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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Bobby Jones on Ball Position

I frequently write about ball position because it's such a small thing but it has such profound effects on our game. And I'm fascinated by how often I see this "small thing" pop up in the writings of various players and teachers.

Today it's Bobby Jones's turn -- and once more, it's from the book Bobby Jones on Golf. This time, it's from a section called An Insidious Habit.
It is not difficult to see that if the swing is adjusted to strike the ball in a certain position, even a slight variation in the position of the ball, the swing remaining the same, will cause an error in hitting. No golfer needs to be told what ruinous results may follow from even a small mistake. Taking the ball an inch too soon or an inch too late may throw it many yards off line at the end of its flight.

Placing the ball at address should always receive minute attention. Too many times we step up confidently and carelessly to play a shot, and fall readily into a position that feels comfortable and is, we think, the accustomed attitude. Without giving the thing a thought, we hit the shot and are at a loss to explain the pull or slice that results. A tiny error is enough, and it is very easy to overlook.

A slight change of position is hard for the player himself to detect, especially if he plays for any appreciable time in that way. But to move the ball interferes not at all with the swing. To try a different position endangers none of the elements of touch, timing, or rhythm. And very often it will be found to be the exact adjustment required. It is impossible to contend that the same relative positions of ball and feet are proper for every player. But if anyone is off his game, it will do no harm to experiment -- to shift the ball nearer the left foot to correct a slice, and nearer the right foot to correct a hook. If it works, it is the simplest specific that can be given.
This is an excerpt from a longer section, of course, but there's a lot to digest here.

Jones says an inch forward or back in the stance can be a big deal. That's something we often don't appreciate. You don't need to make huge adjustments in position to see a change in the ball's behavior. Since you're catching the ball at the bottom of your swing, the angles of attack are changing rapidly -- the clubhead moves from down to across to up very quickly at the bottom of the swing, so a big adjustment is rarely necessary.

And for that reason, it's easy to get careless with ball position -- especially on uneven ground, where the ball often appears to be in a different spot than it actually is. Finding a consistent way to get your ball in the same position each time can save you a lot of problems!

Perhaps most interestingly, Jones says that players often need help to detect an unintended ball position change. I didn't include the example he included because it would take too much space, but the point was clear -- if the great Bobby Jones could slip into a poor address position, as much as he played, then the rest of us are vulnerable as well.

Just to make his advice clear, his recommendations on HOW to move the ball are based on how the clubface behaves in a normal swing, where the player doesn't manipulate his or her hands at impact. A ball moved toward the left foot (I would say your lead foot) gives the clubface more time to close, so it helps eliminate a slice. And a ball moved toward the right foot (I would say your trailing foot) gives the clubface less time to close, so it helps eliminate a hook.

And finally, he says that while no one ball position works for everybody, it's worthwhile to experiment with ball position if your game starts to go south. Unlike swing changes, which can be dramatic and time-consuming, you don't have to change your swing to experiment with ball position. And if a ball position change can fix your game, it is, as he says, "the simplest specific that can be given."

I know this is something I harp on all the time, but that last statement from Jones is the reason I do. You can adjust ball position without changing your swing at all, see the results quickly and know that you haven't done anything that will disturb an otherwise sound swing.

And you know how I like simple fixes that let you swing naturally. So if your game goes a bit awry, give a new ball position a try before you consider something more drastic.

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