Few variables affect a golf shot more than launch angle does.
Launch angle is the initial ascent of the ball immediately after impact. It’s measured in degrees relative to the ground. A 15-degree launch angle, for example, means that the ball is lifting upwards at a 15-degree angle.
The lower the launch angle, the closer the ball travels to the ground.
Overall, clubs that have a lower loft produce a lower launch angle while traveling a longer distance, while clubs that have a higher loft are meant to have a higher launch and not travel as far. The loft of a club is by far the most important factor in determining launch angle.
What Affects Launch Angle?
In particular, higher clubhead speeds and ball speeds will produce a higher launch if all other variables are equal. This is the main reason why slower swing-speed players use a higher-lofted driver compared to those who are faster swing-speed players.
Launch angle is also greatly affected by angle of attack. This is the measurement of how steeply the clubface approaches the golf ball at impact. Some players swing with much more of a descending blow, meaning the club is delofted at impact, which produces a lower launch. Conversely, staying more behind the ball and keeping the club more perpendicular to the ground at impact will produce a higher launch.
A clubface that is more closed will generally produce a lower launch than a clubface that is more open.
Equipment choices are also a significant factor. A club’s overall weight, design and center of gravity location in the clubhead can greatly influence launch.
What is the Proper Launch Angle?
The big question everyone wants to know is whether their launch is too high, too low or just right for any given club.
There is no one answer to that question given all the differences in the aforementioned variables, but we have a lot of clues. The average PGA Tour launch with a driver is 10.9 degrees. The launch actually goes down with fairway woods — usually around 9.3 degrees depending on the loft — and then goes progressively upwards as the loft increases with each club.
That includes hybrid (10.2), 3-iron (10.4), 4-iron (11.0), 5-iron (12.1), 6-iron (14.1), 7-iron (16.3), 8-iron (18.1), 9-iron (20.4) and pitching wedge (24.2).
However, for most golfers, aspiring towards women professional numbers is more appropriate because their swing speed comes closer to matching the average male player.
Women professionals launch the ball higher. For instance, their drivers are launched at 13.2 degrees. When a player has a slower swing speed, having a higher launch is typically desired so the ball will travel farther in the air.
Their other averages are important to note as well. That includes 3-wood (11.2), 5-wood (12.1), 7-wood (12.7), 4-iron (14.3), 5-iron (14.8), 6-iron (17.1), 7-iron (19.0), 8-iron (20.8), 9-iron (23.9) and pitching wedge (25.6).
The average male golfer hits a driver with 12.6 degrees of launch.
Interpreting Launch Angle
The most important thing to remember about launch angle is that the vast majority of golfers launch the ball too high. This is mainly because of not making clean contact.
Making poor contact generally increases launch because they do not hit down on the ball, exposing the clubface and adding more loft. Ball-first contact where a divot is taken after impact is when launch will decrease. This creates more consistency in results.
Launch angle is directly related to spin rate as well.
One of the cardinal rules is that gaining distance with a driver is the marriage of a relatively low spin rate combined with a higher launch. This is a delicate balance, of course. Hitting down on the ball increases spin and decreases launch, the opposite of optimal, which is why hitting up on the ball or creating an angle of attack that is just slightly downwards provides the best chance to reduce spin while maintaining the proper launch.
Advanced Launch Analytics
As a golfer becomes more skilled, they can monitor their launch on shots they intend to hit higher vs. lower. This is particularly important with wedge shots and short-iron shots.
Better players generally like to lower their launch with wedge shots so they can better control the distance.
As critical as launch angle is on longer shots, it’s arguably even more vital on shorter shots where precision is necessary. When you are looking for consistency on wedge shots, it’s not just about how far you are carrying a shot in the air — it’s about how consistent your launch is depending on the type of shot you are hoping to hit.