Category Archives: setup

There’s More to Aim Than You Think There Is

Last week we talked about getting into your setup using two lines, one for the clubface and one for your stance. These lines are shown in the two photos below.

They were taken in the street in front of my house so the aiming points in the background would be easier to see. Though it doesn’t look like it in the photographs, the two sticks are parallel to each other.

Look at the photo on the right (click to enlarge). The alignment stick is pointed at the white chimney. This is the ball’s target, toward which the clubface is aimed.

The alignment stick in the photo on the left is in the place where you would stand to hit the shot (click to enlarge). It is pointing at the edge of the house.

Yes, I know the sticks are only a few feet a part and if you extended them to the house they would still be a few feet a part. What is important here is appearance, not reality.

If you look downrange before you start your swing, you have to look at the right target. That is the one you are aimed at, not the one the clubface is aimed at.

If you look at the ball’s target, you create a conflict in your mind. Your body is a lined up in one direction (the edge of the house), but your mind is looking in a different direction (the chimney).

As a result, there will be a subtle confusion about where to direct your swing. This creates a discomfort which can be interpreted as a swing technique thing, even though that is not where the problem lies.

When you’re in your stance, ready to take the club back, take one more look down the fairway. Look at where your body is aimed, a place to the left of the ball’s target, because that is the direction the swinging motion of your body, standing to the left of the ball, will be directed toward.

If you swing toward that spot, the clubhead, which is displaced to the right of where you are standing, will automatically be swung toward the ball’s target.

Most of all, the the conflict I referred to above never arise. Only a feeling of confidence will be felt. That leads to your best swing coming out, and thus your best shots.

How to Get Into Your Setup

There’s a lot written about how you should set up for a swing. Details about grip, stance, posture, ball position, and aim are all very important.

But the process of getting into that setup deserves mention, too. Here is one way to do it. It is the way I do it and it works well.

1. Set your grip on the club with both hands. Make sure your hands are oriented properly.

2. Stand behind the ball on a straight a line from the target across the ball to your eyes.

3. Take a side-step to the left, still looking straight ahead, but now at a spot to the left of the target.

4. Walk straight toward that spot, looking at it the entire time.

5. When you get next to the ball, and while still looking at the spot, turn your body to face the ball.

6. Now you may turn your head to face the ball, get into your stance, and drop the clubhead behind the ball with good posture.

You are aimed and ready to go.

Note that item 4 has two parts to it. One, you are looking at the spot to the left of the target, not the target itself. Two, you look at that spot the entire time you are approaching the ball and getting into your stance. Do not take your eyes off that spot too soon or you will lose the line.

You might think this method is imprecise. Most books will tell you to aim the clubhead first and then align your body to it. That, actually, is the imprecise way to aim yourself.

We have a keen human sense of aligning ourselves to a distant point that we can take advantage of here. You can learn how to align yourself this way with just a little practice.

Next week I will have another post that extends this method to complete the setup mentally.

Your Setup–One Key to Consistent Contact

A friend of mine told me while we were playing one day, that someone looked into how it is that Justin Thomas, who isn’t a very big guy, drives the ball so far.

One of his keys is that he hits the ball on the center of the clubface.  Every time.  It might have been on impact tape or something, but the impression after a good number of drives was about the size of a quarter.

How does he do that?  I can’t say how his swing makes that happen, because I don’t know.  But I can say for sure that one thing which makes it happen is his setup.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that he sets up the same distance from the ball every time, the ball is in the same place in his stance every time, his posture is the same every time, his hands are in the same place every time, and so on.

I would also bet that if you took a picture from the same spot every time and overlaid all those photos on top of each other, you wouldn’t see much leakage, if any, around the edges, if you know what I mean.

By starting out in the same place every time, in every respect, Thomas gives his swing every chance to return the clubhead to the ball in the same place every time.

Here’s an example taken from the book, The Search For the Perfect Golf Swing.  It shows the variation in foot position in a 24-handicapper and a professional golfer.  The pro is consistent, and the amateur is all over the place.


Was else I can tell you for sure is that a major cause of inconsistent ball-striking is an inconsistent setup.  I would go so far as to say you should practice your setup as much as you practice your swing.

Let’s drill in on this point.  Say you hit a tremendous drive.  On the next hole, you unknowingly set up with the ball one inch farther away from you than it was on the last hole.  If you make the same swing, you will miss the sweet spot on the clubface by an inch.

But you won’t make the same swing, because you’re reaching out a little bit farther than you did last time and that is enough to change everything.  Your unconscious mind knows you’re out of position and will try, in vain, to compensate. You won’t hit anywhere near as good a drive and then wonder what happened to your swing.

What happened was that an inconsistent setup forced that good swing out of existence.  Simple as that.

My instructor had me buy a four-foot metal ruler to practice my setup. With this, you can ensure your feet are the same distance apart, and the ball is in the same place.  Being consistent with these two things alone will by themselves improve your ball-striking.

We practice our swing to make it as much the same as we can every time, but what’s the use of having a repeating swing if your setup is all over the map?

And when you’re trying to develop a repeating swing, you might keep correcting this or that when your swing is just fine and it’s your setup that needs work.

So here are a few things to think about in your setup, all of which make a difference:

Grip alignment (orientation of Vs)
Grip pressure
Where on the handle you place your hands *
Clubface alignment (open, square, closed)
Distance from the ball *
Location of the ball in your stance *
Posture of your back
Amount of bend in your neck
Amount of bend in your hips and knees *
Shape of your arms
Distance between your elbows
Height of your stance *
Distribution of weight across the feet (front-back, side-side)
Amount that your toes are turned out
Alignment of feet
Alignment of shoulders
The feeling that you are “in the slot”

* This will vary by the club used, must be the same per club.

What to Look At

I don’t have a 500-word essay for you today. All I have is one little idea.

Lately I had been doing everything right (I thought), but I was still hitting behind the ball.

So, I thought to myself, don’t look at the ball during the swing. Look at a spot on the ground about and inch and a half in front of the ball, and hit that.

Problem solved. The ball erupts off the clubface.

Give it a try.

To Be In Position

I was hitting plastic balls at my backyard driving range earlier today, and just not getting the results I wanted. Everything was a hair fat. So I moved the ball a half inch back in my stance. Bingo.

One of Ken Venturi’s basic teaching precepts is that players do not get out of swing, the get out of position. Put them back into position and the swing comes back. So many times it isn’t the swing that needs correcting, it’s the position.

This means grip, stance, posture, and ball position. Grip: where do the Vs point? How many knuckles do you see? Stance: how far apart are your feet? To where do the toes point? Posture: How much do your knees bend? How much does your back or neck bend? How far apart are your elbows? Ball position: how far from the ball do you stand? Where is the ball from front to back of your stance?

Practice these. Actually practice them. Get in and out of your setup and learn your position well enough so that you never have to find it — you get into it automatically.

This will solve so many problems before they start.

Swing the club already!

You probably know that the success of a shot is largely determined in your setup, before you even start the club back. One of the worst habits you can fall into is freezing after you address the ball.

Have you played with the golfer who goes through a pre-shot routine, sets up to the ball, and just stands there? And stands there? And stands there? I’ll bet you’ve never seen a really good player do that.

Here’s what to do about it. Please!

Don’t ground the clubhead

When you’re ready to hit the ball, it’s natural to rest the clubhead on the ground just behind the ball. Let me suggest that you not do this. Instead, hover the clubhead just above the ground so it’s touching the grass, but not resting on the ground. Why? How about six reasons?

1. Hovering the club makes it harder to squeeze the club with your hands. Light grip pressure is one of the keys to better ball-striking. This method makes you more sensitive to how firmly you are holding the club.

2. Your posture will be better. That is, you will stand up straighter, not getting yourself hunched over. When you bend over to rest the clubhead on the ground, there is a tendency to settle a bit more after the clubhead gets there. Hovering the clubhead prevents that tendency.

3. Your takeaway is smoother. It’s hard to snatch the clubhead away from the ball when it is already in the air. You have to start off the swing slowly and gently, which leads into a swing controlled by your best tempo and rhythm. It helps maintain your balance throughout the swing, too.

4. Because you’re starting the swing slowly, you’ll turn rather than sway off the ball. The center of your swing stays over the ball instead of shifting to one side, meaning your swing will find the ball again instead of the ground behind it.

5. By hovering the club you have its full weight in your hands. When you take the cub away there is no adjustment to be made and your takeaway will be smoother.

6. You avoid a penalty. When you set the clubhead on the ground behind the ball, you have addressed it, according to the rules. If it moves before you hit it with your stroke, you could be penalized two strokes. By hovering the clubhead, you have never addressed the ball. Now if it moves, there is no penalty.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

Stance and Posture in Golf

These two pre-swing fundamentals are sometime confused and taken to mean the same thing. They refer to different things, and must be done correctly to put your body in the best position to put your best swing on the ball.

Stance is where your feet are both in relation to the ball and your target line. Posture is the shape of your body as you address the ball. The following description is for a full swing.

To get into your stance, take your grip with your right hand. Put the clubface behind the ball, aimed at the target. Step into your stance so your feet are parallel to your target line, and put your left hand on the grip.

Your feet should be about 18 inches apart, but this depends on the club you’re using. With a driver, your feet will be a few inches farther apart, with a 9-iron, a few inches less.

The ball should be in the center of your stance for any shot hit off the ground or irons off a tee. Put the ball two ball-widths forward of that to hit your driver or fairway metal off a tee.

Stand up straight. Now push your hip straight back, keeping your head where it is. This will cause you to bend over at the hip, while not rounding your back or drooping your head. Even though you’re bent, you should still have the feeling of standing tall.

Let your knees bend slightly, too. Your weight should be evenly distributed from the front to back of the soles of your feet.

Look at your elbow as your arm hang downs at your side. Notice there is a slight natural bend in it. This is the full extension of your arm. If you straighten your arm, it’s now over-extended and tense. If there’s more bend than normal in your elbow, your arms are under-extended. Your swing movements will be constricted and weak. Hold the club with this natural bend in the elbows.

With shorter clubs, the arms should hang straight down, relaxed, and at their full natural extension. With longer clubs you will stand straighter, so your arms cannot hang straight down, but there should be no feeling of reaching out for the ball.

The shoulders should slant downward a bit from left to right, and the line across them should be parallel to the line across the hips. Do not let the right shoulder come forward so the shoulder line points to the left of the hip line. This is an easy error to make, and one that will make the direction you hit your shots inconsistent and unpredictable.

Your head will fall slightly from its upright position when you bend over, but do not let that make you hunch your shoulders.

Practice your stance and posture at home by leaving a club in a place you pass by frequently, and whenever you pass by, stop, grab the club, and set up. It only takes a few seconds, so there’s no reason why you can’t do it quite a few times a day. Every time you set up, not just going through the motions, but paying attention to every detail, you’re that much closer to having a good setup become a habit.

You might think if the stance you have now is comfortable, it’s right. Comfortable only means habitual. Practice the right stance until it becomes comfortable.

Check yourself in front of a mirror. A stand-up mirror costs about as much as a round of golf and is an excellent investment in your game.


A Ball Position Tip

I was reading through the late George Knudson’s book, The Natural Golf Swing, and noticed this tip, which I hadn’t noticed in earlier readings. Knudson was a Canadian who played on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and had one of the best swings the Tour has ever seen.

Knudson said that early in his development as a professional he would always hit his driver on the heel of the club, breaking the wood on that side and hitting “these ugly little shots.”

“One day, I decided to try to catch the ball way out on the toe of the driver. I set up the ball on the toe and figured that’s where I would make contact, It wasn’t the sweet spot, but setting the ball up on the sweet spot hadn’t been doing me any good either. So what happens? I hit this thing and it flies off the club like a rocket compared to what I’d been doing.

“…suddenly, after setting the ball up on the toe, the ball was coming off the face solidly. I decided that the clubhead must be pulling out, and accepted that. … I didn’t know that I was suddenly catching the ball in the centre of the clubface because of the centrifugal force that was pulling the clubhead out and down.”

What Knudson is getting at is that the centrifugal force of the swing pulls your arms and they straighten out a bit – they get longer. When they carry the club into the ball, longer, the center of the clubface will be lined up with the ball.

I of course had to run out and try this in my backyard, and it worked great. Then I played nine holes yesterday and every time I remembered to do it, it worked. I got a nice, flush hit, and good distance without any effort at all. The key to distance is a centered hit, and this is a great way to get one. And straight? Are you kidding? That’s all I hit!

Be my guest.