When I mention the word basics in my golf lessons, players start thinking about things like grip, posture, ball position, alignment, and so on. That’s only natural. Golf pros talk so much about these subjects in golf instruction sessions that players assume they’re the focus when the discussion comes round to the basics of a golf shot.
But there are four other basics—plane, centering, radius, and face—that key good ball striking. Players must master the four factors to cut their golf handicaps down to size. These factors, which are sometimes neglected in golf lessons and golf tips, determine consistency. If you’re off with these even slightly, you’ll slice, hook, or miss-hit the shot, regardless of your grip, posture, ball position, or alignment.
Plane is the angle your club takes at address. Your swing should have a circular look to it when viewed from a face on perspective. The swing won’t be a pure circle, but it will have a recognizable circular shape. Looking from down the target line, the circle should be tilted the same angle as the clubshaft as it sits at address. This area encompasses the most direct and powerful route back to the golf ball.
The club must remain in this defined plane as it approaches the golf ball on the downswing. While your swing plane may change from waist high in your downswing to waist high in your finish, your club must go through the original plane at address to hit straight shots solidly. So while you may see some odd looking swings by Tour players, you’ll also see that they always return the club to the same plane of address at the bottom of their swings.
Face is the second important factor. To gain control over the clubface at the moment of impact, your hands must be at the same position when you make contact with the ball as at address or may be a bit forward. Returning your hands to the same position guarantees that your clubface is pointing in the same direction as when you set up to hit the ball.
There are three ways you can hold the club at address—with your hands on the left side of the grip (weak), the middle of the grip (neutral), or the right hand side of the grip (strong) for right-handers. The best grip is the one you can produce naturally shot, after shot, after shot. If you look closely at the pros, you’ll see players with different grips, yet they still hit consistently straight shots. Why? Because the way you grip the club matters less than the how your hands are at address. If you have a strong grip at address, you better not have a weak grip when making impact; otherwise, you’ll end up with either an opened or a closed clubface at impact.
Radius is the distance from your left shoulder (for right handers) to the end of the clubshaft. In other words, it is the distance from the center of your golf swing to the outer-edge. Your lead arm must be in line with or trailing your arm at impact, known as “maintaining radius.” Bobby Jones, the great amateur, called this “good timing.”
Maintaining radius enables you to strike the ball solidly. Many recreational players that I give golf lessons to try to force the shaft of the club past the lead arm prior to impact. This effort causes the clubface to travel up not down, resulting in a fat or thin shot. A loss of radius causes a hook, slice, loss of distance, and wide assortment of other poor shots.
Centering refers to the spine and head at address. While you may have some lateral movement of your head and spine in your swing, consistent hitters keep these areas, or their centers, steady. A steady center involves two things. From a down-the-line-look, the amount that you bend forward from your hips at address is constant throughout your swing. From a face-on perspective, your center (spine and head) remains as constant as possible as well. Your swing, as I’ve explained in my golf tips, revolves around your center.
While the basics like grip, posture, ball position, and alignment are important, they only prepare you to take your swing. They increase your chances of hitting a golf ball when the more important basics are in order, producing accurate, solid shots. To lower your golf handicap, you must the other “basics” of the swing—plane, fact, radius, and center.