Unlocking Distance: Launch Conditions and Angle of Attack

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Unlocking Distance: Launch Conditions and Angle of Attack

By Chris Broadie

 

We’ve long known that higher launch and lower spin is a powerful combination for generating consistently long and straight tee shots. A key factor in optimizing launch conditions, one often overlooked, is angle of attack. Improved diagnostics and trajectory modeling shed new light on the importance of angle of attack in maximizing driving performance. 

 
Angle of Attack is defined as the up or down movement of the club head at the time of maximum compression.  AoA is measured relative to the horizon.
Launch Angle vs. Backspin
Launch Angle vs. Backspin In the graph above, carry distance is optimized with 17° launch angle and a spin rate between 2,000 – 2,500 rpm. Players with slower ball speeds may need a little more spin to keep the ball in the air to maximize carry. Driver Carry Distance 167 mph Ball Speed 7.5 10 12.5 15 17.5 Launch Angle [degrees] 2000 3000 Backspin [RPM] 271 273 274 275 275 275 275 275 275 274 274 276 277 278 279 279 280 279 279 279 275 278 280 281 283 283 284 284 284 283 276 279 282 284 285 287 287 288 288 288 274 278 282 285 287 289 290 291 292 293 270 275 280 283 286 289 291 293 294 295 265 271 276 280 284 288 290 293 294 296 258 265 271 276 281 285 288 291 293 295 250 257 264 270 276 280 284 288 291 294 240 249 256 263 269 275 279 283 287 290 Carry [yards] 290 280 270 260 250 240
Launch angle vs. backspin chart for 167 mph ball speed

In the graph above, with a 167-mph ball speed, carry distance is optimized with a 17° launch angle and a spin rate between 2,000 and 2,500 rpm. Players with slower ball speeds may need a little more spin to keep the ball in the air to maximize carry. The net effect stays the same, though: very high launch and relatively low spin optimize distance.
 

In 2018, the highest average launch angle on the PGA Tour belonged to Sam Saunders at 14.7°. If a 17° launch angle maximizes distance, why does no one on the PGA Tour launch their driver that high? The answer is angle of attack. 
 

To explain why, we first need to understand ball-flight laws. Ball-flight laws determine, for a given angle of attack and loft presented at impact, how high the ball will launch. If launch angle was determined entirely by the club face, then the ball would launch with exactly the presented loft at impact (100% toward the face). If launch angle was determined entirely by the path of the club, then the ball would launch along the angle of attack (0% face). As a sanity check, we know that a negative angle of attack does not launch the ball into the ground, so launch angle should be primarily determined by the loft at impact (>50% face). In fact, according to research conducted at the PING Proving Grounds, on a driver the ball will launch 85% toward the face. 
 

According to Trackman, PGA Tour golfers have an average angle of attack (AoA) of -1.5° on a driver. For a -1.5° AoA and desired launch of 17°, the delivered loft at impact needs to be 20.25° in order to satisfy our 85% ball-flight laws. (Explanation: The presented loft is 21.75° greater than the AoA, the ball launches 85% of the way toward the face (21.75° * 85% = 18.5°), which results in a 17° launch (-1.5° + 18.5° = 17°). 

 

However, this simply isn’t practical for a PGA Tour golfer. Hitting a ball at a “glancing” angle of 21.75° (20.25° delivered loft minus -1.5° AoA) reduces ball speed and would likely result in 4,500 rpm of spin. Therefore, the recommendation would be to try less loft, as this can result in a lower launch angle, less spin and greater ball speed. This now becomes an optimization problem to find the perfect loft. Through impact modeling and ball-flight simulation, we can evaluate all the potential lofts and pick whichever loft maximizes distance.

 

In our simulation, the launch conditions range from 171.3 mph ball speed, 3.8° launch angle, and 980 rpm spin at the lowest loft, 168.1 mph ball speed, 10.4° launch angle, 2,760 rpm spin at the optimal loft, and 157.2 mph ball speed, 20.5° launch angle, 5,450 rpm spin at the highest loft. Interestingly, the projected optimal launch angle of 10.4° and back spin of 2,760 rpm closely matches the actual PGA Tour averages of 10.9° launch angle and 2,686 rpm spin rate. The best golfers in the world, naturally, have gravitated toward the launch conditions that optimize performance for their given attack angle. 


Launch Angle vs. Carry Distance
Launch Angle vs. Carry Distance Chart showing launch angle vs. carry for simulated drives with 113 mph club speed and -1.5 angle of attack 5.0 7.5 10.0 12.5 15.0 17.5 20.0 Launch Angle [degrees] 280 260 240 220 200 180 Carry [yards]
Launch angle vs. carry for simulated drives with 113 mph club speed and -1.5 angle of attack

 

Unlike simple launch angle vs. spin charts, which would recommend more than 17° launch, this optimization provides data-driven analytics so a player can maximize performance. Based on the metrics gathered through player testing at the PING Proving Grounds, we can now project an optimization range based on angle of attack, an industry first, and ball speeds.

 

The general principal – that slower-ball-speed players need higher launch and higher spin while players with faster ball speeds require lower launch and lower spin – isn’t always correct. In the optimal launch and spin chart, in general, slower ball speeds and increased attack angles result in higher recommended launch angles. However, ball speed does not have much influence on the recommended spin rate; angle of attack is the primary source of change in the recommended spin rate.

 

Even though each angle of attack and ball-speed combination has a unique optimal launch and spin, this does not mean that each combination is equally good. Increasing ball speed has the obvious effect of helping the ball go farther. Similarly, increasing angle of attack also can help increase distance. 


Optimal Launch and Spin
Optimal Launch and Spin Chart showing optimal launch and spin for various driver ball speeds and angles of attack Driver Ball Speed Angle of Attack 10° -2° -4° -6° -8° -10° 2800 13.8° 2650 14.5° 2600 15.8° 2450 16.9° 2350 17.8° 2200 18.8° 2100 19.9° 1950 20.8° 1800 21.8° 1700 22.9° 1600 24° 80 mph 129 km/h 3050 12.7° 2950 13.9° 2800 15° 2650 15.9° 2500 16.9° 2350 18° 2200 19° 2100 20° 1950 21.1° 1850 22.2° 1700 23.3° 90 mph 145 km/h 3250 11.9° 3100 12.9° 2950 13.9° 2800 14.9° 2600 15.9° 2450 16.9° 2300 18° 2150 19.1° 2050 20.3° 1900 21.4° 1750 22.6° 100 mph 161 km/h 3400 10.9° 3200 11.8° 3000 12.7° 2850 13.9° 2700 14.9° 2550 15.9° 2400 17.1° 2250 18.2° 2100 19.5° 1950 20.7° 1850 21.9° 110 mph 177 km/h 3450 9.6° 3250 10.6° 3100 11.6° 2900 12.7° 2750 13.8° 2600 15° 2450 16.2° 2300 17.4° 2150 18.7° 2000 19.9° 1850 21.2° 120 mph 193 km/h 3500 8.4° 3300 9.4° 3150 10.6° 2950 11.7° 2750 12.8° 2600 14.1° 2450 15.3° 2300 16.6° 2150 17.9° 2000 19.2° 1850 20.6° 130 mph 209 km/h 3550 7.3° 3300 8.3° 3150 9.5° 2950 10.7° 2800 12° 2600 13.2° 2450 14.5° 2300 15.8° 2150 17.2° 2000 18.5° 1850 19.9° 140 mph 225 km/h 3500 6.2° 3350 7.4° 3150 8.6° 2950 9.8° 2750 11.1° 2600 12.4° 2450 13.7° 2300 15.1° 2150 16.4° 2000 17.9° 1850 19.3° 150 mph 241 km/h 3500 5.2° 3300 6.5° 3100 7.7° 2950 2750 10.3° 2600 11.7° 2400 13° 2300 14.4° 2100 15.9° 1950 17.3° 1800 18.7° 160 mph 257 km/h 3500 4.3° 3300 5.7° 3100 6.9° 2900 8.2° 2750 9.6° 2550 11° 2400 12.4° 2250 13.9° 2100 15.3° 1950 16.8° 1800 18.2° 170 mph 274 km/h 3450 3.6° 3250 4.9° 3050 6.2° 2850 7.5° 2700 9.0° 2550 10.4° 2400 11.9° 2200 13.3° 2050 14.8° 1950 16.4° 1800 17.9° 180 mph 290 km/h Legend 325y 297m 300y 274m 275y 251m 250y 229m 225y 206m 200y 183m 175y 160m 150y 137m 125y 114m
Ideal launch conditions for optimizing distance

 

For instance, given a constant 160 mph ball speed, a -5° angle of attack optimally generates a 8.2° launch angle, 2,994 rpm spin rate and a 264-yard carry.  With a +5° angle of attack we optimally get a 15.1° launch angle, 2,179 rpm spin rate and a 281-yard carry. Increasing angle of attack, for the same ball speed, can improve carry distance by 17 yards!

 
"Attack angle is the king of the parameters in my opinion.  It plays a significant role in determining the club path and quality of the strike"

Andrew Rice
PING Ambassador
The Club at Savannah Harbor


While swinging up on the ball can consistently increase carry distance for many golfers, you can find an optimal launch condition without changing angle of attack. Let’s say two players with the same swing speed but different angles of attack arrive at a PING Fitting Experience. Each player should walk away with different optimal launch and spin conditions, and different driver specifications, to enhance their individual driving performance.


As we advance our biomechanical understanding of why golfers move the way they do, we might find that certain movement patterns predispose themselves to different club deliveries, which may explain why PING Pro Lee Westwood has been very successful with a negative angle of attack, while other golfers have found success with a positive angle of attack. Instead of trying to force all golfers into a positive angle of attack with high launch and lower spin, we should customize our fitting methods to identify each player’s optimal launch and spin – and keep unlocking distance.

 

References:
1. TrackMan (2017) What is Attack Angle? https://blog.trackmangolf.com/attack-angle/
2. TrackMan (2017) Andrew Rice; https://blog.trackmangolf.com/attack-angle/


Chris Broadie
Head of Fitting Science

Chris earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Cornell University in 2017. Chris researches club-ball impact and ball-flight physics, and helps develop new tools to analyze PING performance data.

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