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Understanding ball position and how it can help your swing

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In my experience, the most underrated part of setting up to the golf ball is without a doubt ball position. If a golfer moves the golf ball so much as ONE BALL (that’s 1.68 inches) up or back in the stance, the flight of the ball can change drastically.

A Neutral Ball Position

neutral_ball_position

A Forward Ball Position

forward_ball_position

A Rearward Ball Position

rearward_ball_position

Golfers tend to position the golf ball in their stance where they most often find it, that is, bottom out with their swing. So as soon as I see a player hitting balls, I know what his/her swing path is simply by where they place the ball in their stance.

Those who swing in-to-out generally have rearward ball positions, and they’re usually golfers who hook the ball. Those who swing out-to-in often have more forward ball positions, and they’re usually players who slice the ball. It’s no coincidence, because ball position can determine the hook or slice spin that occurs during the shot, as well as dynamic loft.

The easiest way to picture this is by understanding that the golf club swings in an ARC. Golf is a side-on game, and in any side-on game one cannot hit a ball that is across from them with a straight-line swing. If we played golf with the ball between our feet, then and only then could we have a straight-line swing; but because the golf club swings on an arc, where we position the ball in the stance matters. A lot. It determines whether we are going to meet the ball early in the arc, in the middle of the arc, or forward in the arc.

Now let’s look at those three conditions.

Meeting the golf ball early in the swing arc

inside_out_path

  • For a right-handed player, this means the club is traveling to the right of the target. Here we can get pushed shots, hooks (from the club face being too closed to the path) and a low ball flight, which occurs from the de-lofting of the club face.

Meeting the golf ball in the middle of the swing arc

sqaure_path

  • In the middle of the arc, golfers have the best chance of starting the golf ball where they are aimed with little-to-no curvature. That’s because the club face has a good chance of being square to the path, and creating a decent trajectory.

Meeting the golf ball late in the swing arc

outside_in_path

  • And when golfers contact the golf ball late in the arc, they can get some pulls, slices (from a club that path that is moving left of the club face) and higher shots due to increased loft on the club face.

Here’s What Else You Need to Know About Ball Position

Spin: Place three balls on the ground; one across from your rear foot, one in the center, and one across from your left foot. All things being equal, you will push-hook the first one, hit the second one straight and pull/slice the third one. Pretty much every time. Remember, the face-to-path relationship can change dramatically with a ball position change of only a few inches.

Face contact: Here’s another underrated ball position dynamic: On the arc we are discussing, the in-to-out path is traveling AWAY from the player and on the out-to-in path the club is traveling IN to the player. This is why a good number of shanks are hit from an in-to-out path and toe hits often happen as a result of an out-to-in path. Think about it: If golfers are swinging out to in with a reverse pivot and the ball forward, they can actually miss the golf ball INSIDE!

Attack angle: Any golf club that is moving to the right is also moving down (again for a right-handed player) and one moving left is beginning to ascend. So if you’re fighting too steep an attack angle, a slight move forward can help and vice versa.

Dynamic loft: The sooner you catch the ball in the arc, the less loft you have on the golf club; the later, the more lofted the club face is. This is critical to understand because of the body’s reaction to trajectory. If the golf ball is too far back, you’ll hit it low and you’ll attempt to hit it higher by “backing up,” or reversing the torso away from the target, in an effort to hit it higher. It might just be easier to move the ball forward a bit and maintain your spine angle.

Takeaways

So you see how many things are affected by ball position. Ask any of the very capable players I work with and they’ll tell you the same thing. That’s why before I even look at the path, plane, release, etc., I always check the ball position. You may want to do the same.

Simple fixes: Hooking the ball? Move it forward. Slicing the ball? Move it back! One more thing: try a drastic change at first, and then modify it to be less drastic if you must.

One drill I use to change swing path is a dramatic ball position alteration simply to get the student to react differently in the downswing. I had a fella today WAY over the top. We moved the ball to his rear foot in the stance, and immediately he started to get his arms and club down more from the inside. It works, try it!

If you’re interested in my online swing analysis program, click here for more info, or click here to contact me on Facebook.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Tom

    Aug 3, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    Let me just say that this is the single greatest piece of advice I’ve ever received. Thank you. I saw it this morning first on one of your articles from a number of years ago. I was fooling how to fix an inside-out swing path.

    I am a 7 handicap and had been looking for a solution to fix my ever-present hook. My iron divots were always about 15 degrees to the right of my target line. If I consciously “swung left” I could get them to be almost straight, but it took a lot of effort.

    I hit probably 100 balls at the range today with every one a few inches in front of my left foot. Tonight, I played 9 holes from the back tees in +3. The biggest difference was on my driver. Almost every one went straight. It was really unbelievable. My long irons were much improved with less of a hook although I did hit some quite thin. The wedges were hard to hit that far forward so I pulled them back to inside my left heel. B

    I can’t tell you what a difference this made. How long should I hit like this before gradually pulling things back to inside the left heel on the longer clubs? A week? Never? Is it necessary to play the shorter clubs that much forward?

    Thanks again!

  2. Jeremy

    Jul 27, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Does this apply to the driver too?

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jul 18, 2016 at 12:01 am

    Most golfers I see have the golf ball too far back in their stance. Because they hit the ball fat it’s a knee jerk reaction to try make solid contact with the golf ball. The thinking is they will get the ball closer to where the club is bottoming out.

    However, like all golf fixes this doesn’t solve the problem and usually makes it worse.

    For me, putting the ball just forward of centre works well for all your irons and even further forward for the driver. If you’re shifting your weight correctly to the back and then to the front leg your club should naturally bottom out in the same forward position every time.

  4. Dennis Clark

    Jul 14, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    This is also why I have a lot of my students who fight an in-to-out hook hit drivers off the ground with the ball positioned well forward. You’ll drop kick a few but your path will change considerably

  5. Tim

    Jul 14, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    This 100% works. I’ve always gone through stretches where I hook every shot. And I’ve always hit it low. I tried countless tips and drills. Eventually I discovered that by far the most effective and easy one was moving the ball up in my stance. Now if I could just remember to keep it forward..

  6. Charles

    Jul 14, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Interesting. I’m an old school guy. I was taught a long time ago, back in 1974, to hit a draw tee it higher and place the ball farther forward and close the club, to fade tee it lower and place the ball back and open the face. It worked well with my persimmon wood driver and balata balls. It also worked well with modern drivers and balls. What has changed in golf instruction?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 14, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      What has changes Charles is science. I too am an old school guy, and was taught under the OLD ball flight laws. Read my article on D Plane, or any article on it; it explains it quite nicely. BTW I also suffered under this illusion as a teacher for some years. But I always knew “something” was “missing”. Thx for reading

  7. Mikky Tee

    Jul 14, 2016 at 5:43 am

    Dennis, good read. I usually move the ball a little back towards my right foot, to prevent me hitting it fat, i seem to have a rearward low point, is that weight transfer perhaps?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 14, 2016 at 7:30 am

      Shallow fats are usually too early of a release or too inside. Try turning through would help yes, staying more centered over the golf ball might help as well.

  8. ButchT

    Jul 13, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Very good insight, Dennis. Thank you!

  9. cgasucks

    Jul 13, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    When I started this game long ago, I was taught that if have your hands in the same position relative to your legs, your ball will be in the optimal ball position no matter which club is used and what shot (including pitches and chips).

  10. Dennis Clark

    Jul 13, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Authors note: For those of you hooking the ball, move it forward-and keep moving it forward until you’ve actually got the club swinging more LEFT (for right-handers). You’ll begin to see a fade soon. Guaranteed.

  11. Dennis Clark

    Jul 13, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Yes lead foot as in way out front…it’ll help you turn through better

  12. Steven

    Jul 13, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Good article. It is interesting that ball position can make such a huge impact on flight. That assumes the swing is the same and the player doesn’t make compensations when the ball is in a different place. As I am sure everyone would suggest, most people should go to a pro or video their swing to send to someone to look at ball position in relation to the swing. Many amateurs probably have more things off in the swing than just ball position. This could be a good short term fix.

    Keep up the good work helping out all of us.

  13. Robert

    Jul 13, 2016 at 11:42 am

    @Tom I was thinking the same thing.

    @Dennis, I have an high positive club path (+6 to +9). Any idea how to fix that Dennis?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 13, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      First of all decide if the path NEEDS to be fixed…Bubba, Rory and some others have an unusually high + path; it works well for them. But if you’re hitting blocks and hooks, try hitting some drivers off the ground with the ball across from your lead foot.

      • Robert

        Jul 13, 2016 at 2:07 pm

        My miss is a hook and when I hook it with the driver, I usually fall back on my rear foot which to me, says I’m not shifting my weight properly. With regards to that drill, do you mean parallel across from my lead front.

  14. Tom

    Jul 13, 2016 at 10:30 am

    interesting article. Time for me to do some experimenting.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jul 13, 2016 at 11:40 am

      experiment is the right way! The only way really.

      • Tom

        Jul 14, 2016 at 11:17 am

        I did last night. Your right the ball forward gave me a gentle left to right ball flight.

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Instruction

3 keys for getting out of bunkers with soft sand

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One of the most infuriating things in golf is to land in a bunker that has too much sand, or sand with the consistency of a truckload of talcum power. Now, I am not picking on the Superintendents; they do have to add new sand from time-to-time, so no hate mail please! It’s my fault for hitting it in the bunker in the first place, and bunkers are supposed to be hazards; I know that.

The one thing we will assume for this article is that even though we are in soft sand, we will have a good lie, not a plugged or semi-plugged one. We are in a bunker that just has a bunch of sand, or it’s soft and fluffy sand. Everyone asks me what the secret is to handling these types of conditions and I’m here to help you get better.

1) Get a wedge with the correct bounce

Let’s consider that you play the same golf course every weekend, or that you mostly play on courses that have the same type of playing conditions mostly. When you have this luxury, you should have wedges that fit the conditions you tend to play. So, if you have a low bounce wedge with a sharp flange and you’re playing from bunkers with lots of sand, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Why alter your swing if the wedge you have can help you? Use a high bounce wedge (9-12 degrees of bounce) for soft sand, and a low bounce wedge (6-8 degrees) for firm sand.

2) Control your Angle of Attack 

As with most things in golf, there are always things that you must pay attention to in order for you to have the odds in your favor. Simple things such as paying attention to the lie you have can help you save shots in the rough. In bunkers, you cannot test the surface, however, you can use your feet to feel the density of the sand. Pay attention to what you feel in the balls of your feet. If you feel a ton of sand below you, then you know you will have to alter your angle of attack if you want any chance to get out of the bunker successfully.

So what do I mean by this?

The setting of your wrists has a very dynamic effect on how much the wedge digs in or skids through the sand (assuming you have an open face). When there is a surplus of sand, you will find that a steeper attack caused by the maximum cocking of your wrists makes it much easier for the wedge to work too vertical and dig too deep. When you dig too deep, you will lose control of the ball as there is too much sand between the blade and the ball — it will not spin as much and won’t have the distance control you normally have.

The secret to playing from softer sand is a longer and wider bunker swing with much less wrist-set than you would use on your stock bunker shot. This action stops the club from digging too deep and makes it easier for you to keep moving through the ball and achieving the distance you need.

3) Keep your pivot moving

It’s nearly impossible to keep the rotation of your shoulders going when you take too much sand at impact, and the ball comes up short in that situation every time. When you take less sand, you will have a much easier time keeping your pivot moving. This is the final key to good soft-sand bunker play.

You have made your longer and more shallow backswing and are returning to the ball not quite as steeply as you normally do which is good… now the only thing left to do is keep your rear shoulder rotating through impact and beyond. This action helps you to make a fuller finish, and one that does not lose too much speed when the club impacts the sand. If you dig too deep, you cannot keep the rear shoulder moving and your shots will consistently come up short.

So if you are in a bunker with new sand, or an abundance of sand, remember to change your bounce, adjust your angle of attack, and keep your pivot moving to have a fighting chance.

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Instruction

WATCH: How to stop “flipping” through impact

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Are you flipping through impact? In this video, I share a great drill that will help you put better pressure on the golf ball at impact. By delivering the sweet spot correctly, you’ll create a better flight and get more distance from your shots immediately.

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The Wagon Wheel Drill

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For many golfers, the ability to hit shots golf ball to the target is a difficult task, especially when you take into account the rough, trees or hazards lining the hole. In this video, I share “The Wagon Wheel Drill,” a simple idea of how to practice intentionally hitting the ball left, right and on target.

Practice this and you will soon be hitting the target more often.

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