The importance of lining up the golf clubface directly at the target seems obvious. In fact, this most basic of fundamentals may be more crucial than you think.
Naturally, the ball tends to travel in the direction the clubface is aimed. So a clubface pointed left or right of your target is likely to send the ball that way.
What's more, a misaligned golf clubface will exaggerate the effects of a swing that's off line. For example, if your swing delivers club to ball from outside the target line with a square face, the ball will curve a little left to right.
Make the same swing with an open clubface, however, and you'll see a much bigger curve – the dreaded slice.
Poor clubface aim can even cause problems with your swing. If you have a habit of aiming right without knowing it, your body may compensate by swinging to the left in order to guide the ball onto the proper line. This compounds the aiming issue and generates, that's right, a big slice.
A good method for lining up the clubface is to find an object – such as a leaf or tee – lying directly between the ball and target. Point the face at the object and align your body as the shot requires.
Why is Clubface Alignment So Critical to the Golf Swing?
The moment of impact is essentially the moment of truth in the golf swing. Everything that you do during the swing gets boiled down into one fraction of a second, and your shot will either be a success or failure based on the position of your body and the club at impact. Find a great impact position and you will hit beautiful shots time after time. Find yourself out of position, however, and you will be lucky to move the ball anywhere near the target. With this in mind, everything you do during the golf swing should be engineered with the goal of arriving at a perfect impact position.
One of the most important pieces of the impact puzzle is getting your @clubface aligned perfectly with your target. This, of course, is easier said than done. Since the club can be moving in excess of 100 miles per hour at the bottom of the swing, it is not easy to align the face directly at the target. However, that is your task as a golfer. The players who are able to get the face into position at impact consistently are the ones who can strike solid shots throughout the day. If you are unable to get the clubface aligned at the bottom of the swing, you will never live up to your ability on the course – it really is that simple.
Great clubface alignment starts at address. By getting the clubface into the right position before you start your swing, there will be a much higher chance that you can return it to that position at impact. Of course, a lot of things have to happen between address and impact, so there is plenty of time to get it wrong. The mechanics in your swing are important in large part because they determine what the club face will be doing during the backswing and downswing action. Moving the $clubface around dramatically in the backswing and downswing makes it difficult – if not impossible – to get back to square at the bottom. Ideally, the clubface will be carefully controlled through the use of great technique so that you can swing down with confidence, knowing you will be square to the target line when it matters most.
It should be understood right from the top that simply getting your clubface aligned to the target line does not guarantee a good result to your shot. After all, swing path still plays an important role in the equation, and using a square face with a path that is cutting from out to in (or vice versa) will not lead to good results. However, clubface alignment is very important, and it is one of the first pieces that you need to make sure is in place before you move on to other items. With the clubface under control, you will then be able to dial in any other aspects of your swing that need to be fine-tuned before you can reach your potential.
All of the instruction contained 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.
As mentioned above, it all starts at address when it comes to proper $clubface alignment. Your swing will naturally have a tendency to return to its address position during the swing, so starting out properly aligned is a good sign for things to come. Unfortunately, many amateur golfers don't properly understand what correct alignment looks like at address. For those players, the biggest problem is that they don't even know where they are going wrong. Since they don't understand that they are aligned incorrectly, they will continue to look for fixes within the swing itself when the problem is actually taking place before the club even starts in motion.
You are going to be smarter than those players. The points below highlight the keys to great alignment at address – both for the @clubface and for your body as a whole. Hit on these points every time you stand over the ball and alignment at address will no longer be a problem to consider.
- Clubface points at the target line – not the target! The target and the target line for your shot are two completely different things. This is the main point that the average golfer fails to understand. The target for your shot is where you want the ball to end up. This could be the middle of the fairway, or it could be a circle around the hole on the green. Sometimes, it will be away from the hole if you want to play safe to avoid a hazard. No matter what target you pick out, it is important that you have it clearly identified in your mind before hitting the shot. From there, you can then pick out a target line. This is the line that you will use to allow your ball to eventually reach the target. Since straight golf shots exist only in the imagination, you should be aiming at least slightly to the right or left of the target you picked out. For a shot that you expect to draw, you will aim to the right and then have the ball curve back left toward the target. For a fade, the opposite would be true. It is this target line where you should align the clubface at address.
- Feet square to the target line as well. Again, it is the target line and not the target that should dictate your actions. As you take your stance, place your feet parallel to the target line that you have selected (and perpendicular to your clubface). This is another place where many golfers go wrong, as they use the target itself to determine how they are going to set their feet. With the clubface and your feet 'working together' on the same line, you will already be a big step ahead of much of your competition.
- Position the clubface before taking your grip. The last point on this list is an important one to understand and remember. When stepping up to the ball to take your stance, you should place your clubhead down behind the ball before actually forming your grip on the club. The idea is simple – you want to align your clubface with the target line and then take your grip, not the other way around. If you have already taken your grip when the clubhead is placed behind the ball, you will inevitably turn the face either open or closed almost immediately upon starting the swing. You will have to manipulate the club to get it square to the line, and that manipulation will be undone when the swing starts. This is a point that is of major importance – hold the club lightly in one hand while setting it behind the ball, and then take your grip while keeping the clubface perfectly square to your selected line.
Before going any further on this topic, make sure you clearly understand the points above. Getting the clubface into position at address is critical to the success of your swing, and you will really be wasting your time if you work on other mechanics while continuing to play from an improper stance. Once you learn how to get correctly aligned at address, you just might be surprised at how accurate your swing can be even with no other changes.
Stay Square Going Back
With address handled properly, it is now time to get the golf swing started. The takeaway is the first segment of the swing, and many players overlook it as an unimportant component in the big picture. After all, certainly the transition and downswing are more important than the takeaway, right? Not at all. A bad takeaway can quickly ruin a swing. In reality, there is no one part of the swing that is 'more important' than the rest. Every step along the way is important, and you have to have them all under control if you want to hit good shots.
Many golfers go wrong during the takeaway by having the hands play too much of a role in the movement of the club. Your takeaway should largely be controlled by your shoulders and arms, with the hands and wrists having very little to do with anything at the start. When the hands get involved early in the swing, the only thing they are going to do is get the @clubface out of position. The club doesn't need to move quickly during the takeaway (or at any point during the backswing, for that matter), so there is no need to rush things by using your hands to accelerate the club head. Allow the takeaway to gradually build by rotating your shoulders away from the target. As long as you have taken a proper stance at address, the club will follow a nice path early in the backswing and you will be poised to reach a perfect position at the top of the swing.
Your hands are only going to cause problems in the takeaway, so tell them to stay out of it and only allow them to get involved once the club reaches parallel to the ground going back. At that point, it is okay to allow your hands to play a role, as they should be lifting the club up into position to complete the backswing. However, it is important that this movement is vertical so that the club is placed up over your right shoulder. If your hands instead move the club to the inside or outside, your clubface will quickly get out of alignment and the shot will wind up off target. As long as you feel your wrists hinging up toward the sky around the mid-point of the backswing, you should be in good position for an accurate strike.
The other key component to finishing the backswing with the $clubface is good position is ensuring that your shoulders get all the way back along with the club. Many players get into a habit of cutting off the shoulder turn prematurely, allowing just the hands and arms to complete the backswing instead. This is a crucial error, and one that will rob you of both distance and accuracy. It is your shoulder turn that is the main driver of the backswing, so never cut it short in a rush to get into the downswing. While each golfer is going to have his or her own limitations in terms of flexibility, you should be turning your shoulders as far back as they are willing to go without losing your balance. A big, balanced turn is going to lead to a powerful downswing without sacrificing anything in terms of accuracy.
Although many players try to complicate it with various theories and mechanics, the backswing is actually quite simple. If you can do three things properly – maintain your balance, keep your hands quiet in the takeaway, and finish your shoulder turn – you will be in great shape at the top. When you combine a great backswing with an accurate address position, there is surprisingly little that can go wrong in your swing.
Delivering the Club to the Ball
Despite what many golfers believe, the downswing is not the hard part of the swing. In fact, the downswing should be considered the 'payoff' for everything that you have done right up until this point. Swinging down into the ball is supposed to be the fun part – you have done all of the preparation while taking your stance and making your backswing, so now it is time to turn the club loose and launch a powerful shot into the sky.
To get the downswing started, your lower body should be front and center. Just as your shoulders were in charge of the backswing, it is your hips that are in charge of getting the club moving toward the ball. As soon as the club arrives at the top of the swing – or, even just slightly before it arrives – you can start to turn your hips to the left. The key word in that previous sentence is 'turn'. You don't want to slide toward the target as so many amateur golfers do in their swings. The left hip should turn open to the target, leading the way as your lower body powers through the swing.
There are a few benefits to having your lower body lead the way in the downswing, and some of those are as follows –
- Keeping the $clubface square. It would be a shame to waste all of the work you have done keeping the clubface square up to this point by making a bad transition into the downswing. A bad transition to the downswing is one in which the hands and arms do most of the work. It might seem natural to use your arms to swing down from the top, but making that mistake will usually lead to a slice. Even if you manage to avoid the slice, your @clubface will still get out of position along the way and an accurate shot is highly unlikely. Remember how your hands stayed out of the picture early in the backswing? It should be the same story early in the downswing. Let your lower body get things started and use your hands right at the bottom to deliver a powerful blow.
- Tremendous acceleration. Using only your upper body to swing down toward the ball would significantly limit the amount of speed and power you could generate in your swing. If you would like to hit the ball a good distance with all of your clubs, you will need to incorporate a great lower body turn in the downswing. It is important that the lower body turn starts the action right from the top, because this will allow the club to accelerate gradually on the way down. Your hip turn will start the process of accelerating the club – a process that your hands and arms will finish off at the bottom. With this sequence working correctly, you will be getting a contribution from every part of your body in order to develop maximum swing speed.
- Tempo. It is easier to create a smooth tempo in your swing when using large muscles as opposed to small ones. That means that by using your lower body to drive the downswing, you should be able to maintain a nice pace throughout your swinging action. Many golfers either struggle with creating good tempo, or they simply don't understand the importance of focusing on this part of the swing in the first place. Whatever the case, it is crucial that you work on building a smooth rhythm from the start of your swing all the way through to the finish. Using your lower body to start the downswing will make this task much easier.
If you would like to get the club from the top of the swing to the bottom without losing the alignment of the clubface that you worked so hard to create, make sure your lower body is in charge of the action. Start down by using an aggressive hip rotation from the top and keep turning all the way through the swing. In the end, you should be left with your weight balanced nicely on top of your left foot while you watch your ball sail toward the target.
The Short Game
Any experienced golfer knows that the short game deserves just as much attention – if not more – than the full swing. It might look great to hit long and straight shots from the tee and the fairway, but your score will only be impressive if you are able to pay those shots off with skill on and around the greens.
In the short game, the process of aligning your @clubface with the target line is much easier. Since you are starting so much closer to the target itself, your eyes will have an easier time picking out a proper line to use for the shot. In fact, on a straight putt or chip, you might not even have to pick a separate target line from your target – they could be the same thing. For example, if you face a five-foot putt that is perfectly straight, you are just going to aim right into the middle of the cup and make your best stroke. It doesn't get any easier than that.
Rather than worrying about the ball curving in the air when picking out a target line, you are going to worry about the slope of the ground moving it to the right or left. Even when chipping, the ball isn't going to be in the air long enough, or have enough spin, to actually curve from side to side. As you are picking out your target line for any shot around the green, it is the ground that you need to focus on reading properly. Find out if the ground is going to take the ball to the right or the left and then adjust your target line away from the hole as needed. There is certainly still plenty of skill involved in this process, but it is somewhat less challenging than when trying to pick out a line from over 200 yards away.
Never underestimate the importance of getting your $clubface properly aligned at address – and then keeping it there throughout the swing up until impact. A shot played with a well-aligned clubface is almost certain to wind up somewhere near to the target, while poor alignment is going to lead you into all kinds of bad places around the course. It is easy to get caught up in trying to swing as hard as you can at every shot, but golf is really a game that is all about accuracy – and that accuracy starts with setting your clubface perfectly on the target line. Use the content included above to sharpen your accuracy and lower your scores as a result.