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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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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Instruction

Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Instruction

Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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