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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

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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