If you've played golf for any length of time, you've probably established an address position where you stand at a comfortable distance from the ball. But comfortable doesn't necessarily mean correct.
How far you stand from the ball is a critical fundamental. Heel-to-toe balance and swing plane are two factors partially determined by this single, simple element. In fact, you may be standing too close or too far from the ball without even knowing it, because you've grown accustomed to playing from this position.
Here's an easy trick to test if you're the right distance, and to guide you toward fixing the issue if you're not:
- Address a golf ball in your normal position. Any club will work, driver through lob wedge.
- Carefully place the butt of the grip on your left leg while retaining your address posture. Make sure not to change the position of the clubhead or lock your knees.
- The club should touch your left leg about two inches above the kneecap. (A little higher if you tend to grip down more than an inch.)
- If it's considerably higher than two inches, you're probably standing too close to the ball. Lower than two inches and you're too far away.
If you've been missing shots left or right, making contact on the club's heel or toe, or hitting the ball fat or thin, merely adjusting your address position could be all the fix you need.
If you determine that an adjustment is in order, remember – the correct position will feel unnatural for a while, so practice it frequently until you're comfortable again.
Check Your Distance from the Golf Ball at Setup
Despite the fact that they are both swinging sports, baseball and golf don't actually have that much in common. The fundamentals for swinging a baseball bat are drastically different than those use to hit a golf ball, and obviously, the golf ball is sitting still while a baseball can be travelling in excess of 90 miles per hour. Both games are extremely popular throughout the United States and in much of the rest of the world, but they really are quite different.
One of the major differences between hitting a baseball and hitting a golf ball is that in golf, you can control how far away from the ball you stand while making your swing. Obviously, this is not an option in baseball. You get to decide where you stand in the batter's box, but ultimately it is up to the pitcher as to where the ball is going to be placed. As a hitter, you have to react to the ball as it is coming toward you, and adjust your swing accordingly. Naturally, this makes hitting a baseball extremely challenging.
Thankfully, golfers don't have to worry about that problem. When you step up to the ball, you get to control exactly how far away you are standing. Having control over this element of the game means you can make basically the same swing each and every time – assuming you are successful in standing the same distance from the ball each time. One of the most important skills in golf is being able to setup to your shots in exactly the same manner, time after time. If you are a different distance from the ball prior to every shot throughout a round, it will be impossible to find consistency in your game.
The distance that you stand from the ball prior to making your swing is one of those fundamentals that you probably haven't given much thought up to this point. Most golfers are too busy worrying about things like grip and posture to concern themselves with their distance from the ball. However, your entire address position has a profound impact on the quality of your shots, and that includes the distance that you are standing from the ball while making your swing. If you can take the time to focus on this seemingly small element of the game, you can actually make major progress in the consistency of your ball striking.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Every Golfer is Unique
It would be easy if every golf needed to stand exactly the same distance from the ball. Of course, that is not the case. The correct distance for you to stand from the ball will be unique to you based on your height, stance, swing style, and much more. If you think you will just be able to copy the stance of another golfer and move on with your game, you are going to be disappointed in the results. No one swings the golf club in exactly the same way that you do, so you will need to build a stance that is designed to meet your needs.
The paragraph above should make it clear that you are not going to be able to use any kind of static measurement in order to determine the correct distance from the ball at address. You can't, for instance, decide that you are going to stand exactly 18'' from the ball on each swing. For one thing, it would be difficult to measure out that distance while taking your stance. Also, the distance that you stand from the ball changes with each different club in your bag, because they are all a different length. Therefore, you actually have to have a stance for all 13 'swinging' clubs in the bag (not counting the putter). Obviously these stances will be mostly the same, but they will vary a little bit in terms of the width of your stance and your distance from the ball.
Golf is largely a game about 'feel', and you are going to have to use your feel when you are building a good stance. Rather than being able to precisely measure the distance that your feet are away from the golf ball before each shot, you are going to need to develop the ability to feel the correct positioning. When you stand over the ball, you should instantly know whether or not your feet are in the right place – and if they aren't in the right place, you should be able to quickly adjust in order to solve the problem. This still won't be developed overnight, but you will need to improve in this area if you wish to reach your goals on the course.
It is common for amateur golfers to resist the 'feel' elements of the game, instead wanting specific directions as to how they should stand, swing, etc. Unfortunately, golf really doesn't work that way, and trying to formulate your game scientifically is a pursuit that is destined to fail. Instead, you need to trust your instincts and allow your natural ability to shine through. It is only when natural feelings are combined with practice and repetition that you will be able to truly see what you are capable of accomplishing.
The purpose of this section is to make one point perfectly clear – you are your own individual on the course, and everything that you do has to be tailored to your own golf swing. That includes how far you stand from the ball at address, along with a long list of other technical elements. Trying to copy other players is not going to help you play great golf. You can certainly learn little bits and pieces of the swing from other golfers, especially the pros, but in the end you need to create your own swing from the ground up. When it comes to finding the right distance from the golf ball for your swing, don't worry about what others are doing – simply use some basic guidelines to find a spot that allows you to perform your best.
Find the Right Spot for You
As should be perfectly clear by this point, the goal when building your stance is to find the right address position for you personally. So how do you go about making that happen? The best way to find your own positioning in relation to the ball is to follow some general rules while also allowing your body to settle in to a comfortable spot. The 'rules' listed below aren't so much rules as they are guidelines. If you find yourself not exactly following one of these points because you are more comfortable making a small adjustment, that is no problem at all. In the end, the only thing that matters is the quality of your golf shots. If the stance you settle on allows you to hit great shots, then it is doing its job.
The first point that you need to understand is that your arms should be hanging freely from your shoulders at address. What does that have to do with the position of your feet? Everything. If you allow your arms to hang down naturally from your shoulders, and you then place your hands on the grip of the club, you will automatically know approximately how far to stand from the ball. Basically, your arms and the club itself will be telling your feet where to go.
This is why it is so important to take your stance in the right order. When you walk up to the ball, place the club head down behind the ball before doing anything else. With the club head in position, hold the grip steady with one hand while moving your feet into an 'approximate' stance. Note: this is not your final stance. You simply want to put your feet in a position that allows you to hang your arms down to your grip. Once your arms are hanging down, grab onto the grip of the club without forcing your arms either in closer to your body or out farther away.
Now that you are holding onto the club and the club head is behind the ball, the final step is to put your feet into position. Believe it or not, this last step should actually feel pretty easy because you are already in such a great spot with your arms. Position your feet comfortably under your shoulders so that you are balanced and ready to make an athletic swing. There should be no sense of 'reaching' or being 'cramped' at address – instead, you should feel totally comfortable and relaxed. When you are able to find these feelings at address, you will know your have positioned your feet just right.
The beauty of using the method outlined above to take your stance is that it won't need to changed based on the club that you are holding in your hand. You will be standing farther away from the ball at address with a driver compared to any of your irons simply because the driver is the longest club in your bag – but the process of taking your stance will be the same. Start with the club head resting behind the ball and build from there. When done correctly, you should be able to build a consistent stance that places your feet in a comfortable position prior to starting every swing.
Nothing about golf is simple. Just when you think you have figured out exactly how to take your stance in order to position yourself the correct distance from the ball, you start to realize that you can't use the exact same stance for every shot. Depending on the situation that you find yourself in on the course, and the kind of shot you are trying to hit, you will need to adjust your stance on the fly. Golf is not played on perfectly flat, evenly mowed pieces of land – rather, it is played on terrain that is often hilly, with various cuts of grass and even sand and water to get in the way. These are the elements that make golf so interesting, but they also make it complicated at the same time.
With all of that in mind, you are going to need to become adept at adjusting your stance on the go depending on the situation in front of you. If you are too stubborn to adjust and you simply use the same stance for every shot, you will never live up to your potential. Following are three basic ways in which you can adjust to create different shots or to deal with a challenging situation.
- Closer to fade, farther to draw. When you are in your 'standard' position at address, you will produce a specific ball flight most of the time. For some golfers that will be a fade, for others it is a draw. While it doesn't really matter which shot you favor, it does matter that you can produce the same one over and over again. Predictable ball flights lead to good scores. But what happens when you want to change your ball flight to handle the layout of the hole in front of you? If you generally hit a draw but the shot you are playing calls for a fade, how do you make that happen? One easy way to adjust your ball flight is to either move closer to the ball, or to stand farther away, depending on the shot you want to hit. For most players, standing farther from the ball will encourage a draw pattern, while standing closer will make it easier to hit a fade. Of course, you are going to need to practice these adjustments on the driving range before you ever put them to use on the course.
- Stand up tall in the rough. When you are playing a shot from relatively deep rough, you will want to stand up slightly taller in order to create a downward angle of attack. That downward angle is important if you hope to dig the ball out of the rough with any kind of authority. If you come into the ball from a flat angle, you will simply catch too much grass prior to hitting the ball – and your shot will fall well short of the target. As you adjust your stance to make yourself taller over the ball, you will also need to stand slightly closer in order to reach the ball effectively. With only those two minor adjustments – standing taller and slightly closer – you can dramatically improve your performance on shots played from the deep rough.
- Get in close when the ball is below your feet. Playing a shot where the ball is sitting well below the level of your feet is one of the biggest challenges for golfers of all skill levels. It is hard to 'get down to the ball' on this kind of a lie, and many players will hit the ball thin as a result. If you do manage to get down to the ball, it is easy to turn it over and hit a quick hook as the heel of your club digs into the turf and shuts the face. While nothing is going to make this an easy shot to play, it can be made slightly easier simply by standing closer to the ball than you would on a flat lie. Move your feet a few inches closer to the ball at address, while being sure to maintain a good posture. As you swing down, focus on keeping your weight over your feet (instead of allowing it to drift out over the ball). As long as you stay on balance and don't try to swing too hard, you should be able to strike decent shots from this awkward lie by standing closer to the ball.
The need for adjustments on the golf course is why it is so important to master your basic technique on the driving range before playing an actual round of golf. You need to become extremely comfortable with the process of building your 'stock' stance on the driving range. Once your normal stance has become comfortable and easy to build, you can then go onto the course and feel ready to adjust as necessary. Without that baseline stance to start from, however, you would be lost when it comes time to make adjustments.
Letting Your Feel Come Through
As mentioned earlier, golf is a game that should be largely about feel while you are playing on the course. There is a time and a place to learn the technical elements of the game – and that place is on the driving range. You can certainly improve your overall performance by improving on your fundamentals, but technique alone will never enable you to get the ball into the hole on a regular basis. Instead, you have to know how to play the game, meaning you have to adjust to everything the golf course throws at you throughout an entire 18-hole round.
It is easy to become somewhat obsessed with the technical details of the golf swing while you are playing a round. For example, if you have been working on your distance from the ball on the range, you may find yourself looking down at your feet right before you hit a shot on the course, wondering if you are standing in the right place. If there is any doubt in your mind, you may fiddle with your stance a few times before you finally settle on an address position and begin your swing.
Obviously, this is not the best way to play golf. If you are thinking about a technical detail like how far you are standing from the ball, your mind isn't focused on the process of hitting your target. Golf requires both clear focus and plenty of confidence in order to play well – and none of those things will be present in your game if you are distracted by small mechanical details. All of those thought should be left on the driving range so that you have plenty of brain space available to focus on the task at hand.
As you know, however, that is easier said than done. It is hard to separate your technical thoughts from the thoughts that you should be using on the course. That challenge becomes even greater if you hit a few poor shots, because you will start to doubt your technique even if you have been hitting the ball great on the range. Once those technical doubts start clouding your mind on the course, you will face an uphill battle to get your round back on track.
So how do you avoid getting in your own head? Use a solid and predictable pre-shot routine. Having a routine will instantly give comfort to your mind, as you will feel much the same as you did when you were hitting balls on the range. Develop a pre-shot routine during your practice sessions and work on it just as much as you work on your swing itself. Your routine should include the steps necessary to take your stance, as well as everything you want to do just prior to making a swing. Nearly every professional golfer in the world uses some form of pre-shot routine, and you just might be surprised at what a difference it can make in your game.
It is important to stand the right distance from the golf ball at address – but that 'right' distance will vary from player to player. Use the information contained in the content above to work on your own positioning at address, and you should see your ball striking performance quickly begin to improve. Golf will never be easy, but standing in the right place time after time will make it just a little bit easier.