Shoulders to Target Line – Open, Closed, or Square?

Shoulders to Target Line – Open, Closed, or Square?

To a large degree, the way you setup over the ball at address is going to determine the outcome of your shots. Sure, there are plenty of things you have to get right within the swing as well, but starting from a solid address position is an important step. Without a proper stance, you are going to be taking a difficult game and making it even harder. One of the keys to building a good stance is positioning your shoulders correctly at address, relative to the target line. That is exactly the topic we are going to tackle in this article.

The target line for any given golf shot is the imaginary line that runs from the ball to the target you have selected. The target may be the hole itself, but not always. For instance, you might use a target line which is to the right of the hole, so as to allow the ball room to draw back toward the ultimate target. Every time you get ready to hit a shot, you should have a specific target line selected. Once the target line has been identified, you can move on from there in order to build your stance and make your swing.

Is it best to setup with your shoulders square to your selected target line, or should you start from an open or closed position? For many golfers, on many kinds of shots, it will be best to start square. However, as you are going to see in this article, that is not always the case. It can be beneficial to start open or closed to the target line, depending on the specifics of your swing and the type of shot you have in mind. Like everything else in golf, this topic gets more and more complicated the more you look at it. We hope that the advice we are going to provide in this article will help you make smart decisions with regard to your stance.

As you work on positioning your shoulders correctly in relation to your target line, it might be necessary to enlist the help of a friend to get this right. It is hard to see the positioning of your shoulders while you are standing over the ball, so asking a friend for help is a good idea. From their external perspective, your friend should be able to tell you whether or not your shoulders have landed in the desired spot. Of course, if you don't have anyone that you trust to make this call for you, it is also possible to use video to check on your stance. Record yourself hitting a few shots and then watch the video back to see how your address position is looking before each swing.

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 Benefits of Starting Square

For most of your shots, you are probably going to want to start out with your shoulders square to the target line. As we will outline in this section, starting from a square position tends to be the best way to achieve consistent, repeatable results on the course. That is not going to be the case for all golfers, however, so feel free to adjust your own game as necessary in order to reach the highest possible level.

The list below contains a number of benefits you may experience when starting from a square position with your shoulders at address.

  • Improvement through simplicity. Golf is a complicated game, so making your swing as simple as possible is a desirable goal. By taking as many of the variables as possible out of your golf swing, you can reduce the number of possible mistakes and achieve improved results in the end. When you set your shoulders square to the target line, you are naturally going to simplify your swing because these two important lines will match up from the start. You don't have to work to bring your shoulders back into position at some point along the way, because you were in a good position right from the start. There should be less timing involved in this kind of swing, and demanding less of yourself from a timing perspective is always a good thing. If you would like to work on building a consistent, repeatable golf swing, starting out with your shoulders square to the target line is a wise choice.
  • Stay connected. During the golf swing, it is your job to 'stay connected' by turning your upper body and lower body at an appropriate rate of speed. If one half of your body is racing away from the other, it will be nearly impossible to hit a solid shot. The job of staying connected is going to be more difficult if you don't start out in a connected, square position. That is not to say it would be impossible – you would just be starting from a disadvantaged position. Why have to work to get your upper body back in sync with your lower body, when you can just start that way to begin with? By setting up with your shoulders square, and then making a solid, controlled turn, you should find that remaining connected in the swing is not the significant challenge you once believed.
  • Aim properly at the target. It is hard to aim accurately at the target when you are using a variety of different setup lines in your address position. Proper aim is one of those building-block skills that you don't want to overlook in the game of golf. It might seem easy to aim at the target you have selected, but most amateur players actually struggle with this skill. During your next practice session, work on improving your ability to aim at a specific target. You will likely find that you are better able to aim accurately when you stand with your shoulders square to the line.

For most players, golf is going to be an easier game when the shoulders are squared up to the target line at address. And this makes sense – golf tends to reward simplicity and repeatable swings, and using this fundamental is going to take you in those directions. With that said, not all golfers are going to benefit from a square stance, and not all shots should be played from this kind of setup, either. The rest of this article is going to be dedicated to the exceptions that you need to understand while deciding how to establish your stance prior to each swing.

Knowing Your Swing

One of the most valuable things you can have in the game of golf is an intimate knowledge of your own golf swing. Your swing is your own – no other golfer in the game uses the club exactly as you do. This is one of the things that makes golf so special. While many golf shots look similar, no two are identical. This is a game of endless variety, meaning it can stay fresh for many years to come.

With regard to this discussion, knowing your own swing is important as it can help you decide how you should set your shoulders at address. While we established in the previous section that it is a good idea to set your shoulders square to the target line as a 'default' position, that position might not be best for you. It is possible that you will achieve better results by using an open or closed position at address, depending on the technique you use throughout the rest of your swing.

We can't tell you exactly what position is going to be best for your game, as we've never seen you swing the club. With that said, we can lay out some scenarios to help you understand how this concept works. Review the list below before thinking about your own swing and any adjustments you may want to make.

  • Start closed to give yourself a head start. If you feel like you are always having to play 'catch up' in the late stages of your golf swing, it may be that you would benefit from starting your shoulders in a closed position. This is going to give your upper body a head start over your lower body, meaning you might wind up in a more closely connected position at impact. Basically, by closing your shoulders slightly at address, you are going to shorten the turn required to make it up to the top of your backswing. This won't be the right adjustment for all golfers, but it can be perfect for those who have trouble keeping up with their lower body on the way down.
  • Start open to tighten the backswing. While many amateur golfers are obsessed with making the longest backswing possible – thinking that a long backswing will mean more distance – your backswing might actually be too long already. It is hard to control the club, and your balance, when you make an extremely long swing. If you would like to tighten up your turn slightly, consider starting with open shoulders to encourage a shorter overall turn in the end. If you start from an open position, but keep the overall timing of your swing the same, you won't end up going back quite as far. What you might be surprised to find is how beneficial this change can be to your game. Despite what you might think, you are unlikely to lose much – if any – distance when shortening your backswing. And, since you'll have more control over the club, your ball striking should improve overall.
  • Start closed to improve your takeaway. One of the most common mistakes made by amateur golfers is taking the club back to the outside of the target line. When this happens, the backswing goes too far to the outside, and a slice is the common result. If this is a problem that has been plaguing your game for years, try closing your shoulders at address to straighten things out. With closed shoulders, you should be able to swing the club back on a proper path, and your slice problems may quickly become a thing of the past. That's right – fixing a problem as frustrating as the slice could be as simple as changing the way you position your shoulders at address.

The list above contains just three of many possible examples of what you can accomplish by adjusting the alignment of your shoulders at address. Now, it is time to get to work on your own swing. What are the weak points in your technique at the moment? Is there anything that you can do with regard to your setup that will improve your swing? Think carefully about your game and experiment on the range with various adjustments to see what kind of results will follow.

Much of what you need to accomplish in the golf swing takes place before you actually put the club in motion.

Shoulders to Target Line – Open, Closed, or Square?

When you stand over the ball in the address position, you will be establishing some important positions that are going to have a powerful effect on the eventual outcome of your shot. Stand in the right position and the task of hitting a good shot will be relatively easy. Stand in the wrong position, however, and you will be doomed to fail before you even start.

In this article, we are going to focus on one specific key within the stance – the position of your shoulders in relation to the target line. The target line is an imaginary line that runs from your ball out toward the target that you have selected for the shot. Your shoulder line, as the name would indicate, is an imaginary line that runs through both of your shoulders. At address, the way your shoulder line compares to your target line is going to say a lot about the swing you are preparing to make.

If you have not previously thought about the impact of your shoulder line and its position over the ball, you are missing an opportunity to fine-tune your ball striking. This might seem like a small point, and it is, but the small points make all the difference in golf. If you are willing to pay attention to the finer details of your game, the big picture will wind up taking care of itself for the most part. Spending practice time on the driving range working on your shoulder positioning may not be particularly exciting, but it is likely to pay off in the form of improved play.

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.

Three Options

Three Options

As the title of this article would indicate, there are three basic options available to you when setting up over the ball (at least, as far as your shoulders are concerned). You can setup with your shoulders square to the target line, you can set them open, or you can set them closed. The choice you make on this point is going to impact the swing that will follow, and the ball flight that will result from that swing.

To make sense of what can be a complicated topic, we are going to start by talking a bit about each of these three options. Hopefully, your understanding of this issue will be a bit clearer after we work through the points below.

  • Shoulders square to the target line. This is the standard address position which will be taught by most golf instructors. If you go for a golf lesson at your local course, it is likely that the teacher will encourage you to start with your shoulders square to the target line. And that certainly makes a lot of sense. This option is going to simplify your swing, since the shoulders will match up with the intended path of the ball. In other words, you won't have to make any adjustments or corrections along the way to get back on track – you can trust your shoulders to lead you in the right direction. To be honest, this is the setup that every golfer would use, if every golfer had a perfect swing. With technical perfection in the swing itself, there would be no reason to set up open or closed to the line – you would just set up square and swing away. Of course, no golfer has a perfect swing, which is why some resort to setting up in an open or closed position to achieve the results they desire.
  • Shoulders open to the target line. We are now getting away from the standard option of setting up square, and we are going to start by looking at the option of setting up with your shoulders open to the line. This means that your left shoulder is going to be a little farther from the target line than your right shoulder. With your shoulders in an open position, it's likely that the club is going to go back to the outside of the target line, since your takeaway will tend to mirror the angle of your shoulders. If you would like to hit a fade, or if you would like to hit less of a draw than you currently hit, opening your shoulders at address can be an attractive option. Also, some players enjoy the improved view of the target they get when standing with their shoulders open. On the downside, players with a slice will find that their problems are only enhanced if using this kind of stance.
  • Shoulders closed to the target line. Obviously, this is just the opposite position from the previous point. Here, you are in a closed position, meaning your left shoulder is closer to the target line than your right shoulder. Instead of tending toward an outside takeaway, the club is likely to move to the inside almost immediately upon beginning the swing. This adjustment is common for players who deal with a fade/slice, since taking the club to the inside might help produce an inside-out swing and a draw ball flight. Unfortunately, it is also possible that this set up will make an existing slice even worse. This point surprises some golfers, but it is true. When you take the club too far to the inside on the way back, you may be 'stuck' at the top and left with no choice other than to come 'over the top' during the transition. Such a move can leave you with a nasty slice – one that is even worse than when you were setting up with your shoulders square. If you do play with your shoulders closed, you'll have to be careful that you don't get carried away and leave yourself with a dramatically inside takeaway.

In an ideal world, you would be able to get good results using a square shoulder position at address. Keeping your shoulders square is going to make the swing as simple as possible, and simple is always a good thing in golf. With that much said, you shouldn't hesitate too long to make a shoulder adjustment if you think it will be in the best interest of your game as a whole. In some cases, simply turning your shoulders open or closed at address will be easier than making a radical change to some other part of your swing technique.

Where Are You Now?

Where Are You Now?

To really get anything out of this discussion, you need to understand where you are currently with your stance. Are your shoulders square to the target line when you address the ball, or are you playing from an open or closed position? It might not be as easy to answer this question as you would think. It can be hard to tell how you are positioned when you stand over the ball at address, so you might need to ask for help in order to get to the bottom of this.

The following list includes three ways you can attempt to determine the current positioning of your shoulders in your stance.

  • Ask a friend. This is probably the easiest solution. If you regularly play golf or even just practice with some friends, ask one of them to take a look at your stance. Once you explain what you are trying to figure out, it should take only a quick look for your friend to tell you what they see. Just like that, you will have solid information to work from, and you can start to make adjustments to your stance/swing as necessary. If you use this method, it is a good idea to check back in from time to time just to make sure things haven't changed. Every once in a while, ask your friend to take another look and let you know how your shoulders look in comparison to the target line. It is possible for your stance to change in subtle ways over time, even if you don't notice from your perspective as the one taking the stance and making the swing.
  • Use a video camera or mirror. Another option to check on your shoulder positioning is to use either a video camera or a mirror. Of course, using a video camera (like the one in your phone) will probably require the help of a friend anyway, unless you have a stand or tripod available to assist. If you do use a video camera, record your stance using the 'down the line' angle, meaning the camera is off to your right as you stand over the ball and it is pointing out toward the target. You would use the same angle when employing the use of a mirror. Some driving ranges have mirrors setup somewhere near the hitting area for players to use while practicing. If your range has this amenity, stand in front of the mirror as if you were hitting the ball in the opposite direction from the mirror. Once you have taken your stance, look to your right to see your posture in the mirror and check on your shoulders. It should be pretty easy to determine if you are in position based on what you see from this view.
  • Use your club. As a last resort, when none of the options above will work, you can simply take one of your clubs and hold it across your shoulders after you have taken your stance. To use this method, take your stance using any one of your clubs. When you are settled into your address position, pick up your club and use both hands to hold it across your shoulders. The club should be in a position where the shaft is touching the front of each shoulder, forming a line that you can easily see as you look down. Compare that line to the imaginary target line you were using and you'll be able to see if you are square, open, or closed. It might be tough to get as good of a perspective using this method as you will get when asking a friend or using a video camera/mirror, but you should still be able to accomplish the goal.

With an understanding of where you are currently with your shoulders at address, you can start to think about what they mean to your swing and your game as a whole. Do you think there is a correlation between your shoulder positioning and the ball flight patterns you produce? For instance, if you set up with your shoulders closed and you tend to hit a nasty hook, you might be able to straighten out that ball flight simply by adjusting the way you position your shoulders at address. Whatever the case may be in your game, think about how even a slight change might be able to benefit you in the long run.