It’s the bane of many golfers worldwide, and one that frustrates them to no end the dreaded slice. On courses far and wide, slicing reigns supreme, especially preying upon those with double-digit handicaps.
Every golf teacher knows that the slice is the result of a clubface angle that is open to the clubhead path to a much greater degree than is desired. A clubface angle that is only slightly open to the clubhead path results in a fade, a much-sought-after ball flight among many skilled golfers.
Dustin Johnson, for example, became dominant when he was able to consistently fade the ball into the fairway with his driver. The difference between a fade and a slice is sometimes difficult to discern, but in general, a fade features a ball flight where one part of it is mainly straight. You might see a ball go up to its apex in a fairly straight manner and then curve gently on its downward flight, or curve slightly going up and then falling straight down. A fade is a ball flight that is in control and lands gently. A slice, on the other hand, features the ball constantly curving throughout its flight, and when the ball lands it tends to roll out.
Let’s review the setup first as it relates to a slice (we will assume the golfer is right-handed for the rest of this article). Most slicers have a left-hand grip that is too weak, with the V pointed to the left of the chin, and sometimes the club’s grip is held in the lifeline of the palm. Ball position tends to be too far forward, which results in a clubhead path traveling outside-in through impact in comparison to the stance line. Stance alignment may be either open, resulting in a clubhead path traveling left of the target line through impact, or closed, resulting in an over-the-top move during transition. Shoulder alignment for a slicer also tends to be quite open in relation to the stance line, a likely result of the ball position being too far forward. But even with a proper ball position, most slicers still have open shoulders, so this needs to be corrected.
Once the slicer is in a proper setup position, he now has a fighting chance to hit the ball straight, or at least with a manageable fade. The key now is to swing into a position at the top of the backswing (actually a position within transition) from where the golfer can have a more correct clubhead path and clubface angle. Most slicers and double-digit handicappers, for that matter start the downswing with their arms and hands instead of the lower body. No less than Ben Hogan wrote in his book Five Fundamentals that the hands should do nothing active until just above hip-height on the downswing, carried there by the turning and movement of the hips.
Most golfers would be surprised if they could feel what a good golfer feels at the start of the downswing. A good golfer’s arms and hands are literally doing nothing at all, just falling and moving in response to the action of the lower body. This is a key element that must be learned by a slicer, or else they will continue to struggle. The “pump” drill can be effective here. In this drill, the golfer starts the downswing by keeping the angle intact between the lead arm and club shaft until the hands are just above hip height, then bringing the arms and hands back to the top of the backswing, “pumping” the club down again before returning the club to the top of the backswing a second time, and then swinging through and hitting the ball.
Many slicers also overuse the right hand and arm during the downswing, throwing the clubhead outside in an over-the-top manner and perhaps early releasing before impact. These golfers are dramatically underusing their left side. Two drills that can help are swinging one-handed with the left arm only (holding the upper part of the left arm with the right hand), and letting go with the right hand at the moment of impact. This helps train the left side to do its fair share of the work. Swinging one-handed with either hand also helps train the correct clubhead path into the ball, as golfers should find it impossible to do anything but swing the way they are aiming.
Another problem slicers have is they tend to open up their shoulders too quickly on the downswing. The right shoulder needs to move more downward instead of out towards the target line. A golfer may feel the shoulders dramatically tilting by doing this, but this is the correct feel if they open up their shoulders too quickly. It can also help if the golfer tries to keep his back to the target on the downswing as long as possible, as this helps to deliver the clubhead from the inside.
The root cause of all of this, of course, is failure to start the downswing properly with the lower body. In the USGTF Technical Committee’s experience, getting a golfer to more properly use his lower body to start the downswing is a difficult chore for the teacher. Golfers who started the game as kids tend to use the lower body effectively, because when they started playing the club was relatively heavy to them and they naturally used and trained their lower body to start the downswing. Golfers who take up the game as adults mostly find the club relatively light, hence their propensity to have an arms-and-hands-dominated swing. But training the lower body is still encouraged.
As for squaring the clubface to the clubhead path at impact, the most common problem is failing to allow the clubhead to release properly through impact, where the clubhead rotates counter-clockwise. Golfing legend Tom Watson advises players to feel the left hand rotating from palm down before impact to palm up after. A golfer using a split-hands grip and making some practice swings will find that the clubhead will rotate naturally through the impact area. There are also training aids on the market that will give the student a feel for this, but swinging a broom also achieves the same aim. Finally, the teacher can physically move and rotate the student’s arms and hands through the impact area to give the student the feeling of proper release and rotation through impact.
Some teachers will tell you that the release should just happen naturally, the result of the lower body leading the downswing and the upper body, arms and hands following. This is technically correct, but if a student is not allowing the clubhead to rotate through impact, whether from tension or for any other reason, this movement must be trained. And how do we know that a slicer is releasing the clubhead properly through impact? Video won’t lie, and virtually everyone has a smartphone today with high-speed replay capability. Another way of knowing the player is releasing the club properly is if they are now hitting at least a gentle fade. A straight ball or a draw is not necessary in order to know the release is more correct.
There is debate among teachers whether the club-head path or the clubface angle must be addressed first, and this leads to an interesting observation. While ball flight laws tell us that the clubhead path must travel reasonably close to down the target line to hit a fade, draw or straight ball close to the intended target, many times a student is able to square the clubface angle to the clubhead path while pulling the ball to the left, and it may be impossible to get these students to swing parallel with the way they are aiming. In these cases, it may well be desirable to have the student simply aim right and pull the ball back to the target. With the driver in particular, we know that a golfer hitting the ball on the upswing will be swinging slightly left of the low point of their swing, so this may be something even good players need to do. Films of Hogan and Sam Snead show them doing just that with the driver.
Many of you reading this are experienced teachers who are well versed in fixing slices, so please consider this material as a refresher. For those of you newer to teaching, hopefully you will have found an additional teaching tip or two to help you solve one of the most frustrating problems in all of golf.