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The Truth About Aim and Alignment

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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.

photo 1

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.

photo 2

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.

photo

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.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. David

    Jul 23, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    One thing I don’t see discussed here: just because the club face is pointed (aimed) in a certain direction at address, doesn’t necessarily mean that is where it will be pointed at impact. So squaring the face to the target line, and then aligning the body to the face may get your body in the correct alignment, but the club face could still be closed or open to that target line at impact. I think it takes some experimenting/experience to learn the difference between the club’s aim at address vs. impact.

    For me, I pick out an intermediate target a few feet in front of my ball, then align my body parallel to the imaginary line between the ball and the intermediate target. From experience, I know that I need to have the club a little open to that line at address in order to have it be square to that line at impact.

  2. Anders

    Aug 28, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Hi Dennis,
    I have been working very hard to try and curve my shots into a draw
    and a fade so that I can use them when needed.
    However, I’m having a lot of trouble.
    Naturally I hit my shot very straight. When I try and aim my feet and
    body right and my clubface down my target line for a draw I for some
    reason continue to hit the ball dead straight down the line where my
    feet and body are facing. It’s as if the angle of the clubface has
    little impact on where the ball is going.
    I can change my swing path slightly more in-to-out with my clubface facing my target and curve my shot but just that slight change and instead of a draw the ball curves 30 yards to the left. The same happens for a slightly out-to-in path when I try to hit a fade.
    Any suggestions on how to get better results?
    Thanks,
    Anders

  3. Bob Morrissey

    May 21, 2014 at 9:38 am

    As a right handed golfer, I never felt comfortable starting backswing with a straight left arm. A year ago, began taking club back with a straight right arm, keeping my left arm almost limp. Seems to be less margin for error because I’m not swinging across my chest, from left to right. Find I’m much more consistent and haven’t lost any distance. Here’s my question: is this working because once I get to the top of my backswing, everything is automatically kicking as If I had taken my club back the traditional left-handed way?

  4. Nagar

    Apr 8, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Dennis thank you for writing a great article. I recently had a lesson after about 4 years and getting down to a 3 handicap. My pro David said I had to swing left after the ball had been contacted as the golf swing is based on an arc and not straight lines. e.g. swing out to right field for a draw, this is wrong information as the the club face must be closed a few degrees for this to occur. Confusion reigns supreme with incorrect information. BTW my clubs we’re 4 degrees too upright for me. So my body was compensating for not only my clubs but the swing I had developed by using these clubs.
    David then changed the lie angle and I then could actually play a small draw or fade with a great shot pattern dispersion and not a hook or slice.
    Could you please do an article on golf club fitting and the results of incorrectly fitted clubs.
    Ta Nagar.

  5. Chris H

    Apr 6, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Well written Dennis! This article and your recent one on ball position are two of the best instructuctional articles I’ve read in quite a long time. Teaching golf is getting too technical and complicated with some people. Thanks for keeping it simple and going back to basics.

  6. christian

    Apr 5, 2014 at 4:03 am

    How can anybody not understand, or find it hard to learn, what open/closed feet are as opposed to open/closed clubface? Seriously?
    I have never ever heard of a golfer, no matter how new he or she is to the game, that couldn’t comprehend something like; “ok, feet to the left of target is open and feet right of the target is closed. Now, for the clubface it’s the exact opposite, aim the face right and it’s open and if you aim it left is called closed”. It’s not exactly rocket science

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 5, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      I taught a few guys from NASA once who told me golf was a lot harder than rocket science. 🙂

    • Wayne O'Reilly

      Aug 28, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      So nothing to add? Just babble about the content?

  7. John

    Apr 3, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Thank you for the wondeful article. It made a lot of sense. Thank you!!

  8. Alex

    Apr 3, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    So as someone who hits hooks, I noticed if I set up with the face looking closed, and feel like I’m going to reroute a bit over the top, I can actually hit tiny little hard draws or even a cut.

    It’s been a huge revelation for me. Especially with the driver.

  9. Dennis Clark

    Apr 3, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    The thing to notice about the articles I write is the tendencies most golfers have..not every player sets up this way. Freddy Couples and Lee Trevino set up MILES open in their prime. Kenny Perry and a few others (not many) closed. It worked for them, But Ive been watching closed club faces start outside for the most part for 30 years on the lesson tee-must be something optical about it. And TRUE path is only determined by 3-D technology. Mine is FLIGHTSCOPE. It’s the only way to factor in down and out, and up and in!

  10. Dennis Clark

    Apr 3, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    The starting direction of the golf is as much as 80% club face and 20% path. If you want the ball the start right face should be there. The BALL STARTS ON THE FACE AND CURVES AWAY FROM THE PATH, Classic D Plane physics. Try seriously closing the face and taking the club inside, it’s VERY difficult to do. Thx for reading

  11. Christopher

    Apr 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    The picture of ‘A Square Clubface’ looks a bit funky. The orange club looks like it has a bit of loft on it so the club would only be square if the sole was flat on the ground and that club has the toe pointing up in the air. The flatter you make a lofted club the more the face points to the left. Although it’s probably just for illustrative purposes!

    I also think it’s better to have an alignment aid across the heels and not the toes, especially for players who have a square right-foot and a left-foot turned towards the target. At least until they get used to aligning our feet properly.

    • Dennis Clark

      Apr 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      The club has a lot of loft on it; it’s a toy for kids…I used it to make a point. I’ll do video to follow up. The actual line of feet is a guide, shoulders much more relevant, and heels are not visible at address. But I see what you mean. Another thing you may to do is practice with the sun at your back and put a club on your shoulders. Shadow tells a lot. And actually what you mean is the more UPRIGHT the lie angle is the note left it looks. Thx for reading.

      • Christopher

        Apr 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm

        The shadow tip is a good one. It’s good for putting feedback too.

  12. Robert

    Apr 3, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I understand what you are saying, but just because the topline of the club is closed or open doesn’t mean the player will in fact follow that path. When hitting draws or fades, I line up my feet where I want the ball to start and aim my club face where I want the ball to end up. I make my swing plane along my feet and not how the club is aligned. I understand not everyone will or can do this, but it seems like you are making what I do seem like it’s impossible.

    • Rob

      Apr 5, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      Robert, look up info on the “D plane” and prepare for your head to explode.

  13. Dennis Clark

    Apr 2, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Agreed; James is very good in that area; Joseph Mayo as well. The information is finite, the presentations endless. Thx Jeff

  14. Jeff

    Apr 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Good article. For more on the D plane I highly recommend looking up James Leitz.

    • Topspin2

      Apr 4, 2014 at 5:50 am

      You did not address the position of the eater in an “open face sandwich”…

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