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The reality of aim and alignment, and why golfers get them wrong

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This story was selected as one of the 15 best GolfWRX stories of 2015!

I’ve often said I would hate to be at a rifle range with a bunch of golfers; someone would get shot. That’s because golfers tend to have the most crooked aim of players in any sport, and there’s good reason for that. If you tend to curve the ball right, you’ll aim left. If you tend to curve the ball left, you’ll aim right. Now that isn’t always a bad thing… in fact, it’s often quite functional.

But before I discuss “proper” aim and alignment, versus just band-aids for the issue, let’s establish the difference between the two.

  • Aim: The position of the club face at address. It can be aimed at the target, or left or right of it.
  • Alignment: The position of the body at address. It can be parallel to the flight line, left of it or right of it.

Notice that the ONLY thing looking at the target, or the desired start line, is the club face. It’s never the body.

The relationship between the body and the club face is often underestimated, and club face aim is critical to aligning the body correctly. For example, when I teach brand-new golfers and actually aim the club face for them, they almost instinctively align their body correctly.

The relationship between club face aim, body alignment and backswing is critical. Here’s why:

  • If you set up with the face closed, your alignment will tend to be square to the club face and therefore open to the target. Your backswing will also tend to start back too far to the outside.
  • If you set up with the face open, your alignment will tend to be square to the club face and closed to the target. Your backswing will also tend start too far inside.

How do I know this? I have seen it for years and years. And I’m not merely referring to high-handicap players, either; the same is true for the best players I teach.

The mistakes we all make in golf are the result of a vicious cycle. Something as innocent as aiming the face right or left of target starts a chain reaction from which we often cannot recover.

Below are a few common examples. I have seen these patterns repeated ad infinitum, and they all this start with a mis-aimed club face at address.

  • When the club face is set closed, often the rear shoulder gets too high, the grip can get too weak and the ball position can get too far forward.
  • With the club face open, the trail side can get too low, the ball position can get too far back and the grip can get too strong.

Watch this video for a visual explanation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqpiAzouYro

Some years ago, down in Marco Island, Florida, where I live, the late, great Ken Venturi told me: “Good players don’t lose their swing, they lose their position!” 

By position, he meant aim, alignment and ball position. It is human nature, I suppose, to swing and aim away from our typical ball flight. The minute we do, however, our ball position, swing direction and swing bottom are all affected.

One of the merits to a pre-shot routine is to check these fundamentals. You must know where the ball is, where the club face is pointed and where the body is aligned when you’re playing you’re best and try to keep it there. Constantly monitor your setup and strive for consistency.

Now, I am not saying the club face has to look at the target or the body has to be aligned parallel of it all the time. Your swing may very well require you to aim left or right, for example, depending on your attack angle. I am also not indicating that alignment always directs the swing, but you need to be sure you are set up where you think you are and have the correct relationship between your club face and your stance.

I recommend the following as pre-shot routine:

  1. Stand behind the golf ball to see your desired starting line.
  2. As you approach the golf ball, AIM THE CLUB FACE FIRST at your desired starting line.
  3. Then and only then, align your body to the line at which the club face is aimed.

Notice that the top edge of the club is set “off” from the leading edge and the very appearance of it will direct the first few feet of the swing. If the face is set squarely, the club will begin arcing back slightly inside, as it should. Now try closing the face and you’ll see that club wants to be directed back slightly outside that line. That’s why I suggest aiming the face before aligning the body.

You should strongly consider using an alignment stick as reference when you practice, or perhaps paint a line on the ground with turf paint to get familiar with what a square club face actually looks like.

I hope this helps, and as always, send me an email or message me on my Facebook page with any questions!

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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

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Ross Niciewsky

    Apr 29, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    What a big differince best i ever read Ross

  2. Andrew

    Dec 28, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    This is an AMAZING article – I am a low-digit and I am constantly working (and struggling with) on my alignment/ball position and am constantly amazed how little coverage these ‘basics’ get. Really hard to hit repeatable swings/shots (especially under pressure) with inconsistent set-ups. Great article!!

  3. Gorden

    Oct 11, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Get one of those magnetic pointers and have someone place it it on your iron face after you think you are set up….I found it really useful in getting the proper picture of how different lining up leading edge and bottom edge of club can be. Starts with putter face and gets worse all the way to the driver…clue is if a short level chip shot (right hand golfer) tends to miss right you may be lining up top edge instead of bottom or leading edge…

  4. Dennis Clark

    Oct 10, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    yes because they curve more in flight…golfers will always aim and swing away from their miss…thats begins a terrible vicious cycle

  5. Scott

    Oct 9, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Good stuff – thanks Dennis. Just curious, do you find that your students have more issues with proper aim & alignment on the longer clubs? With the driver I tend to play the ball quite forward, with hands forward as well, to help contol my hook. Proper alignment feels much more uncomfortable than with the irons, and it takes discipline to trust it and hit it.

  6. dwc

    Oct 6, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Great article. As much as I have read about the swing and think I know, I didn’t really know this. Can’t wait to try it out to see if it fixes my swing issues that pop up every now and then

  7. Dennis Clark

    Oct 5, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Everything is related in a golf swing but flipping and/or blocking is topic for another piece I wrote I believe…

  8. martin

    Oct 4, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    My problem is flipping and blocking the golf ball. You wrote a very good article on that problem, and I have practised those things, but I feel I still have a long way to go, but when it works, it feels strange but very solid strikes. I guess I am rolling the hands through impact or keep them “dead” steady and blocking. Has alignment, aim any impact here or is it just an over active right hand that causes the flips and blocks?

  9. Pingback: Why golfers miss the reality of aim and alignment | GolfJay

  10. Dennis Clark

    Oct 2, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    yes he elaborated. extensively actually. I had one too many beers with Kenny on one too many occasions…:) Told great Hogan stories too, it was always fun. And usually quite informative.

  11. Kyle

    Oct 2, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    “Ken Venturi told me: “Good players don’t lose their swing, they lose their position!”
    By position, he meant aim, alignment and ball position.”

    Did he elaborate and later say position meant aim, alignment, and ball position or is this a conclusion you found on your own?

  12. phillymike

    Oct 2, 2015 at 11:22 am

    i always appreciate insightful videos/tips on alignment and aim..great article!!

  13. Tom

    Oct 2, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Useful article, explains my going left.

  14. Desmond

    Oct 2, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Thank you – I tend to take the club inside and push when the face/path ratio is “off” – this helps explain why. My instructor looks at me and say, “You’re open” when it looks square to me. Then I noticed that my hips were open at address, so I’ve squared them up as well as the shoulders. The last frontier is club face…

  15. shimmy

    Oct 2, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Hi Dennis.

    Thanks for this and all of your other articles here. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your wisdom with us.

    One question- what do you think of so called ‘speed golf’? Is there merit to very little preshot routine and ‘reacting to the target’?

    Just curious.

    Thanks.

    • Dennis Clark

      Oct 2, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Shimmy,
      Thx for following; i think speed golf, like many other things, is good for some, not so much for others. Your pace, tempo, amount of time over the ball etc seem to be aspects of your personality. More analytical types, perhaps left brained ? need more time time, etc. It’s so hard to answer unseen though

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Instruction

Golf 101: How to chip (AKA “bump and run”)

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Although golf for a beginner can be an intimidating endeavor, and learning how to chip is part of that intimidation, this is one part of the game that if you can nail down the fundamentals, not only can you add some confidence to your experience but also you lay down a basic foundation you can build on.

How to chip

The chip shot, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-golf swing. To the beginner, it may seem like a nothing burger but if you look closely, it’s your first real way to understand contact, launch, spin, compression, and most importantly the fundamentals of impact.

What is a chip shot? A pitch shot?

Chip: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a 3-iron to a lob wedge that launches low, gets on the ground quickly, and rolls along the surface (like a putt) to the desired location.

Pitch: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a PW to a lob wedge that launches low- to mid-trajectory that carries a good portion of the way to your desired location and relies on spin to regulate distance.

Now that we have separated the two, the question is: How do I chip?

Since we are trying to keep this as simple as possible, let’s just do this as a quick checklist and leave it at that. Dealing with different lies, grass types, etc? Not the purpose here. We’re just concerned with how to make the motion and chip a ball on your carpet or at the golf course.

Think “rock the triangle”

  1. Pick a spot you want the ball to land. This is for visualization, direction and like any game you play, billiards, Darts, pin the tail on the donkey, having a target is helpful
  2. For today, use an 8-iron. It’s got just enough loft and bounce to make this endeavor fun.
  3. Grip the club in your palms and into the lifelines of your hands. This will lift the heel of the club of the ground for better contact and will take your wrists out of the shot.
  4. Open your stance
  5. Put most of your weight into your lead leg. 80/20 is a good ratio
  6. Ball is positioned off your right heel
  7. Lean the shaft handle to your left thigh
  8. Rock the shoulders like a putt
  9. ENJOY!

Check out this vid from @jakehuttgolf to give you some visuals.

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Instruction

Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Instruction

Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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