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

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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Matt Wolff, Bubba Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and so many more have been criticized for their golf swings and the flying elbow has been a subject of those criticisms.

When you watch a baseball hitter, a baseball pitcher, a tennis player, a lumberjack and so many more sports and disciplines, you realize they were all good to go all along!

This video will hopefully nudge you to experience this power for yourself too!

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This video is chock full of fairway wood wisdom that will allow you to understand several things including why a low spinning 5-wood would go much farther and what to focus on feel wise and sound wise with the SOLE of the club through the turf and ground. At least four solid nuggets throughout this video that will be sure to sharpen your fairway woods and hybrids!

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The Wedge Guy: Chipping away strokes

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I’ve always admired golfers who can really chip the ball well. Through my years in golf, I have seen players of all handicaps who are excellent chippers, and all tour professionals are masters of chipping it close. But for such a simple little stroke and challenge, chipping seems to be a part of the game that eludes many of us.

A good short game just cannot be achieved without a commitment to both learning and practicing. In watching the best chippers, it seems that their technique or chipping “stroke” is very similar to their putting stroke in style, form and pace. I think that’s because both chipping and putting are primarily “feel” shots. Yes, technique is important, but I’ve seen good chippers with all kinds of form and fundamentals.

This brings to mind two of my golf buddies who are both good chippers of the ball while employing totally different styles, but each one closely resembles their individual putting style. One uses a more stiff-wristed technique and quicker pace and tempo — just like his putting. The other, who is a doctor with a delicate touch, uses a more rhythmical pace not dissimilar from his syrupy smooth putting stroke.

Now let’s talk about techniques.

I personally prefer to use two different chipping techniques, depending on the chip I am facing. If I simply have to carry a few feet of collar and then get the ball rolling, I’ll choose a mid-iron or short iron, depending on the balance of carry and roll, and grip down on the club so that I can essentially “putt” the ball with the club I’ve chosen.

In employing this technique, however, realize that the club you are “putting” with weighs much less than your putter, so you want to grip the club much lighter to make the club feel heavier. It takes just a little practice to see what different clubs will do with this putt/chip technique.

On chips where the ball has to be carried more than just a few feet, I prefer a chipping technique that is more like a short pitching swing. I position the ball back of center of my stance to ensure clean contact and set up more like a short pitch shot. I usually hit this kind of chip with one of my wedges, depending on the balance of carry and roll needed to get the ball to the hole.

On that note, I read the green and pick an exact spot where I want the ball to land, and from there until impact, I forget the hole location and focus my “aim” on that spot. Your eyes guide your swing speed on chips and short pitch shots, and if you return your eyes to the hole, you are “programming” your body to fly the ball to the hole.

So, while sizing up the shot, I find a very distinct spot on the green where I think the ball needs to land to roll out with the club/trajectory I envision. From that point on, my complete focus is on that spot, NOT the hole. That loads my brain with the input it needs to tap into my eye/hand coordination. I think many golfers chip long too often because they focus on the hole, rather than where the shot needs to land, so their “wiring” imparts too much power. Just my thinking there.

One of my favorite drills for practicing chipping like this is to take a bucket/bag of balls to the end of the range where no one is hitting, and practice chipping to different spots – divots, pieces of turf, etc. – at various ranges, from 2-3 feet out to 20-30. I do this with different wedges and practice achieving different trajectories, just to load my memory banks with the feel of hitting to a spot with different clubs. Then, when I face a chip on the course, I’m prepared.

I’m totally convinced the majority of recreational golfers can make the quickest and biggest improvement in our scoring if we will just dedicate the time to learn good chipping technique and to practicing that technique with a purpose.

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