Why a square club face can hurt your game

Golfers are obsessed with symmetry. When it comes to our game we love to have a square stance, parallel alignment and definitely a square club face. This lesson is meant to challenge you because I’m going to argue that a square clubface may in fact not be want you want to achieve. Here’s the story.

A few years back I spent some time with Kendal McWade. Kendal is a Scottish golf pro with similar ideas to me (it might be fair to say that I was influenced greatly by Kendal). My time with him was fascinating. I spent hours on the practice fairway hitting all sorts of shots, learning to push my boundaries and generally learning things I hadn’t even considered. When we weren’t hitting balls we were talking about coaching and the amazing ability of our natural learning system.

The club face was something Kendal kept harping on about. I probably didn’t fully what he was saying until years later. The reason was a square clubface was something I had considered one of golf’s imperatives – a rock solid fundamental that couldn’t be broken. So although I was having a great time I wasn’t really listening to what Kendal was talking about. Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in – this is a recurring theme I’m learning with this blog.

But over the years I’m starting to think differently – and there’s nothing off the hit list that can’t be challenged or improved upon. And this includes the clubface because now I have grasped the lesson that Kendal was talking about.

You’ve probably seen, or even used, a baseball type swing to get a feel for a better swing. The usual reason that it’s used is because it’s considered a natural swing. I think there’s a different reason.

And that’s the lack of a specific clubface – because the bat is round you’re not concerned with were you’d strike the ball – you just swing the bat as powerfully as you can.

But give someone a golf club and the magic is lost. The specific club face takes up lot of energy. You’re told to have it square to your target before making your swing, plus you need to think about the exact position of the face at impact (otherwise the ball will go sideways). And this is where the problem starts.

You’re not getting into a powerful position from the start. I’ve seen it time and time again where the clubface gets in the way for the golfer to get into an athletic (and natural) position because they’re so worried about having, and then keeping, the clubface square. Here are some photos that highlight my point.

A natural and powerful "baseball" type setup

In the photo above Andrew is in a natural and powerful set-up position. Because he’s using a baseball bat type club (a perfectly round clubface) he is not concerned about is clubface position. In fact, he’s not worried one bit where on the clubface he will strike the ball.

A weak setup because of the clubface

But check the difference in the photo above. Andrew now is thinking about keeping the clubface square at address because the golf club has a very specific face. Notice the much weaker position he is in. This is something I’ve tested over and over and become fascinated with. Why do golfers address the ball better when the typical clubface is removed?

Let’s have a look at how Andrew would attack a tree branch with a stick. This exercise requires no specific thought on where the club should be pointing or which part of the club should strike the tree. The resulting position is athletic, natural and extremely powerful.

A powerful "hit tree" setup position

Some other things to note: See how this position almost mimics perfectly an ideal top of backswing position. Compare this photo to the one below. In the next photo Andrew is trying to keep the part of the clubface that would strike the tree pointing at the target.

A weak hitting position

This is a horrible position and one that many golfers get themselves into when they try and strike the ball. I’m convinced that it’s all because many golfers have fallen for the old gotta keep the clubface square trick. It really doesn’t help. Here’s the thing,

The position of your clubface at address in no way determines where it’s going to be at impact

So what’s the answer here?

For a start, try and let your body go where it wants to go. Remember? You’re trying to hit a stationary object with power and accuracy. What’s the most natural position you can get yourself in to do so?

Grab a stick (or something else that doesn’t have a normal golf type clubface) and make some swings. Listen to your body. Go where it wants to go. Don’t be scared to get away from what you’ve been doing with your golf swing.

Then you can try and simulate the same position with your golf setup. And then hit some balls. Here’s what I’ve found.

  • You don’t need to have the clubface square at address
  • The clubface can be a little open or closed
  • Your hands get a little more in front of the ball (this happens naturally because you’re trying to get into a powerful position)
  • The ball goes a little further back (I think too many golfers have the ball too far forward – especially with the irons)

And here’s the huge point

Maybe just maybe if you play around with this you may find that if you setup to the ball with an open clubface you’ll do way better. I’m not sure why this works, but an open clubface at address seems to allow golfers to swing more powerfully (and naturally) through the ball. I could have just told you to open the clubface at address but you wouldn’t have understood why I was doing so.

An open clubface (will this work for you?)

Square clubface - is this hurting your game?

So there you have it. Go grab a club and head out into the back yard and have a play around (this is the best way to learn). I’d be interested in hearing your feedback and any results that you may get.

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  • Lukey

    Reply Reply March 10, 2012

    I am one of those Cam that I feel that I do have a problem with ball position but when people try to assist me with it I nearly feel like I am about to hit off the back foot and that creates more problems than is needed.

  • Cameron

    Reply Reply March 13, 2012

    Lukey: You’ve really got to find and be comfortable with your natural swing. There’s no point in doing stuff that’s not right for you. It takes guts to walk your own path, but that’s what’s needed here.


  • allan kenny

    Reply Reply July 7, 2012

    cameron,i have been closing the club face thinking my wrists were turning at impact,the ball goes straight when i have the clubface square i get a slice.is that what you are talking about,its not my wrists at all,or am i wrong,allan

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply July 7, 2012

      Allan: Sometimes you have to allow for a fade or slice. It may be that this is your natural shot. Sometimes, golfers become obsessed with “square”. Learning to go with what feels good to you is the way to go. If I was you I’d experiment with a closed stance and a slightly closed clubface, that might give you some interesting results.

  • Paul

    Reply Reply January 2, 2013

    Cameron, halfway through this past summer I decided to play from an open clubface position after reading some info from Jim Flick and Bill Rodgers. Both said that many good players address the ball with an open clubface. It didn’t really make sense to me but I decided to give it a try. First, I found it really didn’t matter how open the club was. It actually can change from day to day (btw…don’t TWIST the clubface open… open it and then regrip it). The important thing is that you really must concentrate on starting the golf ball on the line you have chosen. The ball ALWAYS draws if you release the club though the ball. This eliminates the right side of the golf course (if you’re right handed). I generally start the ball at the right side of the green and it ALWAYS ends up left of that line. That really helped improve my consistency. Second, since the club face is open at address you don’t have to open it anymore on the backswing! The face is already open…why open it more! This made the back swing very simple and consistent. The only thing that happens with your wrists is that they cock straight up and down…no rolling open! Thirdly, you must actively release the clubhead through the ball. Don’t hold on! Remember, the face was open at address so you MUST insure it is closing through impact. Note, I didn’t say CLOSED through impact…I said CLOSING! As long as the clubface is closed a bit more than it was at original address, the ball will draw to the left. It doesn’t have to be closed to the target line…it has to be closing! It’s really that simple. 1. Open clubface. 2. Don’t open the clubface anymore on the backswing…keep it in the same position as it was at address. Very simple and consistent move. 3. Make sure clubface is CLOSING through impact. Ball will fly powerfully and draw to the left. It is important that you concentrate on the initial direction of the ball flight. Get it started on the right line and everything else is gravy. I’ve never played better in my life! Give it a try. Good luck.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply January 5, 2013

      Paul: I think we’re saying the same thing here. I like golfers to explore their clubface position and not get distracted by having a perfectly square clubface.

      I have also found that an open face helps golfers do all sorts of positive things – like hit a good draw shot.

  • Adam (Pastaman)

    Reply Reply March 18, 2013

    I believe Moe Norman was the best golfer to ever live.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply March 18, 2013

      He was pretty good. Shame he wasn’t able to test his skills on the bigger tours for longer…

  • christian

    Reply Reply March 23, 2013

    if you want to play a draw I think you should start with an open clubface and if you want to play a fade I think you should start with a closed clubface. golf is a strange game… I think it has to do with
    where you want to start the ball witch is right when you draw and left when you fade. I also think golfers stand to close to the ball and has the ball to far forward in their stance but I dont know maybe I will change my mind some day…

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply March 25, 2013

      Christian: This can certainly work – sometimes doing the counterintuitive thing forces us to get a result.

      I think golfers have the ball too far forward. Moving the ball back in your stance makes the world of difference…

  • Joe

    Reply Reply August 9, 2013

    I have some issues with being inconsistent at times with approach shots. One of the Guys I play with, who is a very good player keeps telling me that my club face is open at address, which is why I hit some shots right of target. When I try to square the club face, I seem to hit more of a fade or a slice. I can’t seem to find a happy medium with ball position and club face angle for consistency. I’ve tried several ways of setting up. Any more suggestions?

    Thank you

  • landscaping jobs nh

    Reply Reply September 23, 2014

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  • Mike B.

    Reply Reply May 7, 2017

    I have been hitting push/slices so much that I often try to remedy with a stronger grip or closing the clubface or both and find the same result. It will push/slice with 5 iron down to driver. I have never thought of opening the clubface and moving the ball back in my stance. I will most certainly give this information from the article a chance and report back.

  • Philip

    Reply Reply May 28, 2017

    At the range today I was experimenting with the open clubface ( about 15 to 20 degrees open – or approximately to the 2 o clock position) – with my driver. My thinking was that – since the ball is way in front, by the time the club get to it, the position will be more square rather than closed – if you assume the natural curved swing path.

    What surprised me was that I was able to swing with great power and complete freedom.( The thought in my mind was like swinging a sword instead of a club – with the blade cutting through the air – rather than forcing the the flat part of the sword through the air) – like a slicing swing – atleast that is the mental picture I had.

    I was enjoying it so much that I had to search the internet to research this and found your article!! There is something to be said about the freedom which I felt while swinging – rather than trying too hard, it just seemed so natural. Cant wait to go back and try again tomorrow.

    I am a 15 handicapper who is fully self taught and I started playing for the last 4 years. Being self taught, it gives me a lot of opportunity to try new things and then try to understand the physics and science behind why something works. This open club face thing is very exciting.

  • john rix

    Reply Reply June 30, 2020

    A very interesting discussion, I have been struggling with a bad hook for months.
    I used to hit my irons straight before. I tried moving my right hand towards the target line, but found it uncomfortable.
    But instead I tried opening the face of the club with a natural grip and not only found it more comfortable, but also started to hit the ball straighter.
    By the way I have always had the ball further back in my stance playing irons.

  • Ian Ward

    Reply Reply July 12, 2020

    I have recently returned to playing golf after a back injury 25 years ago. Three years ago I made up my mind to try and play again (I was a 6 hcp) As you can guess it’s been a real struggle trying to remember how I was, taking into consideration the back injury which is fine now. I have now reverted to a baseball grip, which gives greater consistency when striking the ball, though my biggest problem has been with shanking. I have now found for what is my swing now the necessity to set up with the toe of the club addressing the ball, standing with my right foot behind the ball at 90 degrees to the target line with the club face square. As I then move my feet into a comfortable stance the club face automatically opens without changing my grip. The sheer exhilaration of being able to strike to ball in the middle of the face with a totally relaxed and powerful swing is mind blowing.

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