Perhaps you’ve heard the old golf adage…
“You can put ‘draw’ on the ball, you can put ‘fade’ on the ball, but no golfer can put ‘straight’ on the ball.”
Humorous, yes, but there is actually a lot of truth there.
It’s true because, though we’d like to learn how to hit a driver straight, in reality it’s nearly an impossible thing to do.
With so many factors affecting the ball’s flight (clubface angle, swing path, swing plane, grip, weight shift, etc.), all of which must be in harmony at the precise moment of impact, it’s easy to see why Jack Nicklaus once said:
“The toughest shot in golf is one that is perfectly straight.”
So if you accept the fact that hitting a perfectly straight golf shot is very difficult to achieve, perhaps a better and more attainable mission would be to:
Learn how to control the amount of curve on the ball to the greatest extent possible.
Almost every shot has at least a little curve, and some have a lot.
Very few have none.
Therefore, by minimizing the amount of sidespin that causes hooks and slices, you will be creating golf shots that fly as straight as possible.
Our stated purpose in writing this article is to describe how to hit your drives straight consistently.
But, as suggested, our focus will actually be on setup and swing concepts that will enable you to control the curve on the golf ball so that excessive amounts of sidespin are lessened and, in so doing, your shots will therefore be “mostly” straight.
Major Factors Involved in Hitting Straight Shots:
There are several setup and swing factors that must be present to enable you to create straight shots:
- Proper grip
- Solid fundamentals (posture, alignment, ball position)
- Proper swing plane
- Correct weight transfer
It’s important to note that you’ll need to pay attention to all of these factors in your swing to significantly lessen side spin on the ball and hit straight shots.
It’s easy to see how a pronounced defect in any one single factor can undo the work you did in getting all of the others correct.
For example, a player could have a perfect setup, proper weight transfer, and a solid swing plane...
...but if that player has a seriously flawed grip, it will nonetheless be difficult for that player to produce consistently straight shots.
Similarly, if a golfer has most of the other factors dialed in correctly but leaves his weight on his right side on the downswing, that improper weight shift will hamper his efforts to hit the ball straight.
Perhaps now you can see why we say that hitting a perfectly straight shot is a difficult thing to achieve.
You have to get an awful lot right on every swing for that outcome.
And, again, this is why we suggest that you re-adjust your goal just a bit and instead aim for significantly reducing the curvature on your shots.
So, having said that, let’s begin by looking in a little more detail at each of the factors itemized above, and learn how to control your shot’s curvature.
How to Hit a Driver Straight in 4 Steps
1. Proper Grip
There is only one part of your body that comes into contact with the golf club and that is your hands.
How you place your hands on the grip of the club can have a significant impact on the flight of the ball.
Your grip can directly affect whether the clubface comes into impact in an open position, which will create left-to-right sidespin (for right-handers), or in a closed position (which will create right-to-left sidespin).
The way in which golfers grip the club is generally referred to as being “strong,” “weak,” or “neutral.”
These designations don’t pertain to how much grip pressure you apply with your hands; they convey what the orientation of your hands on the club is.
When you look down at your grip on the golf club, take note of the “V’ that is formed in each hand at the intersection of the thumb and the forefinger.
A common way golfers discuss this hand orientation is to describe the direction to which those V’s are aiming.
If they are aimed straight up to your chin, that would be considered a “neutral” grip.
If they are aimed toward your right shoulder, the result of turning your hands to the right (clockwise), that would be a “strong” grip.
If aimed at your left shoulder, caused by rotating the hands to the left (counter-clockwise), that would connote a “weak” grip.
Generally speaking, a strong grip makes it easier to close the face and produce draws and hooks. While weak grips are often the cause of an open clubface at impact and a resulting fade or slice.
So, in a theoretical world, in which we would be learning how to hit a driver perfectly straight, the neutral grip would be the one best designed for that purpose.
Swung properly, the neutral grip would be most likely to deliver the club head to the ball in a “square” position, aimed straight at your target at impact.
Since we aren’t in a theoretical world, and since our objective is to “manage” the curve on the ball instead of producing the idealized perfectly straight shot, it would not be recommended for most amateur golfers to use a neutral grip.
For most higher handicappers and those who may not have the hand and wrist strength to consistently deliver a square club face to the ball, a neutral grip too often results in the club face coming into the impact zone in a position that is open to the target line.
Result: a slice.
It is highly recommended, therefore, that these golfers use a grip that is more on the “strong” side.
As long as it isn’t overdone, a stronger grip will enable these golfers to more easily square the club face and reduce the slice sidespin that is commonplace among amateur golfers.
And, in line with our goal, reducing the amount of slice sidespin on the ball will result in much straighter shots.
2. Solid Fundamentals
In terms of the setup fundamentals that will lead to straighter golf shots, we’re primarily talking about posture, alignment, and ball position.
Once understood, each of these factors is very easy to implement.
Golfers of every level should be able to master these basic essentials; it doesn’t take any special strength or skill to set up to the ball correctly.
Good posture is essential for consistent and accurate shot making.
You can think of it this way:
The golf swing is basically a turning motion in which you pivot around your spine.
The better the position and angle of your spine is at address, the better it will be during the swing and at impact.
So start by putting yourself in a proper golf stance, by following these basic posture guidelines:
- Hold the club in front of your belly button with your arms and legs straight. Stand up tall with your shoulders pulled back and stick your chest out.
- Tilt forwards making sure you tilt at the hips only. Your lower back should remain flat rather than rounded. Feel like you are pushing your behind backwards.
- As the club lowers to touch the ground behind the ball, flex your knees slightly. Avoid making the mistake of many amateur golfers by over-bending your knees.
Above all, remember to feel as “athletic” as possible in your stance.
Golf is an athletic endeavor and you should make sure that you are in an athletic position at address. One of the big mistakes that many amateur golfers make is setting up in a “static” position that doesn’t allow their bodies to move athletically.
A good posture is vital to hit the ball straight.
If you are slouched over at address, or if your shoulders are too rounded, or if you have too wide or too narrow of a stance, etc., you are creating conditions and positions that make it much harder to swing the club on plane, and therefore to hit shots that consistently fly straight at your target.
Most golfers intuitively know that proper alignment in golf involves setting up squarely to the target.
Nonetheless, it’s very common to see amateurs who aren’t lined up correctly.
If they know they should be lined up at the target, what then causes them to mis-align themselves?
The fact of the matter is that most don’t even know they are lined up improperly. It’s not something that amateur golfers check regularly and, over time, bad habits can set in.
It’s also not uncommon for amateurs to subconsciously align themselves incorrectly to compensate for a swing flaw.
An example of this would be the golfer who consistently slices the ball and aims well left of the target line to compensate for the left to right ball flight.
So how can you make sure that you are actually lined up at your target?
When you’re practicing, place a club or an alignment stick on the ground along the line of your toes. Then step back and see where the club points.
If the club points to the right of the target, your stance is “closed.”
If it points to the left of your target, your stance is “open.”
If needed, adjust the club appropriately and step back into your address position by placing your toes along the newly re-positioned club or alignment stick.
And, remember, it’s important that you’re not only focusing on your feet being aligned properly. Your knees, hips and shoulders should also be in line with your feet.
It should be self-evident that proper alignment is crucial when learning how to hit a driver straight consistently.
As basic as this may seem, it is vitally important to pay attention to it.
The PGA pros sure do.
If you ever get a chance to watch them on the driving range before a tournament round, you’ll see that they almost always practice with alignment sticks or a golf club on the ground to make sure that they get this critical part of their setup correct.
c. Ball Position
Ball position for the driver is another often overlooked fundamental.
A fairly common error for amateur golfers is to tee the ball too far forward in their stance.
By doing this (positioning the ball opposite the left toes), it can have the unintended consequence of causing the player’s shoulders to open up and aim to the left as they reach forward to address the ball.
This shoulder-open setup, then, usually leads to a swing path that approaches the ball from outside the target line, cutting across it to the left, in what is called an “out-to-in” swing path.
In the process, this faulty swing path puts left-to-right sidespin on the ball, resulting in a slice.
If you want to drive the ball straighter, make sure to tee the ball up just opposite your left heel.
This will encourage you to align your shoulders square to your target.
It will also be at the appropriate point in the arc of the swing at which the club face is likely to be square to the target also.
Straight shoulders + straight club face = straighter drives.
3. Proper Swing Plane
One of the most important factors in determining shot accuracy, yet one of the least understood, is the concept of the swing plane.
Swing plane is a technical term that describes the angle of the club shaft’s movement around the golfer’s body.
More simply, it’s the pathway that the shaft should take during the backswing and the downswing.
If a golfer’s swing stays on this correct imaginary path, it is said to be “on plane.” If it doesn’t stay on the correct path, it is referred to as “off plane.”
If you get the swing plane correct, your chances of hitting straight shots are increased significantly.
The concept of the swing plane is a complex subject that we could write an entire article on (in fact, entire books have been devoted to the topic).
But for our purposes here, we will highlight just some relevant points that will summarize the key issues that affect a straight ball flight.
The term swing plane was first popularized by Ben Hogan back in the 1950’s in his famous instructional book called “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.”
In this book, he introduced the concept of a plane in the golf swing that defines the proper routing of the club during both the backswing and the downswing.
To illustrate this concept, he depicted a pane of glass that rose on an incline from the target line up through the golfer’s shoulder line.
His instruction to the golfing readers was to make sure that their left arm, hands, and club stayed below that pane of glass on the backswing and the downswing.
If at any point during the swing that invisible barrier was breached, the swing would then be “off plane” and a successful shot was less likely.
Although Hogan wrote his book over 60 years ago, and advancements in technology have since given us a far better understanding of the swing plane and the physics of the golf swing, his basic precepts are still valid.
You can see how delivering the clubhead to the ball from under Hogan’s pane of glass would require a swing path that would be best described as “in-to-out” and which would be on plane.
This is an essential ingredient to hit a straight shot.
Conversely, if at any point on the downswing a golfer’s club extended above the pane of glass, that would be evidence of an “over the top” move that would send the club off plane, and on a path to the ball from outside the target line (out-to-in).
This image of Hogan’s pane of glass is one that you should keep in mind as you practice.
Work to stay under the pane and you will be rewarded with much straighter shots.
4. Correct Weight Transfer
Fixing your swing plane and path, as we just described, can lead to perfectly straight golf shots.
But to remain on plane throughout the swing requires that you transfer your weight correctly, not just in the downswing, but in the backswing as well.
It is this weight shift that allows the golf club to fall down on plane and prevents it from coming “over the top.”
The term weight transfer refers to the movement of your weight from one foot to the other in the golf swing.
When done properly, a golfer’s weight should shift onto their back leg during the backswing, and then onto their front leg during the downswing.
When done improperly, you not only will lose a lot of distance, but importantly for our topic today, you’ll sacrifice your ability to hit straight shots as well.
Many times, amateur golfers are so concerned with making good contact with the ball that they fail to transfer their weight at all.
They seem to think that by keeping their weight in a static position centered over the ball, they’ll have a better chance of hitting the ball more cleanly.
Unfortunately, contrary to what they’re trying to achieve, keeping your weight centered throughout the swing eliminates the lower body from doing its job.
By failing to transfer your weight to the rear leg on the backswing, it forces you to use just your arms. And an arms-only swing can lead to a steep angle of attack and an out-to-swing path... the prescription for a slice.
Perhaps even worse than having no weight shift, though, is having one that moves in the opposite direction from what is prescribed.
Instead of correctly transferring weight to the rear leg on the backswing and to the front leg on the downswing, some players leave their weight on the front leg during the backswing (and, in the worst cases, even lean toward the target), and then fall away from the target during the downswing as their weight moves to their rear leg.
This is one of the more destructive swing flaws in golf and is referred to as a “Reverse Pivot.”
It is virtually impossible to hit consistently straight shots with a reverse pivot, and it is a good illustration of why a proper weight shift is necessary to produce a straight ball flight.
As we said at the outset, learning how to hit a driver perfectly straight is a very optimistic goal to say the least.
With all of the various swing elements that must be synchronized almost perfectly to create a straight ball flight, it’s a far better and more realistic objective to instead try to control the amount of the curvature on your ball to the greatest possible extent.
By paying attention to the setup and swing factors that we discussed in this article, you will be able to lessen the sidespin that you currently impart to the golf ball, and your slices and hooks will become much more manageable.
Golf gets a lot more enjoyable when you play from the fairway!