In golf, the term angle of attack refers to the angle of the head of the golf club as it approaches the golf ball. A club head can swing into the ball on an ascending path (the club head moving up into the ball) or a descending path (moving down into the ball). How much the club is ascending or descending, expressed in degrees, is the angle of attack (also commonly called "attack angle"). An ascending blow has a positive angle, while a descending blow has a negative angle.
If you are a recreational golfer who plays only a handful of times per year, angle of attack is not something to worry about. But serious golfers who want to get better and post better scores need to address any issues they might have with angle of attack.
An angle of attack that is too steep or too shallow can cause poor golf shots. The angle of attack with irons should be descending, because irons are designed for golfers to hit down on the ball. The angle of attack with the driver should be ascending, because driver-ball contact should happen with the driver on the upswing for maximum distance.
We spoke with Stephen Aumock, PGA Master Instructor and a North Texas PGA Instructor of the Year winner, about the role of angle of attack in the golf swing and in ball flight. "Angle of attack happens to be the one parameter that many PGA Tour professionals focus on the most because it is the key that unlocks tour-quality golf shots," he said.
Aumock identified four key components of the golf swing and ball flight influenced by angle of attack.
Smash factor: Hit many fat shots? Take divots that are deep and sometimes chunky? Your angle of attack with your irons is probably too steep. When you come into iron impact too steeply, you waste much of the energy of impact by diverting it into the ground rather than into the golf ball.
Launch angle: With the driver, the goal is to hit up on the ball to create the ideal launch angle. That, in turn, means greater distance on one's drives. To create this type of flight, the angle of attack must be positive.
Spin: "A steep angle of attack tends to create too much spin and makes a crosswind or into-the-wind situation very difficult," Aumock explained. "By keeping the angle of attack shallow, the golfer can keep excessive spin off of the ball. This creates a piercing, stable trajectory in any condition."
Distance: If your angle of attack is off, you are losing distance on all shots. Speaking of the driver, Aumock said, "Just changing a few degrees of negative angle of attack to a few degrees of positive angle of attack can create 20 to 30 more yards, with the same club head speed."
"When angle of attack is correct, the golfer can maximize the amount of force put into the back of the golf ball, which results in a higher smash factor, a more stable ball flight in windy conditions and more distance," Aumock said.
The first way to figure out your angle of attack is to look at the type of divots you make with your irons. If they are deep divots that dig up large chucks of turf and jar your hands and wrists, that's one sign your angle of attack might be off.
You can't discern angle of attack by watching your golf swing in a mirror or on video. Instead, tracking technology (i.e. a launch monitor or personal swing radar device) is needed to measure angle of attack.
Angle of attack is one of the more esoteric technical aspects of the golf swing. So the best way to work on yours is to make some swings in the presence of a teaching instructor or clubfitter. Angle of attack is a swing characteristic best interpreted by professionals.
Trackman stats show that the average LPGA Tour player has an angle of attack of +3.0 degrees with the driver and -2.3 degrees with a 6-iron.