I don’t know if you tuned into any of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black but I watched the majority of the first three rounds. I watched Tiger spray it all over the country and in the same group, I watched Brooks Koepka put on a clinic in every aspect of the game. I love the controlled cut shots he hits. As someone that has taught the game of golf for a long time, his golf swing is well… pretty perfect. You know what makes that all possible though? The way he sets up to the golf ball. And a key to that is having the correct ball position on every shot.
Too many of my lessons start with students telling me what is wrong with their swing and taking five minutes to analyze every shot. There comes a point where I often say, “I’m more than happy to listen to you talk about your golf swing over a cup of coffee for the next hour, or you can let me help you with your ailments. Either way, I’m getting paid but how we spend our time is up to you.”
Once they get the point, I almost always start talking about setup. The truth is, their golf swings are usually fine, and the cause of bad shots has to do with how they set up to the golf ball. A large part of that is ball position.
Understanding Ball Position
Ball position simply refers to where you place the golf ball between your feet when you’re setting up to a shot. Forward ball position is toward your target-side foot and back ball position is toward your trail foot. While you might think every shot should be played in the middle of your stance, ball position is going to vary slightly with different clubs.
Driver Ball Position
The driver is the only club in the bag that you’re trying to catch on the upswing. After all, it is teed up a couple of inches off the ground. For this reason, your ball position should be forward of center just inside the instep of your target-side foot. This allows you to stay behind the ball and for the club to pass your hands as it reaches impact where all your energy and speed are released.
Fairway Wood and Hybrid Ball Position
Your fairway woods and hybrids are longer than your irons but shorter than your driver. For this reason, they should be played a little farther back in your stance than your driver but still a little ahead of center. This will allow you to catch shots with a slightly descending blow but not so steeply that you’ll take huge divots.
Long and Mid Irons Ball Position
Your long and mid irons belong in the middle of your stance. If you have trouble finding the middle of your stance there are a couple of things you use as reference points. When you set up to an iron shot, think about your chin, the buttons on your shirt or your belt buckle as the center of your stance. If you’re still having trouble, it might be a good idea to ask one of your playing partners to check your ball position. You can practice this at home as well in front of a full-length mirror.
Short Irons and Wedges Ball Position
If you’ve watched golf on television, you’ll notice that all the best players in the world take divots with their short irons and wedges. This is what causes well-struck shots with these clubs to either check up or spin back when they hit the green. One of the keys to catching the ball first and then the turf is playing these clubs just slightly back of center. A ball position that is a little back from center promotes forward shaft lean and your hands being ahead of the golf ball at impact – an ideal position to take those nice crisp divots.
Pitching Ball Position
If you’re like everyone else, those shots from 30 to 60 yards give you the willies. These in-between shots aren’t long enough to warrant a full swing, but you can’t just make a short chipping swing either. One of the reasons the majority of amateurs struggle with these shots is because they get ball position wrong at setup.
While you might think that in order to hit these shots high and soft you need to play the ball forward, such is not the case. In fact, when you play the ball too far forward you’re going to hit shots thin and fat and struggle to hit the ball the correct distance.
For greater consistency, play these shots in the middle or just slightly back of middle. Just like mid and short irons, this ball position allows the club to bottom out consistently in the same spot and promotes your hands being ahead of the ball at impact.
Chipping Ball Position
Most recreational players make the same mistake with ball position in chipping as they do in pitching. They play the ball too far forward thinking they need to help it in the air. Since the goal of every chip shot is to get the ball on the green and rolling like a putt as soon as possible, your ball position should be back in your stance. The accentuates the impact position of the hands and shaft leaning forward which allows you to catch the ball first for clean contact every time. While different chip shots call for different clubs, one thing that should always remain the same is ball position.
Putting Ball Position
If you ask any of the best players in the world where their ball position is with the putter, you’ll get answers ranging from in the middle to just inside their front foot. Ball position with the putter is really a matter of personal preference as long as it’s not back of center.
The real key to mastering correct ball position with the putter has more to do with where your eyes are in relation to the golf ball. All the great putters throughout the history of the game have either had their eyes directly over the ball or just slightly to the inside.
So how do you figure out where your eyes are at? All you need to do is set up to a putt as you normally would. Now, maintaining your posture, hold a second ball on your face directly between your eyes and let it drop. Where the ball lands will tell you where your eyes are at.
Next time you find yourself struggling on the course or at the range, don’t jump immediately to what your buddy Joe told you he read in Golf Digest or what you saw last night on the Golf Channel. Instead, go through the fundamentals of your setup, especially ball position. While you probably won’t hit 330-yard power fades like Brooks Koepka or win major championships anytime soon, I would bet good money that you’re back on track in no time at all if you get the little things in setup right.