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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

The 3 best ways to train your golf swing

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Understanding how to effectively train and practice is critical to transferring skills to the golf course.

In golf, I view training as a thoughtful, deliberate rehearsal of a motion to develop technique. This is better rehearsed away from the golf course. Practicing golf consists of developing your skill to take to the golf course—an example being learning to hit shots in certain winds and shot shaping.

“A lawyer will train to be a lawyer, then he or she will practice law” – The Lost Art of Golf

I find the below examples the best ways to train effectively. These techniques will also help facilitate a swing change and make your training and practice more efficient.

Mirror Work

I like my student to implement what I call “mirror work”. This is done by looking into a mirror from the face-on position.

This is a great way to get external feedback (information delivered from an outside source). Learning by external feedback will help facilitate the required body movement to produce a particular shot. It’s also a cheap and effective way to train. Research suggests observation in a mirror is considered external, so the use of mirrors will elicit external feedback, enhancing the learning process.

I prefer students to only check positions from the face-on view. If a player starts checking positions in a mirror from down-the-line, moving your head to look in the mirror can cause your body to change positions, losing the proper direction of turn.

Train Slow

Learning a new motion is best trained slow. At a slower speed, it is easier to monitor and analyze a new motion. You will have increased awareness of the body and where the shaft is in space. At a faster speed, this awareness is more difficult to obtain.

I often use the analogy of learning how to drive a car. First, you took time to learn how to position your hands on the wheel and position your foot next to the break. When comfortable, you put the car in motion and began to drive slowly. Once you developed the technique, you added speed and took the car on the freeway.

In martial arts, there are three speeds taught to students: Slow-speed for learning, medium speed for practice and fast speed for fighting. Again, the movement was trained slow to start. Once comfortable, the motion was put into combat. This should be similar to golf.

Finding Impact

Use an impact bag to get the feeling of impact and an efficient set-up. If you don’t have an impact bag, a spare car tire, bean bag or something light and soft that can be pushed along the ground can be used.

I like to refer to the impact bag as a “Push bag”. Start by setting up into the bag, lightly pressing the shaft into the bag. You will notice how your trail arm slightly tucks in and as your right shoulder drops below the left with your body leaning forward, an efficient set-up.

To get the feeling of impact swing the club back and down into the bag while maintaining your body shape. Don’t move the bag by hitting it, rather pushing it. Note how you maintain your wrist angles while pushing the bag (not flipping) and the right side of your body moves through impact.

Train your swing with these three training techniques to play better golf.

@KKelley_golf

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Instruction

How posture influences your swing

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S0 what exactly is posture and how can it alter your swing? Posture is often the origin to a player’s swing pattern. I like to look at posture as the form of the body from the front view and down the line position at address.

“Shape” in posture is the angles our body creates at address. This includes the relationship between the upper and lower half of our bodies. This article will examine the importance of this shape from the face on view.

For an efficient posture that creates a simple, powerful, and repeatable swing, I like a player’s shape to be set into what I call their “hitting angles.” Hitting angles are similar to the impact position. In the picture below, note the body angles at address highlighted in green.

Once we are set into these hitting angles, the goal of the backswing is to maintain these angles, coiling around the spine. When these angles are maintained in the backswing, the club can return to impact in a more dynamic form of our set-up position. This creates minimal effort that produces speed and repeatability—essentially doing more with less.

The further we set up away from these hitting angles, our bodies will have to find impact by recovering. This is often where a player’s swing faults can occur. We want our body to react to the target in the golf swing, not recover to strike the ball.

Think of a baseball player or football player throwing a ball. When the athlete is in their throwing position, they can simply make the movement required to throw the ball at their intended target. If their body is contorted or out of position to make the throw, they must re-position their body (more movement) to get back into their throwing position, thus making them less accurate and powerful.

The good news about working on your posture is that it is the easiest part to control in the swing. Posture is a static motion, so our body will respond to 100 percent of what our mind tells it to do. It’s talentless.

Here is a simple routine to get you into these hitting angles.

To start, tuck in your trail arm making it shorter and below the lead arm, which makes your trail shoulder lower than the lead shoulder. This will give you the proper shape of the arms and wrist angles. Pictured right is Ben Hogan.

With these arm angles, bend from the hips to the ball and bump your body slightly forward towards the target getting ‘into yourself’. You may feel pressure on your lead foot, but your upper half will still remain behind the ball. Note the picture below with the blue lines.

Practice this drill using a mirror in front of you, head up looking into the mirror. Research has shown mirror work enhances motor skills and performance. Anytime you have external-focus based feedback, the learning process will escalate.

There are a lot of different postures on the PGA Tour and many ways to get the job done. There are no cookie-cutter swings, and players have different physiology. However, research and history have shown that an efficient posture gives us the best chance for solid contact and our desired ball flight. Work hard on the areas that are easiest to control: the set-up.

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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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