The angle of attack in golf is a measurement of the direction at which your club is moving when you make contact. It is measured in degrees and one of the major driving forces of spin rate, launch angle, and carry.
Keeping it simple: Angle means club direction. Attack means when you make contact.
There is a sliding scale of how to judge attack angle. The more you hit down on the ball, the steeper your angle. The more your club glides across the top of the turf, the shallower your angle.
Wedges will produce your steepest angle of attack. Your driver will have the shallowest. As you move from your most to least lofted clubs, your angle of attack will gradually decrease.
Though angle of attack is an important factor, there's only a variance of about 10 degrees throughout your entire bag.
Hitting down on the ball means having a steep angle of attack. With too steep of an attack angle, you sacrifice distance because your launch angle will also below, which limits carry distance.
It’s understandable to be hitting the ball at -10 degrees with your wedges. Not perfect, but understandable. In an ideal world, your angle of attack should be about half that—or closer to -5 degrees for all wedges.
If you’re hitting your driver at -10 degrees angle of attack, there’s a lot of work to be done.
Cutting this number down produces better golf shots all around. Your ball speed increases without changing swing speed and your shot dispersion tightens. With less turf/club interaction, you’ll also see your distance window with each club tighten.
In most cases, a shallow angle of attack is ideal. Your divots are small, your shots are high—and the angle of descent on your golf ball is predictable. You let your ball sail through the sky with minimal spin and can predict where it’s going; you don't chunk it.
A shallow angle of attack means coming through the ball at just a few degrees negative. When it comes to the driver, it can even be better to connect at degree or two positive.
Hitting up on the ball is something every pro will emphasize during a driver lesson to bump up carry distances and lessen spin—creating more piercing strikes.
As you can see above, professional golfers have a compact angle of attack range. While amateurs might have a variance of 10–15-degrees, PGA golfers can have variance as little as 5-degrees. Their swings are consistent regardless of what clubs in their hands, and the results show.
The next time you’re watching a professional play or hit balls, pay attention to the divots they take with woods and long irons. Their clubs slide across the top of the turf at very shallow angles. Divots are minimal, launch angle and carry are high.
As they work their way down their bag, launch angle will drop up to around 6-degrees, but hardly ever lower. When angle of attack goes lower, that’s when you see chunks and the inconsistent ball flight that disrupts your game.
LPGA golfers hit it further than amateur golfers, even when their swing speeds are lower. These players utilize higher angles of attack to increase carry and total distance. PGA golfers average around 0-degrees angle of attack with their driver and LPGA players between 2 to 3-degrees.
Distance results are a product of increased launch angles and a consistent swing path. While there is hardly a substitute for swinging harder, optimizing launch angle for carry means making up for a perceived deficiency elsewhere (swing speed).
Amateur golfers tend to have steeper angles of attack than professional golfers.
Besides lower swing speeds, this is one of the bigger reasons that lesser-skilled players are out-distanced by highly-skilled players. For many, there is a real connection between the ability to shallow the club and skill level.
When it comes to angle of attack, you need to be consistent. Even if you err on the side of being too steep or too shallow, consistency breeds predictability.
Amateur golfers, typically, are not predictable. The higher you go on the handicap scale, the less consistent golfers are in various shot metrics including angle of attack.
Because of this, it is normal for the same player who averages 130 yards with their 9 iron to hit shots 120 yards and 145 yards in the same round. Swing speed may be the same, but everything else changes when angle of attack wavers. When attack angle becomes more consistent, distance variation shrinks and fewer greens are missed long or short.
You absolutely do not need to increase swing speed in order to improve your attack angle or distance. If you want to see added distance, a great place to start would be optimizing launch angle.
To make this happen, shallowing your angle of attack may be a great place to start. Hitting more up on the ball, or less down depending on how you look at it, makes it easier to launch the ball and even raise ball speed.
Rather than focusing on generating swing speed, which often leads to exaggerating flaws in your swing, an angle of attack adjustment is a minor change that can lead to added distance without sacrificing accuracy.
An easy way to make your angle of attack less steep is to move the ball forward in your stance.
Think about it on a small scale with chipping. You want to hit a higher pitch; you move the ball forward in your swing. You want to hit a punch or low runner, it gets moved back in your stance. You can make shots of varying heights with the same club by adjusting your angle of attack and club loft.
Now let’s scale it up: When you’re using a mid-iron, moving the ball up in your stance allows you to shallow your launch angle and hit the ball higher. You’re making contact later in the swing, on the way up, and in most cases that will add a little distance.
Angle of attack is not something you can fully determine through casual observations you make while playing. It requires precise measurements and large sample sizes.
Judging yourself from a few swings at a driving range doesn’t paint a full picture, and given the inconsistencies of amateur golfers, may do more harm than good.
You need a full analysis with computer-generated statistics.
Knowing your numbers and knowing what you need to improve is the only way to guarantee results when you step back onto the course.