Golf Myth: Use a Railroad Track Image to Align Your Shot

Many golf books tell you to how to align yourself by having you imagine you are standing on one railroad track, with a ball on the other, and the track the ball is on runs right to the target. They also warn that if you set up so the track you on are points to the target, you will be aiming the ball 20 yards to the right. This image is unhelpful, and the warning is wrong.

Let’s deal with the warning first. Tracks that are parallel at your feet will be parallel 150 yards down the range. There is an illusion that they diverge, which you see if you stand behind the “tracks” and look downrange, but that’s all it is. This is an illusion that European painters overcame in the 15th century. If the tracks are parallel, the ball-target track and stance-target track will remain two feet apart, say, no matter how far down the range you go.

Try this experiment so you can see the truth for yourself. Get two golf clubs and lay them on the ground 20 inches apart. Get down on the ground so you have a worm’s-eye view down the length of the right-hand club and point it at a distant target. Arrange the other club parallel to the right-hand club. Stand up now with your toes against the left-hand club as if you were addressing a ball that sits on the right-hand club. Turn your head to look at the target. Fix the location of the target in your field of vision–remember where it is.

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Now get down to the ground again and aim the left-hand club at the target and adjust the right-hand club parallel to it. Take an address position on the left-hand club again and turn your head in the same way as you did before to look at the target. The target will be in the same place in your field of vision. You will not be able to tell the difference from the first setup.

Let me say this again. Two parallel lines that are 20 inches apart at your feet will still be 20 inches apart when they’re 150 yards away. If you aim your body at the target, you will be off by an amount that could only affect Johnny Miller in the early 1970s.

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Geometrically speaking, it doesn’t matter whether you align your shot on the ball-target line or the player-target line. Practically speaking, it does, because it is harder to align yourself to the ball-target line. If you were to aim a gun, would you hold it up to your eye and sight down the barrel, or hold it out at arm’s length and point it downrange? Alignment errors come because you’re trying to set up parallel to a line that is offset from you, and you get it wrong.

So forget the railroad tracks, forget the ball-target line. Those images don’t make things easier, they actually invite alignment errors. Align yourself to the target. Take a practice swing and hold your finish. Where you are looking is where your swing was aimed. It is that simple.

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by Bob E. Jones