The Biggest Cause of an Offline Golf Shot

The Biggest Cause of an Offline Golf Shot

What influences the direction of a golf shot more – clubface angle, or swing path?

While both of these factors are very important when it comes to hitting straighter golf shots and shaping the ball at will, one of these factors is more dominant than the other – for many reasons.

And we will take a look at those reasons here.

Before we do, if you’d like a copy of my Ebook “Golf Hacks“, with lots of tips to quickly improve strike quality, club path, direction, strategy and more, enter your email below.


Brief Intro

Perhaps you have stumbled across this article and are not already aware of what clubface angle and swing path mean. 

Here’s a quick intro;

The clubface angle represents a direction that is perpendicular to the surface of the face. Sounds complicated? The easiest way to visualize this is to stick a tee to the face of the club – as in the below pictures.

golf clubface that is closed versus open vs square


The swing path is the directional (left/right) movement of the club through impact. See the below picture for an example of a left swing path.

Now that we have the formalities out of the way, let’s dig into which one of these contributes more to whether your ball hits your target or not.


A Simple Formula

When the path and face are presented in different directions at impact, we get a cutting across action. For example, if (at impact) we were to 

  • Have the clubface square (pointing at the target), but swing left/right of that with the path
  • Have the swing path neutral (going down the target line), but have the face open/closed to that

Both of the above scenarios produce a glancing blow. This causes the ball to both start offline AND curve. The amount the ball starts offline and curves will vary with many factors – such as the club you are using, whether the ball/face is wet etc.


Math Warning!

The below contains a tiny bit of mathematics – but don’t worry. If you’re not a numbers person, it will all be summarized towards the end of the article.

As a general rule of thumb, when the path and face are misaligned by 1 degree

  • The ball will start 0.75 degrees closer to the face (or, you could say it starts 0.25 degrees closer to the path)
  • The ball will curve X% of the total distance

“X” is typically around 1% for a wedge, 2% for a 7 iron, and up to 4% for a driver. To put that into something easily understandable, if you hit your driver 250 yards and present the face just 4 degrees open to the path, that ball can curve 40 yards right.


The Big Question?

So which one is more important to control?

While the answer to that has multiple variables, let’s look at a couple of examples.

Imagine we are using a swing robot which consistently presents the path and face at 0 degrees (neutral, neither left nor right) at impact. Please note – the below calculations would be very similar regardless of what the robot’s face and path averages are – I used neutral numbers for simplicity.

golf shot with a square path, square face and a straight shot result

For these examples, this robot is using a driver and hitting the ball 250 yards.


Scenario A – Path Offline

Now we tweak the settings on the robot so that it presents the path just 1 degree left or right of the neutral face.

Using our formula, the ball would;

  • Start 0.25 degrees left/right (or just 1 yard offline at 250 yards)
  • Curve 4% (or 10 yards) in the opposite direction (because the ball curves away from the path)

This means that, for an isolated path change of just 1 degree, the ball went 9 yards offline (10 yards of curve minus the 1 yard starting in the opposing direction). 

golf shot result for a square face with a +/-1° swing path

In the above picture, we can see that presenting the face square and a path that is +/-1° produces shots which go 9 yards offline (both left and right). Notice how they both still hit this 25-yard fairway.


Scenario B – Face Offline

Now we tweak the settings on the robot so that the path remains neutral, but the clubface is presented just 1 degree left or right of neutral

Using our formula, the ball would;

  • Start 0.75 degrees left/right (or 3 yards offline at 250 yards)
  • Curve 4% farther offline – another 10 yards offline at 250 yards

This means that, for an isolated face change of just 1 degree, the ball went 13 yards offline

golf shot result when the path is square, but the face is presented 1 degree left or right

We can see, in the above picture, that if the path stays square but the face is presented 1 degree right/left, the results will be 13 yards right/left. Notice how both drives miss this 25 yard fairway.


Comparing Path Vs Face

4 yards more offline at 250 yards doesn’t sound like much, but that was with only 1 degree of change. Take a look at the table below to see what happens when you present the path or face 2/3/4 degrees offline.

chart showing the distance a golf ball flies offline when the path or face is presented 1/2/3 or 4 degrees offline at impact

All are bad, but the face changes are significantly (around 50% more) harmful to the end result. 

Another point to make (from a coaching perspective) is that, when a player changes their swing path, usually the clubface will shift in the same direction a certain amount.

For example, if I got 100 golfers to make their swing path more to the left, it’s very likely that their face would also move some degree to the left.

This means that a path change may have even less of an effect on the end result. 


What This Means For You

It’s very likely that, when you hit an unacceptably offline golf shot, the clubface has been the culprit and has changed outside of your normal parameters. 

Also, changing the clubface can have a much more significant effect when it comes to fixing an offline shot. Controlling the face is probably the key skill when it comes to achieving better results.

With that said, if you want to not just control the end result (where the ball finishes) but also control how it gets there (the curvature of the shot), then you would need to make changes to both path and face.


The Next Step

If you want to

  • Learn how to control your clubface better via simple drills
  • Learn to control your swing path better via simple drills
  • Develop not just technically, but via skill drills based on the motor learning science
  • Improve your direction-strategy to achieve lower scores with any given outcome pattern 

Then make sure you check out The Accuracy Plan – click the image link below.

And if you really want to delve deep into this topic, as well as;

  • Building your golf IQ
  • Learning how to self-coach
  • Learning more about swing mechanics and how they affect the result
  • Learning how to implement swing changes quicker and more effectively
  • Training your playing skills (and not just your swing)
  • Improving your psychology
  • Building a better strategy to shoot lower scores consistently

And much more – make sure to check out my Next Level Golf Program – click the image link below for more information.


Article Summary

  • Face direction is the angle perpendicular to the clubface
  • Swing path is the direction the club is moving (left/right) through impact 
  • When the face and path are not in alignment, the ball will start more offline and curve
  • A change in clubface angle will affect the direction more than a change in swing path
  • It’s very likely that your offline shots are caused more by a change in face angle
  • If you want to improve your overall shot direction, you can do that quicker by improving the face angle
  • If you want to also control the shape/curvature of the shot, you need to change both path and face


  • Paul Williams

    Fantastic advice right to a tee pardon the pun

  • Dave Tutelman

    Good article with good numerical examples, Adam. It was very worthwhile to see actual numbers.

    But if the only goal were to answer the title question, you don’t even need numbers.
    CASE 1: Path square; face angle off by X degrees.
    CASE 2: Face square; path off by X degrees.

    Both cases create the same spin, therefore have the same amount off line DUE TO CURVATURE.
    But case 1 has an added amount off line due to the initial direction the ball starts. So face angle errors are more off line than path errors of the same number of degrees.

    This does not give actual amounts, the way your article does. But it does not let you get lost in the numbers either; it goes straight to the principle that causes the error.

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