Amateur golfers in this country who are tormented by a slice must number in the hundreds of thousands. It breaks my heart when I visit a club for a quiet round and watch how people are swinging. I first started teaching in my ‘teens in the mid-1930s and, believe me, high handicap players are still swinging in exactly the same way.
There is a distinct dividing line among golfers and it occurs at around the 10 handicap mark. Those above the line are almost invariably slicers, the percentage increasing with the handicap, while low handicap players tend to pull the ball round to the left on an off day.
The single-figure man can be picked out by his ability to start the ball out to the right hand side of the fairway and draw it back to the middle; a slicer is incapable of doing this.
While a pull is a fault of golfers who are already swinging in the correct arc and can probably put themselves right, drastic treatment is required to correct a slice. The problem is that people who spend their days behind office desks tend not to be very supple and it is much easier for them to take the club back steeply with their arms than to turn their whole trunks round under their chins on the backswing.
This trunk-turning business is vital for an in-to-out arc and is something that can easily be practiced in the office when there is a moment to spare
When I am giving a slicer his first lesson, the biggest barrier I have got to overcome is the ingrained way of swinging. The in-to-out arc will feel very strange.
I have learned from experience that I have got to be ruthless from the start. The key to success is to exaggerate the changes I want. After a lesson, the natural tendency for anyone is to slip back into old habits; by doing it this way, a booster lesson is not needed so soon.
It is virtually impossible for anyone to give a golf lesson in print. In my opinion many teaching articles do more harm than good. But I can set out here the principles of a slice-free swing and give an idea of how I set about curing a slice.
I want you to be able to see all the knuckles of your left hand when you grip the club. What I don’t want you to be able to see is the top of the shaft between your wrists at the address; the shaft should be almost completely hidden behind your left wrist.
I don’t care where your right hand is, as long as you can’t see any of the fingernails of your right hand at address. You must never let your right hand get under the shaft, but it can be over the shaft as far as you like.
I am not worried what stance you adopt, or where your weight is. Some people tend to lean back, some forward. To suggest anything would give you too much to think about and in any case would not affect the issue very much. My absolute priority is to get the arc of your swing right.
Clubface at address
The next step is to get you to address the ball with the nose of the club well in (i.e. the clubface pointing to the left of the centre of the fairway for a right-hander). I also check to make sure that you are not standing too near the ball, as this would make it more difficult for you to adopt the inside-to-out swing I want.
Because I want you to keep the nose in, I want you to use a 3-wood off the tee until you have got the arc of the swing right. But don’t think you will be losing any length; you will find that you will soon be hitting the ball further with your 3-wood than you normally did with your driver.
One of the worst miseries of a slice is that the harder you hit, the more it goes off line. But keeping the nose of the club in so much reduces the effective loft and with a driver you may have difficulty in getting the ball in the air at first.
If I am going to transform your swing in one lesson, I have got to go to all possible lengths to get this right. There is no way that I could do it by sitting on a shooting stick and giving you the odd tip.
What I do is tee the balls up for you so that you are continually hitting shots; I get hold of you to show you the path I want you to take; and I resort to one or two tricks to get you to understand what I want. As I said before, the biggest difficulty is overcoming the strangeness of swinging the club in a radically different arc.
Two words describe what you have got to do: SWING LOW. When I say low, I mean low. I want the club to be no more than shoulder height at the top of the backswing; every inch that it is higher than this will encourage you to go back to your normal outside-to-in arc.
If you are going to start hitting from inside to out, you must tuck your right elbow tight into your side and take the club back in what, to you, will seem like an impossibly low arc.
Sometimes I go into some rough about 6 inches high and cut a straight swathe through it with a 5 iron. I place you in front of it so that the swathe is about 3 feet in front of your left foot and sloping back so the it is about 18 inches in front of your right foot (again, of course, for a right hander).
As well as helping to guide you in making this drastic change in the arc of your swing, it also helps me to see what is happening on the downswing. What I want to see is a 24-inch sweep through the grass; if you are taking a 3-inch lump out of the ground then it is clear that you are coming down much too steeply.
Once you are taking the club back in the right line, your grip is right and the clubface is “nosed in,” then it is only a matter of letting your wrists “give” to get to the top of the backswing.
Official teaching methods decades ago favoured a wide backswing which encourages swaying and the dreadful phrase “cocking the wrists” results in opening the club face.
With my method, you cannot sway back if your right arm is hugging your side and, by letting your wrists “give”, the clubface should be pointing almost straight up to the sky at the top of your backswing.
If you cock your wrists the clubface will be pointing towards the teacher standing in front of you. I have seen some people cock their wrists so much that the clubface is pointing down at the ball.
If the clubface is open at the top of the backswing the odds are stacked against you for avoiding a slice. The only way you can do it is by rolling your wrists before impact. On an inspired day, you may be able to get this complicated wrist-twisting right, but why make the game so darned difficult for yourself?
Once I have got you swing the club back in the correct arc, we are almost there.
The first move you should make in the unwinding process is to turn your stomach towards the hole. But it is essential that you keep your head back while doing this. If you turn your shoulders and move your head forward on the downswing, all the good work is undone.
The aim of the stomach turn is to allow you to keep your right elbow tucked in to your side for as long as possible before putting all your effort into the hit. If you let your right elbow come away from your side, you would slip back towards your old outside-to-in arc.
It is best to use a high tee and make sure that you hit upwards and outwards. With a low swing and your right arm tucked in, you cannot come down steeply on the ball; even with an iron you should be sweeping the ball off the ground with little or no divot.
It usually takes me about 20 minutes of hard work to stop you slicing. The joy of it then is that I can tell you to hit the ball harder, and you find that you are hitting the ball further than you have ever done before.
If you can hold and maintain the new groove, you will never slice again. The trouble is that you will inevitably begin to drift back to your old way of swinging after two or three weeks unless you keep checking your arc. Ideally you should then have a second lesson to get the new groove fixed in your mind.
You should use the same swing for all the clubs in your bag. With the driver you should use a high peg and tee it more towards your left heel, while with the irons you should have the ball in the centre of your feet. If you want to keep the ball low with your pitching irons, then you can have the ball nearer your right heel – but don’t alter your arc.
And that is all I want to tell you. If a slice is your problem then you must close your mind to anything else until you have got the arc of your swing right. I cannot see how anyone can really enjoy the game until they have removed this curse from their lives.