slice

by Jim Corbett

Ahhh, the problem of the slice. Every golfer who has ever picked up a club has had to cope, to one degree or another, with the problem of slicing. You hit the ball and you look up with the hope and expectation that the ball is going to travel in a beautiful arc right toward the intended target, but instead, right as the ball approaches the peak of its flight, it ends up reminding you of Pat Robertson — it veers off radically to the right.

The slice is a pretty common occurrence, especially among amateur golfers. Most people have a rudimentary understanding of what causes a slice (the club face is open when it hits the ball — pretty simple really), but when it comes to fixing the problem, there is nothing simple about it. And everyone has a different remedy and a different philosophy and just about everyone is willing to share their favorite methods for curing slices. (Some remedies might included wearing lucky charms or golfers trying to envision themselves under an outdoor umbrella basking in the shade. Different methods for different golfers might do the trick for them but not others.) Most people seem willing to listen and willing to try the new remedies, but somehow, despite all of the wisdom and all of the folklore and all of the magic tonics, slicing remains the bane of the amateur golfer.

If you take an in-depth look at the dynamics behind the slice, it can actually make for a very interesting study. Perhaps someone in the Q-School could do their Master’s Thesis on the topic (I assume they have to do a thesis to graduate from the Q-School). Anyway, are you the least bit curious about the laws of physics that are controlling the ball and causing it to slice? Okay, let’s take a moment to understand the aerodynamic principle that causes the ball to slice.

You may have noticed that the golf ball is covered with a pattern of dimples. (If the balls you are playing do not have these dimples, may I recommend that you immediately get yourself to a pro shop and get some different golf balls. I think the ones you’re using are Ping-Pong balls. This could account for your lack of distance — and for the fact that they dent so easily.) Anyway, when the golf ball is hit it spins backwards in the air.

As the ball flies through the air the dimples spinning backwards create air pressure under the ball. The pressure underneath the ball pushes against the oncoming air, and the air pressure above the ball goes in the same direction as the oncoming air. The differences in the air pressure on top and on bottom of the ball creates “lift.” This is the same aerodynamic principle that applies to the wing of an airplane and the sail on a sailboat — it is known as “Bernoulli’s Principle.”

So, if you hit the ball squarely and the dimples rotate in a straight line, you will get lift that will be straight up in the air. But if you hit the ball in a way that is not on the proper line, the air pressure will be off the center of the ball and will cause the ball to veer off course. The ball can travel a considerable distance before the aerodynamic effect kicks in, but once it does kick in, it’s time to get a new ball out of your bag — and this is known as “Bernoulli’s Slice.” (Obviously, the same theory holds true for our friends who suffer from “Bernoulli’s Hook.”)

The thing that is most frustrating about the slice problem is that just the slightest imperfection in your swing can result in a slice. And the farther the ball travels away from you, the greater the damage becomes. For instance, if your swing causes the ball to go off course by just a single degree at impact, the effect at 50 yards may be bad, but you may still salvage a shot. That same shot at 200 yards may result in a lost ball. So, as a result you probably won’t get into too much trouble if you slice your pitching wedge, but your driver is going to kill you.

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A lot of golfers learn to play with a slice or a hook. They will aim the ball way to the left or right knowing that their shot is going to take the “scenic route” and eventually end up in or near the fairway. Sometimes these players will take the attitude that, “As long as I end up in the fairway, it really doesn’t matter how I get there.” Or, “The end justifies the means.”

It’s certainly possible to get through a round of golf playing that way, but you’re sacrificing a lot in order to accommodate a problem that can be corrected. You’re obviously sacrificing distance. All the distance that your ball travels “around,” it could be traveling straight ahead. But most importantly, you’re giving up the satisfying feeling of experiencing the “well-hit shot.” There’s a great thrill in hitting a shot that works the way it was designed to work. It’s a feeling of pride, a feeling of confidence and a feeling of being in control of your own game.

It’s interesting (and by now, you’ve probably caught on that…) a very similar phenomenon occurs in life as well. That is, even a slight imperfection in your character as a person can cause your life to get off the desired course. And just like the difference between a golf shot at 50 yards and at 200 yards, this imperfection in your character can get more and more out of control the farther down the line you let it go.

Ethical infractions, for example, may appear harmless in the short run. But if you find that you easily got away with one, you may be inclined to try a bigger one the next time– perhaps one that appears to bring greater rewards. American businesses and business schools are expending a lot of resources trying to raise the ethical standards of management and the work force. Perhaps they should all go out for a big round of golf and really concentrate on their swings. Soon they’d realize how devastating those tiny imperfections can be to their overall goals. And besides, a side benefit to such a trip may be that there’s a possibility the whole thing can sneak through as a big tax write-off. Well, maybe it’s not such a good idea to bring that up in a discussion about ethics.

Anyway, if you’re not careful about those tiny imperfections in your life, then before you know it you’re living your life like the golfer who aims way to one side or the other because he knows that his shot needs to take the “scenic route” to the fairway. There are lots of people who accommodate the imperfections in their character by rationalizing their flaws. “Well, it’s not as bad as what some other people are doing.” “Hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.” “Just win, baby, win.” There seems to be no limit to our talent for rationalizing. But rationalization is the rust that eats away at the steel of our character.

Remember, the slightest imperfection in your swing can result in a slice or a hook. So if you suffer from a slice or hook, don’t accommodate it, work it out. You’ll be happy when you can look at your shot and feel a justifiable pride in your great accomplishment. And if you find yourself rationalizing the flaws in your character, correct those problems too, so you can feel a justifiable pride in your life.


The “Slice” Problem