Written by Joe Saia
Growing up in the northeast we had to deal with harsh winters which meant the roads often being covered in snow or ice. When you live in a place where it snows often in the winter you must be able to drive well when the roads are slippery. Car crashes that are caused by snow covered roads often occur when drivers do not know how to effectively drive in the snow. In driver’s education they would teach you what to do when you feel your car skidding out of control on a snow-covered road. They would tell you to “turn towards the skid” which actually turns the car away from the direction it is sliding in. The mistake a lot of people make is they try to steer away from the direction the car is skidding which makes the car continue to slide in that direction. Most people do not think to turn towards the danger in that situation. The same can be said for a golfer whose ball is curving too far to the left or right. The players first instinct is to setup even further left or right to accommodate for the excessive curvature. But this setup flaw causes the ball to curve even more in the opposite direction. A player must “turn towards the skid” to reduce the amount of curvature the ball has.
Why The Ball Curves:
Before we can understand how setup can affect the ball flight, we must first understand what makes the ball curve too far to the right or left. The most common complaint that we get from students at Transition Golf is that their ball is curving too far to the right or “slicing” for a right-handed player. The ball starts left and curves uncontrollably to the right. When the ball slices to the right, the club path is to the left (for a right handed player) and the clubface is open. That causes a player to slice across the ball and imparts left to right side spin on the ball. The opposite can be said for a player who is hitting big hooks, when the ball starts right and curves a lot to the left for a right-handed player. In this case, the club path is out to the right (for a right handed player) and the clubface is closed. This action imparts a right to left side spin on the ball. Jack Nicklaus clearly outlines the different types of ball flights and how they occur in his book Golf My Way. He talks about how the relationship between clubface and club path will greatly affect the ball flight of the golf ball. Jack explains how most amateurs do not understand why their ball reacts the way it does, and if they did, they could progress quickly.
When a player is slicing the ball their first instinct is to “turn away from the skid”, they setup aimed way to the left to compensate for the ball curving to the right. But this setup will cause the ball to continue to curve even more to the right. Setting up aimed left will make your club path be more out to in which causes you to slice across the ball. A player who is hooking the ball from right to left will also have an instinct to “turn away from the skid”, they will setup aimed way to the right. That causes the club path to be more in to out which puts hook spin on the ball. Players who struggle with over curving the ball need to “turn towards the skid” to neutralize their swing path and hit straighter shots.
Drill: Players who struggle with slicing the ball should practice setting up aimed way to the right. You need to aim your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders to the right of the target. The clubface should be the only thing aimed at the target (refer to the image below for this setup drill). Then practice swinging the club along your body which will produce an in to out swing path. The last piece will be to square the clubface by feeling like your forearms turn over in the downswing and fully release. This should start to produce a draw ball flight. Start out with small swings only swinging at about 50% speed and trying to get the ball to start right and hook to the left. Eventually your club path will even out, and you will be able to hit a draw or straight shot while aimed straight at the target. If you find yourself hitting shots where the ball starts right of the target and does not curve, that means that your swing path is out to the right, but the clubface is open. You need to fully release the club and get the toe of the club turning over before impact. Tension in the swing can often limit the release of the club. Feel less tension in your arms and wrists to turn the clubface over more easily. It’s also important to have light grip pressure, having tight grip pressure can limit the releasing of the club head. Feel like your grip pressure is between a 3-5 on a scale of 1-10 and keep that same pressure throughout the entire swing.
Drill: The same idea can be used by a player who is struggling with over hooking the ball or when the ball is curving too much from right to left. The player needs to “turn towards the skid” and aim their body at setup more to the left (refer to the image below for this setup drill). This will get the swing path going more to the left and should produce straighter shots. Practice setting up with your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders aimed way to the left. The clubface should be setup aimed towards the target. Make some swings at 50% and try to get the ball to start left and curve slightly to the right. Eventually your club path will even out, and you should be hitting straighter shots while setup aimed towards the target. Do not think too much about manipulating the clubface because the clubface is already closed if you have been hitting shots where the ball is curving too much from right to left for a right handed player.
Start to understand why your ball is curving the way it is and you will find your problems much easier to fix. The setup can greatly affect the outcome of the shot. Players often have poor alignments at setup and are making mistakes before they even take the club back. Use alignment rods during your practice sessions on the range. Make sure that your body and clubface are aligned with the type of shot that you are trying to hit. The proper ball position is also extremely important at setup and can affect the ball flight. Make sure that the ball is positioned in the right place for the club that you are hitting. If you go to any PGA Tour event and watch the players hitting balls on the range, you will see a large majority of them using training aids to check their alignments. Calvin Peete is considered one of the most accurate drivers of the golf ball in PGA Tour history. He led the tour in driving accuracy from 1981-1990 and hit 84.5% of fairways in 1983. Peete would often contribute his success with the driver with having the proper alignments at setup. Having good alignments at setup does not take that much effort to practice and can really improve your golf shots. So when your hitting bad shots on the range or on the golf course don’t just get frustrated. Try to figure out why your golf ball is doing what it is doing and go from there.