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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

Clark: On learning golf

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“A true teacher will teach how to think, not what to think”

There are several versions of the above adage, but when you teach every day, you get to see this up close and personal. In my opinion, all a teacher can do is to guide you as to what happens when you hit a golf ball. The student has to discover what works for them to achieve better results. It is that simple. The internet is loaded with “how-to” info, and some of it might actually apply to your individual issue, but do yourself a big favor: Go beat some balls and see how it goes; try this, try that, repeat steps one and two!

Let’s take turning as a classic example. If someone were to ask a teacher HOW to turn, there could be a dozen answers. What the teacher, the data, video show is simply this: You are NOT turning. Let’s try this, let’s try that, no, how about this? There are an unlimited number of ways, but the student needs to: FIRST, realize the lack or incorrectness of turn, and SECOND, find a way to do it. Any way, YOUR way. This is called participating in your learning and discovering process. When Ben Hogan said: “the secret is in the dirt,” this is precisely what he was referring to. 

I have a short section each day in my golf school dedicated to the ballistics of impact. A student needs to know exactly what happens at impact. And when you know what produces good flight, then find what you personally are doing to violate those laws. How to correct an open and/or closed clubface means nothing to a student who doesn’t know what open or closed actually is, or does. Swing path and its relationship to clubface resulting in ball flight curvature is knowledge every teacher has, but is like rocket science to the student who knows none of this. I once had a student who thought his shanks were coming off the toe! When I told him that just the opposite was happening, he immediately moved away from the ball a little and stopped shanking (there were other reasons he shanked but just that much knowledge got him off the hosel!)

In order to correct anything, anything at all, it is first necessary to discover the problem and find a way, any way to correct it. No teacher, book, TV tip, or article can do what you can do for yourself. All the teacher might do is make you aware of the problem. But in the end, just go play and try this, that and the other thing. The answer is there, believe me, the answer is in you. You have to find it!

The problem, very often, is that golfers are looking for someone to offer them a light bulb moment, a flash of “aha,” the “I’ve-got-it-now” solution. The aha moment is the only way to get sustained improvement, but it must come from you, the individual. There is no universal “light-bulb moment,” it is uniquely-yours alone to discover.  As I’ve said before, “it’s not what I cover, it’s what you discover.” Discover what? That “thing” you can grasp and go hit ball after ball until you have, at least to a functional degree, internalized it!

Good luck on your personal journey!

On a personal note, this will be my final article for GolfWRX. I have written 100-plus articles over the last 10 years or so and I have thoroughly enjoyed helping all of you who read my articles.

If you read through them on some rainy day, you’ll notice a theme: “If this, then that.” Meaning: If your golf ball is consistently doing that, try this. The articles are all archived on this site, and I am writing a book about my life on the lesson tee. It has been a labor of love as my whole career has been. There is no greater joy in my professional life than seeing the look on a golfers face and feel the joy within them when they improve. The minute that slice straightens, or that ground ball goes up in the air, is a special bond and a shared joy in the student-teacher relationship.

But I’ve said most of what I think is pertinent and anything after this would be redundant. There is now a plethora of how-to info out there, and I personally feel the reader may begin to think he/she should do this or that as opposed to thinking “I should try to discover this or that through my own personal exploration.”

If any of you wish to contact me directly regarding help with your game, you know how to do so. But do remember this: You cannot learn golf from words or pictures. My advice is to get a good teacher to look at you a few times, then go out and find the answer in the dirt. Golf is a game to played. And in that playing, in that trial-and-error process, you will find things that will help you achieve better outcomes. No one owns this game: We only to get to borrow it from time to time!  

 

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In this week’s Impact Show, we give you week one of our brand new FREE coaching plan How To Play Golf: The Basics! This plan is ideal for all golf beginners and for any experienced golfers who would like to improve their golf swing, where they will be provided with the best golf tips and get back down to the basics of golf! In the first week, we will guide you through: the grip, ball position, and stance as we begin to show you the perfect golf set up. We also run you through two golfing myths and concepts that will help improve your backswing, through swing, and the impact you make with the golf ball.

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This one is a doozie! So many awesome elements to take away from Kyle Berkshire and implement them immediately in your golf swing for effortless power in the swing. From the set up with strong grip to the timing mechanism to start the action and give it a heavy flow, to the huge backswing and massive load in the ground in the transition to the deepest delivery towards the target there is in the sport! Watch and learn long ball wisdom right here.

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