Ninety per cent of golfers are right-handed, and 90% of golfers slice, therefore this article will look at the problem from the point-of-view of right-handed players. If you are left-handed, you will need to reverse any directional instructions.
What is a slice?
This is not as straightforward as it sounds because a lot of golfers assume that it is any shot that sends the ball off to the right but, this isn’t always the case. If the ball starts travelling to starboard immediately off the clubface, this is a push. A classic slice starts straight and just for a moment or two you think you have hit a good shot before the movement of air over the ball exaggerates the spin you have put on it, and you have to watch, with an ever-sinking heart, as it careers offline. It’s always the hope that kills you.
Why does the ball slice?
Because you have put sidespin on it. It’s like cutting across the ball in tennis. Instead of delivering a square clubface to the ball at the moment of impact, the clubface is slightly ‘open’, or pointing to the right of the target line. Hold your right hand out in front of you as if offering it to shake hands. Now tilt it slightly backwards, so that the back of your hand moves a little closer to the back of your wrist. If your palm was the clubface, you now have it in an open position.
An out-to-in swing, especially if delivered with an open clubface, can also impart sidespin on the ball, causing it to rotate in a clockwise direction. The initial impetus of the club will send the ball away towards the target but as air moves over the dimple pattern on the ball, it will exaggerate this spin and the ball then moves inexorably to the right. Swingpath is the line on which you deliver the clubhead to the ball. Because of our anatomy and the fact that we stand side-on to our target, it is impossible to take the club back so that it describes a perfect circle. At the top of the backswing the club is behind your head, not immediately in front of it, as it would be in a perfect circle. What you have done is move the clubhead on an arc and the intention of all good shots is to reproduce that arc exactly on the way back down to the ball. Unfortunately, because we’re human, perfection is usually outside our grasp so we tend to swing the club on an outside-to-in swingpath, or inside-to-out. Imagine a line straight back from the ball. If the clubhead moves from further away from you into the ball, that’s outside-to-in. If it travels from nearer to you to the ball, that’s inside-to-out.
How does a slice affect my distance
Because an out-to-in swing will create a glancing blow, which means that, rather than a full throttle, out-of-the-sweetspot wallop, you lose distance on the shot, which is exaggerated by the fact that a lot of the balls’ travel is more sideways than forward. There is not, and never has been, a golfer who wants to sacrifice distance and one of the best ways to hit the ball further is to hit it straighter.
How Do You Fix A Slice?
One of the things that slicers do to compensate is to mis-apply logic. Their thinking is: ‘If I hit the ball to the right, I should aim further left’ but this exacerbates the problem rather than fixes it, by aiming left they are far more likely to deliver the clubhead on an out-to-in swingpath. It’s a classic illustration of one of the many apparent contradictions in golf. For example, to get the ball up we hit down (rather than try to scoop the ball into the air), or; playing into the wind they try to hit the ball harder, rather than smoother.
There are many different things that could be causing you to slice the ball and there are aspects of your set up that can be fixed. If you are Slicing then it would be worth looking at your:
How to fix your Alignment
The first thing you need to check is your alignment; it is remarkably easy to have your feet, hips and most importantly shoulders, not square to your target line. Get a teaching pro or one of your playing partners to check it for you – it’s far easier for someone else than it is for you.
How to fix your Grip
The way you hold the club can have a profound effect on the shots you make – your hands are, after all, the only part of you in contact with the club. Many slicers have what is called a weak grip, where the hands are rotated too far to the left. Looking down at the club you should be able, at the very least, to see the knuckle of your left-hand index finger and, better still, if you can also see the knuckle of your middle finger. Also, rotate your right hand to the right so that the V formed between your thumb and index finger is pointing towards your right shoulder. Changing your grip is one of the most physically awkward things to do but it’s worth persisting. You should get into the habit of checking your grip every time you take hold of a club.
How to fix your Posture
Crouch too low over the ball and you cramp yourself for space and cannot make a free swing. Stand too tall and your weight tends to move back towards your heels and it’s easy to lose balance. Stand upright, bend slightly towards the ball from the hips, keeping your back straight and flex, but do not bend, your knees. Do this, with your weight in the middle of your feet – neither on the toes or heels – and you’ll have good posture.
How to fix your Ball position
If the ball is too far back in your stance, especially with a driver, you will tend to pop the ball in the air. A lot of golfers complain that they hit their irons straight but slice their woods and if that’s you, it might well be ball position that’s the culprit. With the driver, you want the clubhead to be meeting the ball on a slightly upward swingpath so the ball position should not be further back than just inside your left heel. If, however, you have the ball too far forward for your irons, it will encourage you to reach for the ball, which will in turn encourage an out-to-in swingpath.
Standing too close to the ball can help create, or exaggerate, a slice. It is more likely to encourage you to take the clubhead away on an outside line, once again emphasising the out-to-in swing.
How to fix your Feet position
Try standing so that your left foot is pointing straight ahead but your right foot is flared slightly open. This encourages a full shoulder turn, especially if your physique is not as athletic as you might wish, and the straight left foot offers resistance so that you’re hitting against that left side.
How to fix your downswing
Probably the single greatest cause of a slice is that the golfer gets to the top of their backswing and then starts the downswing with their shoulders and arms. This causes them to throw the club ‘over the top’, making an out-to-in swingpath. It can be a good drill to make yourself have a half-second pause at the top as this allows you to start the swing with your hips and legs. I once watched Chris Tavare, the Kent and England batsman, play golf and it was noticeable that he effectively cover-drove every ball – the clubhead moved from behind him out towards cover point, and it was remarkable effective. If you have been slicing, it takes courage to make yourself try to hit the ball right of the target line but it really does work.
A good way to encourage a similar swing for yourself is to keep your right elbow as close to your body as possible throughout the swing. Try practising with a folded towel tucked into your right armpit and don’t let it fall while you swing the club – it’s an excellent drill to stop yourself coming over the top.
At the start of the downswing, the hands are moving ahead of the clubhead and the better the player, the longer they can keep this ‘lag’ going. In a perfect swing, the clubhead catches up with the hands at the moment of impact. If you use stiff, heavier shafts in your clubs, this can be more difficult to achieve. Lighter, whippier shafts can help, as can more loft on the clubface. Especially with the driver, there’s a mistaken view that less loft – say 9 degrees – is the mark of a good golfer but that’s nonsense. If you need twelve-and-a-half-degrees loft on your driver, get it. Loft is good and if you have the right amount for your swing, you won’t lose distance.
All of this may cause you to despair but don’t because the vast majority of slicing problems can be easily fixed. The most important things to remember are grip and alignment, which can both be sorted before you even start your swing. Then, create in your mind a mental picture of swinging from in-to-out, attacking the ball from the inside, which is made easier if you keep your right elbow tucked in. This, above all other things, will put you on the road to longer, straighter, more effective shots.
About the Author
Martin Vousden - Golf Writer
Martin Vousden joined Today’s Golfer in 1988 as a staff writer and quickly rose to become editor; under his stewardship it became Britain’s best-selling golf title. He then became launch editor of Golf Buyer and Swing magazines, before moving to Scotland to take over at ScottishGolf. After five years he became (and remains) a freelance journalist, having written for numerous titles, including Golf Monthly, Golf Punk and The Clubhouse, which is based in Malaysia. He lives in Angus, about 12 miles from the Carnoustie course that beats him up every time he plays it, so he joined Kirriemuir GC. His handicap of 19.3 rises inexorably with every passing year.
Martin’s golf bag contains:
Ping G400 driver
King Cobra F/Speed 3-wood
Kane Golf 5-wood
Callaway Big Bertha 7-wood
Wilson D9 irons, 5-gap wedge
Yonex Z-Force sand wedge
John Letters Golden Goose lob wedge
Putter: GEL Ruby or Odyssey 2-ball blade (depending on which is behaving itself)
TaylorMade Distance Balls (yellow, just because he likes the colour)