For decades, Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer in history, started each season by asking his teacher, Jack Grout, to teach him the fundamentals of the game. One simple -- and often overlooked fundamental -- is properly placing the clubface. Setting the clubface correctly at a address, and maintaining the proper angle throughout the swing, is essential for solid, accurate ball striking.
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At address, a line drawn from the center of the clubface should pass through the center of the golf ball and lead directly to the target. The leading edge of the club and the grooves on the clubface should be perpendicular to that line. That placement, called a square clubface, is essential for solid contact.
Open or Closed
A clubface that points right of the target -- for a right-handed golfer -- is considered open. An open clubface at impact produces clockwise spin on the ball, leading to fades and slices. A closed clubface points left of the target and produces draws and hooks. Skilled golfers may deliberately open and close the clubface to work the ball around trouble on the course. If your ball curves unintentionally, check your clubface position at address.
Heel or Toe
Instructor Dave Pelz, who gathers volumes of statistics on golf shots, notes amateurs often address and hit balls off the toe of the club resulting in lost distance and poor control. Shots hit off the heel of an iron can produce a shank, a shot that travels on a radically lateral path. For consistent striking, address the ball off the sweet spot of the club -- usually the center of the clubface -- and hit the ball with the sweet spot.
Moe Norman, a Canadian considered by some experts the most consistent ball striker ever, placed his club several inches behind the ball at address. Ben Hogan, a golf legend, left a two inch gap between his clubface and the ball. Nicklaus and Australian champion Greg Norman, prefered to hover the clubhead just above the ground behind the ball to avoid snaging the clubhead on the way back. There is room for some variety in addressing the ball, but Nicklaus warns that exaggerating any element at address can throw off the entire swing.
In the backswing and downswing, you should try to maintain the square position you established at address in order to achieve a square impact. One way to check for this is to look at your swing in a mirror, or view video shot from down the line. If your clubface is square, the angle of the face will match the angle formed by the back or your left hand and wrist during the swing.
For short chips and most putts, the same rules for a square clubface apply. However, good players often open their clubface at address with their wedges to get a higher trajectory and more backspin for control. To get out of greenside bunker, opening the clubface helps the player use the bounce on the bottom of the club to splash the ball out of the sand. On extremely fast putts, addressing and striking the ball on the toe of the putter can deaden the impact for speed control.