A good golf swing and consistent ball striking are almost always the result of the solid foundation of a good set up.
Point The Clubface Right At Your Target.
The first move of a tour-quality set up is to lay the clubface down behind the ball, pointing its leading edge squarely at your target. You then build your entire set up around that square clubface.
The goal of the set up is to put your body in a position to swing the club correctly, then return it to the same square position it was in when you first set it down on the ground behind the ball.
The first problem we need to deal with is the issue of aligning your body parallel left of your target line. For all your full shots, you want to get into a position in which a line across your toes, knees, hips and shoulders would run parallel left of the target line. Imagine a railroad track in which the clubface and ball lie on the outer rail with the target in the distance on the same rail.
Now, imagine your toes on the inner rail with your knees, hips and shoulders also running along the inner rail. Take our word for it: when shots are hit off line, its usually the alignments that break, not the swing. The set up governs the swing and when the set up is faulty, the swing easily breaks.
With a driver, I like to see the insides of the heels at least as wide as the shoulders, and then narrow down from there. I believe most golfers will benefit from having a stance that's on the wide side, not the narrow. The golf swing is an athletic move, and, as in most sports, a relatively wide stance gives you the base you need to make a full range of motion yet stay balanced.
I want your weight on the balls of the feet, never on the toes or heels. An important part of solid ball striking is that you hold your position in space throughout the swing. We don't want to rock back on the heels nor fall forward toward the ball.
For full shots, I prefer a 50/50 weight distribution. In the short game and with short punch shots, you should feel as if your weight is more on the left side.
I do not believe in changing ball position. I stick to one basic philosophy: unless you're playing a specialty shot such as a running chip or a high pitch, try to play all your shots with the ball positioned opposite your left armpit. This strategy takes the guesswork out of ball position. I believe a constant and consistent ball position will make you a more consistent player.
What many golfer don't realize is that incorrect ball position can adversely effect your aim. When the ball is too far back in your stance, your shoulders will automatically close, pointing the right hander right of the target. If you let the ball wander too far forward in your stance, you'll end up reaching for it with your right arm and shoulder, so that your shoulders are open relative to the target and you're aiming left. To avoid these and other ball position problems, you should keep your ball position constant, at or slightly inside a line drawn to your left heel or left armpit.
Now, we're going to look at a bedrock fundamental of a solid set up: posture and its related issues of balance and distance from the ball.
Building An Athletic Pre Swing Posture
There is no way you can overestimate the value of maintaining immaculate balance in the golf swing. The quality of your ball striking is directly related to your ability to deliver the clubhead squarely to the ball. When you lose balance, you lose the ability to make a solid, sweet spot hit. So, we must build excellent balance into the posture you assume at address.
Once you have aligned the leading edge of your club squarely at your target as we discussed last week, bend forward from your hips, never your waist. Your spine will be straight and tilted forward approximately 30 degrees. This forward bending should naturally push your rear end out and slightly up. Remember, keep your weight on the balls of your feet.
From this body position, let your arms hang naturally. You'll notice that, because your spine is tilted forward, your arms will be a short distance -- say six inches -- from your thighs. When the arms hang naturally in this position, you have perfect posture. You should not have to reach your arms into position to grip your club. Assemble your grip on the club where your arms hang after you have leaned forward from the hips by the 30-degree angle.
Students often ask me, "How far from the ball do I stand? And how will I know I'm standing the right distance?" Where your arms naturally hang plus the length of the golf club you are holding will determine how far from the ball you stand. Here's a great test:
Take your stance and grip with the clubhead behind the ball. Now, take your right hand off the grip and let your arm hang naturally. Is your right hand just beside where it would rest on the clubshaft? If so, you are standing the right distance from the ball and your arms are in a natural, relaxed position on the club.
As a general rule, most golfers stand too far away from the ball, rarely too close to it. Standing too far away pushes you forward. This impacts your balance and you remember how important good balance is to consistent ball striking. It also puts too much tension in the arms prior to beginning the swing. This right-hand-off-the-club test is a great way to measure your posture and distance from the ball.
Right Shoulder Lower Than Left
One last point about the set up concerns the shoulders. If you are right handed, you are gripping the club with the right hand below the left. This means that your right shoulder will naturally be slightly lower than the left.
Work hard on your set up routine. Practice at home on the practice tee and on the course. Step away from that pile of range balls and practice your pre shot routine with every shot. Setting up well to the ball most of the time isn't good enough.
You need to set up the same way every time. You cannot be meticulous enough.
We've been working on the set up. The set up, we said, governs the motion. A good golf swing and consistent ball-striking stem from a sound, solid set up.
Now, as we move into the golf swing we must first talk about the all important bridge motion that stands between the set up routine and the actual golf swing. That bridge motion, of course, is the waggle.
If you've watched enough golf on TV, you've noticed that very few tour players, once they've set up over the ball, simply go ahead and swing back from a dead-still position. Between the set up and swing, they perform a "ritual" we call the waggle.
To the untrained eye, the waggle appears to be nothing more than nervous fidgeting. Not so. The waggle is the precursor of the swing to come. It is a dress rehearsal of the kind of shot the player wishes to execute.
My Dad emphasized the importance of the waggle to me early on. Dad believed the waggle was an integral part of the swing, I guess, because he played so often with Ben Hogan in practice and competition. Mr. Hogan was known for having a beautiful pre-swing waggle. His hands and wrists did most of the work, cocking the club rhythmically upward and away from the ball, then back down to it. As he did this, his legs, arms and torso seemed to pick up the beat from his hands and wrists, so that he was in a constant, albeit slight, motion prior to starting the swing. Most important, perhaps, is the fact that with Mr. Hogan the waggle actually blends into the backswing itself as it does with all good players.
Dad believed the waggle acted as a preprogrammer to the swing: in other words, a player tends to swing the club as he or she waggles it. Jack Nicklaus has a fairly long, slow, gentle waggle with little lifting or cocking of the club with the wrists. And, of course, Nicklaus has always had a very deliberate, body-oriented swing with relatively little hand action. Arnold Palmer's waggle is a quicker, more staccato type of movement, which reflects his hands and arms dominated swing.
While you obviously want to develop a waggle that is smooth and rhythmic, rather than a series of quick, unconnected fidgets, keep in mind that you can and should preprogram your swing with the type of waggle that is appropriate for the shot at hand. If you're facing a pitch from the rough over a yawning bunker guarding the green that you must land softly, preprogram the swing with a long slow waggling motion that includes plenty of cocking motion with the wrists. If you're facing an iron shot into a strong wind and you need to punch the ball under the wind gusts, the rhythm of your back and forth movements of the clubhead should be shorter and quicker, and there should not be as much break in the wrists because you want to make a compact, firm swing that will keep the ball low.
If you have never paid attention to your waggle, give it attention in your next practice sessions. In particular, work on connecting your waggle to the swing itself. This effort will reward your shotmaking skill and consistency.
The Forgotten Forward Press
One cue that may help you transition from the waggle into the swing itself is a very slight movement known as the forward press. This is a movement of the hands or some other part of the body toward the target. The actual swing "rebounds" from this forward press.
Hogan's hands moved toward the target an inch or so after his last waggle, then he rebounded into his backswing. Gary Player actually kicked his right knee inward toward the target, then recoiled directly into his backswing.
The triggering cue need not be a movement toward the target. Jack Nicklaus rotates his chin toward the right, then pushes the club back immediately. Whatever the motion is, the important thing is that there is a movement or cue that triggers the start of your backswing rather than starting from a dead still position. As you practice your waggle, search for a forward press that suits you.
Golf games are built on pre swing fundamentals. Nicklaus said that 90 per cent of the shot is played before the golf club is even set in motion. So, develop a sound set up procedure and routine. Practice it diligently. Then, build a waggle to preprogram the swing and a forward press from which your golf swing rebounds. The results will be remarkable. Your shotmaking skill and shotmaking consistency will amaze you.
So far, we have been talking about the all-important pre-swing fundamentals. We've examined the correct posture and balance; ball position and distance from the ball; and we've looked at alignment, stance width and weight distribution. Finally, we examined the waggle and forward press -- those all-important yet simple moves, which keep us in motion and trigger the backswing.
For openers, I am going to say that there is no one ideal backswing motion. Jack Nicklaus pushes the club straight back with a slow, almost ponderous move with little or no wrist break. Ray Floyd, on the other hand, pulls the club quickly to the inside with his hands, creating a "flat" backswing plane. Lee Trevino pushes the club out and away. Fred Couples picks it up, well outside the target line, then later re-routes it. These backswings, though unorthodox, have stood the test of time and won a lot of golf tournaments.
However, I believe you have a better chance to become a superior ball striker if you can develop a one-piece takeaway in which the triangle of the hands, arms and shoulders takes the club back as one single unit.
If you look at the backswings of Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Davis Love, III -- three of my professional students -- you'll notice that all three players take the club back low and wide. I much prefer this type of long, low takeaway over any of the unorthodox models we discussed above for several reasons:
1. A low, straight-back takeaway is the foundation of a wide swing arc, which ultimately translates into increased power, something all of us want.
2. This long, low wide move encourages you to shift your weight onto your right or rear foot on the backswing. Golfers who pick the club up with their hands tend to keep too much weight on their left side during the backswing. This leads to the dreaded reverse pivot or reverse weight shift-- the bane of amateur golfers everywhere.
3. The low and wide move reduces the chance for an overly steep or choppy downswing. You have a much better chance of making a nice, level clubhead movement through the ball for the most solid possible contact.
I believe the takeway -- which I define as the first 24 inches the clubhead moves away from the ball -- should be a smooth motion though not necessarily a slow one. The takeaway sets the pace for an even-tempered backswing package. Don't worry about when to cock your wrists. This will begin to happen naturally when your arms have reached waist height and continue on to the top-of-backswing position.
Since the first move away from the ball typically sets the pace and tone for the balance of the swing, lets make sure we're making a fundamentally sound takeaway using a rhythm that is comfortable for you.
Now, continue work on your pre-shot routine and fundamentals. Blend in your waggle and forward press then rebound into the takeaway. You can practice right in your den or living room. Make these habits sound and habitual. You will become a better player.
Issue #1: The Left Heel Issue
Many of my students ask me how much they should lift the left heel in the backswing. I believe the left heel should lift only as a chain reaction response to the coil of the upper body. This coiling motion pulls the hip upward, which exerts an upward pull on the lower left leg and foot. Put another way, if your heel does, in fact, "lift," it should be the last thing to move. You don't consciously lift the heel.
The suppler you are, the less you will need to lift the heel to get the coil. Of course, the more you desire to coil, then the heel may indeed lift. You might raise your left heel somewhat with a driver, but rarely, if ever, with a short iron
Three Quarter Top Position
In the golf swing, I like my students to think "three-quarters." Three quarters, by the way, is exactly half way between standing the club straight up and parallel with the ground. The secret to reaching this position -- at least consistently - is fully turning the shoulders restricting your hip turn and not letting your hands and arms swing back as far as physically possible.
Three-quarters is a more controlled swing. More controlled swings lead to more on-center hits. On center hits mean more distance and purer ball striking, two qualities I am sure you would like to have in your bag.
Issue #2: Swing with Driver vs. Irons .
While the golf swing never changes fundamentally from club to club, there are some slight variations between the golf swing with a driver where you want a more sweeping motion and an iron where you want a more descending motion.
Here's an idea you might think about: you can't hit down on a golf club With a loft of 11 degrees or lower and obtain maximum carry and roll.
The driver swing is more around the body than up and down. This is actually very easy to do. With your driver, swing your left forearm more across your chest than upward. Watch the tour players. You won't see many upright driver swing planes. And watch the driver finishes. They, too, are more around the body. When you swing upright, there is a natural tendency to reach for the sky with the hands and arms. This results in separation of the hands and arms from the body. They work independently instead of as a unit.
With the shorter irons, a more upright swing that, in turn, creates a steeper or more descending blow is fine. Such a swing shape produces backspin and a soft landing. But beware! We don't want gouging, deep divots and fat shots. As Moe Norman says, we don't want pork chop divots, we want bacon strip divots.
Issue #3: Head Position.
You've heard it a hundred times: "Keep your head still." Many students who come to me are so preoccupied with keeping their head still; they don't make much of a backswing coil.
As you shift your weight onto your right side and move the triangle back, your head "must" shift slightly to the right, away from the target. In my opinion, a 2 even 3-inch level shift of the head away from the target is acceptable particularly with the driver.
Make sure you avoid an up and down motion with the head until well into the follow through. When your head moves up and down, you are asking to hit it thin or fat.
Hogan proposed that all golfers place the right foot at ninety degrees to the target line and the left foot set open about 20 degrees.
Remember that your hands are the only part that holds the club and your feet are the only part that holds the ground. Improper foot/ground position is a little like trying to fire a cannon from a canoe.Remember, what we are looking for is the creation of power and the transfer of that power to the clubhead. Feet position in the set up are crucial to that task. Become meticulous as you create your right and left foot position. It's smart golf.
Arms and body out of sync/poor timing
According to David Leadbetter, one of the most common problems with golfers of all levels is the coordination of the arm swing and body turn. In fact, in last weeks tournament telecast, Bobby Clampett pointed out that Tiger Wood's has suffered with this problem the entire 2003 season.
In golf instruction, we often talk about the importance of 'timing'; that magical ingredient which synchronizes perfectly the fluid turning of your body with the smooth swinging of your arms, resulting in the effortless release of the club head through impact. Whatever your handicap, you've probably experienced that tremendous sensation when your timing was 'pure'; you're hitting the ball right out of the middle of the club, with little apparent effort. Happy days.
But, as always, there's a flip side. For some unknown reason, your timing goes awry. Your arms and body seem to be at odds; these fundamental components of your swing are 'fighting' each other, and the game quickly becomes one long, demoralizing, struggle.
There are a number of possible reasons why this discord creeps in, but problems generally begin to arise when the upper parts of your arms separate from your rotating chest at the halfway stages in your backswing and follow-through. This can be seen easily with the benefit of slow motion video playback. The left arm appears to be separating and lifting from the chest in the backswing, the right arm similarly out of position on the through-swing. Synchronizing the motion of the arms and the body through impact with this fault is, at best, unlikely.
Learn to appreciate the value of 'linkage'.
My hope is that by now you appreciate that successfully linking your arm and body motion together is the ultimate in building a coordinated, rhythmical swing. To that end, the sensation you must strive for is that of the pressure being maintained between your upper arms and your chest, at least to the halfway stages in your backswing and follow-through. The left arm should lie diagonally across your chest on the backswing; the right arm in a mirror-image position on the through-swing. The following drill will help you to achieve this linkage.
Tuck a head cover firmly under each armpit, and work on keeping them both in place as you make easy, three-quarter-length swings with a 9-iron. Concentrate on rotating your body and swinging your arms in unison; synchronize your overall movement, and pretty soon you will be striking the ball consistently. (This exercise is designed to train no more than a three-quarter-length swing. In a full swing the head covers would be expected to fall out as the arms rise up the chest to form a good backswing position.) Once you feel comfortable with these three-quarter swings, dispense with the headcovers and try to recreate the same linked feeling as you graduate to hitting full shots. With a little practice your swing will feel effortless. Your timing will quickly return, and the game will seem easy again.