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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 Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

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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

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Instruction

Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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