What Is A Slice?
The slice that plagues so many higher handicap golfers is frequently a combination of an out-to-in swing path along with a clubface that is open to that path and is associated with an ‘over the top’ move in transition.
What Causes It?
A slice is usually the result of a premature rotation of the upper body, which pushes the club both outside and above the correct swing plane. The resulting steep and glancing blow causes a huge loss of power owing to a less-than-penetrating and excessively curving ball flight.
As with all swing faults, it is caused by incorrect technique, but the issue that always needs to be addressed first is whether or not that flawed technique is owing to a lack of golf fitness.
A golfer seeking to correct problems with a slice should first identify the exact source(s) of his/her OTT move and ascertain, via screening, whether they are caused by physical restriction(s) such as tight abdominals and/or hip rotators, insufficient mobility in the upper back (thorax) and/or external rotation in the trail shoulder rotator cuff etc. etc. and, if the clubface is open ‘at the top’, whether a lack of strength in the lead wrist means the golfer wants to position the wrist joint more underneath the club.
Ok let’s look at each of those possible causes in turn, starting with tight hip rotators. If the hips are tight, as the lower body starts to unwind back toward the target they are not sufficiently free to move independently of the upper body and tend to pull the spine and shoulders into premature rotation, thus causing an ‘over the top’ move. Our hip mobility video contains some great exercises that will help with this problem. Here are a couple of examples:
- Place a club across the front your shoulders and hold it in place by folding your arms across your chest. Keeping the club shaft static, practice rotating your hips independently both clockwise and anti-clockwise. Keep performing this exercise until you can achieve a good 45° of independent hip rotation both back and through
- Once you have mastered this, assume your address posture, with the club in place as before, and then make your backswing: rotating your torso to bring the lead shoulder down and under your chin. Keeping the lead side end of the club in your peripheral vision, shift your weight and perform the sit and squat move as you simultaneously flex your spine laterally into a side bend. Watch that the end of the club moves upward and that there is little or no rotational movement of the club back toward the target.
In an over the top move, the shoulders rotate rather than tilt as a consequence of secondary spinal tilt (i.e. an increased lateral bend in the trail side). This keeps the lead shoulder lower, while its trail counterpart rotates over and out toward the ball. If, by repeated performance of the above exercise progression, you groove that lateral bend as the hips begin to unwind, you will be well on the way toward eradicating that dreaded slice.
NB: You need a good level of ankle mobility in order to roll the trail ankle inward (eversion) and facilitate this lateral flexion of the spine. Any push off the ball of the trail foot at the start of the downswing will actively inhibit lateral bending. The aim is to achieve transient external rotation in both legs. If you are able to pull your lead leg away from a resisting trail leg, and thus create a stretch in both hips and thighs, you will create rotation plus set off another stretch shorten cycle for subsequent ‘firing’, as combined dual external rotation and abduction effectively drives the internal rotation and adduction that follows.
Okay, onto the second possible cause: insufficient rotational and extension mobility in the upper back will inhibit a full shoulder turn in the backswing, which often leads to a golfer compensating with independent arm action – what is sometimes referred to as an ‘arms driven’ swing! If shoulder rotation is restricted and a golfer strains at the end range of his/her movement there is every chance of a ‘recoil’ motion. Either way, the chances are that the arms will tend to come back down outside the target line on an out-to-in path.
A good rotational separation check is to sit upright on the edge of a chair (which anchors the hips), cross your arms in front of your chest and place your hands on the front of your shoulders. From here you should be able to rotate your shoulders through a minimum of 45°. Our Thoracic Mobility video will help enormously with this problem and here's a couple of exemplar exercises:
- Sit on the edge of a chair and, keeping your back straight, place your hands behind your head and spread your elbows as far apart as you can, which should pinch your shoulder blades together. From the base of your chest up, rotate as per your backswing as far as you can without discomfort. Once you have reached your limit, slowly bend the trail side of your body over to the side as far as you can.
- Stand with your back against a wall. Pinch your shoulder blades together and brace your trunk. Try to rest the tops of both your shoulder blades against the wall. Lift your forearms upward until they are parallel to the floor and, with each elbow as the pivot point, rotate both arms outward so that your forearms and the backs of your hands now lie against the wall at approximately waist level. Brace, before slowly sliding your arms up the wall, keeping the backs of your hands, forearms and elbows in contact with the wall and retaining your elbows’ 90° flex until they are level with your shoulders. Continue raising your arms until your hands are above the top of your head, allowing the elbows to gradually straighten, but keeping elbows, forearms and the backs of your hands in contact with the wall throughout. Make sure that your buttocks don’t move further away from the wall and your lower back maintains its neutral curvature. Slide your hands down along the wall to return to the starting position. If the standing version is too difficult, you can try the same exercise lying on your back.
Okay, onto the next possible cause of slicing the ball: i.e. the trail shoulder internally rotating from the start of the downswing. This is an extremely common problem, because the degree of external rotation that the golf swing demands is a movement we rarely make in our everyday lives and, once achieved, it has to be held! Most golfers find it difficult (as you probably found in the previous exercise!) unless they condition their rotator cuff muscles.
Here are another couple of exercises that I have found to be extremely helpful to students over the years, but have a look at our Shoulder Mobility video for a lot more:
- Take an old putter and grip the face in the base of the fingers of your trail hand, so that the hosel runs down the crease between your index finger and thumb and passes behind the trail elbow. (See the left hand photo.) Hold the butt of the putter in your lead hand. By gently pushing the butt away from your body you gradually increase the external rotation of your trail arm. Now assume your address posture and as you rotate to the top use the lead hand to ‘lever’ the trail arm into extension. (See centre photo.) From here, make your transition move – maintaining the lead hand’s press on the butt, to groove the feel of holding onto that external rotation and avoiding the OTT move. (See right hand photo.) You can continue down until the trail forearm is parallel to the floor.
- Once you have grooved the feeling of properly holding that external rotation of the trail arm, tie a one yard length of reasonably stretchy elastic about 6” below the grip of one of your mid-irons and attach the other end to your belt loop level with your trail hip bone. Assume your address posture, holding the club as normal, and then make your backswing and transition move as before (at roughly half speed initially). If you still cross the plane line in your backswing at any point, you will feel the elastic pressing against your trail forearm and trying to pull you back ‘on plane’.
A huge causal factor in slicing is an open clubface. Often this is a consequence of a golfer lacking adequate strength in the lead wrist/forearm. They feel more in control of the weight of the club if they position their lead wrist joint more underneath the butt, which places it in a cupped/flexed position and, of course, opens the face.
Here is one of a number of exercises that I use to build up the required strength and encourage the correct movement patterns in the arms, especially the lead arm’s internal rotation and the slight counter-rotation of the wrist/forearm. It really does help with achieving a flat lead wrist ‘at the top’
- Hold a dumbbell (5-7lb is ideal) in your lead hand, trying to get as close to your golf grip as you can. Keeping your lead arm extended as per the golf swing, rotate your trunk and elevate the arm to its top of the backswing position, making sure that the dumbbell finishes underneath the knuckles of your lead hand. You will notice that you have a nice flat wrist. You can strengthen the trail arm in the same way, although the weight is most easily supported by a supinated/cupped (palm up/extended trail wrist), so it is more natural to move into that “tray holding” wrist position.
Another problem that I frequently see is the premature maximal anterior pelvic tilt in the backswing, which in turn leads to premature posterior pelvic tilt in the downswing – the “pelvic crunch” should be preserved for the impact zone. Golfers with this problem have to learn to control the pelvis if they are to achieve anterior pelvic tilt in transition and help trigger a proper weight shift and the possibility for lateral bend to occur. Watch Rickie Fowler in transition. His spine arches backward away from the ball to enhance the lateral bend. If cannot do this, the ‘crunch’ tends to take over and you end up coming over the top. This is why you need good mobility in the lumbar spine and hip areas, because ideally the hips begin to rotate back toward the target even as the upper body completes its backswing coil and continues to rotate away from it.
Here is a simple exercise that is great for teaching control of the pelvis:
- Kneel on all fours, positioning your knees beneath your hips and the crease of your wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Your fingers should be pointing forward. Brace your trunk to keep your spine in its neutral position. Pull the shoulder blades back toward your hips and pinch them slightly together. Gently exhale and, tucking your tail under, use your abdominal muscles to push your spine upwards towards the ceiling. Lengthen your neck and allow your head to reach toward your chest, maintaining alignment with the spine. Now, using the abdominal and low back muscles, tip your tail toward the ceiling, increasing the arch in your mid and low back. Allow the abdomen to stretch toward the floor. Pull your shoulder blades down your back. Return to your starting position and repeat 10-15 times. [This is a mobilisation exercise not a stretch, so there should be no ‘pushing’ at the end ranges.]