The majority of recreational golfers, and even some better players, suffer from chronic slicing. Anyone who has experienced this problem knows how frustrating it can be and how difficult it can be to overcome. One of the main reasons so many golfers are unable to straighten out their banana ball is because they attempt to find a cure without properly understanding the disease. To fix your slice once and for all, I suggest first understanding what fundamentals are key to solid ballstriking, and then taking measures to incorporate those moves into your swing. By so doing, your slice will disappear automatically.
The Role Of The Body
The body has but one role in the golf swing: to maintain balance and provide the foundation for solid rotational motion. Simply stated, you must maintain your balance while the club orbits around your body throughout the swing. Any loose motion will cause you to lose your balance and will disrupt the club's orbit, which often leads to slicing. In order to do this, you must set up correctly at address, focusing on maintaining the proper forward bending of the spine, the proper amount of lateral spinal bending, and a solid amount of knee flex based on the amount of motion you want during the swing.
To set the proper forward bending of the spine, you need the clubshaft to point at your beltline (from a down-the-line view), and you need your arms to hang slightly out from your body so they clear your upper chest (see photo, below). These positions should be set with your balance point located around the middle to the back of the soles of your shoes. Setting the proper lateral bending of the spine is simple as well. Lean away from the target with your upper torso while your hips remain centered. This will move your center of gravity behind the mid-line of your body and allow you to easily shift your weight to your rear foot during the backswing (compare the large photo to the photo far right). Finally, to set the proper flex of the knees, you must first determine just how much rotary motion you need during your backswing. If you feel more comfortable turning more in the backswing, then you don't require as much knee flex. If you need less turn to the top, you need to flex your knees more. As you look down at your knees, they should be flexed somewhere between the knot in your shoelaces and the mid-point of your laces.
Once you're set up in a good position, the next thing you need to do is make sure that you have a solid rotational base for your club to orbit around. The first key to remember is that the right knee (for right-handed players) must remain relatively stable from address to the top in order to tighten up the hip turn in the backswing. If the right knee changes flex or position on the way to the top of the backswing, then you'll have a bigger hip turn as you take the club back. In addition, the rate at which your hips turn off the start of the backswing will also influence the overall amount you'll rotate. Players who rotate more have a greater tendency to alter the position of the clubshaft at the top, and also have a greater tendency to lose their balance during the swing. If this sounds like your swing, you need to be aware that over-rotating could be the cause of your slicing woes.
The Role Of The Clubshaft
In a solid swing, the path of the clubshaft is controlled all the way to the top. Players who have any type of radical motion during this part of the swing are forced to compensate in the transition to prevent poor shots. The key to controlling the clubshaft is to keep the clubshaft in an area that, at belt high, is around the tips of your toes (see photo, below right). The hands, clubshaft and clubhead should lie directly above the stance line defined by your feet. If you move too far in front or behind this position, you'll find that it's impossible to achieve a solid position at the top of the swing.
The Role Of Plane Angle Shifts
When the body flops around en route to the top, the clubshaft tends to lift up, requiring a plane angle shift in the transition that drops it down onto the plane (like you see in the swing of Jim Furyk). On the other hand, when the clubshaft moves off plane too quickly, it usually goes too deeply to the inside, causing an over-the-top move in the transition (like you see in the swing of Craig Parry). Obviously, both methods can work, but both require compensations that can be difficult to execute on a consistent basis. They also require timing realistically achieved only by golfers in the world-class strata. The best way to visualize a manageable clubshaft motion to the top is to draw a mental line from the hosel of the clubhead through your beltline, and a second line from the hosel of the clubhead through the top of the right shoulder at address. Keeping the clubshaft in this triangle area (photo, left) will allow you to control the plane throughout the swing. There are many players on Tour who take different paths to the top and back down to the ball, but all of them stay in this triangle.
The Role Of Plane Angle Shifts
In the golf swing, there are several plane angles that can be seen from a down-the-line look. These are the angles used during slow-motion video analysis to identify transition types. Those I consider most important are:
The Clubshaft Plane
This is the most common angle as seen by a line drawn up the clubshaft through the beltline at address. This line shows how the clubshaft moves from nine o'clock to three o' clock, or from waist high to waist high in the backswing and downswing.
The Right Elbow Plane
This line is drawn from the hosel of the club through the left elbow. This line shows how the clubshaft should work from belt high to chest high in the backswing and forwardswing. It's slightly more upright than the clubshaft plane.
Squared Shoulder Plane
This line is drawn from the hosel of the club through the midpoint of the right deltoid (for a right-handed golfer). This line shows how the clubshaft works for most players from chest high to the top during the backswing. Achieving this plane position is key.
The Turning Shoulder Plane
Drawn from the hosel of the club through the very top of the right deltoid as the club reaches the top. This is the most upright plane angle. From here, the club should drop to the elbow then the original shaft plane and through impact (Double Shift).
The Zero Shift
These four angles show where the clubshaft can go and defines the actions that the shaft can take. Some players use no shifts, some one, two or even three. Basically, any of these plane angle shift models can be used to produce a swing that's solid and repeatable, but some require more maintenance than others. Understanding your motion and working within it as best you can is the key to controlling your clubshaft and its transition into delivery. Once you understand what type of transition, or shift, best suits your swing and abilities, you'll have a significantly better chance of hitting straight shots. Regardless of which plane model you choose, it's important to remember that sticking to it, and mastering its fundamental positions, are key to eradicating the slice and hitting accurate shots.
| Equip Tip
To make sense of iron performance, famed golf industry veteran and GolfWorks founder Ralph Maltby has developed the concept of MPF (Maltby Playability Factor), which is a modern method of rating golf club forgiveness. Based on years of experimentation and study, the process for determining MPF for irons is based on specific mass and dimensional qualities of the ironhead itself. The three basic properties are: 1) the basic vertical center of gravity location (how high or low on the face the CG is located); 2) the horizontal center of gravity dimension from the centerline of the hosel, also called the C dimension (how near the toe or heel the CG is located); and 3) the moment of inertia (the degree to which the clubhead is resistant to twisting). The simplest form of MPF is determined by subtracting the vertical CG location from the horizontal CG location. The higher the resultant number, the higher the playability rating of the iron, and the easier the iron should be to hit. To make MPF measurements more accessible and useful, the numbers generated by the MPF method have been translated by Maltby into the following categories: Ultra Game Improvement, Super Game Improvement, Game Improvement, Conventional, Classic, and Player Classic._Ê
It's important to note, however, that according to Maltby, there are other factors that influence the playability of an iron, like sole bounce, loft, lie angle, sole width, head weight, offset and face line configuration. Elements like the grip, shaft, swing weight and overall weight also are significant, as is the quality of the club's fit to the individual golfer. The important thing to understand about MPF is that it's a method designed to be used in a theoretical way under workshop conditions and is meant to help classify different clubheads into playability categories geared toward the full range of player ability levels. It isn't meant to be the final word on the playability of a fully assembled iron, but rather a way to measure the playability of a clubhead itself._Ê
The Top 10
1. _Ê Callaway Big Bertha ('99—Ultra)
The Single Shift
This technique is a single shift from the shaft plane at address to a more vertical plane during the transition. It's an out-and-over move commonly seen in a player who moves the ball from left to right. Unfortunately, the single shift easily can turn into an uncontrolled, over-the-top motion, especially when tempo is off. This is a good technique for an intentional fade.
The Double Shift
This is the most common plane angle shift model taught by modern teachers, particularly David Leadbetter. This shift starts from the clubshaft plane at address, then moves into a more upright position into the backstroke and then falls back to the clubshaft plane through the ball. This is a very good motion, provided you can keep the clubshaft from lifting too much into the last part of the backswing. Use the double shift only if you have a good level of flexibility.
The Triple Shift
This is the classic in-up-and-over move that you see in a player like Bruce Lietzke. Basically, the club moves to the inside of the shaft plane on the backswing, then above it on the downswing. If you use this plane angle shift, then you must control your release or you'll hit left-to-left shots.
The Reverse Loop
This shift is used by players who lift the club to the top slightly, yet have shoulder turns that are level or perpendicular to the axis of the spine. These players have no need to re-route the arms and shoulders, but only need to re-route the shaft back to the clubshaft plane on the downswing. Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Nick Price employ the Reverse Loop technique, evidenced by a flattening of the shaft on the downswing.
The Reverse Shift
This is the action Trevino, Couples and Furyk use as they lift the club steeply to the top with a high right shoulder and then re-route the club back to the clubshaft plane established at address. The Reverse Shift requires powerful lateral and rotary hip motions to aid the reversing action, which can lead to back problems.
The Pivot Motion
When the club is in a manageable delivery position at belt high, you'll find that the club is either trailing the hands slightly or slightly out in front of the hands, but not by much in either position. From here all you have to do is allow your weight to continue to move into the forward foot as your torso rotates. These two motions together allow the body to move and control the arms, hands and clubshaft through the impact zone. If you feel a blocking or rolling action of the wrists, or you're consciously trying to release the club, then you're either off plane to an exaggerated degree during the downswing or your pivot is faulty. Done correctly, the pivot controls almost everything in the golf swing normally associated with impact and balance. The best way to learn how to pivot correctly is to hit belt-high (no higher) pitch shots, feeling your weight move through as you rotate into the finish. If you do this correctly, the ball should go straight and you should feel little or no hand action through the ball. Now your body is controlling the club rather than your hands, which is the only way to keep your slice at bay.
To quickly improve your pivot, place a headcover under each arm at address and swing waist high in the backswing and forwardswing without allowing the headcovers to drop to the ground. This will force you to hit with your body.
Reading Your Ball Flight
The final method of learning to control your shots and stop slicing is to understand your ballflight. In order to accomplish this, you need to analyze two things: the starting direction of your shots and the curvature of the ball at its apex of flight. Once you know how to interpret these keys, you'll have the final bit of information needed to fix your slice for good. If your divots are heading left, then an out-to-in swing path is the problem, which is one of the primary causes of slicing. Your job is to identify what part of your swing is causing the outside-in swing path, and then correct it.
The starting direction of your shots as they take flight indicates what the clubshaft is doing through the ball (what plane it's on), which affects the path of the clubhead and the subsequent divot pattern. If you have an in-to-out swing path, your shots will tend to start out to the right. If you have an out-to-in swing motion, the ball will tend to start left of your intended target line. If your divot moves down the line and the ball starts slightly to the right of your intended target line, then you're moving the club slightly from the inside, which is the proper way to produce a draw.
The Curvature Of The Ball At Its Apex Of Flight
This indicates what the clubface was doing through impact. If the clubface is closing, the ball will hook; if it's opening, the ball will slice; and if it's both opening and closing, the ball will have a more gentle movement to the right or left. This hinge or rotational motion of the clubface programs the ball's curvature, so it's critical to identify how the ball is moving in flight to know how the clubface is behaving through impact. If your shots are moving right severely at the top of their flight, then you know the clubface is probably not rotating closed fast enough to impart the desired right-to-left spin. Remember to pay close attention to your shot shape as the ball reaches its apex—it's a key indicator that can help identify a major swing flaw.
After you have a solid grasp of the key five steps (the role of the body, the role of the clubshaft, your preferred plane angle shift, a solid pivot motion, what your ballflight means), you'll be well on your way to understanding what elements comprise a solid golf swing. Once you're armed with this knowledge, determining what particular fault in your own motion is causing your shots to move left to right will be easier than you think, as will be making the necessary changes._Ê
1. The rare straight shot is produced by zero shift swings that maintain a square clubface.
2. The standard slice can occur for a number of reasons, primarily an open clubface at impact.
3. The standard hook is most commonly caused by a clubface that is closed at impact._Ê
4. The straight push is caused by a square clubface approaching the ball from the inside._Ê
5. The push slice occurs when an open clubface approaches the ball from the inside.
6. The push draw is caused by a closed clubface and overly in-to-out swing path.
7. A straight pull is caused by an out-to-in path and square face.
8. The pull hook occurs when a closed clubface approaches the ball from the outside.
9. A pull slice is caused by an out-to-in path and open face.
10. A solid draw is created by a properly rotating clubface.
11. A solid fade is the result of slower rotation of the clubface.
PGA professional and veteran instructor Tom F. Stickney II is the director of instruction at The Club at Cordillera in Vail, Colo. For more information, visit www.tomstickneygolf.com. Photographs taken at Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark, Calif. (www.tierrarejada.com).