I’ve tried a ton of aiming systems throughout the years. Many of them work well for the most part, but I’ve found each of them to be flawed in the sense that there are always shots that I refer to as “in betweeners” that seem to cause uncertainty. By “in betweeners,” I mean shots on which you ask yourself, “Do I aim to the left edge of the tip to the edge of the ball, or the right edge of the tip to the edge of the ball?”
The most popular system is the Ghost Ball system, which I’ve used since I was 13 years old. The ghost ball is when you mentally put the cue ball against the object ball in a direct line to the intended pocket. Now, the cue ball is 2 ¼ inches wide, so the center of the cue ball is 1 1/8 inches from the edge. The system tells you to aim the cue ball directly at the ghost ball, which means aim the center of the actual cue ball to the center of the ghost cue ball. The biggest mistake I see with players trying to use that system is that they put the tip of the cue ball at the edge of the object ball and they swing the cue around over the center of the cue ball. By doing that, you are now aiming the center of the cue ball to what is supposed to be the contact point on the object ball. The only time that is correct is when it is a straight-in shot.
The proper way to aim that shot is to put the tip of the cue 1 1/8 inches from that contact point, aiming directly at the pocket, and, holding the tip in place, swing the back end of the cue over the center of the cue ball. Now, aim the center of the cue ball to the spot where the tip was rested, which is the center of the ghost ball. How do you know the spot where you rested your tip is exactly 1 1/8 inches from the contact point? The truth is you don’t have to be that exact. Most pockets are at least twice the width of the object ball, so if you are off by a hair, it won’t matter. I used to put a ruler next to the ball to get an idea of what 1 1/8 inches looks like.
I’ve talked to a lot of top players about systems and they all say the same thing: On certain shots, a system is helpful and serves as a security blanket. But they all also say practice is the best teacher. It’s all about repetition. The more you hit the same shots, the more comfortable you are with simply eyeballing how to hit it. The ghost ball helps confirm your choice.
I tell amateurs to use the ghost ball at the beginning. After a while, you won’t need to be that exact. You will know how to hit the shot. I believe that the ghost ball system still comes into play, but it is more subconscious. You will notice that the more you play, the system that works best for you will win out in the end. It all depends on how often you practice it and how strongly you feel about it.