Golf Causes and Cures: The Slice, Part I

For part II

By some estimates, 80-85 percent of golfers suffer from a golf slice -- a shot that curves to the right when hit by a right-hander. It's similar to the common cold, and nearly as hard to get rid of. Hard, but not impossible.

Not all golf slices are created equal. Some start left of the target and turn back to the right (pull slice); others head directly toward the target before darting sideways (standard slice); still others start right and bend even farther right (push slice). Naturally, some slices curve more than others.

Let's examine a couple of typical slice causes – and how to fix them.

  • Cause: Reverse pivot– You're supposed to transfer weight to your right side on the backswing, then to your left on the downswing and follow-through. Golfers who do the opposite have a “reverse pivot,” which makes it impossible to hit the ball with a square clubface moving on the correct path.
  • Cure: Weight-shift two-step drill
  • Cause: Over-the-top swing path – That's the term for a clubhead path approaching the ball from outside the target line. Paired with an open clubface, it produces a big slice.
  • Cure: Pause-at-the-top drill

Causes and Top Five Cures for the Slice Swing Cure #1 – Add Width

Causes and Top Five Cures for the Slice Swing Cure #1 – Add Width

Taking on a topic such as the slice is an intimidating proposition. This is the biggest swing problem in the amateur game, and millions of golfers over the years have had to deal with this issue. In fact, even many professionals started out as young golfers who had to figure out how to eliminate the slice by correcting their technique. There are two things you should know if you are a golfer currently dealing with a slice problem – you are not alone, and it can be fixed. The fix might not be easy, and it might not be quick, but there are straighter shots waiting out there if you are willing to practice.

In this article, we hope to provide you with the information you need to work on correcting your slice. First, we are going to explain some of the common causes of the slice, so you can gain a better understanding of where this issue comes from in the first place. From there, we are going to move on to offer five cures that you may be able to use to straighten out your own shots. The cure which ends up working for you will depend on the exact cause of your slice, so it might be necessary to work through most or all of them before you have success.

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 Causes of the Slice

You aren't going to be able to fix your slice until you can figure out why you are slicing the ball to begin with. At this point, all you know is that the ball continually sails off to the right of your target – but you don't know why. What mistakes are you making in your swing to cause this result? That might seem like a simple question, but the answer is not always so easy to uncover.

The list below contains a number of common causes of the slice. Read through the list while thinking about your swing. Most likely, at least one of these – if not more – will apply to your game.

  • Active hands in the takeaway. This is a point that many golfers are surprised to see on a list of issues which may cause a slice. You probably don't think about your takeaway much at all – let alone thinking about it as a problem which could lead to a slice. However, if you use your hands too actively in the early stages of the swing, a slice could be the end result. The problem is with the width of your backswing. Active hands and wrists are going to lead to a narrow backswing, and narrow backswings are commonly associated with hitting a slice.
  • Over-the-top move. This is the classic mistake that most people associate with hitting a slice. Swinging over-the-top means you are moving the club up and away from your body during the transition from backswing to downswing. It is almost impossible to play good golf while making this move. The club is going to be too high and too far outside of the correct plane when this mistake takes place. In the end, you have to swing weakly across the ball at impact just to make contact. These kinds of shots rarely travel very far, and they rarely hit the target. If you hit a slice with nearly every swing you make, there is an excellent chance that you are swinging over-the-top. As you might have guessed, the previous mistake on our list – active hands leading to a narrow backswing – will contribute to the over-the-top error.
  • Poor balance. You can wind up with a slice in your game just as a result of something as simple as poor balance. It is no secret that balance is important in golf, but many players think of it as only relating to the power they create in their swings. A loss of power is one reason to avoid losing your balance, but the possibility of a slice is another concern. This is particularly an issue for those who lean back away from the target in the downswing. If you find your weight moving onto your right foot as the club comes down, it should be no surprise if a slice is the end result.
  • Dominant right hand. One of the confusing aspects of the golf swing is that, as a right-handed golfer, you really shouldn't use your right hand too much during the swing. Sure, the right hand will help you to fire the club through the hitting area eventually, but starting up with that action too quickly is going to lead to trouble. Instead, the right hand should just be along for the ride while the big muscles in your body do most of the work. Players who use the right hand too much during the swing often get into trouble because that hand forces the club away from the body on the way down, and an outside-in swing path is the result.

You may be hitting a slice as a result of one of the four mistakes above, or your issue may be something different entirely. No matter what the case, you need to take a careful look at your swing in order to find the problem. Once that problem has been discovered, the only thing standing between you and a slice-free game is plenty of hard work.

Cure #1 – Add Width

This is one of the best ways for amateur golfers to get rid of the slice. As mentioned earlier, a narrow backswing can lead to a slice. This is because you won't have enough room at the top of your swing to drop the club into the 'slot', so you will push it up and away from your body instead. By making a wider swing, you will have plenty of space to work with on the way down, and you'll be able to attack from the inside as a result.

So how do you add width to your backswing? The first thing to do is pay attention to your hands and wrists during the takeaway. Active hands are going to make it very difficult – if not impossible – to make a wide backswing. To move the club, rotate your shoulders away from the target rather than using your hands and wrists. By simply turning away from the target, you will set the club off on a great path which it can continue to use for the rest of the swing. This will feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but stick with it and the results can be impressive.

The other key to making a wide backswing is to avoid letting your left elbow fold up at the top. You don't necessarily have to keep your left arm completely straight during the entire backswing and downswing, but you shouldn't let it fold too dramatically, either. Keep the left arm mostly extended to maintain width and your swing will become both more accurate and more powerful.

Many golfers let their left arm fold up because they are trying to extend the backswing as far as possible. Needless to say, this is a mistake. When your shoulders are finished turning away from the target, the backswing is done – that's it. You don't need to force the action to go any farther in order to squeeze out an extra few yards of distance. In fact, trying to force your swing to go longer will almost always do more harm than good. When your shoulder turn is complete, change directions and move the club down toward the ball aggressively.

It is amazing what making a wide backswing can do for your game. Just this one change might be enough to cure most or all of your slice. The width of your backswing is going to put you in a better position at the top, meaning a proper downswing may come naturally without you having to think much about it. Spend a few practice sessions working on this wider backswing concept and monitor your results closely as you go. There is a good chance that you won't have to make many more changes - if any at all – to get rid of your slice.

Cure #2 – Find a Better Tempo

Cure #2 – Find a Better Tempo

Players who struggle with the slice often have a lousy tempo. Most golfers think of the slice as being a swing path problem – which it is – but those players may not understand that your swing path can be greatly impacted by your tempo. Specifically, players who use a quick tempo often wind up moving the club over-the-top in the transition, which leads to a slice. If you are struggling with a slice currently, it will be worth your time to make sure your tempo is in good condition.

The best tempo for the golf swing is something that varies from player to player. Some golfers fare best with a very quick tempo, while others are more successful taking it slow. Either way, you can have success if you are consistent with your tempo from shot to shot. What won't work, however, is rushing through the transition. If you hurry at the top of the swing, you are destined to fail no matter what kind of tempo you would like to use overall.

During your next practice session, ask a friend to record a video of you making a few swings. When you watch that video back, pay particular attention to your tempo. Are you hurrying through the swing at the top? If you see any sudden movements at the top of the swing where you force the club to start back down immediately, you can be sure that those movements are leading to problems. Convince yourself to slow down at the top and the game is going to immediately get much easier.

One of the problems that many golfers face on this front is the fact that their tempo changes between the driving range and the course. On the range, you might be able to make a smooth swing with a gradual transition from backswing to downswing. On the course, however, you might have that transition ruined by some nerves. When you are a bit nervous – or even just excited – you will tend to move too fast. If that happens, the transition phase of your swing is going to be ruined. Teach yourself how to relax on the course in order to get your tempo back under control. With a slower transition and a better overall tempo, the slice you have been fighting may begin to disappear.

Cure #3 – Lead with the Lower Body

Cure #3 – Lead with the Lower Body

You would have a hard time finding a golfer who leads their downswing with the lower body and also has a slice. Those two things just don't go together. When you lead with your lower body properly, the club will naturally fall into the slot and you will be on your way to a great strike. It is when the upper body leads the downswing that you are most likely to get into trouble.

As you arrive at the top of the swing, your hips should be the first thing to turn toward the target. Your left hip should open up, your feet should stay grounded, and your hands should remain back for the time being. You are going to get everything going with the lower body, while the upper body waits and then follows along patiently. If this order of operations is respected, it is almost impossible to hit a slice.

The key word when trying to learn this part of the swing is patience. It is hard to keep your hands back at the top because you are going to feel like you need to rush the club down to the ball as quickly as possible. Resist that temptation – there is no rush. The ball is sitting still, and you have as much time as you need to deliver the club properly. Use your lower body to get things started, let your arms fall naturally as the rotation develops, and deliver the club to the ball only when the rest of your body has cleared the hitting area. Swinging in this manner is a great way to correct the slice.

Cure #4 – Don't Try So Hard

Cure #4 – Don't Try So Hard

This tip might surprise you. Some players wind up with a slice simply because they are trying too hard and doing too much during the swing. You don't need to force the action. Golf is not a game which rewards those who try as hard as possible. Instead, it is a game which rewards those who execute their technique as perfectly as possible over and over again. Set aside your effort-based thinking and instead work on executing the fundamentals of the golf swing.

You can see the extra effort that slicers are putting into the swing when they go through the transition and head into the downswing. At this point, most slicers are working way too hard with their right side. The right side of the body – including the right hand – should be mostly passive in the swing, at least until the moment of impact arrives. If you are forcing the club down to the ball with your right side, the club is going to wind up outside of the correct path and a slice will result.

To learn how to let go of your compulsion to try so hard, hit some soft wedge shots on the range. Aim for a target which is only 40 or 50 yards away and simply swing through with an easy rhythm. Don't force the club down to the ball with your right side – just turn through the shot and let it happen. Then, as you gain comfort and confidence, build up your swing to hit the ball harder and harder. As your swings get bigger, do your best to avoid trying any harder. Keep thinking about making a smooth and easy swing, only with a bigger shoulder turn and longer clubs. By the time you reach your driver, you should still be swinging easy – but you should be sending the ball well off into the distance.

This reduced effort approach will not only serve you well in terms of getting rid of the slice, it may help your game overall while out on the course. Trying extra hard in golf simply does not yield good results. You have to put in a good effort, of course, but that effort needs to be balanced with a relaxed, casual attitude. There is only so much you can control out on the golf course, and trying to control too much is a recipe for trouble. Instead of demanding yourself to give an extreme effort on every shot, take it easy and just execute your swing technique to the best of your ability. By trying less, you will perform better in almost every case.

Cure #5 – Turn Your Shoulders

Cure #5 – Turn Your Shoulders

For our last tip, we are going to look at one of the key building blocks of any solid golf swing. If you want to hit powerful shots, you need to turn your shoulders. It's just that simple – although it might not always be easy. If you are hitting a slice, there is a good chance that your shoulder turn is not living up to its potential. By improving your turn on the backswing, you will put the club in a better place and it will be much more likely that you'll be able to strike solid, powerful shots which stay away from the right side of the golf course.

The act of turning your shoulders actually brings together a number of different parts of the golf swing. First, you have to focus on this motion, not letting other parts of the swing take priority. Also, you have to give yourself enough time to make a good turn. If you rush the backswing, for example, you won't be able to make a good turn simply because you won't have enough time. The shoulder turn should be your top priority – along with balance – during the full swing. With a good turn and good balance, it is hard to go wrong.

It needs to be noted that you don't want to focus on shoulder turn to the point of going too far. Your shoulder turn should be over as soon as it feels like you can't comfortably turn anymore. You don't want to force the action beyond that point, as only bad things are going to happen. Settle into your stance over the ball, make a good turn going back until you feel like you are done, and then turn forward. That might seem like obvious advice, but countless golfers could get rid of their slice if they would just follow along with those tips.

If you are struggling to make a good shoulder turn, using the mental image of turning your back to the target is a good way to keep yourself on track. As you start the swing, think about turning your back to the point where the middle of your back is facing the target you have selected for the shot. Making it to that point would be a great turn. In fact, even if you fall a bit short of that mark, you will still be in good shape. With a solid turn now on your side, it will be harder than ever to get into trouble with the slice.

Nobody likes playing this game with a slice, but fortunately, there is hope. You can turn your game around if you can find a solution to your slice problems. We hope the advice provided in this article will help you make strides in this area. The game is simply more fun when you can look up and see the ball sailing right down the middle of the fairway. Good luck!