It’s hard to say that any of the fundamentals are more important than another, as all should be continually perfected, but if there’s one that causes more off-line golf shots, then alignment clearly stands out. Once you’ve learned the correct, grip, posture, ball position and stance, it’s not that hard to maintain them and during most shots they will fall into place. But alignment is one that has a tendency to waiver.
The importance of alignment in golf
Without proper alignment, your body receives mixed signals from your brain, with regards to your body position and your intended target. If your eyes are looking towards the target but your body and club face are actually aligned to the right or left of it, you’ll need to make adjustments in your swing, which affects its plane and path. This could result in any number of problems. E.g. If your body is aimed to the left of your intended target line, then without intentionally doing so you’ll swing across the proper swing path (out to in) resulting in a pull or slice.
One degree can mean a miss of 15 yards
To put alignment in perspective, if the club-face is even a degree open or closed to the intended ball to target line at impact it can cause a miss of 10-15 yards or more (which equates to several shots lost per round).
Alignment requires practice just like everything else
It’s important to realize that good alignment takes practice, in the same way you practice your swing. If you get to go to a Professional tournament, you’ll see most of the players working with alignment sticks on the range to make sure it’s spot on. But at any time on the local range, you’ll only see a few doing the same.
So what the best way to make sure your alignment to your intended target?
It’s important to mention here than your body (shoulders, hips, knees and feet) need to be aligned parallel-left of the ball to target line, like a train track, with the right rail being the ball to target line and the left rail being the alignment of your body (for the right handed player, like Luke Donald above).
1. Stand 4-5 feet away from the ball, directly behind it, and trace an imaginary line from the target back to the ball. It’s imperative that you stand behind the ball to see this line. Trying to do it while standing in the address position will create an optical illusion and almost always, result in poor alignment. I stand behind the ball and close my non-dominant left eye and hold my club up, so the ball to target line is along the shaft.
2. With the club still held up on the ball to target line, pick a spot about 6-12 inches in front of the ball along that line (still with your dominant eye only). This can be a blade of grass or discoloration. It’s a lot easier to align to something close to you than 200 yards in the distance.
3. Step into the ball and align the club-face (the leading edge of the club) to that spot.
4. Now draw an imaginary line in your mind which is inside and parallel to the ball to target line (the one your club-face is now pointing on), that your body will align to.
5. Set your feet in position so they are square to this line and make sure your knees, hips and shoulders follow suit. If, like me, you flare your left foot out at address, make sure you turn your foot out after you’ve aligned your feet.
Now work on this – every time you practice! Get yourself alignment sticks (or just use a club) and make sure good alignment becomes a habit, which will save you several shots per round.