Golfers have a natural tendency to line up with their shoulders angled left of target, even when their feet are perfectly square.
Usually, we unconsciously open the shoulders for a better look at the target. But we end up creating a headache.
When the left shoulder is pulled back, away from the ball, the backswing turn is restricted. We've cost ourselves power before making a move. Open shoulders may alter the club's path as well, causing an over-the-top (outside-to-inside) swing that leads to pulls and slices.
Video or still photos, taken from your right and looking down the target line, are extremely helpful in determining your shoulder alignment. You can also have a friend or teacher hold a club across your shoulders at address to see which way they're aimed.
Shoulder alignment is a key to consistent ball striking for every golfer. To start, work on properly aligning your shoulders so that they match up with your feet prior to starting your swing. Once you are comfortable with that basic set up, start to experiment with different shoulder positions that will allow you to create a variety of ball flights. Building a good golf swing is all about getting the fundamentals right, and proper shoulder alignment is one of those keys that you can't afford to overlook.
Get your shoulders squared away and your golf swing will follow.
Proper Shoulder Alignment Can Keep Your Swing on Track
As a golfer, the word 'alignment' probably leads you to think about your feet. After all, taking your stance is the most important part of getting properly aligned with the target, and your feet are the main component in that equation. While there is no disputing the importance of your feet in good alignment, your shoulders play a key role as well. In order to strike consistently solid shots that fly straight for your target, you are going to need to master the task of proper shoulder alignment.
It makes sense that your shoulders would be influential in your alignment, since they largely determine the position of your arms at address. If you were to allow your shoulder position to be dramatically closed or open at address, you would be changing the direction of your swing entirely. Even if you do everything else perfectly in your swing, you can easily ruin your ball flight by poorly aligning your shoulders when taking your stance. This might seem like a small detail to concern yourself with, but rest assured that it has major consequences when it comes to the outcome of your shots.
The first few inches of your golf swing are very important, as they will determine the path that the club uses to swing up to the top of the backswing. If your shoulders are misaligned at address, that mistake will send the club on the wrong path early in the takeaway. Even if you try to correct the issue later in your swing, you will still find that the ball does not take off on your intended target line. It is crucial to get your address position right prior to moving the club because making up for pre-shot mistakes once the takeaway begins is nearly an impossible task.
Good golfers spend a large portion of their practice time working on building a proper stance, and you should follow their lead. If you struggle with a lack of consistency in your ball striking on the golf course, there is a good chance that your address position is to blame. While building a great stance won't fix all of the ills of your golf swing technique, it will go a long way toward making you a more consistent player. Having your shoulders are aligned properly swing after swing is one more thing you can check off of your list when working toward an improved game.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play golf left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
Match Your Shoulders to Your Feet
Your basic stance should create a position in which your feet and your shoulders are pointing in the same direction. While you don't have to hit every shot from that same stance – you can alter it to create different ball flight – your normal stance should have your feet and shoulders working together nicely. Aligning your shoulders to match your feet will make it easier to perform your swing in the same way over and over again. Consistency is the name of the game in golf, and this is one more way to add a little bit of it to your swing.
The best way to check on the position of your shoulders relative to your feet is to use video. Without watching your swing on a video recording, it will be difficult to accurately judge how your body is positioned as a whole. When looking down from address, you can easily see your feet, but your shoulders are harder to evaluate. Take the time to create a swing video of yourself practicing on the driving range and then watch it back to check on your shoulder positioning.
In order to get a good perspective on the position of your shoulders, have the video taken from the 'down the line' viewpoint. That means the camera should be pointed down the target line, and it should be shooting from a few feet behind where you are hitting the shot. If you have a friend that you can ask to help you with this task, that would be the easiest way to capture some video. If you don't know anyone at the range that can help you, it might be worth the investment to purchase a small stand for your video camera or cell phone so you can position the lens perfectly to get a quality shot. Hit plenty of shots in front of the camera so that you can review them all to watch for inconsistencies from one shot to the next.
As you are watching the video, pause it after you have settled into your stance so you can compare the alignment of your feet to the alignment of your shoulders. Ideally, you will see that they are both parallel to the target line that you have picked out for that shot. If not, you need to identify which part of your body is the problem – the feet, or the shoulders. Are your feet properly aligned for the shot, or are they off track? If it is your feet that are the issue, go back and work on that part of your stance before you concern yourself with your shoulders. Only when you are confident that your feet are perfectly aligned should you work on fixing any problems that may exist with your shoulder positioning.
Mistakes made in your shoulder alignment are usually quick to manifest themselves in your ball flight. When you see the ball regularly starting to the left of your target, you will have a pretty good idea that your shoulders are open at address. Likewise, if the ball is starting to the right of the target, there is a good chance that your shoulders are closed before starting your swing. Compare these two problems with what you are seeing on the video in order to get a good handle on what changes you need to make in your stance.
A Partner Drill
Drills are a great way to make improvements in your golf swing, and this drill is one that will help you accurately align your shoulders with your feet shot after shot. However, since it is difficult to analyze the position of your shoulders on your own, this drill will require a partner. When you get the chance, head to the practice range with a friend and you can take turns working through this simple but effective drill.
To complete the drill, follow the step by step directions below –
- For this drill, you will need at least three golf clubs, a few golf balls to hit, and a nice open spot on the driving range. You should be swinging one of your mid-irons, and the other two clubs should be mid or long-irons.
- Pick out a target on the driving range for your shots. The target should be well within the range of the club that you are holding, and make sure your practice partner knows what target you have selected. Once you tell them your target, it is their job to place one of the two long irons down on the ground as an alignment aid for your feet.
- With the club placed on the ground, step into your stance. Place your toes along the alignment club, and move the ball into proper position for your shot. At this point, you should be in a great posture and ready to make your best swing. However, you aren't going to start your swing just yet.
- Once you are in your stance, ask your partner to use the other long iron to analyze the position of your shoulders. They should do this by walking up to you and holding the shaft of the club across the front of your two shoulders. Once in place, the shaft will form a line that should match up with the club that is laying on the ground. If those two shafts are parallel to one another, you will know that you have done a great job of aligning your shoulders. If they are crossed, you can be sure that there is a problem with your shoulder set up.
- Have your friend help you adjust your shoulders into a position that matches them up with your feet. Once you are squared away, ask your friend to step back to a safe distance so you can hit the shot.
- Repeat this process as many times as you would like. Be sure to check your shoulder alignment before each swing, and get your shoulders into a perfect position before starting a swing. After you spend some time on this drill, you should become more and more comfortable with finding a properly aligned shoulder position even without the assistance of your friend.
- If your friend would like to work on his or her alignment, switch places and repeat the steps above.
If you spend enough time working on this drill, you should quickly start to see a correlation between your shoulder alignment and the quality of your shots. When you get your shoulders matched up with your feet prior to the swing, starting the ball perfectly on your target line will become a much easier task. At first you will have to work hard to make sure your shoulders are in position. However, as you gain experience playing shots from a proper stance, you will have to think less and less about getting your body positioned correctly. Eventually, your well-aligned stance will come naturally and you will be able to focus your efforts on other parts of the game.
Using Shoulder Alignment to Control the Ball
It's great to be able to line up with your shoulders in the correct position for a standard shot, but what if you want to alter your ball flight to fit the shape of the hole? In that case, you can make adjustments to how you position your shoulders in order to tweak the trajectory of the resulting shot. Simply by changing how you position your shoulders at address – while keep the rest of your swing exactly the same – it is possible to create draws and fades on command. The ability to control your ball flight throughout a round of golf is a huge advantage, so this skill is one that is well worth your time to learn on the practice range.
Most golfers have one shot that they favor above the other options. For example, you might be a player who is most comfortable hitting a small draw. When you have a shot in front of you that calls for a slight draw, you are in great shape. However, if you need to hit a bigger draw – or a fade – you might struggle to rise to the challenge. While you can certainly play good golf just by hitting one ball flight over and over again, you won't reach your full potential unless you develop your ball control skills to the point where you can create a variety of shapes on demand.
Changing the position of your shoulders at address is one of the best ways to change the ball flight of your shots without messing with the rest of your swing. Other methods call for you to make fundamental changes to your swing technique in order to hit a draw or fade on command. Not only is this highly difficult to accomplish, it is also harmful to your swing. When you start messing with your fundamentals during a round, you may find it hard to return to your 'normal' swing when you just want to hit a standard shot. Don't tinker with your swing to the point of causing damage to your technique – simply use shoulder position to alter your ball flight and keep the rest of your swing intact.
Following are basic instructions for how to hit a draw or fade on command by changing the position of your shoulders. Of course, one of these ball flights likely comes naturally to you without any other adjustments. If, for example, you are a draw player, you can ignore the tips on how to hit a draw and focus your efforts on adding a fade to your bag.
- Hitting a draw. To encourage the ball to move from right to left, you will need to close your shoulders relative to the line that your feet have established. In other words, your shoulder line should be pointing out to the right of the target. The effect of this change is simple – it will encourage an inside takeaway, which promotes an inside-out swing path. That is exactly what you need in order to hit a draw. If you would like to hit a big draw, or even a hook, continue to exaggerate your shoulder position until you are able to turn the ball hard to the left. Remember that it is crucial to keep the rest of your swing technique the same as it is for any other shot. Adjust your shoulders at address, take one last look at the target, and make a confident swing.
- Hitting a fade. As you might suspect, the process is just the opposite when you are trying to create a fade. You will want to open your shoulders at address while keeping your feet in the same position. Having your shoulders 'open' means that they should be pointing out to the left of your intended target for the shot. This open position will allow you to take the club back to the outside of the target line, which leads to an outside-in path through the hitting area. It is important to note that hitting a fade, or even a slice, will cost you distance on your shots. Therefore, if you are going to move the ball from left to right intentionally, you may need to take one extra club to successfully cover the distance to your target.
If you expect to simply show up for your next round using these tips to alter your ball flight, you are going to be disappointed with the results. Creating specific ball flights on command is an advanced skill. Even with the guidance of the tips above to properly position your shoulders for a draw or a fade, you will still need to put in plenty of practice time to hit quality shots. When adding any kind of shot to your on-course repertoire, be sure to master it on the driving range prior to putting it to the test during an actual round of golf.
Utilizing Your Ball Flight Control
Proper shoulder alignment prior to each shot should provide you with a measure of control over your ball flight that you have not experienced previously on the golf course. It is a great feeling to actually know where your ball is going to go, and which direction it is going to turn in the air. Of course, if you don't have a great plan for how you are going to attack the course, you could quickly waste this newfound skill. The best golfers don't just have great swings – they have great game plans as well.
Following are three course management tips that you can use to get the best possible return from your golf swing.
- Never Aim at the Trouble. Now that you have better control over your ball flight, you might be tempted to aim your ball at the hazards knowing that you can safely turn it back toward the fairway or green. While you might be able to pull this shot off most of the time, it is never a good idea to aim at a hazard. Every shot that you hit during a round should be planned with a straight ball flight in mind. Think about it this way – it is okay to plan for a curve to bring your ball close to the target, as long as a straight shot won't be punished.
- Always Fall Back on Your Go-To Shot. Every golfer has one specific shot that they are most comfortable hitting. It doesn't particularly matter what that shot happens to be – it could be a big draw, a slight fade, etc. In your own game, identify this shot and use it as your go-to option when you get into a tight spot on the course. For example, imagine that you are playing a match against a friend and you are tied on the last hole. The tee shot calls for a fade, but you are more comfortable hitting the draw. Since you are under pressure, hit the draw and try to fit it in to the design of the hole. When you are a little nervous, or not playing your best, always lean on your most reliable ball flight.
- Turn It Away from the Middle. A great way to attack a golf course is to aim at the dead center of every green and use your shot shapes to turn the ball toward the hole. So, instead of aiming at a flag that is tucked on the right corner of the putting surface, you would aim at the middle of the green and try to hit a slight fade. This game plan goes along nicely with the first point in this section, because a straight shot will never hurt you when using this plan. If you can develop your iron game to the point of being able to hit both draws and fades when you need them, low scores can be found through this 'middle of the green' strategy.