When hitting any kind of golf shot – from a drive on down to a putt – it might seem like the main challenge you face is making a good swing (or stroke).

Senior Alignment Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

It’s true that moving the club back and through the ball properly is a big hurdle to clear, but it’s far from the only thing standing in your way. In fact, it’s possible to make a good swing and still come away with a poor shot. If you have ever thought you made a good swing or stroke only to look up and see the ball going in the wrong direction, it’s possible that faulty alignment was to blame.

In this article, we are going to discuss the basics of properly aligning your body for a golf swing. Learning how to align your body will help you when hitting full shots, and it will help you in the short game, as well. This is a foundational piece of the game that you are going to want to be able to trust as you move forward in search of lower scores. Once you understand alignment and master a process to put yourself in the right position time after time, you will be able to move on to other things. With that said, you should never take alignment for granted – even once you’ve learned the basics, it’s still smart to pay attention to this point and revisit it from time to time to make sure it’s working properly.

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.

Fundamental Concepts

Senior Alignment Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Discussing alignment can be a little bit confusing, especially if this is a topic you have mostly ignored in the past. Unfortunately, confusion is to blame for the struggles some golfers have with their alignment, as many players simply don’t understand what they are trying to do at address. In this section, we’ll discuss a few key points that you need to understand before you can really work on this part of your game in any meaningful way.

  • Target line is key. For each shot, you are going to have a target line in mind that will guide your alignment as to get ready to swing. It’s important to understand that this target line is not necessarily a straight line between your ball and the hole. In fact, it usually won’t be a direct line to the hole, as most shots are going to curve as they travel. That curve could be a draw or fade as the ball flies, or it could be a putt turning to the right or left as a result of the slope of the green. So, aligning yourself correctly isn’t as simple as just squaring your club face to the hole and hitting the shot. You’ll need to pick a target line and then get the face matched up to that line. As you get deeper into the topic of alignment, always remember that the focus is your target line. You want your clubface to be pointing directly down the target line shot after shot. That might sound simple, but in reality, it is rather tricky to succeed on this point.
  • Feet should not match target line. One of the classic mistakes golfers tend to make with regard to alignment is thinking that the feet should match up with the target line. Once a target line is selected, it is the clubface that should be squared to that line – the feet should actually be on a line parallel to the left of the target line. If you were to match the alignment of your feet with the target line you’ve picked out, you would actually be aimed way to the right of the target. Many amateur golfers end up aimed too far right because of this very mistake. Don’t put yourself in that category. As you set your feet, remember that they need to be on a line that is parallel to the left of your target line. Understanding and executing this concept is one of the keys to aligning yourself correctly on the course.
  • Working off the clubface. As should be clear by now, the key to this process is the target line and your ability to aim the clubface down the target line. Once the clubface is in position, you can then work from that point to place various parts of your body in the right spots. We’ll talk in more detail later about taking your stance but understand that you will be working off of what you do with the club face when you set your feet and settle your body into the right spot. Some golfers will walk up to the ball and take their stance before they bother to orient the clubface, and that is usually not a successful way to sequence the process.
  • Trust your selected line. Trust is always important on the golf course. Once you have picked out a target line to use for your alignment on a given shot, don’t second guess yourself while preparing to swing. You should have total confidence in your chosen line, and you should proceed as if you are 100% sure that line is going to lead to a quality shot. If you let doubt take over at any point along the way, you might decide to alter your alignment at the last moment while you are standing over the ball – and those kinds of adjustments are rarely successful. During practice, work on selecting lines and then trusting them all the way through the shot. It will be easier to trust your lines during practice, of course, and getting used to how that feels will pay off when you need to have the same level of trust under pressure.

Ultimately, alignment in golf isn’t particularly hard to understand, but you do need to keep some of the basics above in mind. Once you get the idea – specifically with regard to keeping your feet aligned parallel to the left of the target line – you will be well on your way to better aim. With some time and attention paid to this point, you may find that your swing is actually better than you believed, and that your poor alignment has been the culprit for plenty of bad shots along the way.

Basic Setup Position

Senior Alignment Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Alignment and setup work together closely, and one isn’t of much use without the other. You need to have the clubface aligned with your chosen target line, but you also need to make sure your body is in a good position to produce a quality swing or putting stroke. Simply placing the clubhead in the right spot isn’t going to do a lot of good if your body is out of position. While the ideal setup position will vary a bit from player to player, there are some general guidelines which most players would be wise to follow.

It is possible to play good golf without obeying all of the points below, but we think these are a great place to start.

  • Everything square. This is one of the key fundamentals that can help bring some simplicity to your golf game. Once the clubface is positioned behind the ball and it is pointed down the target line, you can then work on placing your body in the right position to begin the swing. Three key areas to watch are your feet, knees, and shoulders. If possible, you should set all of these sections square to the target line, so you won’t be swinging across the ball in one direction or another. One of the best ways to check on your body position is by taking your stance in front of a mirror. Using a mirror will give you a clear look at how your body is positioned, and you can make any adjustments that you deem necessary. It might take some time to get comfortable with a new and improved stance, so don’t get frustrated if you feel a little awkward at first. Learning to play from a square stance is worth your effort in the end, as it has the potential to make you a far more consistent player.
  • Chin up. One of the most overlooked tips in all of golf, setting up with your chin up away from your chest can benefit your swing in a number of ways. First, keeping your chin up should help your posture, keeping your back straight and preventing the hunched shoulders that inhibit so many players. Then, when your swing gets started, your chin will be up out of the way of your shoulder turn. Players who keep their chin down will have trouble making a clean turn away from the ball without running into their chin, but that won’t be a problem if you keep it up from the start. Again here, using a mirror is a great way to check on this position.
  • Flex in your knees. This one might not be as overlooked as keeping your chin up, but it is another tip that many amateur golfers need to hear. Flexing your knees at address will provide your swing with a sturdy, stable platform so you can turn hard back and through. Some players like to use a lot of knee flex at address, while others prefer to use just a bit of flex to get ready for their swing. Finding the right amount of flex for you may take some experimentation on the range, so this is a good point to work on during an upcoming practice session.

You’ll love the way your game progresses when you manage to bring together proper alignment with a quality address position. If you are going to get anything out of your practice sessions, these are the kinds of fundamentals you should work on during visits to the range. It will take some focus and attention to detail to improve in these areas, but your hard work will pay off in the end when you start to see lower scores pop up on your card.

Potential Adjustments and Corrections

Senior Alignment Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Despite your hard work, you may find that you don’t progress quite as quickly as you would like in terms of the accuracy of your shots. If that is the case, the ideas in this section might help you get on the right path. We’ve listed a few adjustments and corrections you can try out. As is always the case in golf, there will be some amount of experimentation required here, as not all of these tips will work for every player. The driving range is the perfect place to try out new things and see how they work. With a bucket of practice balls in front of you, and a few ideas in your head to try, you can see how your results changed based on various adjustments until you settle on something that leads to good results.

  • Use an intermediate target to be more precise. Even when focusing on alignment, and even when understanding the idea of pointing the clubface directly down the target line, some golfers still have trouble getting into the right spot. If you find that your aim is still off despite your best efforts, using an intermediate target is a logical next step. This is nothing more than a spot along your target line that you can use your aid your aim. Since the actual target will sometimes be 200 yards or more off in the distance, it can be tough to aim accurately while standing over your ball. To make it easier, pick out an intermediate target – one which is just a few feet or less in front of your ball – while you are standing back getting ready to hit the shot. Find something on the ground like a small discolored patch, a long piece of grass, or whatever, and use that as your alignment aid. Then, when you walk up to the ball, you won’t actually be trying to align the clubface with the target in the distance, but just with that intermediate target. This is a much easier task, and it will give you confidence that your club is aimed correctly prior to the swing. This is a tactic which is commonly used even at the highest levels of the game, and it can certainly help you be more precise.
  • Try a bit open or closed. You might find that playing from a precisely square address position doesn’t lead to the ball flight you desire. For instance, you may notice that starting your swing from square at address winds up producing shots that draw more than you would like. As a result, it may be best for you to play from a slightly open stance, with your left foot a bit farther from the target line than your right. While it’s best to keep these kinds of adjustments subtle rather than dramatic, there is nothing wrong with tweaking the way you stand in order to get better results. Of course, you really don’t want to be experimenting with this on the fly during the middle of a round. Hopefully, you can get things sorted out on the range so you’re ready to hit the ground running from the very first hole.
  • Adjust ball position. This is something we haven’t yet talked about in this article, but all position is also going to have something to say about which direction your ball travels once it is struck. If you are confident that you are aiming properly, but your ball still isn’t starting in the right direction, try moving your ball position forward or backward slightly at address. With ball position, small adjustments can make a big difference, so as you experiment on the range, only move the ball forward or back a small distance at first. Most likely, you will only need to move the ball maybe an inch or two in one direction or the other to get better results. Generally speaking, moving the ball forward in your stance will help it start farther to the left, while moving it back will send the starting line out to the right. Of course, changing your ball position can also alter your ball flight pattern, so that’s something to watch for as well.

Golf is a game of trial and error. If you are afraid to experiment on the range, you won’t give yourself the opportunity to improve. Whether it is one of the ideas on the list above or something else entirely, you need to keep trying until you manage to solve whatever issues are plaguing your game at the moment.

Short Game Issues

Senior Alignment Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

To wrap up our discussion on alignment, we’d like to talk about some issues specifically related to the short game. The need to be precise in the short game should be obvious, as only players to line up properly at address will have a chance to send the ball accurately toward the hole. Whether you are trying to make a 10-footer for birdie or hit a good chip to set up an easy par save, lining yourself up as accurately as possible is an important step in your short game improvement.

The first point to keep in mind when aligning for short game shots is that you won’t be accounting for any amount of curve while the ball flies. Obviously, when putting, you aren’t going to hit a draw or a fade. Just the same, even though the ball gets airborne on chip and pitch shots, it isn’t going to have enough speed or time in the air to curve from side to side. This is good news for short game alignment, since there is one variable that you can check off before getting started.

With that said, your alignment is going to be greatly influenced by the slope of the ground. For instance, if you expect a putt to break from right to left, you’ll need to select a target line to the right of the hole. In some cases, you’ll only need to aim slightly away from the hole to account for the slope of the ground, while in other cases you’ll need to aim way to the side and let the ball swing around. Without a doubt, the slope of the ground is the biggest variable to solve when getting ready to line up for a short game shot. While most golfers understand this fact as it relates to putting, you need to remember that playing the slope of the ground is just as important when chipping and pitching. If you want your chip shot or pitch shot to wind up near (or in) the hole, you have to read the slope.

Remember to use the same intermediate target tip we mentioned earlier when putting and chipping. Since precision is such an important piece of the puzzle here, using an intermediate target is a great way to get the club – and your body, by extension – in the right position before you hit the shot. Many golfers find the intermediate target method particularly useful on short putts in the 3- to 5-foot range. A minor error in alignment can lead to a missed short putt, and those short misses really add up on the scorecard. Select a proper intermediate target when you face short putts and feel confident that you are aimed correctly when making your stroke. With any luck, you’ll look up to see the ball rolling right into the middle of the cup.

We hope this article has pointed you in the right direction. It is a shame to have a good swing ruined by poor aim, as so much work goes into the process of building good technique and executing a swing. By spending some time working on your alignment, you should be able to reduce the chances that this variable will get in your way, and one more piece of the puzzle will be in place. Good luck!