How to Hit a Controlled Fade by Philippe Bonfanti (2006)
Golf is about control and being able to shape the ball so that it goes towards the target in a controlled manner. The flight of a golf ball is influenced by five factors that are referred to as the laws of golf (PGA, 2006). These are:
； Speed: How fast the golf club is swung
； Centeredness: Where the ball is hit in relation to the sweet spot
； Path: The direction in which the club head travels through impact (in/out,
； Face: The angle of the leading edge of the clubface in relation to the target:
this can be closed, square or open
； Angle of Approach: Arc on which the club head approaches the ball in
relation to the ground. Combined with dynamic loft, this will have a big
impact on the amount of spin that is imparted on the ball.
There are also other factors that can be involved. For example a ball with a soft cover will not fly as far and will spin more than a ball with a solid one. Consideration of the five laws, however, would be a golfer’s main priority when analysing and preparing a
swing, as they are unequivocal and do not fail when applied correctly. This essay will discuss the technique involved in playing a fade using a low lofted club. Many top players favour a particular type of ball flight that they like to use when they are under pressure, a shot that they feel they can rely on. Here, we are going to examine how a controlled fade is achieved. This is a shot that is preferred by players
such as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino or even Colin Montgomerie and that is generally thought of as being a safer shot to play than a draw (Stirling, 1991). The BBC describes a fade as “a ball which starts left and moves right through the air ending on target”. It is easier to impart sidespin to a ball with a club that has little loft on it. The more loft on a club, the more the ball will have backspin instead of sidespin.
First, swing path and clubface are very important in order to achieve the goal of a controlled fade.
The swing path and clubface position in relation to the swing path determine the direction in which the ball starts and in which direction the ball will curve. To start the ball to the left of the target line it is necessary for the club head to approach the target line in a path that is defined as being out/in. It is worth noting this can also be done with an in/out swing path if the clubface is closed in relation to the target line. This alone however does not guarantee that the ball will start to the left of the target. The only time that the ball will fly in the direction of the swing path is when the clubface is square to the swing path. In all other cases, the ball will start in a direction closer to the clubface aim than to the swing path (Cochran et al, 1968). For example, if the clubface is closed in relation to the swing path, then the ball will start to the left of the swing path and curve to the left. Likewise, if the clubface is open in relation to the swing path, then the ball will start to the right of the swing path and turn to the right. Thus, in order to obtain a shot that curves to the right, the clubface needs to be open in relation to the swing path. An out/in swing path and an open
clubface in relation to this swing path do not guarantee a fade however. In fact this could lead to a shot that curves violently to the right with no control, a slice or even a push slice.
Secondly, in order to come closer to hitting a controlled fade, it is essential to look at the direction of the leading edge of the clubface in relation to the target at impact. As we have seen, the ball starts off in a direction that is closer to the clubface aim
thrdthan it is to the swing path. It does so by usually 1/6 or 1/3 of the difference
between the swing path and the clubface aim (PGA, 2006). If this is put into practice, a scenario where the swing path is 5; left of the target and the clubface is aiming 3;
right of the target, the gap between the swing path and the clubface aim is 8;. This
gives an angle between the clubface aim and the ball starting direction of 1.3;. This
leads to a push slice where the initial ball direction will be to the right of the target line despite the swing path being out/in.
A fundamental rule that now needs to be mentioned is that “a ball that starts off to one side of the face aim line will curve in flight enough to take it across and many yards to the other side of the face aim line” (PGA, 2006). This implies that a player who aims
his clubface in a straight line to the target will not hit the ball in the right direction unless his swing path is the same as that of the aim. If a player aims the clubface at the target and swings the club with an out/in swing path then the ball will finish to the right of the target. Therefore, when combining the effects of swing path and clubface relationship and face relative to target at impact, the following is obtained in order to hit a fade.
Thus, in order to hit a controlled fade, it is necessary for the swing path to be out/in, and for the clubface to be open in relation to the swing path but still pointing left of the ball to target line. Nonetheless, examination of the impact of centeredness of strike and club head speed at impact is also necessary.
Thirdly, club head speed plays a role in determining ball flight. The main component of ball flight that club head speed will have an effect on is the length that the ball travels, but it will also have an effect on the spin on the ball. As the swing speed
increases so too does the amount of spin on the ball. This is important in this case as any sidespin imparted to the ball will be magnified by a fast swing speed. Thus a ball hit at different speeds with the same swing path and clubface angle will curve different amounts. There will be no sidespin if the swing path and the clubface aim are the same. Similarly, the angle of approach of the club also plays a role in imparting spin to the ball. A steep angle of approach will lead to more backspin than a shallow angle of approach and a shallow angle of approach will lead to more sidespin when the clubface is either closed or open at impact (PGA, 2006). Finding the appropriate amount of swing speed and an optimal angle of approach into the ball are therefore necessary in order for the golfer to keep a reasonable amount of control over the ball’s spin, thus enabling him to hit a controlled fade as opposed to a slice.
Lastly, ball flight will be affected by the centeredness of the strike. When the ball is hit off the extreme toe or heel of the club, then the effect of the previous four laws we have analysed will be eliminated by what is called the “gear effect”. Tom Wishon describes this as “the action of the club head, during impact with the ball that causes a
shot hit off the toe to curve in a draw or hooking motion, and a shot hit off the heel to curve in a fade or slicing motion”. This occurs mostly on clubs where the centre of
gravity of the club is furthest away from the clubface. This explains why the “gear effect” is greatest on woods and smallest on iron shots. Golf club manufacturers attempt to counter this by putting face bulges on their woods. Face bulge enables a shot that is hit off the toe for example to start further to the right, so that it limits the
effects of the anti clockwise spin imparted by the “gear effect”. Cochran et al (1968)
claim that “the only way…to range all the clubs in the bag to a consistent and reliable
distance of striking it to hit the sweet spot of the clubface all the time”. Therefore,
though the ball may fly in a “fade” trajectory following an off centre hit, this is not an advisable method to obtain a fade as it will not be controlled. Players should always attempt to hit the ball from the middle of the clubface, its “sweet spot”.
Therefore, we have seen that in order to hit a controlled fade the golfer needs to pay particular attention to the swing path and clubface relationship at impact and also to the face relative to the target at impact. These two factors have the biggest effect on ball flight. However, ball flight will also be subject, but to a lesser extent, to club head speed at impact along with the angle of approach. Finally centeredness of strike at impact will also play a very big role in ball flight so it is important to be aware of this factor when analysing a person’s ball flight. If everything is done correctly in order to hit a controlled fade but the ball is not hit off the centre of the clubface, then the desired ball flight may not be achieved.
Understanding the technical aspects of ball flight is paramount to helping golfers to
achieve a swing that incorporates the correct principles for their game, and enables
them to play better golf.
BBC, How to Fade the Ball, http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/golf/skills/4243432.stm,
A. Cochran, J. Stobbs, 1968, Golf’s Crooked Shots: Hitting on the Wrong Part of the
Club, Search for the Perfect Swing, USA, Triumph Books, p112-120
A. Cochran, J. Stobbs, 1968, Golf’s Crooked Shots: The Practical Mechanics of
slicing and Hooking, Search for the Perfect Swing, USA, Triumph Books, p121-127
PGA, 2006, Ball Flights, Introduction to Golf Coaching, p29-44
PGA, 2006, Non Square Impact: Effect on Ball Trajectory, Introduction to Golf
J. Stirling, 1991, Shaping Shots, The Guide to Better Golf, London, Harper Collins
T. Wishon, What is Gear Effect, About Golf