Ever think about this? If the clubface is aimed left of the target, we call it closed. If the body is aligned left of the target, we call it open. If the clubface is aimed right of the target, we call it open. If the body is aligned right of the target, we call it closed. And we wonder why students are confused?
Golf instructors invented this “golf speak” language to help them talk about the game, but it’s actually hurt a lot of golfers’ chances of understanding what we’re talking about. So I’m going to be especially careful in this article to use terminology that accurately describes what is actually happening.
Let’s start with a few definitions:
- Aim: The position of the clubface in relation to the target or desired starting line. It is a fundamental of the game.
- Alignment: The position of the body in relation to the clubface. It is a preference based on an individual’s swing.
Golfers aim the face of the club at the target (or where we want the golf ball to start), but they align the body to the face. That is why it’s so important to get the face of the club looking directly at where you want the ball to go. But very often the problem is this: Slicers tend to aim the face left, and therefore align their bodies left in an effort to keep the golf ball out of right field. Golfers who fight a hook tend to aim the face right and align their the bodies to the right in an effort to keep the ball out of left field. So while their intentions are good, lining up more left to cure a slice and more right to cure a hook makes those problems even worse. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that every golfer has fallen into at one point or another.
Above: A “square” clubface.
That’s why we have to be careful of the anti-slice or hooked-face drivers. If you align the body to that face, you are aiming left, and if you then swing along that line you’ve just poured salt in your slicing wound. The club face is so visually dominant in the set up that even when I square the club faces of brand new golfers they inevitably move their body around to the correct alignment.
If you watch the pre-shot routines of the very best players, you’ll see that they stand behind the golf ball before they hit their shot to visualize the line on which they want the ball to start. When they walk up to the ball, the very first thing they do is set the clubface to that line. The next step for them is to align their bodies to the club face. How they do so is dictated by the shot they are playing at that time. They are not always playing a dead straight shot. In fact, they seldom try to hit their shots straight, but their process does not change: Club face aimed first, body aligned next.
Above: A “closed” clubface.
I should say a few words here about something called the “D” plane. This deals with the TRUE path of the club into the golf ball. This much we know: If I am aligned parallel to the target and my attack angle is down, as it would be when I hit a ball off the turf, then my club is swinging right of my alignment, so technically I would aim slightly left to offset that. And if I am swinging up, as I like to do for a driver, then my club is swinging left of my alignment, and again, technically, I would aim slightly right to offset that path. You can read my article on the D Plane to learn why. The point is this: We can set up a little right or left of desired flight line, but we would still follow the process described above.
Here is something you may not have considered about the club face: The aim of it can direct the path of your backswing. When golfers aim the club left, their backswings invariably go outside. And when golfers aim the clubface to the right, their backswings invariably go inside. The reason? The top edge of the club is visually very dominant. Aiming the face left sets the top edge perfectly perpendicular to an outside takeaway and aiming the face right sets the top edge perfectly perpendicular to an inside takeaway. This is why I do not believe that opening or closing the club at address has much to do with fading or drawing the ball. For example, to try to draw the ball by closing the face, I align my body parallel of the target line and aim the face left. It often has the “double cross” effect because the PATH is directed outside, just the opposite of what I want for a draw. Slicers are particularly guilty of this. As soon as they close the face to try to offset their slice, they will surely swing more outside in.
Above: An “open” club face.
The next time you’re hitting balls, try this: Get an alignment stick and lay it on the ground pointing exactly at your target. Then take your club face and place the leading edge perpendicular to that stick. Then set your body parallel to it. Now look up at your target several times from where you are. It will give you an awareness of how to aim and align. Do this several times, then take the stick away and change targets. Next, put a stick on the ground along the line of your feet and another stick, where the ball would be, aimed directly at the target; then go back and take a look. Can you picture railroad tracks? One rail is ball line, the other is the body line. Remember parallel lines, by definition, never meet!
Here’s another reason correct aim and alignment are so vital. Suppose you hit a perfect golf shot and it went 15 yards left of your intended target. If you knew for a fact that you were aimed and aligned perfectly, you would know the problem was in your swing. Or you could have been aimed 15 yards right and hit the ball directly at the target. That would reveal a path well left of your body line or a closed face. This works great in putting too. If you draw a line on the ball, aim your face directly at the hole (on a straight putt) and then miss the putt right or left, your stroke was the problem. You would never know that if you weren’t 100 percent sure where you were aiming!
You can also check the aim of your club face. The next time you’re hitting balls with a buddy, set up and then have him or her come in and take your place, aligning the club exactly as you did. From behind, you can see if your clubface is aimed where you thought it was. This also works great for putting. Or use one of the magnetic tools we use to check lie angles. They are readily available and great for showing you where you are really aimed.
In golf, a little refresher course in some basic grade school geometry (parallel and perpendicular lines) goes a long ways to a better set up and hopefully a better swing. As always, if you post a video or a picture to my Facebook page, I’ll be glad to take a look.