Fans marvel at Fred Couples' syrupy smooth swing and the apparent ease with which he pounds powerful drives. The 1992 Masters winner's tempo and flexibility are certainly extraordinary, but pure talent – which he has in abundance -- isn't the only thing that makes Couples unusual.
While most professional golfers are meticulous when it comes to aligning their feet, hips and shoulders, Couples' setup isn't anyone's idea of square.
Unconventional move: Couples aligns his body well left of his target in what's called an open stance.
When viewed from behind Couples, looking down the target line, you can see that his feet, hips and shoulders are aimed well to the left. This would normally indicate the player intends to play a fade (left-to-right shot) – not Couples. His shots often start right of the target and draw (turn right-to-left), a pretty amazing feat given where his body's pointed.
Why it's a problem for amateurs: For the average player – or even a very good one – such a leftward alignment leads to several potential problems. The most prevalent is a slice, caused when the clubface is open in relation to the swing path. In fact, many players will subconsciously compensate for the mis-alignment by leaving the clubface open in order to guide the ball back on line. There's also the danger of hitting the ball exactly where you're aimed.
How Couples gets away with it: Couples starts the downswing with a pronounced movement of the left hip. This begins a sequence which drops the club “inside” the line, so the clubhead traces a path that forms an X when crossing his body alignment. In other words, the clubhead doesn't follow the line of his feet, hips and shoulders.
The cure: If you have a tendency to line up left and slice or pull the ball, your best bet is to correct your alignment flaw before making any swing changes. On the range, simply place one club pointing directly at your target, and another parallel to it. Place the ball just outside the first club, and align your feet alongside the second club. When you address the ball it may feel as though you're aligned too far right. Try to ignore that sensation as you hit balls; your eyes will slowly adjust to sense the correct, on-target line.
Fred Couples Left of Target Alignment
Fred Couples is one of the most popular golfers of his generation. Couples earned the nickname 'Boom Boom' early in his career for his ability to blast long drives using a slow and rhythmic golf swing. That beautiful tempo has allowed him to remain competitive well into his 50's. The 1992 Masters Champion, Couples has posted strong performances at Augusta as recently as 2014, when he tied for 20th at the age of 54. With a total of 63 professional wins in a career that has spanned 35 years, Couples is already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Couples' swing is his open stance. As a right handed golfer, Freddy aims his feet and shoulders to the left of the target for most shots. Where most golfers attempt to get their feet and shoulders aligned in the direction of the target, Couples sets up open and swings the club back out to the right. This is a unique way to approach the golf swing, but there is obviously no arguing with the results that Freddy has achieved. Long considered to be one of the best ball strikers in the world, this open stance has served Couples extremely well through the years.
So should you alter your swing to copy the technique of Fred Couples? No, probably not. Freddy has incredible coordination and beautiful tempo, two things that are hard to replicate unless they come naturally to you. However, there is plenty to learn from his open stance, and you may want to use that element in your own game.
Playing with your feet and shoulders aligned to the left of the target offers a number of benefits that could potentially help you in a quest to shoot lower scores. Of course, there are some drawbacks to this style as well, so you will need to weigh the pros and cons before deciding if an open stance is a good option for your game.
Before you start making changes to your swing, stop and think about what it is in your game that you would like to improve. Is there a certain miss, like a hook or a slice, which you want to eliminate?
Are you simply trying to add more distance? There always needs to be a goal in place when you are working on making changes to your swing. Without a specific goal to guide your practice, you will never really know when you have made progress. Take a moment to outline what kind of improvements you would like to see in your game, and then decide if experimenting with an open stance could help you move in the right direction.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Advantages of an Open Stance
What is there to gain from playing from an open stance with your feet and shoulders @aligned to the left of the target? That depends on your swing, and your style of play. For some golfers, this method will be highly beneficial, while others will see no improvement by changing to an open stance. There is no 'one size fits all' approach to golf, so you need to experiment as much as possible with your specific technique in order to find what works best.
Following are three potential benefits that you may enjoy if you decide to switch to an open stance.
- Better view of the target. One of the things that many players enjoy about using an open stance is the improved view of the target from address. As you look up from the ball to assess the target before beginning your swing, you will have an easier time taking in an overview of the fairway or green. This isn't a benefit that will directly affect your ball flight, but it is something that can make you more comfortable over the ball, which can lead to increased confidence – and extra confidence is always a good thing. If you are a player who likes to have a clear picture in your head of the target in front of you, playing from an open stance may make it easier to create that picture.
- Eliminating the left side. For some players, using an open stance is a great way to avoid hitting misses to the left. One of the key ingredients to playing good golf is the ability to eliminate one side of the course – meaning that when you miss you always miss in the same direction. For a right handed golfer, it is usually preferred to eliminate the left side and restrict poor shots to the right side of the golf course. Misses that fly to the right are typically not as damaging as those that hook left, as shots with fade spin will stop quicker once they hit the ground. Swinging from an open stance will make most players less likely to hit a pull hook, which is one of the worst misses in the game.
- Soft touch on shorter shots. If you are able to carry your open stance in to your shorter shots (from 40 – 80 yards), you should find that your touch is greatly improved. Playing these intermediate shots from an open stance is a great way to add backspin to the ball while raising the height of your trajectory. You want to take these short wedge shots softly into the green, and an open stance will make that task much easier. It still requires plenty of practice in order to master these challenging partial wedge shots, but most players are more successful when using an alignment that is directed to the left of the target.
Of course, you may not enjoy all three of the benefits above, and you may find that an open stance ends up benefiting your game in other, unexpected ways. Since you can't be sure of the exact benefits and drawbacks that you will experience when putting an open stance into use, the best course of action is to try it out for yourself and carefully observe the results.
Trying an Open Stance on the Driving Range
Any alteration you make to your golf swing should happen on the driving range before you ever think of using it on the course. All swing changes take time, even if they are something as simple as opening up your stance to the target. Making changes on the fly in the middle of a round is a great way to cause problems, so always work on new ideas on the practice range first.
The first step in this process is to analyze your current stance to determine how accurately you are aiming at the target. Even if you think you are aiming at the target with your current swing, the reality of your stance may tell a different story. Record a few swings on video while on the practice range to check your current stance. Are you successfully square to the target line, or are your feet and shoulders already open to the target? It will be impossible to make proper adjustments if you don't know what your stance looks like currently.
Now that you have a good picture in mind of your current stance, you can make the necessary tweaks to get into an open position with your body aligned to the left of the target. Simply take your normal stance, open your feet and your shoulders, and make sure your ball position is comfortable. It is important that you remember to get everything open at address. If you only adjust your feet but your shoulders stay in the same position, the affect will not be the same. Likewise, opening your shoulders while keeping your feet in place isn't going to be effective either. Commit to the change by opening both your feet and your shoulders a few degrees to the left of the target line.
After you have adjusted your stance, go ahead and start hitting a few shots. At first, you don't need to do anything different with your swing technique – just make your usual swing while standing with your stance aiming to the left of the target. Watch the ball flight of these shots carefully, and notice any patterns that develop. For example, if you are pulling the ball consistently to the left of the target, you may need to spend a little more time in your backswing to find the proper path for the downswing. Or, if you are slicing the ball to the right, you might want to focus on taking the club back a little wider so you have room on the downswing to attack from the inside. Since you are only working on your swing on the driving range at this point, you can go through as much trial and error as you need until your shots begin to find the target.
This adjusted stance is likely to feel uncomfortable at first, so don't give up if you aren't having much success right away. In fact, you should commit to at least two or three different range sessions before you make a judgement on the effectiveness of this technique in your game. By opening your stance, you will be changing the way your body 'feels' the golf swing, and it may take a little bit of time to make the proper adjustments in response to those changes. However, if you aren't making any progress or feeling any more comfortable after a few trips to the range, you might want to give up on the experiment and revert back to your previous stance.
Taking It to the Course
If you have any experience at all in the game of golf, you already understand just how difficult it can be to take a new and improved swing from the driving range to the first tee. Hitting shots on the golf course feels nothing like hitting them on the range, and all the progress you have made in your practice session can seem to go out the window after just a couple of shots. Of course, if you are going to apply your new open stance on the course, you are going to have to get over these hurdles and learn how to use your open alignment to hit great shots when the pressure is on.
Taking this specific swing change onto the golf course can be difficult because you will be changing the way your aim – and that change will mess with your mind for a while. As you look up from the ball prior to hitting a shot, the target is not going to be where you expect to see it, because you are now aligned to the left. This might not seem like a big deal, but it can be enough to throw off your confidence and cause you to start second guessing yourself. The golf course is no place for second guessing, so you will need to quickly retrain your brain to look for the target in a new location.
A quality pre-shout routing can go a long way toward helping you stick with your new swing technique even when you are having some doubts. Build your pre-shot routine on the driving range first before you bring it out to the golf course. One of the key parts of the routine needs to be an alignment step where you pick out your target line and then get your club positioned correctly to hit toward that target. For most golfers, it works best to simply stand behind the ball and look down the line at the target that you have selected. Then, visualize the ball flying along that line, and position your club down behind the ball in a way that will allow you to create the shot you are seeing in your mind. This part of the game is more art than science, so it will take some practice to trust in your visualization abilities.
One of the keys to having success with your new stance on the course is to temper your expectations early on in the process.
Realistically, there are going to be some bad shots along the way as you learn to play from an open stance. Remember that hitting one or two bad shots doesn't mean that you should give up on this idea altogether. Anything worth doing in golf is going to take time, so plan on sticking with the process until you gain confidence and start to see results.
Using Your Advantage
If you have successfully made the switch to an open stance and you are now hitting quality shots on the course, the final step is to learn how to adjust your course management strategies to get the most out of your game. There is nothing more frustrating in golf than hitting good shots only to shoot bad scores, so you need a clear and decisive game plan to help you 'cash in' on the quality shots you are striking.
Following are a number of ways in which you can turn the advantages you have gained by using an open stance into lower scores on the card.
- Aggressive on holes with danger left. As mentioned earlier, one of the big advantages of playing from an open stance is the ability to eliminate the left side of the golf course. Most players who line up to the left of the target will hit a little fade, meaning they don't have to worry about missing to the left. Therefore, if you are standing on the tee of a par four or par five that is guarded by trouble on the left, you can feel free to be aggressive with your target and club selection. As long as there isn't much in the way of trouble on the right side of the hole, go ahead and turn it loose. Of course, when the trouble is lurking to the right, you may want to take the opposite approach and use a more conservative game plan to stay out of trouble.
- Attack short flags. Another benefit of an open stance is being able to bring wedge shots down softly onto the green. This skill really comes in handy when the flag is located at the front of the green. Be aggressive on these hole locations and take dead aim to set up a birdie opportunity. Other golfers will have to be more conservative when playing to a front hole location because of their lower trajectory – but with a high and soft shot, you can go right for the flag. To give yourself an even better chance of converting birdies, try to position your ball on the low side of the hole whenever possible.
- Practice from fairway bunkers. Of course, you would rather never be in a fairway bunker to begin with – but using an open stance is a great way to get your ball up and out of them when the situation presents itself. Be sure to practice from fairway bunkers from time to time so you can get comfortable with how to make contact off of the sand using your full swing. Once you have that technique down pat, feel free to be aggressive on the course when playing from fairway bunkers because your stance will be perfectly suited to hit great shots.
- Go for the par fives. Hitting the green in two shots on a par five is something many golfers only dream of, but it can be a reality when you hit your fairway metals with an open stance. That open stance will help you get these clubs higher into the air, providing you with the necessary trajectory to carry the ball all the way onto the green. Also, since you are likely hitting a cut from this stance, the ball should land relatively softly rather than rolling until it finds trouble. You don't even have to be a particularly long hitter to reach some of the par fives in two shots as long as you are striking your fairway metals nicely.
- Add a flop shot. Just like hitting from fairway bunkers, you don't want to have to hit a flop shot very often – but it can be incredibly handy when you need to pull it out of the bag. Again, an open stance is perfect for this kind of shot, so your learning curve should be shorter than someone who is used to playing shots from a square stance. Simply open the face of the club, keep your hands behind the ball, and commit yourself to swinging through the shot. You have to swing harder than you would expect to hit a good flop shot, but the results can be incredible when executed to perfection.
Golf is all about taking advantage of your opportunities. If you are able to install an open stance into your game, you will be giving yourself plenty of new opportunities to consider. It isn't enough to just have those opportunities, however – you need to understand how to utilize them in order to lower your scores. Remember, at the end of the day it's not about how your swing looks, but only what the numbers on your scorecard look like.
Fred Couples is among the best golfers in the history of the game, and your results with an open stance are unlikely to match his Hall of Fame career. Of course, that doesn't mean you should give up on the goal of improving your scores through the use of an open stance. Work on aligning to the left of the target and see just how many quality shots you can hit. Once you get comfortable with this stance, you should notice that new ball flights will be available to you that simply weren't possible before. Take your time to learn this technique on the driving range before attempting to employ it on the golf course. With any luck, learning from the swing of the great Fred Couples will lead you to the lowest scores of your golfing life.