Golf is a target-oriented sport, meaning the object is to get the ball to a specified point. From the tee, your target is the fairway. With an approach shot, your target is the green. Once you've reached the green, your target is the cup.
The point is, the correct aim is truly fundamental to playing golf. Without proper alignment, you're setting yourself up for problems right out of the gate. For the beginner, proper alignment requires that both the body and club are square to your desired target. Every part of your body, from your feet to your eyes, should be parallel to the target line during your setup. (Advanced golfers sometimes align the body and club differently to intentionally curve their shots.)
To ensure correct alignment, stand behind your ball and look directly at your target; for example, the middle of the fairway. Draw an imaginary line from your ball to the target, then pick a spot in the grass on that line about a foot in front of your ball – for instance, a divot left by a previous golfer. When taking your stance, aim the clubface directly at the spot, then align your body with the clubface. It can be beneficial for some players to imagine train tracks traveling in a straight line towards the target. One rail is aimed at your target line and the other is the alignment of your feet, parallel to the target line.
Thomas Golf developed its patented Shot Accuracy Technology to help golfers with this fundamental element. This unique alignment system makes aiming the club easier and more natural, translating into straighter shots and lower scores.
While other club manufacturers design the top plane of a golf club at an angle which can cause problems with alignment, the top plane or alignment bar on every Thomas Golf club is square to the rest of the club, promoting perfect alignment to the target.
Aim Your Golf Shots Properly and Shoot Lower Scores
When you head to the driving range to practice your game, what do you work on? If you are like most players, the mechanics of your swing get almost all of the attention. You probably work on your balance, tempo, grip, shoulder turn, swing plane and more. Each of those elements are important pieces of the puzzle and you would be smart to spend time improving them. However, there is another important piece that is overlooked by most amateur golfers – aim. Learning how to aim your shots properly, and then learning how to pick the right target for your shots, is a valuable skill. Only when you know how to aim correctly will all of the work that you have done on your swing mechanics start to pay off.
The physical act of aiming your golf club at the target you have picked out shouldn't be terribly difficult after just a little bit of practice. The important thing is that you aim the face of the club at the target line you have selected – which might not actually be the hole itself. Many golfers make the mistake of simply aiming their clubface at the hole automatically instead of thinking strategically about the ball flight they plan to use and where the safest spot to land the ball might be. By putting more time and effort into picking out a good target for your shots, you will give yourself a far better chance at success.
Another trap that catches many average golfers is the thinking that they don't need to worry about aim or picking a target because they aren't very accurate with their swing. That is a negative mindset, and it wont help you make any progress with your game. Even if your swing doesn't produce very consistent results at the moment, you should still aim your shots carefully with the expectation that they are going to fly exactly as you planned. Even if only a small percentage of your shots are hit correctly, you want to make sure those shots result in the ball finishing close to the hole (or in the middle of the fairway in the case of a tee shot). Don't sell yourself short – course management and picking good targets is just as important for your game as it is to a professional.
All of the instruction included below is based on a right handed golfer. If you are a left handed player, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Three Big Rules of Aim in Golf
The style with which you play the golf course is totally up to you. Some players prefer to be aggressive and take on challenges in an effort to make birdies, while others prefer to play it safe and try to keep their ball in the proper position throughout the round. No matter what style you choose to use, make sure you stick with it and play your game regardless of what others around you are doing.
With that said, there are some rules that should not be broken with regard to aim on the golf course. Obviously these are not actual golf rules, but rather guidelines that you would be smart to follow when you are making your aiming decisions. If you manage to follow the three rules below, you should see a great benefit to your game almost immediately.
- Never be hurt by a straight shot. If at all possible, you want to aim your shots in a way that a straight shot will not put you in a bad position – even if you are planning on some curve in one direction or the other. Most golfers don't plan to hit a perfectly straight shot, since doing so is very difficult. Therefore, you will probably want to pick a target line that allows for some degree of draw or fade before the ball comes back to the ground. That is fine, but make sure you aren't picking target lines that will put your ball in a bad spot if it does happen to fly straight. For example, if you are hitting a driver off the tee, try to avoid aiming it at a water hazard with the hope that it will fade back into the fairway. Your goal should be to find a target that will allow your ball flight to work, but also not punish you in the case of a straight shot.
- Keep your ball in play. The fastest way to ruin your score during a round of golf is to start adding penalty shots to your card. Prior to each round, make it a goal to hit each and every single shot that makes its way onto the scorecard – that means taking no penalty shots. While you aren't going to meet this goal every round, it is a good frame of mind to be in. When deciding where to aim your shots, be careful to note any hazards or out of bounds areas that are near where you are aiming. You want to give yourself as much margin for error as possible when playing near spots on the course that could result in a penalty. Even if that means playing safe and away from the hole from time to time, your patience will be rewarded by not having to add those dreaded penalty strokes.
- Low side wins. The last of the three aiming rules for you to follow is that you want to be on the low side of the hole whenever possible. Playing short shots uphill to the target is almost always going to be easier than playing downhill. When hitting an approach shot into the green with a short iron, for example, plan your aim so that you are favoring the low side of the hole. If you hit a draw and the low side is the left portion of the green, consider aiming right at the hole and letting the ball draw onto that low side. While you might not end up right next to the hole, you will have a good chance at success on your first putt since it will be uphill. In fact, even if you miss the green on the low side, your chip should be far easier playing up the slope.
Those three rules should be easy for almost any golfer to follow, and they can start helping you play better right away. Even without changing anything about your swing or the types of shots that you hit, you can start to score better simply by making good decisions. Keep your ball in play, don't let a straight shot beat you, and favor the low side of the course – three simple aiming rules that can have a profound effect on your score.
Aiming Properly Off the Tee
Every hole starts with a tee shot, and hitting good tee shots can make the rest of the game much easier. Playing from the center of the fairway is a huge advantage over having to deal with the rough and other hazards around the course. While the first shot you hit on each par three hole is technically considered a tee shot as well, the discussion in this section will be limited to the tee shots that you play on par fours and par fives.
When you first get to the tee of a par four or par five, you want to immediately start looking for the best possible target line. In fact, you should be taking this step before you even think about which club you are going to hit. Pick your target line first, and then it will be an easy task to select the right club for the job. The following checklist will help you work through the process of finding a great target line to aim your tee shot.
- Are there any penalty shots lurking? Look down the fairway and spot any places where you could potentially incur a penalty shot. These are going to be the major points that you need to avoid when picking your target and aiming your shot. Water hazards, out of bounds markers, and even dense areas where you could lose your ball are all things to watch out for. While some holes are designed in a way that basically forces you to play somewhat close to the hazards, most holes have a bail out area that is safer but will leave you a more-difficult shot into the green.
- Are there any fairway bunkers? Fairway bunkers a step down from hazards like water and out of bounds because they don't add a penalty shot to your score. However, you would obviously like to avoid them whenever possible. Locate all of the fairway bunkers that are in play for the tee shot, and determine the yardage that it will require to carry each of them. Knowing the carry distance over each bunker can help you greatly when it comes time to pick a club.
- What angle will be best for your approach? A good tee shot is all about setting up the next shot. Golf is a game that is played in sequence from the tee to the green, so each shot builds upon the previous one. The goal of your tee shot is to position the ball correctly in order to make the second shot as easy as possible. If you can see the green from the tee, make note of the hole location and any other hazards that will be in play for your approach. Working backward, you should then be able to determine the ideal position in the fairway for the aim of your tee shot.
You don't always have to hit the ball as far up the fairway as possible in order to be in good position for your second shot. Too many amateur players automatically reach for their driver off the tee without even taking a look at the design of the hole first. Even long par fours can sometimes be better played with a three wood and a long iron rather than driver and a short iron. It all comes down to angles, picking smart targets, and then executing your swing. As you get better and better about aiming intelligently off the tee, you will find that you have more opportunities to hit great second shots.
Aiming Properly on Approach Shots
Once the tee shot is out of the way and your ball is in position, you will need to turn your attention to proper aim on your approach shot. This is where golf can really get exciting, because a great approach shot to a smart target can set up a birdie opportunity. You are going to have a hard time reaching your potential as a golfer unless you learn how to aim your approach shots correctly and then execute your swings to match.
Many of the points that you want to look for when aiming an approach shot are the same as what you will review prior to hitting a tee shot. Of course, you want to first check to see if there are any trouble spots near the green like water hazards or out of bounds markers that require your attention. Also, look for bunkers or any deep areas of grass that would make for a tough up and down. You don't always have to hit the green with your approach shots, but you need to do your best to avoid putting your ball in a position that makes a par difficult to achieve.
When you are hitting approach shots is also when the advice from above regarding the low side of the hole comes into play. As you stand in the fairway looking at the green, quickly determine which side is the low side of the hole. With very few exceptions, you will want to favor the low side in order to make your next shot as easy as possible. Putting or chipping downhill can be a serious challenge, even for a player with a good short game. Not only will it limit your ability to be aggressive in the pursuit of a birdie, but you will also be in danger of leaving a long putt for your par. Playing short game shots uphill is highly preferred whenever possible, so always aim approach shots with that fact in mind.
A big part of aim on approach shot is picking the right club for the job. When you pick out a target line that will safely keep you away from the hazards while still allowing you to get near the hole, you also have to pick a club that can cover the right distance for that specific target line. Since it is impossible to hit the ball the right distance on every single shot, you need to think about the outcomes of both long and short shots when picking your club. For example, if you are playing a shot on a target line that is going to need to carry a bunker in front of the green, you would want to error on the side of using too much club. Likewise, if there is trouble to be found behind the green, pick a club that you are confident wont fly long even if you hit it perfectly. Good aim on approach shots is a balance between confidence and realistic expectations – you want to plan on hitting good shots, but pick target lines that will keep you safe even if you hit a poor shot.
Use the step-by-step process below to pick out the perfect aiming point for each of your approach shots throughout the round.
- Find the low side. As soon as you reach your ball, take a look toward the green and identify which side is the low side. That will be the side where you hope to position your ball. If the green is flat or nearly flat, you can skip this first step.
- Locate danger. Check for water hazards or other potential penalty shots that are around the green. You will want to play safely away from any of these areas. If the hole is located dangerously close to the hazards, don't fall into the trap of aiming at the hole – pick a more conservative target and keep your ball away from danger as much as possible.
- Choose the right club. As mentioned above, use a club that will be right for the yardage if you hit it perfectly, and will also keep you out of trouble in case of a miss-hit. In order to do this on a consistent basis, you need to know exactly how far you are capable of hitting your clubs. If necessary, make notes during your next few rounds of how far you actually hit your shots so that you can add that information to your memory and be more accurate picking the right club in future rounds.
- Commit to the aim and make the swing. After all of the analysis has been done and your target has been selected, you then need to shift your focus completely to executing the swing. There should be no doubt in your mind that you have picked a good target because you took the time to work through all of the necessary steps. At this point, all that is left to do is commit yourself to the target that you selected, and make the swing to the best of your ability.
There is no room for doubt in golf, especially when it comes to aim. If you are trying to hit a good shot while simultaneously wondering if you picked the right target, you are destined to fail. Only when you are 100% sure that you have the right aim for the shot at hand should you go ahead and start your swing.
The Relationship Between Patience and Aim
The last major point that needs to be made regarding proper aim in your golf game relates to having patience on the course. One of the first things that many golfers do when they lose their patience during a round is begin to pick poor targets that require far too much risk. The plan for aiming your shots during a round of golf should not change regardless of how you are playing early in the day. Having patience on the course means that you are able to stick to your game plan and execute it to the best of your ability even when the round isn't going exactly how you had hoped.
Try to think about each hole that you play as a completely separate event, and unrelated to the other 17 holes on the course. When you allow the results of past holes – whether good or bad – to influence your decision making on future holes, poor outcomes are sure to follow. Now that you have learned to how to aim your shots correctly based on the design of the hole in front of you, use that knowledge for each shot that you play. If you allow yourself to get caught up in your emotions and you change your game plan as a result, your scores will never improve as much as you would like.
Improving your aim is a critical part of becoming a better golfer. Smart target lines can go a long way toward lowering your scores, even without changing anything about your swing. The golf course is littered with potential trouble that can add strokes to your score – from obvious hazards like water and out of bounds, to more subtle challenges like a slope around the green. Golf courses are designed to present you with questions, and it is your job to have the right answers to those questions. Before you take your stance and try to make your best swing, make sure that you have gone through the necessary thought process to pick a great target for the aim of your shot. Without great aim, even the best golf swing in the world wont help you shoot better scores.