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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on Ball Position

I was watching Michael Breed on The Golf Fix Monday night and he was focusing the entire show on how to hit a driver. What particularly caught my attention concerned his view on ball position. I really liked what he said, and immediately decided it was a perfect launching point to discuss my own "low-maintenance" approach to positioning the ball for any type of shot.

The wrong ball position can screw up an otherwise perfectly good golf shot. For most of us, the problem is one of extremes. We've been told the ball should be placed in different positions for different types of shots and even for different clubs, and that advice is correct... as far as it goes. Why don't we eliminate the confusion right here and now?

First, I want you to forget anything you've heard about placing the ball at a specific spot in your stance. Your stance is an unreliable gauge for placing the ball because your stance is changing all the time. What happens if you're on an uneven lie, or conditions require you to take a wider or narrower stance? All your rules go right out the window! We need a consistent measuring stick, something that doesn't change from shot to shot, something that will always give us the same results.

That measuring stick is the triangle formed by your hands and shoulders. Let me teach you how to simplify ball placement using this handy measuring tool.

When playing your driver, Michael Breed said you should place the ball under the logo on your shirt... which, if you aren't wearing a shirt with a logo, works out to be halfway between your breastbone and your armpit. (I've sometimes heard teachers say the driver position should be beneath your armpit, but that's an extreme forward position. Breed's recommendation is more likely to be correct for most players.) That's the standard position for a drive.

And the standard position for a wedge? Take your grip on your club and let your arms hang down naturally, in your standard setup. Now just place the ball directly under your hands. This is a a good "neutral" position; it will let you strike slightly downward on the ball, but it's neither too far forward or too far back in your stance. I think this is also a good position for your ball when you putt; I'll discuss why in another post.

So now you have a range of ball positions, which for most people is only about six to eight inches at the extremes. No matter what club you hit, all of your standard shots should be in this range of ball positions. Why is this a better way to determine ball position? Simply because your swing is centered from your spine position (between your shoulders), not your stance.

Let's say you set up with your weight a bit forward because the wind is blowing. If you use your stance to determine ball placement, it's likely you'll put the ball too far back in your stance... which will cause you to lean the club shaft too far forward and change the way you contact the ball. By using your arms and shoulders to determine ball placement, the ball will move forward with your weight shift, which moves your spine and hence your arms and shoulders forward. You'll contact the ball as you would normally, so you're more likely to get the results you expect.

Now you know your ball position for standard shots. But what about special shots?

For sand shots, you want to hit a couple of inches behind the ball. Simply determine your normal wedge shot position and place the ball a couple of inches ahead of it. That's simple enough.

Shots where you need to hit the ball a little lower than normal are just as easy to figure out. In most situations you need only move the ball back slightly to hit it much lower. Simply figure out your normal ball position for the club you intend to hit, them move the ball back a single ball width; that should be about right. (Again, only in extreme situations would you need to move the ball back two ball widths.)

And if you need to hit the ball higher, move the ball a single ball width forward. That's enough to let you hit the ball higher, but not so far forward that you're likely to hit it fat.

Using this method of determining ball position should help you become much more consistent in your ball striking because you will be contacting the ball at the same angle of attack and same club path more often. And it's very simple to determine the best ball position, no matter what your stance is like.


  1. I enjoyed The Breeder last night, too. Good reminder not to put the ball too far forward because of the natural tendency to open the face and flair the ball off to the right (for us non-southpaws).

    What always bothers me is that when I hit "that shot" (you know - the one that makes you come back again), I'm never exactly sure where I had the ball in my stance, or if it just happened to be good swing mechanics that time through that caused the ball to fly high and far.

    Consistency is always a battle for me.

  2. I know what you mean. You remember how the shot felt, but you can't remember what you did so you can get that feeling again. Frustrating.

    I'm going to see if I can't do something to help us all get past that. Check my post tomorrow.