If you’ve taken golf lessons before one of the first topics that you probably covered was ball position. Even if it was something simple like “play your irons around the middle of your stance and your driver closer to your left foot” there was some reference to where we need to place the ball relative to your feet. Perhaps that was all the thought you gave it at the time. What we are going to discuss today will hopefully help you to understand why we position the ball where we do for certain clubs and this will ensure you are getting the ball in the best position for success on the course. Please note that this discussion is for full swing shots with a clean lie.
We’re going to look at how our irons were made to help us understand ball position. Grab your clubs if they are nearby (or refer to the attached image). Have a look at your Pitching Wedge. Hold the club face up in front of you so the toe of the club is closest to you and you are looking down the leading edge of the club with the sole of the golf club sitting “flat”. With the club in that position, notice the shaft lean of your wedge- that is, the tilt in the shaft running up from the clubhead to the grip. The club was made this way in order for the club head to swing into impact on more of a descending blow, squeezing the golf ball between the face and the turf. This will help to create spin, which will give lift to the ball as well as help it to stop quicker once it lands. These are the clubs, after all, that you are hitting into the greens so these are good attributes to have.
In order to help create these conditions at impact, we want to start with that forward shaft lean at address. This means positioning the ball close the middle of your stance with your left hand slightly forward of centre (not directly in line with your belt buckle). The left hand position is important since when we start to swing the club, the force of the arc will want to pull the left arm straight. By starting with the left hand slightly forward of centre we are prepared for this and it will not change the relative position of our club head. You can think of the back of the left hand being in line with the middle of your left thigh (with a shoulder width stance).
When we look at the mid-irons there is still some shaft lean but not as much. Moving to the long irons you can see that there is very little shaft lean (today’s long-iron replacing hybrids have little shaft lean as well). Ball position then must change somewhat to create the shaft lean at address that these clubs were made with. There is a gradual move forward as the clubs get longer to allow the clubs to swing into impact the way that they were designed, more of a sweep for the longer clubs and more of a trap for the shorter ones. Note that the left hand position stays the same for all these clubs.
When you look at your driver, you will notice that there is actually some reverse shaft lean. The handle of the club sits a little behind the clubhead when viewed from this face-on position. This is important as it allows the driver to swing up into the ball, increasing launch angle while minimizing spin. This is the distance club and we want as little spin as possible while still getting the ball up in the air. In order to re-create the reverse shaft lean that the driver was made with, we must position the ball opposite our front foot (left foot for a right handed golfer). One caution here- by moving the ball position this far forward with your driver, be sure that you don’t allow your shoulders to open (point to the left) relative to your target. Feel instead that your right shoulder sits a little lower than your left in order to have your shoulders square up to your target line.
There is debate among the golf community whether the ball actually changes position relative to the golfer’s left foot or whether adjusting your stance width (wider for longer clubs) causes the change in ball position. In either case, if we get the amount of forward shaft lean at address to match the forward shaft lean that the club was made with (with our left hand in a good position) then we are one big step closer to making consistent impact.