The Golf Stance: According to many of the most successful golfers—and golf instructors—it is one of the most crucial fundamentals in the game. Sadly, it is also one of the most overlooked skills, one that when performed incorrectly can have some very serious implications on your game. To help you avoid this fate, below we have compiled a step-by-step tutorial regarding the proper golf stance—an instructional manual aimed at giving you the most advantageous and fundamentally-sound setup prior to your shot.
Tip 1: Alignment and the Proper Golf Stance
No golf stance could reasonably be “deemed” proper without the correct alignment. The position of your body, which for the purposes of this instructional guide means your feet, knees, hips, forearms, shoulders and eyes, should all be completely parallel to the target line—the imaginary line from the ball to the hole.
To ensure you have achieved the proper alignment, have a friend stand a few yards behind you. If you are aligned correctly, it will appear as if your body (assuming you are a right-handed golfer) is aimed just a bit left of the target. But don’t fret about this perceived misalignment; it is actually an optical illusion—an illusion that occurs because the ball is directly on the target line and the body is not. This optical illusion will be even more pronounced the further your friend moves behind you, making your body appear 3-5 yards left of the target line from 100 yards back; 8-10 yards left at 150 yards; and a whopping 12-15 yards left of the target line when viewed from 200 yards behind you.
Tip 2: Your Feet and the Proper Golf Stance
Once you have aligned your body correctly, it’s time to think about the proper foot placement for your setup. As a point of reference, your feet should be shoulder’s width apart. We hear that term—shoulder’s width apart—a lot, but what does it actually mean? Simply put, it means that the inside of your heels should be spaced out so that they are roughly even in distance to the outside of your shoulders. This is what we will call the “base” position. This base position is the proper foot placement you should employ when hitting any of the middle irons (the 4-iron-7-iron). When hitting your driver or longer irons; or when setting up to hit the shorter irons (8-iron-wedges), you should adjust your stance two inches wider and two inches narrower, respectively.
The front foot, also known as the target foot, should be opened up by about 30 degrees. This will enable your body to rotate fully towards the target as you make your downswing. In most cases, you should keep your back foot totally square—90 degrees to the target. In rare cases, you can open up the back foot slightly to aid in a more complete hip turn. Generally speaking, your foot placement should be dictated by your own personal degree of flexibility and the speed at which you rotate your body.
Tip 3: The Golf Ball and the Proper Stance
Ball position has a lot to do with the proper golf stance. Although most amateur and weekend golfers utilize the same ball placement in their stance regardless of the upcoming shot, most of the premier golf instructors will tell you that “the ball placement in one’s stance will vary depending on the club you intend to use.”
- Short Irons. When using the short irons, such as your 8 and 9 iron and wedges, you will typically want to place the ball in the center of your stance—equidistant between your front and back foot. These clubs, which have a steep angle, must be swung with that angle in mind, which means you will usually leave a small divot in front of the ball.
- Middle Irons. When positioning yourself to hit the middle irons, usually defined as the 7-iron through the 4-iron, the ball should be about one ball-length north of dead center. For right-handed golfers, this means the ball should be one ball-length to the left of dead center. These clubs have a flatter trajectory and will thus leave only a very small divot when hit.
- Long Irons. Finally, when striking the long irons (3-iron, 2-iron, 1-iron) and woods, including the driver, the ball should be placed an additional ball length north of dead center, or a total of 2 ball lengths to the left. This will allow you to strike the ball at the very bottom of your swing arc and leave little to no divot.
Tip 4: Balance and the Proper Golf Stance
When we talk about balance as it pertains to the proper golf swing we are actually talking about “how” to stand and “how” to distribute our weight between each foot. What you NEVER want to do when approaching a shot is stand on your heels. This is naturally UNBALANCED, not just for a golf swing, but for any athletic movement. Instead, you want your weight to be on the balls of your feet. Not only will this keep you more balanced throughout the swing, it will also help you to generate more power.
In terms of weight distribution, this again depends on the club you plan to use for a particular shot. For middle irons, you should take the MOST balanced position: with 50 percent of your weight resting on your left (target) foot, and the other 50 percent of your weight resting on your back (anchor) foot. You want this even distribution for the middle irons for two reasons: because of the length of those clubs and the relatively flat arc with which you will use to strike the ball.
This even, 50-50 weight distribution can technically be used for all your clubs if it makes you feel more comfortable, but for more effective and consistent results you might want to tweak this weight distribution slightly when hitting the lower irons, and the higher irons and woods. For the lower irons, again the 8-iron, 9-iron and your wedges, try placing 60 percent of your weight on your front or target foot and the remainder of your weight on your back foot. This extra weight will help produce the desired arc for which these clubs are designed. When setting up to hit a long iron, a 3-wood or a driver, just reverse this weight distribution by placing 60 percent of your weight on your back foot, and 40 percent of your weight on the target foot. When swinging these longer and more powerful clubs, this extra weight on your back foot will enable you to achieve the correct angle on your back swing.
Tip 5: Posture and the Proper Golf Stance
Some might say that your golf “posture” and golf “stance” are one in the same. This is pretty close to the truth. How you stand, or setup to the ball can literally be the difference between a terrific shot and an embarrassing “worm burner” that settles just a few yards away from the tee box. To avoid this latter scenario, check out the following tips on the proper golf posture. As you settle in front of the ball, bend your knees just slightly for balance, but not so much that is causes any discomfort. Your knees should be directly over the balls of your feet, and your upper spine—the part between your shoulder blades—should be on the same basic imaginary line formed by your knees and feet. You will also want to cock your back leg (right leg for right-handed golfers) inward just a bit toward the target. In doing so, you will not only be able to brace yourself throughout the swing, you will also prevent the lower body from swaying too much, which can potentially cause any number of swing complications.
When you bend over the ball in preparation of taking the shot, your body should always bend at the hips rather than at the waist. If you do this correctly, your rear end will be protruding slightly backwards. Remember that your spine is the axis for your swing—the part of your body around which everything else (arms, hands, club) will rotate. Because of this, it should be bent over the ball—at the hips—at a right angle (90 degrees) to the shaft of the club. Keep your back straight as you set up to the ball, keeping in mind that every degree of bend in the vertebrae decreases your shoulder turn by almost 2 degrees.Your head should be tipped at the same angle as your spine, and your chin should be up and away from the chest, which again allows for a more complete shoulder turn. Your eyes should, of course, be looking downward, with a focus on the back end of the ball.
Tip 6: Positioning Your Arms and Hands in the Perfect Golf Stances
When you approach—or address—the ball prior to your shot, your arms should hang freely, just off the inside of your front thigh and just north of your pants zipper. There is some debate among golf instructors as to how far away from the body you should place your hands, also known as the hands-to-body distance. Most agree the correct answer to that query depends on the club you are planning to use. So, for the purposes of this tutorial, we will explain the hands-to-distance conundrum in the following manner:
- Short and Middle Irons. When using any of your short or middle irons—from the 4-iron all the way down to the wedges—your hands, as they grip these clubs, should be 3-4 inches away from your body, roughly the distance of the width of your hand.
- Long Irons and Woods. When swinging the “big boys,” the long irons, fairway woods and driver, your hands will need to be a little further away from your body as you grip the club in order to achieve the proper backswing and follow-through. For these clubs, we recommend you hold the club about 5-7 inches away from your body, or roughly the distance of the length of your hand—from your wrist to the tip of your fingers.
As you grip the club—any club—your arms and shoulders should form a triangle and the elbows should point to the hips.
Tip 7: The Perfect Golf Stance, Putting It All Together
As you start to take your stance now, it’s finally time to put it all together. Here is what you need to remember:
- The alignment of your feet and body in relation to the target line
- To stand with your weight on the balls of your feet
- The proper position of the ball in your stance
- To remain balanced throughout the swing
- The proper posture—how you stand and bend
- And the proper positioning of your arms and hands
You should also remember that tension in your back, hands or arms can be an enemy to the proper stance and a solid golf swing. You should grip the club lightly; just firm enough to prevent it from twisting during the swing. Your arms should hang loosely, and your back should be relaxed. The only place where you should feel the slightest of tension is towards the inside of the back leg, as this is what you will use to pivot.
To cement these tips for the proper golf stance into your memory, we recommend you practice your perfect stance in front of the mirror. You may even want to ask a friend to critique you based on the tips you learned here. Remember that the perfect swing is impossible without the perfect setup—and the perfect setup begins with the perfect stance. Once you have mastered these tips, your next trip to the golf course is sure to be a memorable one.