A SIX-STEP ATTACK ON THE GAME'S MOST COMMON ERROR
BY Harry Hurt III
Golfers come in two breeds: hookers and slicers. Odds are you're one of the latter. Though there has never been a scientific survey of the ball-flight curvatures of the nation's 26 million golfers, an informal poll of instructors conducted by T&L Golf suggests that at least 90 percent of us slice. "In twenty-five-plus years teaching golf, I've watched roughly five million shots," says Martin Hall, director of instruction at Ibis Golf and Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida. "About four and a half million of them were slices."
Hall has devised a six-step cure for the common slice. Without promising his students they'll never hit another banana ball, he guarantees improvement. Two things distinguish his remedy from the usual antislice quackery. First, it addresses fundamental flaws in a slicer's setup and swing. Second, Hall's prescription can be taken one pill at a time, letting you adjust the dosage according to the degree of your slicing affliction.
Two key factors combine to produce a slice: clubface angle at impact and swing path. If the face of your club is open to the path of your swing at the moment of impact, the resulting blow makes the ball curve from left to right. If, at the same time, your downswing cuts across the ball on a path that goes from outside your intended target line to inside that line, the ball will start traveling to the left before the influence of your open clubface makes it curve back to the right.
Hall maintains that stopping a slice is really code for "Let's hit a hook." To do that, the slicer must reverse the errors that combine to produce a left-to-right trajectory. In other words, you must be sure that your clubface is either square or slightly closed at impact and that your downswing goes from inside your target line to outside your target line and then around your body in an arc path. To find out how to make all that happen in six simple, increasingly potent steps, turn the page.
SEE THREE KNUCKLES TO STRENGTHEN YOUR GRIP
Hall maintains that the way you place your left hand on the club is the single most influential factor affecting the angle of your clubface at impact (we're assuming that you are a right-handed golfer; if not, simply reverse his directions). Virtually all slicers employ "weak" grips, which means their left hands are turned too far to the left. To strengthen your grip, start by hanging your left arm at your side so that the entire width of your left thumbnail is flush against the seam of your left pant leg. Move your left hand in front of you and position it on the grip so that your left thumb is on the right side of the shaft. When you look down, you should be able to see at least three knuckles on your left hand. Now simply place your right hand on top of your left so that the lifeline of your right palm covers your left thumb.
KEEP THE CLUBFACE LOOKING AT THE BALL
If a stronger grip doesn't immediately cure your slice, it's time to try something a little more drastic: changing the position of the clubface during your take-away. Most beginners and average golfers tend to rotate the clubface to the right during the take-away, thereby opening it. Likewise, tour pros who are fighting hooks often make an effort to keep the toe of the club pointing upward during the take-away. But as Hall reminds us, opening the clubface and toeing up can be poison if you're fighting a slice. Instead, try reminding yourself that it's hip to be square. Do your best to keep the clubface "looking" squarely at the ball during take-away, with the toe of the club pointing straight out in front of you. That will keep the clubface closed in relation to your swing path, a position that tends to promote a hook.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE BACK OF YOUR RIGHT HAND
If you have combined steps one and two and the ball is still slicing, try a backhanded complement to your take-away. A player can quickly diagnose his tendency to slice by removing his left hand from the club and making a slow-motion swing, taking care to observe the position of his right hand as it starts to move upward. If you are an inveterate banana baller, you will probably be able to see the palm side of your right hand during your backswing (and subsequently on your downswing as well). So make like a hooker and do the opposite: Rotate your right forearm to the left during the take-away and keep it that way. You should be able to see the back of your right hand instead of the palm at all times during your swing. That positioning will keep you from delivering the club to the ball with an open face.
KNUCKLE DOWN YOUR LEFT HAND AT IMPACT
If changing your view of your right hand during your take-away doesn't stop your slice, you may be better served by changing what your left hand does during your downswing. Hall calls it "knuckling down." Simply rotate the knuckles of your left hand toward the ground just prior to impact with the ball. If you do it properly, you should find that your left elbow is pointing in toward your stomach at the moment of truth, which ensures that the clubface rotates into a square or closed position. If your right elbow is pointing down the target line, you will still be shouting, "Fore, right!"
TURN YOUR BACK TO THE TARGET AND KEEP IT THERE
All four of the previous slice stoppers focus primarily on clubface angle. If they still haven't cured your slice, stronger medicine is called for. You may also need to do something about your swing path. Hall recommends a swing key made famous by Jack Nicklaus decades ago. Imagine that there is an iron bar running across your shoulders. When you address the ball, the iron bar is parallel to your target line. As you execute your backswing, make sure that you turn your shoulders so that the iron bar is pointing perpendicular to the target line, with your back now facing the target. Try to keep your back turned toward the target as long as you can during the downswing. This move will keep you from firing your shoulders too early and "coming over the top," or cutting across the ball on an outside-to-inside path.
REACH OUT AND CATCH THE RAINDROPS
If steps one through five somehow fail to turn your slice around, don't despair. Hall has yet another antidote that he calls "catch the raindrops." As you reach the top of your backswing, rotate your left hand upward and to the right so that the back of it is "looking" toward the sky. As you swing the club, rotate your left hand down and to the left so that your left palm is facing the sky, as if you were trying to catch raindrops falling from above. The rotation of your left hand to the palm-up position will square or close your clubface at impact.