Golf Swing & Ball Placement

By Mike Southern
Play mid-irons slightly ahead of center in your stance.
Play mid-irons slightly ahead of center in your stance.

The legendary golf teacher Harvey Penick believed that the grip is the only thing more important than ball position, yet many players have no idea of how to position a ball consistently in their setup. There are two aspects of ball placement to consider: One is how far you stand from the ball at address, and the other is how far forward or back in your stance you place the ball for various shots.

Distance from Player

The late Moe Norman, on whose swing the “Natural Golf” concept is built, represents one extreme. Moe stood so far away from the ball that his arms, wrists and club shaft formed a straight line from shoulder to club head. Jim Furyk represents the other extreme--he stands so close to the ball that his hands nearly brush his thighs as he swings. With most clubs, players tend to swing best when they let their arms hang straight down from their shoulders and move their hands 3 to 6 inches farther from their bodies. Then they take their stance and address the ball, placing it in front of the club head. This allows them to account for the different lengths of their clubs’ shafts.

For Driving

When driving, your intent is to strike the ball when your club is on an upward path--the only shot where you do so. The ball is placed on a tee opposite your left heel (your right heel if you are a left-hander), and the height of the tee allows half of the ball to be above the club head when you address the ball.

For Long Approach Shots

For shots requiring a hybrid or long iron from the fairway, you want to strike down on the ball but not take a large divot. To do so, the ball should be played forward in the stance, yet not as much as a driver. Harvey Penick liked to see the ball placed inside the left heel, more toward the middle of the stance than the driver.

For Short Approach Shots

Professional player Ernie Els has said that his biggest problem is placing the ball too far forward in his stance. He recommends playing mid-irons, such as the 7-iron, just slightly ahead of the center of your stance. For the short irons and wedges, he likes to play them just back of center. You want to be sure you strike down and hit the ball first with the shorter clubs.

For Pitching and Chipping

Pitches and chips can be the most difficult shots for which to create a consistent ball position, simply because these shots can be played from so many different types of lies--and many of them are poor lies. The best principle is to place the ball far enough back in your stance that you can be certain that you hit the ball first. This is often somewhere between the middle of your stance and your back foot.

For Putts

Despite the variety of putting styles players use, the best position for putting is generally the center of your stance or slightly ahead. Putting teacher Dave Stockton likes to place the ball directly under his eyes when he takes his stance on the green.

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