While the average golfer tends to fight a slice off the tee, the better player is doing all he or she can not to over-draw the ball to the left. That’s not to say that a 20-handicap golfer can’t miss the fairway to the left, because they do, but the percentage of fairways missed “left” among TOURCaddie users (see www.pgatourcaddie.com) is much greater in the 0 to 9 handicap range (13.9 percent) than it is in the 20+ handicap range (9.3 percent).
If you’re struggling with the “lefts” off of the tee, the first thing you need to do is determine whether or not the ball is starting left of your target line and staying left (i.e., a pull), or starting down the line you want and then taking a sharp turn to the left (i.e, a hook/over-draw). If it’s a pull, there are two likely reasons why the ball is starting left: 1) your body and clubface are aimed left of the target at address, which promotes an out-to-in path; or 2) you’re aiming properly but the clubface is closed too much at the point of contact.
The prescription for fixing your aim is to practice setting up more square, or parallel, to your target line. While on the practice range, assume your normal setup and lay a shaft down along the back of your heels. Take a step back and look to see where the shaft is pointing—it should run parallel to your target line; it should not point 100 yards left of your target. Once you correct this and start to align your shoulders and body correctly, it will feel as if you’re aimed more to the right of the target, which is good. If the pull is your common miss off the tee, it’s much better to err with your body alignment to the right than it is the left.
Now, if the face is shut too much at impact, then you need to examine your grip, make sure that you’re seeing two knuckles on your left hand when you look down instead of three or four. A weaker grip (hands turned more to the left on the handle) promotes less forearm and face rotation through impact. You also need to make sure that you’re transferring your weight forward and rotating your body properly through impact. If you’re hanging back at impact, then the body is going to stall and the hands and arms will take over, flipping the face shut. Try to get to a balanced finish position in your swing—you should be able to pick your right foot up off the ground and tap it several times without falling back.
The average recreational golfer is much more likely to pull the ball than hook it because they’re more prone to swing out to in (i.e., come over the top) with a shut clubface. The better player hooks the ball for one primary reason—their swing direction is too much from in to out, or out to the right. As a result, the clubface is closed relative to the path of the clubhead, which causes the ball to start relatively close to the target line and then curve wildly to the left.
The fix for the hook would be to open your stance slightly and play the ball more forward in your stance, opposite the left shoulder, so that your swing direction is a little bit more toward the target. (You don’t want to swing too much to the left with your driver or you’ll start over-fading the ball.) The reality is that when you play the ball too far back in your stance, you’re more prone to hit down on the ball—with a swing direction that’s out to the right—causing the ball to hook. By moving the ball forward, the attack angle is more level to slightly ascending, which causes the swing direction to shift to the left.
John Stahlschmidt is Senior Head Instructor at TOURAcademy TPC Scottsdale. For more game-improvement tips, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole, not to mention real-time distances to all key hazards and targets on each hole, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at www.pgatourcaddie.com.