The precision required to hit an absolutely straight golf shot is so great that, for all intents and purposes, such shots don't exist. For that very reason, every golfer is either a hooker or a slicer. You may only hook or slice a little at times, but your shots do have a pattern. Even the game's best players favor a fade or draw. To elevate your improvement, it's crucial that you determine if you're a slicer or a hooker. It's also important that you erase any thoughts of producing a perfectly straight ballflight shot after shot and, rather, earmark the left-to-right or right-to-left shot shape as the one that best fits your game. If you can make this leap and work on controlling spin instead of fearing it, you'll be well on your way to becoming a better golfer.
Can a hockey stick and a basketball cure your slice or hook? I find these larger items–compared to a golf club and golf ball–help golfers more easily realize the true causes of hooks and slices. If all slicers could imagine the toe of the hockey stick wrapping around the outside half of the basketball, they'd properly close the face and keep left-to-right sidespin at bay. And if hookers could imagine leading the heel of the hockey stick into impact, they'd slow down the excess face rotation that invariably sends their ball to the left.
Finding your shot shape: are you a slicer or a hooker?
Hit 10 balls with a 5-iron and 10 balls with a driver (20 balls total) and count the shots that curve from right to left (hooks) and the ones that curve from left to right (slices). (Straight pushes count in the hook or curving left category and pulls count in the slice or curving right category.) If need be, chart your shapes–your drives and approaches–on the golf course. After 20 balls, add them up and see which side of the golf course you see the most often.
For all of you who charted a slice shot pattern, don't dismay–you're in the majority! Most amateurs fight a slice or, more technically, a clubface that's aligned or is looking to the right of the direction the clubhead travels as it approaches impact. The key to eradicating the slice is to simply close the clubface. If you don't close the clubface, you'll always slice! For you hookers out there, you need to slow down the rotation of the clubface.
He Shoots, He Scores
The first step to eradicate a slice or hook is to change your grip. Slicers need to adopt a stronger grip. Hookers need a weaker hand position. Stronger implies that you rotate your hands to the right, or clockwise, on your grip. In the photos at the bottom right, I've placed a red and a green dot on my glove. To close the clubface sooner and eliminate your slice/open clubface, set your hands on the grip so you see the green dot, or more of the back of your left hand at address. For hookers, rotate you hands so that you see more of the red dot.
In addition to strengthening their grips, slicers need to think in terms of closing the clubface around the outside of the golf ball. This will help eradicate an open clubface at the point of impact. To get a better image of this requirement, refer to the photos at right with the hockey stick and soccer ball. In the top photo, notice how the toe of the hockey stick leads the heel so that it can wrap around the outside of the basketball (the pink-colored half) and place hook spin on the ball. This is what should occur as your golf club meets the golf ball. As the clubhead wraps around the outside of the golf ball, the face rotates closed. That's the key to eliminating the slice. In the release photo at left, notice how the toe of the club is much closer to the target than the heel, and see how my right hand hides my left from view. There's no way to slice from this position.
When I instruct slicers to hit the outside of the golf ball and wrap the face from there, most reply, Shouldn't I hit the inside, with the hands leading the clubhead? The answer–yes. But an inside approach won't do you a grain of good if the clubface is open. Instead, you'll hit a push slice, which can land farther right than your regular slice! Slicers: strengthen your grip, rotate your clubface around the outside of the golf ball and change your game!
The prospect for hookers is much rosier. In addition to weakening their grips, hookers simply need to slow down the rotation of the clubface through the hitting zone. Using the hockey stick and basketball example, the heel of your hockey stick should lead the toe into impact (photo, bottom right) with contact being made on the inside of the basketball (the blue-colored half.) This will stall your natural tendency to over-rotate the face and produce a gentle draw rather than a hook.
Now that we've changed your grip and face position, let's change your path, which does have a lot to do with slicing and hooking. Slicers tend to come too much outside-in and hookers vice versa. All golfers need a path that comes just slightly from the inside. Try the box drill. Take the top half of a dozen golf ball box and stand it on its side. To keep it from falling, push a couple of tees through it and into the ground. Align the box parallel to your target line as shown. With a severe inside-out swing (hookers), you'll strike the box as your club makes its way into the hitting zone. Strive to groove a swing path that allows the shaft to pass just over the box. For slicers, set up the box on the same line but just forward of the golf ball. Your goal is to not strike the box post-impact.
Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down
Hookers need to stop the clubface from closing too soon. To do this, adopt a thumbs-down approach to impact. In the photos at left, you clearly can see the red side of the paddle with both my thumbs pointing down toward the ground. This type of movement will slow the closing of your clubface, thus eliminating shots that curve to the left. In the second photo, the blue side of the paddle shows. This thumbs-up position is what slicers need to attain (a closing of the clubface).
PGA professional and Senior Instruction Editor Chuck Winstead is the director of instruction at the University Club in Baton Rouge, La., and English Turn Golf & Country Club in New Orleans.