In golf, there's a clear relationship between a club's length/loft and its accuracy. Simply put, the longer and less lofted the club, the more difficult it is to hit straight.
Exhibit A: The Driver. As the club with the longest shaft and least lofted face, it's the most likely to produce a wild slice. Here's why:
The driver's shaft length (typically 43-46 inches) creates a significant amount of “lag” on the downswing. In other words, the clubhead trails the handle as the shaft bends. The lengthy shaft takes longer to unbend, requiring strength and solid technique by the golfer. If lag remains at impact, the clubface will be open, causing a slice.
As for loft, a mere degree or two can make a big difference. The more loft on a clubface, the more time until the hitting area reaches the ball, giving the golfer precious extra nano-seconds to square the club. Most drivers have just 9-12° of loft, so there's little margin for error.
Naturally, the length/loft vs. accuracy formula holds true throughout the bag. That's why you rarely see a big slice with a wedge. Likewise, a shorter club is easier to control and thus hit solidly.
If you struggle with slicing or making good contact, make sure your shafts are the right length and flex for your swing. And consider using a fairway wood or hybrid instead of a driver from the tee.
How Club Length and Loft Affect Slicing
The slice is a big problem in amateur golf. Of course, you don't need me to tell you that. In fact, you are probably reading this article because you have a slice of your own that you would like to get rid of. To be sure, it is hard to enjoy this great game when every one of your shots seems to slice off to the right immediately after leaving the face of the club. While the slice is hard to eliminate due to a number of complicating factors, it does not have to be a permanent condition. By gaining an understanding of what it is that causes the ball to slice, and then working to eliminate those mistakes from your swing, you can gradually begin to straighten out your shots.
This article is going to take a big-picture look at the issue of the slice. Specifically, we are going to get into the topic of the length and loft of your clubs, and how those two variables affect your slice. As you may have noticed, you are far more likely to hit a slice with your driver as compared to a short iron like a pitching wedge. Why is that? Why would longer, lower-lofted clubs slice more than your short clubs? That question, and more, will be answered in the content below. Any time you are trying to solve a problem, it is first important to understand the problem as accurately as possible. That is what we are going to be doing with this article. Once you have a precise understanding of the slice you should find that the task of fixing it suddenly becomes easier.
First, a definition – what is a slice? A slice, for a right handed golfer, is a shot that curves quickly to the right in the air and continues to curve to the right until it lands. Most slices start relatively close to the target line, or even to the left of the line. They curve almost immediately after they get into the air, however, and it is very unlikely that your slice is going to land anywhere near the target. The rough and trees to the right side of the fairway usually stay quite busy on the average course as countless amateurs struggle with this common ball flight problem.
It is important to understand that not every shot which lands to the right of the target is a slice. There are other reasons why you could miss to the right. For example, you could simply 'push' the ball to the right of the target line, resulting in a shot that flies straight but still ends up wide right. Or, you could hit a solid shot but miss to the right because you aimed incorrectly at address. It is only a slice when you see the ball curving dramatically from left to right as it flies.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Basics of the Slice
Before even getting into the topic of club length and loft, let's first look at how the slice works on a basic level. You may already have a pretty good understanding of this subject, but even so, it is always worth another review to remind yourself of what is happening when you hit a slice. To slice the golf ball, you need to be producing spin that is turning quickly from left to right around the ball. If you put only a small amount of left to right spin on your shots, you will be hitting a small fade rather than a slice – and there is nothing wrong with a fade. The left-to-right pattern only becomes a problem when the spin rate rises to a significant level.
In order to put left-to-right spin on the golf ball, your club has to be moving across the ball from right to left through the hitting area. This is always the way it is with golf – the ball will have the opposite spin of the direction that the club is moving. If your club is only slightly moving from right-to-left, you will produce a small amount of side spin (and likely a small fade). If you are dramatically cutting across the ball, however, the slice is a very real possibility.
Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. The curve that your ball takes through the air is going to be determined by your swing path in relation to the face angle at impact. The ball doesn't know what the target line is that you have picked out for your shot, so in the end, that imaginary line makes no difference. It is all about the comparison between your club face and your swing path when ball meets club. Below are the three general options that are in play for this relationship.
- Club face is square relative to the swing path. When your swing path and club face angle match up perfectly, a straight shot is going to be the result. Perfectly straight shots are rare in golf, even among professionals, because it is so difficult to match up these two variables exactly. However, if you can at least get close, you can limit the amount of side spin that is placed on your ball.
- Club face is open relative to the swing path. This is the case when you hit a slice. If the face is only slightly open compared to your path, you will hit a small fade. Or, if the face is wide open, you will hit a big slice (depending on the club you are holding – more on that later). In addition to causing your shot to curve to the right, hitting the ball with an open face will effectively add loft to the club, meaning your shots are likely to fall short of their intended target.
- Club face is closed relative to the swing path. As you might expect, a shot hit with a closed face is going to result in a draw or a hook. Just as is true with the slice, the kind of curve you get on this type of shot will depend on the severity of your impact position. Holding the face just slightly closed compared to the line will produce a beautiful little draw – but letting the face close significantly will produce a nasty hook.
To fix your slice, you are going to have to fix the relationship between the club face and your swing path through the hitting area. It's just that simple. Of course, there are a lot of moving parts in the swing that contribute to that relationship, so finding the right fix is sure to take some time and effort.
The Impact of Length and Loft
As mentioned earlier in the article, the length and loft of the club you are using for a given shot is going to impact how badly you slice the ball. This is why many amateur golfers fear the slice that they may hit with their driver while not really worrying about that same issue with a pitching wedge. Understanding why your long clubs produce bigger slices than your short clubs comes down to the physics of the game and how spin is generated at impact.
First, let's talk about the role that the length of the club plays in this equation. When you use a longer club, you are trying to hit the ball a longer distance – that much is obvious. A longer club shaft makes your swing arc longer, which gives you more time to accelerate the club head prior to impact. This is why your driver is the longest club in your bag. You are trying to hit your driver as far as possible down the fairway, so you use a long shaft to generate the speed necessary. You would surely be able to drive the ball more accurately with a shorter shaft in your driver, but those tee shots would be too short to be useful on a full-size course.
So, we have established that longer clubs are going to create higher swing speeds. As a result, those clubs are also going to generate high spin rates. When the club contacts the ball at a high rate of speed, there is a lot of energy in play during impact. Some of that energy is going to be used to send the ball off into the distance, but some of it is going to be used to put spin on the ball. Specifically, if you are cutting across the ball at impact from right to left, a good deal of energy is going to be used to put slice spin on your shot. As you can see, hitting a driver is always going to be something of a risky proposition. Good swings can be rewarded with impressive results, but poor swings are going to curve the ball dramatically in one direction or the other.
Hitting shorter clubs does not offer the same kind of risk/reward equation. If you get off track a bit with a short club, you aren't going to wind up with a nasty slice. Since there is less speed involved in the collision between ball and club, there is not going to be as much side spin created. Sure, you can curve the ball a little bit off line, but your misses will be far less dramatic. Most amateur golfers have more confidence when hitting their short clubs, and this is a big part of the reason why. Without having to worry about a serious miss that could tack strokes on to your score, you can relax and do your best to hit a great shot.
It is not only the reduced speed that will keep the ball closer to the target, but the additional loft as well. The loft that is present on your short irons is going to impart a higher rate of backspin on the ball than what you would see on a longer shot. Since the ball can only spin in one direction at a time, any backspin that you manage to get on the shot is spin that is not going to lead to a curve. Even if the ball is spinning slightly to one side or the other, most of the spin on your short iron shots is going to come in the form of backspin. Between the lower speed and the higher backspin rate, it is easy to see why you should have little trouble hitting short clubs straight.
The Simple Fixes
You should now have a clear understanding of why you are more likely to hit a big slice with your driver than your pitching wedge. However, you really aren't any closer to getting rid of that slice, as we have not yet touched on the topic of correcting this frustrating pattern. In this section, we are going to highlight some of the simple, common slice fixes that you can try to apply to your own game. These tips are not guaranteed to work, of course, but they do make for a good place to start.
- Drop your right shoulder at address. Believe it or not, you can actually set yourself up to hit a slice before you even put the club in motion. If you set up over the ball with your right shoulder higher than your left, the groundwork will be laid for a swing that produces a slice. That high right shoulder is likely to lead to a swing path that immediately moves outside and over the proper plane. From there, you are almost sure to swing from outside-in through the hitting area. When all is said and done, the ball is going to slice off to the right, even though you will have felt that you made a good swing. To correct this pattern, simply drop your right shoulder as you address the ball. When standing over a long club like your driver, your right shoulder should be set slightly below your left, while the two shoulders should be about even when hitting shorter clubs.
- Improve backswing extension. Many slicers are guilty of making a narrow backswing. With a narrow backswing, you are going to arrive at the top with your hands in close to your head. That is a problem because you won't have any room left to drop your hands in the inside on the way down – so you will have to push them up and away from your body. That is known as swinging 'over the top', and it is a classic move from a slicer. Instead of putting yourself in this position, add extension to your backswing by keeping your right arm straight longer into the takeaway. That simple adjustment will keep your hands and the club farther away from your head, and you will then have room to swing down on the right path.
- Take more time at the top. You can actually create a slice simply by rushing through the transition of your swing. It takes a bit of time to drop the club to the inside properly, so you won't be able to complete that move if you are in a hurry to finish the swing. Rushing through the transition is another way to create an over the top move. Also, by rushing, you are going to put the club in front of your body in the race down toward the ball – which is the opposite of what you would like to have happen. Fixing your timing comes down to taking a little more time at the top to allow things to develop naturally. Let your hands hang at the top while your lower body begins the task of turning toward the target.
- Swing through with confidence. Confidence in golf is a tricky topic. On the one hand, you really need to hit some good shots in order to develop your confidence properly. However, on the other hand, you need that confidence in order to make great swings out on the course. This is very much a case of the 'chicken and the egg', in terms of which one comes first. To find confidence, look to the driving range. By practicing your swing on the range where there is no pressure, you can build up belief in yourself that you can use to perform better on the course. With plenty of confidence in yourself, you should be able to swing through impact aggressively – which is a key to help you avoid the slice.
Your slice isn't just going to go away on its own. You are going to have to take action in order to eliminate this dreaded ball flight from your game. Take time during an upcoming practice session to work on some of the points presented above and see if you can take your ball flight in the right direction. It is unlikely that your slice is going to go away entirely on a single swing – more likely, you will make gradual progress until this issue is a thing of the past.
Course Management and the Slice
Ideally, you will be able to take the slice completely out of your game. More likely, however, is a reality where you improve on your slice, but it still pops up from time to time. And that's okay – you can play good golf even if you do hit the occasional slice. To optimize your performance and to work around those occasional slices, the best thing you can do is to make great course management decisions.
As you prepare to hit any long shot, take a look at the terrain in front of you. Is there a hazard sitting to the right of the target, waiting to catch a potential slice? If so, you may want to think twice about being aggressive with the shot at hand. After all, there is no way to know when that slice might pop up, so you don't want to run the risk of hitting your ball directly into the hazard. By being patient and picking a more conservative path, you can steer clear of trouble and save your aggressive shots for holes that have plenty of room to the right.
Remember, your longer clubs are far more likely to slice, so keep that in mind as you make decisions. For example, imagine a scenario where there is out of bounds guarding the entire right side of a par four. If you hit your driver, you may be able to knock the ball well down the fairway – or you might slice the ball out of bounds, incurring a stroke and distance penalty. To be sure, hitting your driver in this situation is a risky proposition.
To play it safer, you could choose to hit your hybrid club from the tee rather than your driver. Yes, your hybrid is going to leave you a longer approach shot, but it is also going to help you stay away from the out of bounds stakes. Your swing will be slower and your shot will be shorter, so any slice spin will be dramatically reduced. Most golfers would gladly trade a longer approach shot for the ability to keep their ball in play. Thinking strategically in this way as you go around the course will help you live up to your scoring ability.
Golfers who struggle with the slice would give just about anything to make it go away. Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of your slice is to work hard on your technique at the driving range. During your upcoming practice sessions, use the information included above to think critically about how you can improve on the relationship between your club face and your swing path. It isn't easy to get rid of the slice, but the reward is tremendous when you see the ball start to fly straight down the middle of the fairway time after time. Good luck!