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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 [email protected]

22 Comments

22 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!

    • claud balls

      Aug 9, 2020 at 4:38 pm

      I am way over the top and steep – so you say move it back for the first issue and move it forward for the second issue ???

  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

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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