GRIP CONTROLS FACE
A weak grip leads to an open face. Unless you're trying to hit one on purpose, this grip is a surefire way to help you slice the ball. A weak grip leaves less room for the hands to rotate, which for a chronic hooker of the ball can help lessen the chance of an extreme right-to-left ballflight. Other factors to be ready for include a shorter but higher trajectory, since the hands will release sooner. And the more open the face, the more loft you'll add at impact.
A strong grip will help lessen a slice and help you hook the ball. A stronger grip, where the V of both hands point to the right of your shoulder, means the hands have more torque and stored energy. This engages the rotation of the hands forcefully, helping to square the clubface at impact and prevent slice-inducing spin. If you slice, try a stronger grip like this one and expect a lower, deeper ballflight. Aim accordingly to allow for a right-to-left flight and roll.
Versatile and useful, a neutral grip is the way to straighter tee shots. The key here is to rest the hands in an athletic but calm position on the golf club. By emulating the position above, you'll not only hit straighter shots, but you can also make variations in your stance and ball position should you want to hit any sort of draw or fade. Experiment with the right grip for your game and, if all else fails, hone in on a neutral grip for better results.
FIND THE CORRECT PLANE
POINT THE GRIP AT THE BALL
Stay connected to the tee. One of the best ways to become a straight hitter is to learn how the club should swing through the ball and not at the ball in a smooth, centered motion. To do that, the body ought to rotate all the way through the shot, and the arms should extend into the finish. Without thinking too much about your body, try this simple tip. Take a few slow swings and clip a tee in the process. As your hands reach about chest high (as you see in the photo), see if the butt of the club is pointing directly at (or close to) the tee. If your arms collapse, or if you sway and slide during your swing, you won't be able to point at the tee in the way I am. Practice this tip daily until you can point the grip at the tee without thinking about it, and you'll likely see fast improvements in your ballstriking. Remember, the better your ballstriking, the straighter your shots.
X marks the spot. When your arms reach waist high, not only should the grip point at the tee, but the arms should cross and form an X, as I'm doing here. It's proof of a solid extension through impact as well as full upper body turn. Speaking of which, if you don't turn fully on the downswing, you can't extend the arms properly. Notice how my arms are in front of my chest, even though it's well after I've made contact with the ball. This is how you want to look at this point in the swing.
Not for drivers. There are some shots in golf where this follow through works–bump-and-runs, maybe even some bunker hits. But with the driver, if I don't release my hands, I'll lose a ton of consistency, not to mention power. See how I'm leaning away from the ball? That's not a good sign either, both for my back and for producing solid tee shots. Allow your hands to release through the swing and keep your weight forward to improve your tee hits.
SETUP VS. IMPACT
Get fit! Driver fitting is crucial, especially when it comes to shaft length and flex. Stiffer, shorter shafts tend to help golfers hit it straighter, as does more clubhead loft.
Setup vs. impact. You'll learn a lot about the differences between setup vs. impact in this magazine, but here's a drill you can incorporate to improve your fundamentals for both. Start with a solid impact position, and be sure your feet are shoulder-width apart, your arms are comfortable, your shoulders are slightly tilted to the left and your head is behind the golf ball. This is a steady, athletic position with which to start a swing, especially with a driver.
Pump your way to impact. From the setup, start by pumping your body into the impact position as I've done here. This means move your hands forward, turn your body toward the target and shift your weight to your left side. Once you get here, pump back to the setup. Repeat this drill again and again, paying attention to what stays the same at setup and impact, as well as what changes. A few pumps into it, you'll gain a better feel for your whole swing.
When practicing, sprinkle powder on the clubface to see where the ball is making contact. Also, experiment with different tee heights to help you find the hot zone of the club.
If you want to hit straight shots, you need to hit solid shots. With today's 460cc drivers, the clubface has become enormous. As for the sweet spot, even though there's more forgiveness around it, the sweet spot remains just that: a tiny spot in the center of the clubface. Better players know that hitting the sweet spot sometimes adds spin, which, depending on your attack angle, can make hitting straight shots even more difficult. To solve the problem, they hit in the area located above the sweet spot, known by some as the hot zone. The hot zone knocks rpms off the hit and sends the ball away on a higher trajectory for more penetrating and straighter shots. Give it a try and see if you can hit the hot zone. It doesn't feel as solid, and you'll lose some ballspeed, but the effect of higher less-spinning drives is worth the effort.
Through the gates. In case you haven't noticed the red tees, try a few practice hits with tees situated like these. You'll improve your ballstriking and be able to see if you're hitting the toe (above) or heel (above right) at impact. If you find out that you're a toe-hitter, your angle of attack is probably too flat, and/or you're too far away from the ball. This tends to produce weak shots that drift or push to the right. If you find yourself catching the clubface more toward the heel, you could be too upright or standing too close to the ball.
WIDE STANCE = WIDE SWINGS
Add width to your swing for straighter shots. Usually, width is associated with adding power to your shots, but in reality, adding width can help you hit the ball straighter, as well. How so? First, the wider your stance is, the shorter your overall swing will be. The shorter the swing, the less likely something can go haywire and the straighter your shots will fly. Second, by adding width, you're not only engaging your stronger muscles, but also activating the bigger muscles, which are much easier to control than the small muscles (such as the muscles in the forearms or hands). The more you effectively use your core and your legs, the less you have to manipulate the club with your smaller muscles, and hence, the straighter your shots will fly.
To practice, start as I have, with a wide stance. Initiate your backswing long and slow, and try to keep your hands as far from your body as possible, especially in the early phase of the swing. When you reach the top of your swing, which will come sooner than you think because of your wider stance, stay as wide as you can. As you enter into the downswing, remember to swing long and wide, and retain this type of width well into the finish.
You should feel as though the big muscles in your legs and core are your guides, and the arms and hands are mere extensions of the bigger muscles. Yes, you'll build power, but our goal here is to get more accurate. Don't feel as though you need to control the clubface. Instead, stay wide, stay smooth, and you'll soon see straighter shots.
SET, HINGE, SWING
Set the club. Using this drill is a great way to become a more consistent ballstriker and hit straighter shots. (Use an old club and tape it up. You'll see why below.) Start in the setup position as you normally would before you hit a ball.
Hinge the club up. Once you've set the club, hinge the club, using only your wrists, so it's hovering about a foot above the ball. By doing this, you're moving from a static position to a dynamic one. If you've done it right, you haven't lifted your body. Only your hands should hinge.
Swing! From the hinged position, go ahead and swing! This drill is designed to teach you proper downswing fundamentals, as well as the importance of a good plane angle, focus and control. By using a taped-up club (to prevent unsightly marks, just in case), you'll also lessen the tendency many golfers have to swing with too much force from the top of the swing.
Head back for more control. When it comes to hitting straighter shots, if your head isn't in it, your shots won't be either. But is it true that the head should move? Should I stay in the same spot through the swing? The reality is, yes, the head will move. But what direction and how much it should move are key. In the above sequence, notice how close the shaft that Karen is holding is to my head. As I initiate my backswing, my head drifts to my right, all the way up to the top of my backswing. Now, although it has drifted to the right, my head is still centered over my body, meaning my head drift was a product of my coil and weight shift to my right side. Now, as I drive into the downswing, notice my head. It barely moves! As I uncoil, my body rotates around my core, and my head stays back to ensure the needed ascending blow required to hit both straighter and longer drives. So to answer the question, the head can in fact move, and if it does, it ought to drift to the right. But on the downswing, my head stays behind the ball through impact and behind my forward leg so I make a full extension through the ball.
Try for yourself with a mirror, and use a piece of tape on the mirror to indicate your head position at address. As you watch your head move, let it drift back, and focus on keeping your head behind the ball through impact.
Finish in perfect balance. Whether you finish with the club in a horizontal position or more of an angled position, the most important aspect of your finish is balance. Here, we're demonstrating two different finishes. Derek's finish represents a longer, more rounded finish, which befits his long swing perfectly. His head and belt buckle face the target, his weight is on his forward side, and his upper body is rotated past his lower side. As for Karen, she too is in an ideal position, especially for players with shorter, more upright swings. As in Derek's, her weight is mostly on her forward leg, but because she has less turn in her swing, her finish has less rotation in it as well. The less rotation, the higher the hands.
Check your finish position and see if it matches your swing style and if you feel like you're in a steady and balanced position. Once you develop a good finish pose, practice holding it a few extra seconds after you hit the ball. Also, don't hesitate to think of a balanced finish before you hit your tee shot. That mental picture will help you relax and swing more smoothly.
Finish strong and in balance and you'll see more fairways throughout the round.