What is a slice and what causes it?

The golf ball is a sphere that spins around any number of different axes depending on how the club hits the ball.  A ball that one sees in flight is a ball that is spinning around one of these axes.  A ball that flies dead straight has pure backspin. (note: a flying ball cannot have topspin, as topspin would make the ball shoot to the ground) any other spin than pure backspin will make the ball curve either to the left or to the right. A ball that curves to the right (for a right-handed player) is commonly called a “slice” (or a “fade” if the amount of curve is only slight).

Look at the diagram below to see how a slice spin is created. Notice the relationship of the path of the club to the position of the clubface. Slice spin is created by having a clubface that is open relative to the direction in which the club is traveling.

This swing is often called “outside to inside.”  the sake of this article we will talk primarily about the outside to in swing as it is indeed the most common. Now that we understand how the club spins the ball, then let’s try to identify tendencies in the swing that create such club ball contact.

1) Weak Grip

A weak grip will cause a slice for virtually every golfer who is not a professional. Professional golfers manage to hit it straight (and even with a draw with a weak grip) but it is not easy. If you are slicing the ball, look first at your grip. Make sure that the club is positioned in the hand so that the base of the hand is on “the top of the club” and the thumb is slightly to the right of the top. You can rotate your hand over more to make it stronger, but don’t let the club shift to the palm of the hand as you do so (refer to our article “Grip: Myth and Facts”).

2) Shoulder plane too flat

When the shoulders turn back too flat (left shoulder stays too high), a slice is almost guaranteed. The reason for this is that the right shoulder gets pushed back too far and too low, forcing it to be thrown out over the top on the downswing.  This position occurs often when people try to get the club back inside and flat in an effort to swing back to the ball more from the inside. Remember, too flat going back will cause a steep, over the top downswing (and the slice!).

3) Cupping of left wrist during backswing

Indeed, Ben Hogan’s secret is the amateur golfer’s nemesis!  Hogan had a terrible hook while he was a young professional. One day he discovered that if he cupped his left hand at the top of his backswing it was virtually impossible for him to hook the ball. The reason is very simply because the cupping of the wrist opens the clubface, usually so much that most golfers have no chance of squaring the clubface before impact. A flat left wrist at the top of the backswing is one of the common checkpoints of a solid golf swing.

4) Moving upper body in front of the ball before impact (especially with the driver)

This problem stems very often from a poor setup position. Using the driver as an example, many players have the shoulders too level and slightly open at address. This makes it very difficult to “get behind” the ball properly during the backswing AND TO STAY BEHIND the ball on the downswing. Once the upper body moves in front of the ball before impact, the club will almost always stay open, creating the slice.

5) Shoulders too open at impact

A study of slicers done by Golf Digest (I think!) showed that virtually every slice has a common characteristic: the shoulders were too open at impact!  Shoulders too open at impact, of course, is more an effect than a cause in and of itself. So changing the shoulder position at impact demands changes in the swing prior to impact.  Thus, this information is only useful if you know how to troubleshoot yourself.  Nonetheless, you can benefit from this by taking practice swings all the while paying attention to your shoulder position through impact.  Many of the clues to troubleshooting can be found above.