When you are out on the golf course, focusing on the target and its location within the hole that you are playing and the surrounding course is absolutely crucial if you are going to shoot a low score. Too many golfers just walk up to the ball, take the same club that they always play from that distance away from the target and then just hit the ball, without any thought about what they actually want to achieve until the shot has been played and it is too late.
The next time you are out on the course, as you approach the ball start to consider where your next target actually is by considering where you would like to play your next shot from. If you are on the tee, look ahead to where the green is - will playing down the left hand side of the fairway give you an easier angle to play your next shot into the green and flag, or will it be better to play down the right hand side? Always consider what you need to achieve to make your next shot as easy as possible to play and get a good result from. Rather than just setting up on the tee and hitting the ball somewhere down the fairway, stand back behind the ball and actually look at where you want to play the next shot from.
Once you have your target in mind, this will now influence your alignment. To ensure your alignment is now correct for your target, stand back behind the ball and look at your target area. Now select a specific point within this to aim for, a branch on a tree beyond the target, for example. Draw a line back from this specific point, in your mind’s eye, to the ball and select a point on this line only two inches ahead of the ball to aim your club face at, this could be a twig or a divot, for example. Now aim your club face at this point on the floor and then place your feet together and in line with the leading edge, or grooves on the club face, so that if you extended these towards you they would be in the middle of your feet.
Once your feet are parallel, split your feet into your stance and you will be aligned parallel left of your target line - think of a railway line. The ball travels on one rail to the target and you stand on the other rail that runs parallel to it.
The target is also going to influence the trajectory of the shot and the shape that you are about to hit. Your target may be on the far side of a lake or bunker. You may have trees to play over. If this is the case, you will need to hit a high shot so take plenty of loft, use a pitching wedge or 9 iron. To hit the ball high you need two adjustments in your set up. Initially, set the ball slightly further forward in your stance, play your wedge or 9 iron a ball's width left of centre, rather than in the centre, of your stance. This will allow you to catch the ball slightly on the 'up' of the club head’s swing arc and give you a higher launch angle than usual.
The second adjustment is to place slightly more of your weight on to your right foot than usual. This will move your centre of gravity more to the right and behind the ball and again help you to achieve a higher launch angle. Now make your normal swing, don’t try to hit up at the ball as this will cause you to top it. Just swing normally, the set up adjustments will create the higher launch angle and shot.
If you have overhanging branches between your golf ball and target, this time you will need to hit a shot with a lower trajectory. To achieve this, play the ball slightly further back in your stance than you usually would, by about a ball's width and place slightly more weight on your left side than usual. Set your hands forward, or to the left of the club head and work on achieving a straight line from your left shoulder down to your left hand and then down to the club head. Keep this straight line as you swing back and through, which will restrict your backswing and follow through length, but you will achieve a much lower ball flight than usual.
Finally, your target will influence your shot shape, as if you need to play around a dog leg, or tree you will need to curve the ball during its flight. To hit the ball left to right, set up with your feet aiming left of your target. You need to set the club face up to the left of the target line, but right of your swing path. The greater the difference between the club face aim and the swing path, the more curve you will generate on the ball.
If you want to make the ball swing right to left in the air, do the opposite. Set up with your feet aiming to the right of the target and with your club face aiming left of this but not left of the target. Swing the club head along a line parallel to your feet so that there is a difference between where the club face is aiming and the direction of movement of the club head (swing path). Again, the greater the difference, the more curve you will see during the ball’s flight.
The next time you are out on the golf course, consider where your target actually is in order to make the next shot easy and then you can set your alignment up correctly, select the trajectory and the shape you want to hit to achieve a great shot and help lower your scores.