Vertical Alignment Explained

Mon, 03/18/2013 - 10:00 -- Don Trahan

Over the past few weeks, there's been some confusion on the topic of vertical alignment. So, today I want to clarify what I mean whenever I reference this aspect of the Peak Performance Golf Swing setup.  

Doug Kuzanek is one Surgite who sent in a question regarding vertical alignment. He didn't understand the correlation between being set up preloaded heavy right while also being vertically aligned. Here's the question he sent in:

It is confusing to hear you talk of vertical alignment from eyes to toes, and then have you shift your belt buckle an inch or to offset from the true vertical position. How does this maintain vertical alignment from tip-to-toe having shifted the hips 'Heavy Right?' Please explain why this move is not contrary to true vertical alignment.


This is a good question, but what vertical alignment really involves is the parallelism of the body to the aiming line or the target line. When I get preloaded heavy right, which gets me behind the ball, the vertical alignment I'm talking about is the toes being parallel left of the aiming line. Whenever I mention that toes need to be parallel left of your aiming line, you must always include your knees, hips, shoulders, and eyes as well. That's what I mean by vertical alignment. It's not from the face-on position, but rather the beside the ball position. Everything needs to begin from the same starting point. 

We always want our nose at the ball but no matter what you do, your toes, knees, hips, shoulders, and eyes will be parallel left. A good way to check if your nose is at the ball is to look at the ball, close your eyes, and then open them again. The ball should be right in the center of your vision. If it's not, you're either too far forward or too far back.

I hope this clears up any confusion Doug or anyone else had when I refer to vertical alignment. If all your lines don't start in the same place, it's a really bad power leak because your lines get all crossed.

Keep it vertical!

The Surge

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Steve Smith's picture

Submitted by Steve Smith on

Funny how many times Surge does a video to clear up something that raises more questions from people.

This time it falls in line with something I am working on (but not today because it's rainy).

When I started working last week on keeping my head still I noticed that the most uncomfortable part of it was that my head had to now be turned to the left at impact to have my eyes (and nose) at the ball and can't have my eyes parallel left (especially with a driver).

Before in my flawed swing I ALWAYS had my head directly over the top of the ball at impact which put my eyes completely level and both exactly on a parallel left line to the ball.

It seems that it didn't make too much difference what else I did (right or wrong) in my swing as long as I got to that position at impact I was always going to make good impact.

Keeping my head still (and therefore behind the ball) necessarilly causes me to have to turn my head toward the ball and my eyes are no longer on a parallel left line and unless I raise my head they are also not level to the ground. The spine angle causes the left eye to be higher than the right eye and being behind the ball causes me to turn my head to the left which makes my left eye to be left of my right eye.

Every good golfer I have seen has their eyes in that same position at impact so it obviously is not a problem to anybody except me.

Maybe it's something I will get used to but it certainly doesn't feel good right now. The swing looks better but if I lose my ball striking ability that doesn't mean much.

If you pause DJ at impact his head and eyes are similar to what I am having a problem with, and it's no problem for him...So maybe I'll get used to it.

Robert Meade's picture

Submitted by Robert Meade on

Re-watching that swing by DJ I noticed that he sets up with complete parallel vertical alignment including his eyes and it is as he starts his bump that most of the eyes/head angle change happens. Indeed that seems fine as it is primarily in the set up and early motion that those parallel lines are most important. Another observation is that seems his head movement follows the loop that happens as he drops inside at the bumps start. What does Surge call that? The dipsy dootle?

You may remember how Surge opened the door for head movement when discussing Annika S. a couple of years ago. Again this about movement in the forward swing.

He also has stated a few times that he understands the tilting of ones head like Nicklaus if we are left eye dominant.

Aside from the alignment topic one of his main teachings is that the head should never move forward until impact. A lot of these thoughts were covered in a daily featuring Steve:)

So there certainly id some flexibility in our head actions but in the set up and for most until impact, a steady head is a good policy.

Steve Smith's picture

Submitted by Steve Smith on

No doubt that the more still the head is the better. Now to just do it! Hahaha!

I played this afternoon and still had trouble finding one single eye line position that would be acceptable at set up and also acceptable (and functional) for me at impact.

My old way didn't matter what it was at set up because I was always going to get to a functional position at impact even if I had to move forward to do it.
I suppose I would be really good at hitting the ball on the run, or maybe I should take up Polo. LOL

That "problem" only comes into play on clubs that are forward of center in my stance, with the driver being the most uncomfortable because it's the farthest forward. Every driver I hit today was from good to acceptable except one duck hook where I had to use some magic to make my par.

Even though the shots with the driver were acceptable none were great, none had great distance, and none of them felt comfortable (yet).

Still working on it.

P.S. Wedges were great today.

Dragonhead's picture

Submitted by Dragonhead on

Didn't have any particular worries about alignment prior to watching this video. My alignment has been more than acceptable of late. Then when Surge mentioned Nicklaus cocking his head and that he was 'Left Eye Dominant'! I began to take notice, being left eye dominant myself. But that was the last thing mentioned about it.
When squaring up my club head as I take my grip, I close my right eye and align the club face on a nearby vertical feature. This seems to work for me.
Just checked using a full length mirror. Set up using PW,7iron and Driver. Set up as I would normally PLHR etc. Noted that in all three set up positions that my nose was pointing at the ball.Then when I extended the shaft of the clubs vertically upwards, that all three were touching my left or leading ear! I also used Surge's pointing the left arm straight out to my left. It was dead straight parallel left. Then I swung the right arm [skipping a rock style and it was pointing to the target. So the next on course visit will be to check it all out again.
Watched your videos Steve including the one of DJ in slowmo! It is amazing how the PPGS system has improved my ability to see faults I would otherwise have missed.

Steve Smith's picture

Submitted by Steve Smith on

Like Jack I am left eye dominant but I don't like or feel very natural cocking my head. I feel a lot more comfortable looking at things with my eyes level.

Just experimenting here in the house it feels like if I pre-load heavy right but then consciously tilt my head very slightly forward down the parallel left line (instead of backward like Jack did) it looks pretty good visually and making some half swings in the mirror it looks like my head will stay still that way while my eyes are level at impact.

The biggest thing I will have to watch is that I am actually pre-loaded. I already accidentally found out last week that I have a ridiculous hip sway if I am so focused on keeping my head still that I forget to pre-load.

Will have to see what happens on a real shot.

I figured this change wouldn't be easy. Making a swing is easy enough but hitting good shots with that swing is another story. Might be why I see a lot of people with very good looking swings on the internet that say they have a 20 handicap.

BTW. Anybody watch The Haney Project? He drives me crazy with some of the things he says but Michael Phelps actually does have a pretty good golf swing. Just can't play a lick. I bet he would get better more quickly by coming out and competing in our local games against very good players than he will on the show.

Since we don't use handicaps our teaching strategy is very simple:

"Get better quickly and learn to get the ball in the hole any way you can or go home broke. Nobody feels sorry for you because you are a high handicap player."

Dragonhead's picture

Submitted by Dragonhead on

I don't cock my head either and feel much more comfortable not doing so. Had a brief swing on the mat just after lunch in a lull between showers. Brief but rewarding. I feel more settled more quickly. Warming up swings with the PW, then on to the 7iron and finally the driver is fine for the warm up. What I have to beware of, is not turning at all on the lower numbered clubs. In the past this passed on to the longer clubs,ie, until it dawned on me what was not happening! Before it dawned I was swinging with just the arms, hence no 'bump'! Now set up PHLR and with my right elbow in the proper position at address and the top of the BUS, 'skipping the rock' is becoming almost second nature. Long may it continue.

NeilofOZ's picture

Submitted by NeilofOZ on

Steve, totally agree. My nick name in our group is "The Bandit" I just love taking the money from guys that talk only of the one fabulous hit and forget about all of the others. If they don't practise, it makes my job a lot easier, lol.

Steve Smith's picture

Submitted by Steve Smith on

I truly believe that the handicap system is the single biggest detriment to improvement in golf.

It's very easy for some people to not improve their scores very much with a handicap to lean on.

Would a baseball player learn to hit a fastball if they were so bad that the pitcher was required to back up 20 feet just for them?

Would a tennis player learn to return a 130mph serve if they were so bad that the opponent was required to serve them the ball underhand?

Would a football player learn to tackle if they were so bad that all they were required to do was to touch the ball carrier?

When my son and I first started playing and joined a club we had to compete straight up with the best players at the club. Since we both hate to lose we had to root hog or die very quickly. Would we have learned to get the ball in the hole as soon if they were spotting us strokes? (Not a chance).'s picture

Submitted by michaelemaser@g... on

"Sandbagging" is a situation I have long abhored. People will protect their number at all costs, including padding their scores to manipulate their index. When we first started playing golf, the only rule was low man wins, now it's all about your cap number, and where you get strokes. I know about the system, that it allows lesser players to compete with the better ones, but some people take advantage of the system, and cheat to maintain or increase their number to gain an unfair advantage. The only way to stop this is through qualification, and then flight the players according to average scores. Now if someone wants to move up, he has to bring his "A" game , and not his fabricated handicap. At our club, the requirement is that you post every score, but I'm sure not every player does this regularly, so to rectify this, the scorecard guy for each group is responsible to post all the scores for his group. That way, all scores are posted, and padding is supposedly eliminated. The handicap system was instituted to allow everyone to compete equally, however abuse is always a factor, and even more so when you add the $$ element. I don't know if the system is a detriment, but it certainly is a way for the craftier individual to tip the playing field in his direction.

Steve Smith's picture

Submitted by Steve Smith on

There is no doubt that goes on, along with the fact that the course rating system is less than perfect. Not much can be done about that without having the same team place the course rating on all golf courses. They would be busy. Ha ha!

I know some courses with a course rating of 72 that even the pros would find hard to shoot par on, and others with a course rating of 72 that are a piece of cake even for me.

Outside of the intentional sandbagging issue (and more what I was talking about) is just a mental complacency knowing you really don't HAVE to play your best to compete.

The closest we come around here to using a handicap is in the team choose up games. No actual handicap is used but each team has a captain (or "A" player) that picks his team. What you end up with are A,B,C, and D players on a team. It's just human nature for the players to play about like they are picked. B players will stay B players, C players will stay C players, and D players will stay D players forever (with no real incentive to get better).

Funny thing is that when we are short of captains and have to designate a B player as a captain about 9 times out of 10 they step it up and play better than they have ever played, and their team usually wins.

Fairly obvious that although they haven't been intentionally playing worse they were leaning on the A player to make most of the birdies and when they WERE the A player they played better.

Nothing brings out full potential more than to be thrown in the water and told to sink or swim. LOL

NeilofOZ's picture

Submitted by NeilofOZ on

Not too sure where you guys are coming from, as I think your'e a bit hard on high handicappers. Myself, I try to play at my best every time and suck eggs when things go bad on the day. From my perspective most high handicappers try hard, but due to work or life style issues, don't/can't practise and tend to lack skill in a particular facet of the game and hence have higher scores. I play with guys that look like pro's off the tees, but can't finish off at the other end. The one good thing about this game is that from a club perspective, handicaps allow competition across all levels and recognises the battlers on the day when they shoot well under there H/C.

Steve Smith's picture

Submitted by Steve Smith on

I'm not being hard on anybody. Just stating the fact that none of us (including me) are going to play as well as we can play unless we have to compete straight up with better players.

In a day and age where everybody gets a trophy just for showing up that's not a popular view, but as I said I have yet to see a C player become an A player, because he doesn't have to, but I've seen plenty get better in a hurry when they play a money game every day straight up with a better player.

Here's an example. There are thousands of swings just like this on the internet from high handicap players. (This guy says he's a 15). They know how to swing (way better than any swing I can make). They just don't know how to score. Put that kid out there in straight up games with scratch players for a month and he would be close to scratch.

Put him out there with his 15 handicap buddies and he may be an 8 or 10 in a few years. I see it all the time. If I want to see who will be the best high school player in 5 years all I have to do is go to the country club and see which 12 year old is playing in the 12:30 group and trying to compete against the scratch players.

Kevin McGarrahan's picture

Submitted by Kevin McGarrahan on

In most senses, you are exactly correct. I have played with a lot of C & D players. I fit in the B/C category. I see a lot of them that never record their "money" rounds with their buddies. They only record the "don't matter" and tournament rounds, which usually keeps their "apparent" handicap up. If the handicapper or handicap committee does their job properly, the inflated handicap will be quickly deflated.'s picture

Submitted by michaelemaser@g... on

I play alot of golf, usually 6 days a week, and I play with alot of different guys, I can usually spot the guy who's a manipulator pretty quick. He's the guy who will relax on his stroke holes, knowing he has a shot in his pocket, and will try a little harder when he's on a straight up hole. This is the same guy, that in a net game will play lights out, and just say how lucky he was as he collects all his winnings, and he's the same guy who won't get into a straight up contest, because he says that's why he keeps a handicap. He's also the same guy, who Kevin referred to, who will only post scores which help his handicap. Golf is supposed to be an "Honest Man's" game, the system is supposed to allow for equitable competition, yet there are some people who will "work" the system to their advantage, like the guy who's getting 6 or 7 a side and shoots 81, and then proceeds to walk right by the handicap computer without stopping. Needless to say, I don't play with him anymore! This is a flaw within the system, as some people are just not honest, and will do practically anything to gain an advantage.

Hal's picture

Submitted by Hal on

Mr Michael, at our course when the pro shop registers you to play and at the end of the round and you do not turn in your score card, the Pro shop automaticaly post a 69 for your score in the system. That usually deters guys from not posting their scores,
Hal's picture

Submitted by michaelemaser@g... on

Hal, we tried that here as well, but the pro shop couldn't handle the process, so they left it up to the individuals again. I'm not saying every golfer reports only the scores they want to, it's the guys who choose to report only certain scores that bug me. What you need is a monitor, who does random checks of the membership, based on who plays, and if they posted or not. Hopefully our handicap committee will institute this process during our next season.

Steve Smith's picture

Submitted by Steve Smith on

Wow! I didn't intend to get a reaction to either the handicapping system or the honesty of golfers (although all of the points people made have validity).

I really only had one point (that sort of evolved into two).

1. Nobody (including me) will play as good as they can possibly play unless they are competing straight up with better players. That is unimportant and a non-factor to most golfers that I know. They are perfectly happy to play about like they always did.

2. A course rating (and therefore a handicap) is not very accurate, even if every golfer turned in every score and tried as hard as they possibly could every round because of the inconsistencies in rating from course to course or even tee box to tee box.

Does anybody really think there's not a huge difference between a scratch player that is staying at scratch from the middle tees on an easy course and a scratch player that is staying at scratch playing from the tips at a long hard course? Of course not.

Soldiers Creek Golf Club is twice as hard as Capstone Golf Club and Capstone has a higher course rating. All because any ball in the rough at Soldiers Creek is lost and at Capstone it's not (maybe they had the rough mowed shorter at Soldiers Creek the day they did the course rating). When players from each course match up in a tournament that goes by handicaps it's not even close who is better even though they have the same handicap.