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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Pingback: What is a Slice in Golf and How to Fix It

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. John

    Apr 3, 2014 at 9:45 pm

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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

The Wedge Guy: Short game tempo

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One of my favorite things to do is observe golfers closely, watching how they go about things from well before the shot to the execution of the swing or stroke. Guess the golf course has become kind of like going to the lab, in a way.

One thing I notice much too often is how “quick” most golfers are around the greens. It starts with grabbing a club or two from the cart and quickly getting to their ball. Then a few short jabs at a practice swing and usually a less-than-stellar result at a recovery.

Why?

If you are going to spend a morning or afternoon on the course, why hurry around the greens? I tend to be a fast player and despise five-hour rounds, but don’t fault anyone for taking a few seconds extra to get “right” with their recovery shot. You can still play “ready golf” and not short yourself in the close attention to execution. But let me get back to the specific topic.

Maybe it’s aggravated by this rush, but most golfers I observe have a short game tempo that is too quick. Chips, pitches and recoveries are precision swings at less than full power, so they require a tempo that is slower than you might think to accommodate that precision. They are outside the “norm” of a golf swing, so give yourself several practice swings to get a feel for the tempo and power that needs to be applied to the shot at hand.

I also think this quick tempo is a result of the old adage “accelerate through the ball.” We’ve all had that pounded into our brains since we started playing, but my contention is that it is darn hard not to accelerate . . . it’s a natural order of the swing. But to mentally focus on that idea tends to produce a short, choppy swing, with no rhythm or precision. So, here’s a practice drill for you.

  1. Go to your practice range, the local ball field, schoolyard or anywhere you can safely hit golf balls 20-30 yards or less.
  2. Pick a target only 30-50 feet away and hit your normal pitch, observing the trajectory.
  3. Then try to hit each successive ball no further, but using a longer, more flowing, fluid swing motion than the one before. That means you’ll make the downswing slower and slower each time, as you are moving the club further and further back each time.

My bet is that somewhere in there you will find a swing length and tempo where that short pitch shot becomes much easier to hit, with better loft and spin, than your normal method.

The key to this is to move the club with the back and through rotation of your body core, not just your arms and hands. This allows you to control tempo and applied power with the big muscles, for more consistency.

Try this and share with all of us if it doesn’t open your eyes to a different way of short game success.

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The Wedge Guy: The core cause of bad shots

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You are cruising through a round of golf, hitting it pretty good and then you somehow just hit an absolutely terrible shot? This isn’t a problem unique to recreational golfers trying to break 80, 90, or 100 — even the best tour professionals occasionally hit a shot that is just amazingly horrible, given their advanced skill levels.

It happens to all of us — some more frequently than others — but I’m convinced the cause is the same. I call it “getting sloppy.”

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, there was a USGA advertising campaign a while back feature Arnold Palmer, with the slogan “Swing Your Swing.” There’s a lot of truth to that advice, as we all have a swing that has — either frequently or occasionally – produced outstanding golf shots. While there is no substitute for solid mechanics and technique, I’ve always believed that if you have ever hit a truly nice golf shot, then your swing has the capacity to repeat that result more frequently than you experience.

The big question is: “Why can’t I do that more often?”

And the answer is: Because you don’t approach every shot with the same care and caution that you exhibit when your best shots are executed.

To strike a golf ball perfectly, the moon and stars have to be aligned, regardless of what your swing looks like. Your set-up position must be right. Your posture and alignment have to be spot-on. Ball position has to be precisely perfect. To get those things correct takes focused attention to each detail. But the good news is that doing so only takes a few seconds of your time before each shot.

But I know from my own experience, the big “disrupter” is not having your mind right before you begin your swing. And that affects all of these pre-shot fundamentals as well as the physical execution of your swing.
Did you begin your pre-shot approach with a vivid picture of the shot you are trying to hit? Is your mind cleared from what might have happened on the last shot or the last hole? Are you free from the stress of this crazy game, where previous bad shots cause us to tighten up and not have our mind free and ready for the next shot? All those things affect your ability to get things right before you start your swing . . . and get in the way of “swinging your swing.”

So, now that I’ve outlined the problem, what’s the solution?

Let me offer you some ideas that you might incorporate into your own routine for every shot, so that you can get more positive results from whatever golf swing skills you might have.

Clear your mind. Whatever has happened in the round of golf to this point is history. Forget it. This next shot is all that matters. So, clear that history of prior shots and sharpen your focus to the shot at hand.

Be precise in your fundamentals. Set-up, posture, alignment and ball position are crucial to delivering your best swing. Pay special attention to all of these basics for EVERY shot you hit, from drives to putts.

Take Dead Aim. That was maybe the most repeated and sage advice from Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. And it may be the most valuable advice ever. Poor alignment and aim sets the stage for bad shots, as “your swing” cannot be executed if you are pointed incorrectly.

See it, feel it, trust it. Another piece of great advice from the book and movie, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days In Utopia”, by Dr. David Cook. Your body has to have a clear picture of the shot you want to execute in order to produce the sequence of movements to do that.

Check your grip pressure and GO. The stress of golf too often causes us to grip the club too tightly. And that is a swing killer. Right before you begin your swing, focus your mind on your grip pressure to make sure it isn’t tighter than your normal pressure.

It’s highly advisable to make these five steps central to your pre-shot routine, but especially so if you get into a bad stretch of shots. You can change things when that happens, but it just takes a little work to get back to the basics.

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Stickney: To stack or not to stack at impact?

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As you look at the impact positions of the best players in the world, you will find many different “looks” with respect to their body and club positions. Some of these impact positions might even appear unique, but don’t be fooled. They all have one thing in common: preserving the players’ balance throughout the impact interval! In fact, if you are not in-balance, then you will lose power, consistency, and have trouble controlling your launch dynamics from shot to shot.

This balance is a necessary key to playing well and one area that can be easily understood with a few graphics shown on GEARS 3D. As you examine the photo in the featured image, you can see a few things:

  • The player on the left has “fallen” backwards through impact slightly moving his head out of the circle established at address
  • The player on the right is more stacked at impact — meaning that his chest, zipper and hands are all in the same place at the same time (within reason)
  • The player on the left has reached this same position in the swing with different segments of the body reaching the ball at different times
  • There will be a difference of impact shaft lean between the two players due to one player reaching impact “together” and the other shoving his hands more forward as he falls back
  • The player on the right is more “connected” through impact…won’t be the longest hitter but will be able to find the ball in the fairway more often
  • The player on the left is putting more pressure on the rear portion of the lower back which could have a potential for injury if he’s not careful

Now, obviously there are pro and cons to both positions. Overall, if you want to be consistent and in-balance more often that not, I would suggest you try your best to focus on being “stacked” when you hit the ball.

Let’s dive in a touch deeper to show you what happens physiologically on 3D when you fall back through impact and I think it will really drive the point home.

  • At address notice the Vertical Spine Number 96.2, this is showing us where the spine is positioned at address
  • You can see the head is in the center of the bubble

  • On the way to the top of the swing you can see that the spine has moved “away” from the target laterally a slight bit to 98 degrees
  • The head has dropped downward and has also moved laterally as well- more lean over the right leg to the top

Now here is where the problem comes in…as you work your way to the top, it’s ok of your head moves a touch laterally but in transition if it stays “back” while your hips run out from under you then you will begin to fall backwards on the way to your belt-high delivery position.

  • We can see at the delivery position that the spine has continued to fall backwards as the hips rotate out from under the upperbody
  • When this happens the hands will begin to push forward- dragging the handle into the impact zone
  • Whenever you have too much spin out and fall back the hands move forward to accommodate this motion and this reduces your Angle of Attack and decreases your dynamic loft at impact
  • This will cause balls to be hit on the decent of the club’s arc and reduce loft making shots come out lower than normal with a higher spin rate and that means shorter drives

Now let’s examine impact…

  • The player on the left has reached impact in a more disconnected fashion versus the player on the right as you compare the two
  • The player on the right has a shaft lean at impact that is less than a degree (.75) while the player on the left has a much more noticeable forward lean of the shaft thereby reducing dynamic loft at impact

  • The player on the left’s spine has moved from 96.2 to 112.9, a difference of 16.7 degrees while the player on the right has only moved back a few degrees. We know this because his head has stayed in the bubble we charted at address
  • The hips have run out from under the player on the left in the downswing and this causes the head to fall back more, the hands to push forward more, and the impact alignments of the club to be too much down with very little dynamic loft (as also shown in the photo below)

Whenever the hips turn out from under the upper body then you will tend to have a “falling back effect of the spine and a pushing forward of the hands” through impact.  Notice how the hips are radically more open on the player on the right versus the left- 27.91 versus 42.42 degrees.

So, now that we can see what happens when the hips spin out, you fall back, and you fail to be “stacked” at impact let’s show you a simple way you can do this at home to alleviate this issue.

  

  • A great drill to focus on being more stacked at impact is to make slow motion swings with the feeling that the upper portion of your arms stay glued to your chest
  • These shots will be full swings but only 20% of your total power because the goal here is connection which allows everything to reach impact together and in-balance
  • The second thought as you make these swings is to pay attention to your head, if you can focus on allowing it to stay “over the top of the ball” at impact you will find that it will stay put a touch more so than normal. Now this is not exactly how it works but it’s a good feeling nonetheless
  • Once you get the feeling at 20% speed work your way up to 50% speed and repeat the process. If you can do it here then you are ready to move up to full swings at top speed

Finally, don’t forget that every golfer’s hips will be open at impact and everyone’s head will fall back a touch — this is fine. Just don’t over-do it! Fix this and enjoy finding the ball in the fairway more often than not.

Questions or comments? [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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