Proper alignment can, quite literally, be the difference between a good result and a bad result on the golf course.
I say good or bad result, rather than good or bad shot because often players will actually flush the ball exactly where they are aiming – unfortunately for them, however, they may have been aiming in the wrong direction.
How many times have you absolutely creamed a shot, watched it fly dead straight through the air, only to watch it land 30 metres away from where you had intended to hit it? The answer: countless.
Similarly, poor alignment can trick people into thinking their hook or slice is the result of poor swing mechanics, when in fact there’s nothing wrong with their swing at all.
Instead, they are simply lined up with either a very open, or very closed stance – and doing either of these things will make it very difficult to hit a straight shot.
I’m a golfer who regularly has trouble aligning myself correctly to my intended target, and there’s nothing more frustrating than making good contact, only to see the ball start on the wrong line.
In this article, I’m going to take you through some tips that have helped me better align myself on the golf course and will, hopefully, get you hitting shots closer to your target next time you tee it up.
How do you align yourself to target in golf?
There are three key steps to correctly aligning yourself to your target in golf: first, aim the clubface so that it’s pointed down your intended target line; second, align your feet parallel to your target line; and third, make sure your shoulders are square or slightly open, not closed, to your target line.
It may seem simple, but doing these three things, in this order, before every shot (as part of your pre-shot routine) will – more often than not – get you lined up correctly and help you land the ball closer to your target, should you make a good swing.
So, why is it important to follow these steps in this manner? Let me explain by sharing the advice that was passed on to me by my own golf instructor (who helped me shave six strokes off my handicap in only 10 weeks).
How to align the club face at address
Setting the clubface first is a crucial step for correctly aligning yourself with your target.
In fact, my teacher says it’s the most common thing many amateurs get wrong when addressing the golf ball.
The reasons we set the clubface first are many: it’s easier to do without having already set your feet; it allows us a clear view to ensure the leading edge of the clubface is 90 degrees with your target line; and it allows you to set your feet and shoulders up to be parallel with the target line created by your clubface.
If you take your stance first but accidentally address the ball with your feet and shoulders closed or open to your target line, the chances are your clubface will have to compensate by also being closed or open – which can lead to hooks or slices without you realising.
To set your clubface correctly, simply:
- Stand behind the ball and look down the fairway/range to get a clear view of your target
- Picture an imaginary line running along the ground from your target to your ball (you can even place an alignment stick down when practicing to help you visualise this)
- Set-up over the ball so that your clubface is pointed down your target line
- Focus on the leading edge/bottom groove of the golf club (this is easier to do with an iron or wedge) and make sure it forms a 90-degree angle with your target line
- If you have done this, it means your clubface is square to your target
Visualising your target on the course can be tricky, and one of the best ways I’ve found to combat this is to try and pick a nearby object (whether it be a distinctive patch of grass, a leaf, or an old divot) that is positioned directly on your target line a short distance in front of your ball, then align your clubface to it.
This is much easier than trying to trace a target line all the way from the pin – which can be anywhere from 50-250 yards away – to your ball, and will make aiming the clubface far easier.
How to align your feet at address
The next most important step in correctly aligning yourself over the golf ball is to make sure your feet are set-up properly, depending on what shot you’re trying to hit.
For a straight shot, you want your feet parallel to your target line; for a fade or slice, you want your feet open to your target line; and for a draw or hook, you want your feet closed to your target line.
However, regardless of what your feet are doing, you need to make sure your clubface remains pointed down your target line as described above (unless you are trying to put some huge curvature on the ball through the air).
But what is the best way to align your feet, you ask?
To set your feet correctly, simply:
- Align your clubface along your target line
- Line up your trail foot first so that it matches the leading edge of your clubhead, and set it in place
- Once you are comfortable, set your lead foot down so that it is in line with your trail foot
- Make sure that your toes line up with one another, as this is a good visual indicator that your lead foot isn’t higher/lower than your trail foot (which would create a closed/open stance, respectively)
One of the most important things when aligning your feet is the position of your lead foot, as this will help dictate the direction of your shoulders and determine whether they are square, open or closed at address.
If your lead foot is too far above your trail foot, this will lead to a closed stance – and vice versa for an open stance.
A good way to check this during practice is to lay down an alignment stick on your intended target line, and then set-up with your toes touching the stick (this will make sure they’re square).
Remember, even if your clubface is aligned correctly, if you don’t set your feet in the right way it can have a big impact on whether your shot flies straight through the air, or with a slice or hook – whether you’re hitting driver, short irons, long irons or hybrids.
How to align your shoulders at address
The final piece of the alignment puzzle is ensuring your shoulders are lined up in the same direction as your clubface and feet.
It’s extremely important that you do this because if your shoulders are misaligned to the rest of your body, it will affect your intended ball flight – because it will change the direction of your club path – and lead to a less than desirable result.
For example: open shoulders will promote an out-to-in path (encouraging a fade or slice), whereas closed shoulders will create more of an in-to-out path (encouraging a draw or hook).
To practice aligning your shoulders, simply:
- Next time you’re on the driving range or practicing on the course, take an alignment stick and place it on the ground in front of you along your intended target line
- Align your clubface and feet parallel to the alignment stick
- Then, take a short iron (a 7-iron is fine) and hold it across your chest
- If your shoulders are square to your target line, the 7-iron shaft should line up with the alignment stick on the ground
Unfortunately, you can’t use an alignment stick during a competition round, so it’s best to practice this regularly on the range or during social rounds so that it becomes second-nature when it comes to playing a tournament.
How do I practice lining up golf shots?
The best way to practice lining up golf shots is to use an alignment stick. Place the stick on the ground along your intended target line as a visual aid when at the driving range, or during on-course practice, and then align your clubface, feet and shoulders accordingly.
The more you do this, the more second nature it will become during competition and the straighter your shots will be.
Renowned golf instructor Sean Foley, who used to coach 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, says the biggest error he sees from amateurs is they aim too far right when addressing the golf ball.
As he puts it:
You have to trick your eyes into realising the target is actually more right of you than you think, optically, because you stand beside to the ball (when making a shot).
One of the reasons for this, he explains, is at address many amateur players will lift their head up so that their eyes are level when looking at their target, which does two things: gives them a false sense of where they are aimed, and often causes them to close off their stance.
Instead, you should practice keeping your ear to the ground as you look up and down your target line (practicing with an alignment stick is great for this).
By tracing your eyes up and down your target line, rather than lifting your head and scanning the fairway, it will give you far more accurate feedback on where your clubface, feet and shoulders should be aimed.
Below is the video of Foley explaining this in greater detail:
What should I aim for when hitting a golf ball?
Course management is essential in golf and you should choose a target that gives you the best chance of the lowest score on each individual hole, while minimising risk. For example, you don’t always have to go pin-seeking – sometimes it’s safer to aim for the widest part of the green, and try to make par instead of birdie.
At the end of the day, golf is about minimising your mistakes – if you can make less mistakes than your opponents, most of the time you will score better than them.
When it comes to choosing a target to aim for, amateurs should select a landing area that will reduce their chances of racking up a big number on each given hole.
For instance, you don’t want to fire at a tucked pin, only to short-side yourself if you miss your spot by a few yards.
This super-aggressive approach – while you may pull it off occasionally – will more often than not lead to bogeys or worse, when the smart play was instead hitting your ball to the middle of the green, and walking away with a two-putt par (or possibly birdie, should you drain a monster putt).
Remember: be patient. Some pin placements will allow you to aim straight at the flag, while others will require a more conservative, safe approach.
Aligning yourself correctly before each shot may seem like such a simple part of the golf swing, but it can be hugely detrimental to your performance if you get it wrong.
Following the simple steps outlined above – setting your clubface first, followed by your feet and then shoulders – will go a long way towards helping you aim correctly on the golf course.
The more you practice it (always with an alignment stick) on the driving range, the quicker it will become second nature on the course and will, hopefully, have you hitting your target far more often in the near future.