In golf, the launch angle is the “initial trajectory of the ball relative to the ground,” according to PGA pro Mark Blakemore. Golf writer Steve Newell quantifies the launch angle as the ball’s trajectory over its first 20 yards. Other launch characteristics include the ball’s initial velocity on impact and the amount of backspin it possesses.
Golf writer Mike Stachura says that launch angle is the key consideration for players with swings slower than 100 miles per hour. For those with faster swings, spin rate is more important. He says the optimal launch characteristics are 200 rpm or less per degree of launch angle. If a professional player's launch angle is 9 degrees, for example, she'll likely aim to spin the ball at 1,800 rpm or less.
Gaining More Distance
PGA pro Josh Zander believes the average player can drive the ball 15 yards farther by optimizing his launch characteristics. Zander says the average player’s launch angle off the tee is about 9 degrees and he hits the ball with at least 3,700 rpm of backspin. By contrast, the typical PGA Tour player’s tee shot features a launch angle of 11 degrees, with 2,200 rpm of backspin. Zander adds that an amateur player may reduce his rpm by using a less-lofted driver -- preferably a deep-face driver -- and flattening the swing plane. To raise your launch angle, tee the ball higher and set it farther forward in your stance, setting up with more weight on the right side. Any of those techniques, however, can increase the chance of a mis-hit.
Determining the Launch Angle
A club’s loft is a key factor -- though not the only factor -- in determining a shot’s launch angle. Indeed, it’s important to have an idea of your launch angle with each club, particularly when you must hit below an obstruction. To get a better idea of your launch angle with a particular club without using a video camera or other monitoring equipment, Newell advises finding a practice location with overhanging tree branches. Drop some balls and try to hit them beneath the branches. Take note of which clubs allow you to hit below the branches.
Using a Launch Monitor
For a more high tech approach, take a launch monitor to the practice range. The monitor is essentially a computer that records data on your swing speed, spin rate and the ball’s trajectory. Stachura recommends hitting for at least an hour to get a large enough sample size, using the same balls you normally play on the course. An additional mile-per-hour of ball speed will yield about 2 1/2 yards of distance, “so do anything you can to increase ball speed,” Stachura says.