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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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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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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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Build A More Consistent Short Game Through Better Body Movement

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So far in my collection of articles on GolfWRX, I’ve talked at length about the importance of posture, stability and movement patterns in the full swing, particularly utilizing the GravityFit equipment for feedback and training load. Many coaches use the same equipment to teach better movement in the putting, chipping, and pitching actions.

To help give some more insight into exactly how they do this, I have recruited Matt Ballard to co-author this article. Matt is an Australian-based coach and short game specialist who has been working with Adam Scott for the past year.

Matt Ballard (right) with Adam Scott.

According to Matt, the short game issue that the club players he coaches struggle with is contact and delivering consistent loft with their wedges.

“Most people tend to get steep, the handle comes in first and not enough loft is delivered,” he says. “This means that the bounce of the wedge isn’t being used properly, which makes control of contact, trajectory, and distance very difficult. ”

As Matt explains in the video below, this problem tends to manifest itself in chips and pitches that are either fat or thin, fly to short or not far enough, and either check up too soon or go rolling on past the pin.

The really frustrating part is the inconsistency. Not knowing how the ball is going to react makes committing to a shot extremely difficult. This has the unnerving effect of turning a simple task into something difficult… and pars into bogeys or worse. For the past few months, Matt has been using the GravityFit TPro to teach correct set up posture and body movement for chipping and pitching.

“I use the TPro to first of all establish spine and shoulder position,” Matt says. “I like my students to have the feel of their shoulders and forearms being externally rotated (turned out). From this position, it’s much easier to control the clubface (i.e. not getting it too shut or too open). The second benefit of using the TPro is controlling the golf club radius during the swing, with the radius being the distance the club head is from the center of the body. Controlling the radius is paramount to becoming an excellent wedge player. The third reason I use it is to help teach that pure rotation from the thoracic spine (mid/upper back), minimizing the excessive right side bend (for a right handed player) that gets so many people into trouble.”

20170712-_MG_5867

Nick demonstrating how TPro drills can be performed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essentially, Matt uses the GravityFit TPro to train a simple movement pattern that, once mastered, all but eliminate the typical problems normally associated with chipping and pitching.

“When (golfers) learn to turn using their thoracic spine and keep their arms in front of their body, it has a dramatic effect on how they deliver the club to the ball,” Matt says. “They are now able to maintain width or radius on either side of the ball, shallow out the club, and engage the bounce (sole) of the wedge to interact with the turf effectively, which is a key trait of all excellent wedge players. Doing this greatly increases their margin for error from a strike perspective and produces a far more consistent outcome in terms of loft, trajectory and distance control.”

Here is Matt’s 5-step process that you can follow with the TPro:

  1. Push handles out in front of your body, keeping slight bend in elbow.
  2. Stretch tall. Feel the green spikes in your middle/upper back and your shoulder blades on the paddles.
  3. Hinge forward into posture for pitching or chipping (the shorter the shot, narrower the stance.).
  4. Slowly turn chest into backswing, keep arms out in front of body, and maintain pressure on the spikes and paddles.
  5. Turn through to finish position using normal tempo, maintaining same pressure on the TPro and keeping arms in front of your body.

In summary, using the TPro and Matt’s drill can help you train a simple movement pattern that can give you far more control over the strike, trajectory and distance of your chips and pitches.

Click here to learn more about the TPro. To discover more pearls of wisdom from Matt, take a look at his website here and his social media activity here.

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