What the Golf Term Means
Launch angle is the initial angle of ascent of the golf ball immediately after impact, expressed in degrees. A launch angle of, for example, 20 degrees means the ball is ascending at an angle of 20 degrees relative to the groundline of the surface from which it was struck.
Launch Angle in Golf
Many factors affect launch angle, including swing speed, the angle of attack (how the clubface approaches the golf ball) and clubface position at impact. The loft of the golf club itself is the single biggest factor, of course. But the same club can produce very different launch angles in the hands of different golfers based on the other factors. A club will produce a higher launch angle with a higher clubhead speed, for instance, so long as other factors are equal.
Launch angle is a term probably most closely associated by most golfers with drivers. The advent of oversized, game-improvement drivers in the late 1990s, and then the greater availability to the average golfer of clubfitting tools such as launch monitors, have increased the focus on launch angle.
If a manufacturer can tweak a driver’s clubhead design — factors such as loft angle, the center of gravity location and moment of inertia — and tinker with the club’s overall weight and aerodynamic design in a quest to boost swing speed, then the manufacturer can help improve a golfer’s launch angle off the driver.
The slower a golfer’s swing speed, the more help the golfer generally needs from his or her driver in boosting launch angle. And an improved driver launch angle often means more carry, which in turn leads to more distance.
Launch angle does factor in with all golf clubs, however, and it should be noted that a higher launch angle is not always the preferred outcome (particularly moving through the set to the wedges).
How to Check Your Launch Angle
Is the launch angle of your drives and other golf shots too high, too low or just right? How does a recreational golfer even know?
The best way to get your launch angle checked and analyzed is to visit a clubfitter or teaching professional who uses a launch monitor. Seeing the numbers that the launch monitor produces is one thing; knowing what they mean and whether you need to tinker with your club setup are very different things. A clubfitter or teaching pro can not just get your numbers, but help you understand them and what to do with them.
There are many small devices on the market now that work great as personal launch monitors, too. You can talk to the staff at your local pro shop about the options. And your local pro shop might also have launch monitors set up in its swing bays for golfers to try.