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Irons are a puzzle to many golfers. After all, in simple terms, you have to hit down on the ball to make it rise up. Loft is built into the club so it is not necessary to help it by scooping the ball into the air. Women, who are generally much neater and fastidious than men, have a particular problem with the action of irons since the clubs, when struck properly, take a divot in the turf, creating a messy result. But inexperienced male golfers, too, have a tough time with the concept. As with many aspects of golf, it’s the mind that misunderstands what’s required. Golf can be contra-intuitive.

To add to the confusion, not only do you need to hit down on the ball to make it rise, you have to align your shoulders, hips, and legs left of the target to hit the ball straight at the target which is usually the flagstick on the green. Stay with me now. First, you point the clubface at the target, then you align the body left of the target which telegraphs vital information which the brain relays to the body to swing the club at the target. Got that? No? Don’t feel bad. It took me about 40 years to get it down, and I still forget the concept at times. Two sets of railroad tracks side by side: the clubface and the body (there are very simple, and inexpensive, alignment rods to help you graphically see and experience this). You do this with woods as well, but you have a bit more margin of error with those long clubs. With irons, any miscalculation, ergo misalignment, and you probably will miss the green, which you don’t want to do. Witness Scotsman Colin Montgomery, ever the Majors bridesmaid, with his six-iron to the 18th green in the U.S. Open in 2006. He needed a par but pushed the shot right into the deep rough off the green, made bogey, and lost perhaps his best chance to win a major. Witness Phil Mickelson at the same Open, on the same hole, needing a par to win, or a bogey to tie, misaligning three horrid shots in a row to a double bogey, handing the treasured Open to Aussie Geoff Ogilvy.

What’s difficult for most golfers to understand is that the mind translates any misalignment of the body into an action which compensates and corrects for the misalignment. It’s like when your tires are out of alignment: Your car will automatically veer off course in response to the faulty alignment. It will also wear down your tires more, leading to further problems down the road. So, if your body is lined up right of target with the clubhead at the target, your hands will likely come over the top on the downswing, pulling the ball left, or slicing it to the right. If your body is lined up left of target with the clubhead at the target, your hands will leave the clubface open at impact pushing the ball to the right. Either way, the ball will likely not head towards the target, unless you’ve made some goofy compensation that corrects it all at impact. We’ve all seen that swing and wonder how the guy does it. Fact is, he doesn’t…consistently. Believe me, goofy compensations are no way to play this game.

So that’s why the golf magazines use so much print space on alignment, but leaving golfers scratching their heads. Then on top of that, they try to explain how to intentionally draw or fade the ball, which is integrally linked to alignment, and how you’re not a real golfer until you can pull this off. I think Johnny Miller said that. Keep breathing: I’m not going to get into that here. Bending the ball is useful with a tree in front of you, but first you have to hit it straight consistently before you move onto advanced techniques.

So the amazing mind/brain complex knows where the body and club are pointing and red lights start flashing deep in the folds of the brain if they are at odds. It then sends messages–very, very fast messages–via nerve endings to muscles controlling the path of the swing. Those muscles then make adjustments as a computer program might when you misspell a word when it corrects the mistake in a split second. There are some words, though, that are spelled the same but have different meanings, and that’s where a problem arises in grammar as well as golf. In grammar, those words are called homonyms and can get you in trouble with a thesis or term paper. In golf, it’s a slice, a push, a pull, or a pull hook, which can get you in trouble if you’re Jimmy Furyk and you come to the par 5, 16th at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic tied for the lead on the final day and you misalign your 3-wood tee ball trying to cut off a dogleg left and you over-cook it into the garbage too far left (Arnold Palmer did the same thing, on the same hole, to blow the ’66 Open!). Bogey. And the Open is gone. Furyk, I suspect, jolts up, wide-eyed, at 3 in the morning over that misalignment.

In that way, the results of misalignments are shocking, causing the equivalent of PTSD in golf. As a mental health counselor, I’ve worked with many people, over the years, with PTSD. It’s a mind/body problem, as are many maladies in golf. The mind is traumatized by an unexpected event, causing an extreme physical reaction, which, in turn, causes another emotional event, often an anxiety attack. The memory of this then gets embedded in the brain’s memory system and stays there for years, often needing therapy and/or medication to ameliorate. Now the results may not be as dire in golf, but when a poor shot comes out of apparent nowhere, there is a sense of shock and, indeed, we fear it could happen again without an inkling of warning.

So now, you can thank me for preventing years of therapy and addictive medications, not to mention broken marriages and drug-addled children, through correct align-iron-ment. Go now, with courage, out to the menacing links, and swing, with total confidence and freedom, watching the ball sail to the target, knowing you will survive the day, and the round, and your life, without trauma and disassociation.


SA on pebble 18



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6 Responses to Align-iron-ment

  1. Paul Staley says:

    I was just working on this at the range today. I have a tendency to forget that I should line my feet up as if I were standing on the left railroad track. I, as you discuss in this post, will often close my stance because I align myself with the target. And yes, all that other stuff starts happening.

    • Stephen Altschuler says:

      It is amazing how the mind picks up its cues from how the body is positioned, then signals back to the torso and arms how to compensate. The range is the place see it all unfold, and then correct our setup.
      Thanks for commenting, Paul.

  2. Jim Burton says:


    I like your post. It took me a few years to convince myself that I had to take a divot with my irons. Now, if I have a poor shot, I can look at the divot to determine my alignment and adjust for the next shot.


    • Stephen Altschuler says:

      Exactly. The divot is one of the great barometers of golf.
      Thanks for the comment, Jim. Glad you liked the post.

  3. Troy Vayanos says:

    Great post Stephen,

    Yes alignment is absolutely crucial. I would add to this the overall set up before you hit the golf ball. Jack Nicklaus once said that once you have mastered your set up you’ve figured out 80 percent of the game.

    I’ve recently really nailed this down and as a result I am playing the best golf of my life.

    My advice is to work on it until you get it right.


    • Stephen Altschuler says:

      My ball striking, too, has greatly improved, Troy, with a more skillful set up. It’s a vital, but often overlooked, fundamental. Hoping you share some of your insights on set up on your website (TalkingGolfOnline.com). Let me know when/if you do.
      Thanks very much for your comments, Troy.

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