furthermore, face angles are adjustable on some clubhead models today that might for instance comprise a button-type device on just one part of the sole of the clubhead that is turned to alter face angle values.  These “advancements” if that is what they can truly be called have induced some reevaluation of late regarding what any given club’s face angle value technically is and how it can and/or should best be scientifically measured in light of more recent clubhead designs.  But that is beyond the scope of this particular discussion and might be taken up in more detail at a later time.  Other elements can also come into play when getting into the finer details, including but not limited to that the face angle value of any given club (depending on multiple design and/or construction factors and referring mostly to wood-type clubheads that have larger sole areas) can measurably change as the club is moved flatter or more upright in lie angle.  Also, while a clubhead can have a certain face angle designed and constructed into it, if a golf shaft is not installed squarely into the hosel of the clubhead (this can be unintentional, or intentional as part of the numerous golf clubs available today that are adjustable at their hosels for obtaining various club specification values), the face angle of the golf club overall can be different from the face angle of just the clubhead (pursuant to precisely how the face angle specification is measured).

Now in first reading this one’s initial thought might be why can all face angles simply not just be made square and certain golfers just practice more so that everyone does not have to suffer through the elements above, because with an adequate golf swing and otherwise well-fitting golf clubs most all golfers would simply be able to address a golf ball with a clubface square to the target line, return it to the same position during their downswings, and hit the golf ball just fine, right?  Well, yes and no.  The general thinking and logic is fabulous for its simplicity and commendable, but as simple and as straightforward as this reasoning is there is unfortunately a bit of a scientific flaw within the reasoning for which a solution must be found and applied.  And fortunately, once all of the involved elements are properly reasoned out (certain elements have been conspicuously missing in the past), the final solution can be almost as simple as the simplest concept related directly above.

So to continue, while any golf club can technically have a face angle associated with it, this club specification has traditionally been a consideration that mostly concerns fitting wood-type clubs.  A primary reason for this has been due to the sheer design length of such clubheads from the clubface to the back of the clubhead along the target line.  For this type of clubhead design, the face angle specification is more relevant.  For example, even though irons can have face angles, the lengths of their clubhead soles from front to back are generally much shorter or narrower relative to wood heads, and no matter how irons might be positioned on the ground when preparing to make swings such clubheads will commonly essentially retain that positioning even if the face angle measurements of such clubs are technically different from that positioning.

This is certainly not true of a traditional wood club, where its much larger clubhead will generally settle flat on its sole no matter how it is initially positioned on the ground and its face angle prominently revealed.  Now having revealed face angle’s generally greater relevance when longer clubheads are in play (clubhead sole and other design factors can also dramatically affect the overall impact) and also that any golf club can actually have a face angle connected with it (that could potentially affect one’s golfing performance), the following also needs to be clearly disclosed.  It is hardly just wood-type heads that need to be scrutinized when considering golf club face angle in clubfitting.  This specification can affect one’s performance with all types of golf clubs, usually more so (but not limited to because of so many different club and clubhead design factors) for clubs having longer clubheads from front to back.  Many hybrid and putter head designs scarcely scratch the surface of club types where face angle can have a notable impact on one’s performance.  In addition to generally coming into play more with longer length clubheads from front to back, the effect(s) of any given face angle value will generally be exaggerated more with increases in clubhead length.  This effect(s) can be more of a concern when a face angle is too closed rather than too open.  These face angle essentials will hopefully be seen and learned well as I continue.

In taking this information thus far and applying it toward fitting wood-type clubs as is the most common practice today within the clubfitting trade, I have noted that the traditional understanding and manner of working with golf club face angle to date has been almost exclusively based upon golf ball travel results with such clubs.  This is generally a rather simplistic process of (assuming all else remains equal) utilizing a more closed clubface if one’s ball travel tends to go to the right of where desired for a right-handed golfer by way of slicing (left to right ball curvature) and/or pushing (straight but right) when ball travel results are seen or computed and utilizing a more open clubface if one’s ball travel tends to go to the left of where desired by way of hooking (right to left ball curvature) and/or pulling (straight but left) as examples.  While causes and effects can manifest themselves in very individualized ways for individual golfers, more closed face angles will generally tend to close more when one addresses a golf ball in a typical manner and the clubhead (legally) contacts the ground.  It can be difficult and/or inconvenient to get and maintain the clubface in a different position.  So one will commonly either just leave the clubface in its closed position from start to finish while otherwise gripping the club normally, or grip the club normally with the clubface in its closed position and then turn the clubface more open just before swinging, a condition that results in one taking a stronger grip on the club (hands turned more to the right or clockwise for a right-handed golfer) than one might if using a club not having a more closed face angle.  While one’s swinging motion under each condition will generally be somewhat different, either condition might help obtain ball travel results less to the right, which is the goal for ball travel results fitting.

Many people feel that they are getting deep into the finer points and/or complexities of face angle by pointing to nine different potential ball fight directions being possible and needing to be considered when analyzing for fitting golf club face angle (and potentially other golf club specifications as well).  But this is just an expansion of basic ball travel principles by the addition of what happens when clubhead travel is not exactly down the target line when club/ball contact is made and is instead on an in-to-out or out-to-in path relative to the intended target line (making three different clubhead paths when a right-down-the-line or square path is also included).  Then open, square, and closed clubface angles are put through each of these three clubhead paths and deducible ball travel results displayed, making a total of nine different ball travel results comprising information that is still pretty basic.  Others seem to think that it is actually more critical to consider what various face angles do to the effective loft of any given clubhead (there is a relationship between these two club specifications but one that is not really relevant to this particular discussion so I will not address that here) than it is focus on face angle independently for what it is meant to achieve.  While these other directions do have some scientific basis to them and I can further analyze them later if justified, they completely miss the point of what the club specification of face angle is really all about at its most fundamental level.

Now in getting closer to the real root of this particular matter, it is very broadly true over the whole of golf history that more golfers than not, particularly more practiced golfers, have tended to prefer slightly open clubfaces on wood-type clubs (again using these type clubheads as an example because of their generally more dramatic influence with respect to face angle).  Now in trying to explain why this is, a large number of golfers will state it is because their poorest shots tend to be hooks and more open clubfaces help to minimize this “error” (speaking in terms of ball travel results again as is typical).  Many others will state that a slightly open clubface is simply more comfortable for them but without being able to logically explain why beyond that.  I note again that I still presently retain a good deal of respect for Ralph Maltby as a true pioneer within the golf industry.  Now Maltby’s various takes within his teachings on the tradition of slightly open clubfaces include that an optical illusion takes place (possibly involving a dominance of one eye over the other), that during one’s downswing the clubhead generally first catches up with and then passes one’s hands by with the shaft bowed slightly forward at club/ball impact, with this effect noticeably closing the clubface, and that either circumstance contributes to why there is a general tradition of wood-type clubheads and clubs having slightly open clubface angles.

Unfortunately, none of these explanations properly address the real root of what clubface angle is all about and supposed to be about at its core.  Yet these and other deficient past teachings continue to be taught and promoted as correct clubfitting theory and practice to golfers, PGA applicants and members, so-called professional clubfitters that are certified by scattered independent organizations, students in more traditional school settings, and more, as they are all generally subject to the same flawed clubfitting materials of the past.  This is sad and reflects very poorly on not only the clubfitting trade specifically but also on the entire golf industry in general.  In working on changing this, I next revisit a couple other statements I have already made that help to demystify why face angle still remains so poorly understood comprehensively.  One of these statements concerns the continuing overwhelming fixation that golfers and the clubfitting industry overall have on ball travel results, ball travel results, and then ball travel results to the virtual exclusion of all else, apparently being unwilling and/or unable to consider epic elements regarding one’s direct golf swing performance while setting aside ball travel results (even if only temporarily).  The other somewhat related statement concerns the all-too-common deportment among individual golfers, clubfitters, and others of thinking with one’s hormones instead of one’s brains, which in this instance represents a fixation on the fullest, hardest of swings again to the virtual exclusion of all else.  The combination of these attitudes essentially limits the analysis and fitting of golf club face angle to the ball travel results obtained when the fullest, hardest of golf swings are made.  But this does not exhibit a complete picture of the specification’s workings.