You can get most everything right in setting up to play a golf shot – grip pressure, alignment, posture – but it can all unravel if your ball position is off. Mastering this key fundamental requires knowing where your swing bottoms out.
Before learning how to locate the bottom of your swing, it's good to know why this is important. In short: To hit pure iron shots, the ball should be positioned behind the bottoming-out spot. This ensures striking the ball with a descending blow, compressing it against the turf to create velocity and backspin.
Here's a little fact to drive home the point: A tour pro's swing typically bottoms out 3” – 4” beyond the ball. Keep in mind that his divot may start just beneath the ball's front edge, but the true bottom is actually the middle of the divot.
Amateurs tend to catch the ball right at the bottom of the arc, leading to thin shots with little spin. Worse are those swings that hit the turf before the ball, creating fat shots that go next to nowhere.
As a general rule, your swing will bottom out near the center of your stance (in line with the sternum) on wedges and short irons, and move slightly toward the left (forward) foot for each longer club. To find the bottom of your swing, try this on the range:
- Make a series of side-by-side swings with a wedge, without hitting a ball (but taking a small divot); be sure to shift your setup spot directly forward or back on each subsequent swing for consistent positioning; the divots should line up closely.
- After making three successive divots that start along the same line, lean over and place the club on the ground so the shaft lines up with the middle of the divots. Keep your feet in place as you do this.
- Note where the shaft points in your stance – this is the bottom of your swing.
Repeat the drill with your longest iron and compare the two bottoming-out points. Your other irons will fall between these two.
Once you've determined where the bottom of your swing lies, position the ball 2” – 4” behind this spot for every iron shot, and a little closer for fairway woods and hybrids played from the ground. (You'll make a shallower arc with these clubs.)
A note on hitting the driver: With the ball teed up correctly, you actually want to catch it just past the bottom of your swing to max out carry distance with an upward strike.
Find Bottom of Your Golf Swing for Pure Contact
The bottom of your golf swing is when everything happens. Sure, you need to make good moves throughout the rest of your swing in order to position the club for impact, but it is only what happens at the bottom that really matters. The prettiest swing in the world won't do you any good if it leads to a poor impact position. Get the bottom of your swing right and you will be well on your way to some excellent ball striking.
Make pure contact with the ball is important for a number of reasons. First, it allows you to carry the intended distance of the shot more often than not. When you strike the ball cleanly, all of your potential power is transferred to the ball, meaning you will have a great chance of reaching your target successfully. A shot that is hit thin or fat, on the other hand, will likely fall short – or go shooting over the back of the green. If you have aspirations of becoming a consistent player who can regularly post good scores, pure contact with your full swing is a necessary piece of the puzzle.
Of course, you make pure contact, you actually have to know where the bottom of your swing is located each time to hit a shot. The bottom of your swing should be consistent from swing to swing (when using the same club), as you are going to have a difficult time hitting the ball cleanly if that point is moving around. Good mechanics will help you to stabilize the bottom of your swing, meaning it will become easier to create a good strike on a regular basis. Golf is hard enough even when you have everything working in your favor, so don't make it harder by using sloppy mechanics. Get the basics down correctly and your impact position will quickly improve.
It is important to understand that the bottom of your golf swing is going to be a bit different with each club in the bag. Since each of your clubs is a different length, and has a different lie angle, the shape of your swing is constantly changing from one club to the next. That means that the point in the swing where the club bottoms out is constantly changing as well (it should not change from swing to swing with the same club, only when you change clubs). When hitting a driver, for example, the bottom of your swing will be up near your front foot, while a wedge swing should bottom out near the middle of your stance. You will need to learn where the bottom of the swing is with each club in your bag before you will be able to achieve ball striking consistency.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play the game left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Understanding Ball Position is Crucial
Knowing where you can find the bottom of your swing is only helpful if you are able to match up that point with your ball position at address. Obviously, the ball position that you use and the bottom of your swing are tied together, as you need each of those two elements in just the right place in order to hit a quality shot. If the bottom of your swing moves just a little bit to the right or left, or if your ball position isn't quite correct, the shot will be a failure.
So, do you want to match up your ball position with the bottom of your swing? No, not exactly. In fact, the ball should be either a little bit in front or a little bit behind the bottom of the swing, depending on what club you are hitting (and what kind of shot you are trying to hit). Following is a quick explanation of the relationship between ball position and the bottom of your swing for your driver, your fairway woods and your irons.
- Driver. When you are hitting a driver from the tee, you actually want to hit slightly up on the ball through impact. In order to hit up, you must reach the bottom of your swing before you contact the ball. Therefore, your ball position with the driver should be slightly forward of where you expect the bottom of your swing to fall. For most people, the bottom of the driver swing will come about halfway between the middle of the stance and the left foot, meaning the ball should be positioned up in line with the left foot. By using a forward ball position, you will give your swing time to bottom out and then head back up slightly before contacting the ball. Using this kind of ball position will allow you to optimize both your launch angle and spin rate - hopefully leading to longer drives on a regular basis.
- Fairway woods. Some golfers make the mistake of thinking that they should treat a fairway wood shot the same as a driver, but there are actually a couple of adjustments that need to be made. First, you need to understand that you want to make contact with fairway woods right at the bottom of your swing – so in this case, your ball position at the bottom point of your swing should match up. That means moving the ball back slightly in your stance to a point that is forward of center but short of your left foot. You don't want to hit up on your fairway woods, but you don't want to hit down either. Ideally, the club will be moving parallel with the ground when contact is made, allowing you to maximize the performance of these versatile clubs. One other adjustment that should be made when hitting fairway woods as compared to a driver is the overall length of your swing. Since the club head is smaller and offers less forgiveness, you want to tighten things up and make a slightly shorter backswing when hitting a fairway wood instead of a driver.
- Irons. As you probably already know, it is important to hit down on your iron shots in order to get the ball to climb up into the air. For that reason, you will want to position the ball actually behind the bottom of your swing by just an inch or two. The bottom of your swing should take place within your divot when hitting an iron, and the ball should already be gone when you are making that divot. The exact ball position that you need to use will vary from iron to iron, so take some time to experiment with each club until you can nail down the ball position that you need to use. As a rule of thumb, most golfers will be well-served to have the ball in the middle of their stance when hitting wedges, with the ball moving slightly forward as the clubs get longer. However, ball position is an individual thing with irons, so the only way to get yours exactly right is through careful practice.
Hopefully these quick explanations have given you a clear picture of how ball positioning works in the golf swing. The ball should be slightly forward of the bottom of your driver swing, and slightly behind the bottom of your iron swing, in order to allow you to make proper contact with all of your clubs. Just like any other part of your game, ball positioning takes practice to master, so don't overlook this important fundamental when spending time on the range.
Simplify Your Mechanics
In golf, simple is almost always better. That is certainly true when it comes to trying to stabilize the position of the bottom of your swing. If you can successfully simplify the mechanics that you use to move the club back and through the shot, you will be able to more consistently find the same bottom point with each club. Complicated swings may occasionally result in good shots, but it is unlikely they will ever offer you the necessary consistency to post good scores.
Below is a list of three basic fundamentals that will lead you to great consistency in your golf swing. It should be noted that these fundamentals are not only good for hitting the same bottom point each time – they are also beneficial in a variety of other ways. If you can invest the time necessary to make sure your swing obeys these three 'rules', you will certainly be on the path toward becoming a better player.
- No slide to the right. This is one of the most important fundamentals in the game, yet it is overlooked by many amateur players. When the club first starts to move back away from the ball, many players are tempted to slide along with the movement of the club, leaning to the right and falling off balance. This is a disastrous move in the world of golf swing mechanics. Getting lost over your right foot early in the backswing will cause many problems, including making it nearly impossible to consistently find the same bottom point in your swing. Also, moving right in the backswing will set you up for the possibility of a slice, and you will lose swing speed due to your poor balance. All in all, there is nothing good to say about sliding right early in the swing. Work on staying perfectly balanced throughout your backswing so that you are well-positioned to attack the ball on the way down.
- Control backswing length. Finding the right length for your backswing requires striking a delicate balance. On the one hand, you don't want to shorten your swing to the point of losing distance on your shots. On the other hand, making a long swing can throw off both your balance and your timing. The best way to determine the right backswing length for your game is simply to stop your backswing when your shoulders are done turning away from the target. This might sound simple, but many golfers break this rule on a consistent basis. Once your shoulders are done turning right, it is time to rotate back to the left to hit the shot. By preventing your arms from continuing on in the backswing after the shoulders have quit, you can maintain good connection and timing in your swing. If you are used to making a long arm swing, shortening things up will likely feel uncomfortable at first – but it is a change that needs to be made. Focus on swinging the club more with your body rotation and less with your arms, and soon you will be making pure contact at the bottom.
- Keep your left foot down. As the downswing begins, everything you are doing with your body should be designed to move the club toward the target and through to a good finish position. You don't want to just focus on the bottom of your swing, but actually swinging through impact and beyond. Part of that motion involves keeping your left foot firmly planted on the ground throughout the downswing. In an effort to generate power, some golfers move their left heel up off the ground in the downswing, which only serves to complicate everything you are trying to do. At the left heel comes up, it will restrict your rotation toward the target, which will actually cost you distance in the end. Also, that upward motion will make it harder to find the bottom of your swing successfully, meaning you may miss-hit the shot. If you can stay grounded and keep your left heel where it is throughout the downswing, your overall motion will be much easier to repeat shot after shot.
Any golf swing that can claim the three fundamentals above stands a great chance of being successful. Each of these three points should be relatively easy to execute on its own, but it may take some time to integrate all of them into your swing properly. Take time out of an upcoming driving range session to work on these three elements and the bottom of your golf swing should quickly become easier to locate.
Keep It Moving
This point was briefly mentioned above, but it should be highlighted further due to its high level of importance. As you are swinging down through the hitting area, it is essential that you keep everything moving toward the target until the swing is complete. There are many amateur golfers that fail on this point, as they begin to stop the swing as soon as they get to the bottom. If you want to maximize both the power and accuracy in your swing, it is essential that you keep the swing moving through impact and up into the finish. In fact, a good way to judge the quality of a golf swing is by looking at the finish position – if the player is balanced over their left foot while looking at the target when they finish their swing, there is a good chance the rest of the action is under control. A poor finish position, on the other hand, is a sure sign that there are problems which need to be corrected.
If you fail to keep your swing moving through impact, the bottom of your swing is not going to be at the same place each time. From a short wedge shot all the way up through your driver, acceleration is required to play good golf. A swing that slows down as it approaches the ball is likely to bottom out earlier than expected, meaning you will typically hit the ball fat with your irons and thin with your driver. Neither of those outcomes are desirable, so you must be committed to acceleration from the top of the swing all the way through the ball and beyond. Accelerating through your shots takes commitment to the swing, as there is no room for doubt or second thoughts once you put the club in motion.
Confidence is a big part of golf, and it is a big part of keeping the club moving through impact as well. A confident golfer is one who will believe in his or her swing mechanics enough to go through the hitting area without holding anything back. If you lack confidence, however, there is likely to be doubt in the back of your mind – and that doubt could lead to the complete failure of your swing when it matters most. The professional golfers you see play on TV have all the confidence they need to swing through the hitting area, and that kind of mind set should be your goal as well. Dedicate yourself completely to each swing with the full belief that you are going to hit a great shot. Even without perfect swing mechanics, self-confidence can go a long way toward making you a good player.
Combatting the Slope of the Course
To find the bottom of your swing consistently, you first need to work on your mechanics on the driving range. However, at some point, you are going to have to take that work out onto the course and see how it holds up. You will probably be fine off the tee where you have a flat lie, but it may be a different story from the fairway. Golf is rarely played on totally flat ground, so you are going to have to learn how to adjust your swing to account for the slope of the golf course under your feet. Sloped lies make it difficult to find the bottom of your swing successfully, so you will need to know how to counteract this issue in order to maintain your level of ball striking throughout the round.
The first thing you should do when playing from an uneven lie is widen your stance just slightly. It doesn't actually matter what kind of slope you are dealing with – widening your stance is a great way to gain stability and simplify your swing. Even if you only move your feet out just an inch or two, that could be enough to help you stay on balance from the takeaway all the way through to the finish. Losing your balance is the main concern when playing from a sloped lie, and it is the main reason that you would lose track of the bottom of your swing. Simply by playing from a slightly wider stance you can minimize the chance that you get off balance, and therefore you will give yourself a good chance to strike the shot cleanly.
One other step you can take to hit better shots off of uneven lies is to take extra club and swing softer when playing from a slope. Trying to swing hard to maximize your distance when you aren't on flat ground is a recipe for disaster, as you will likely fall off balance at some point during the swing. Instead of hitting a seven iron approach shot, for example, consider hitting a six so you will be able to swing well within your limits. There is no award for swinging as hard as you can to force the ball up to the target – the only thing that matters is how many shots it takes you to get the ball in the hole. The combination of shortening up your swing and widening your stance could do wonders for your performance from those tough side hill lies.
A good golfer is always aware of where the bottom of his or her swing is with each club in the bag. If you would like to be a pure ball striker who is able to control both distance and direction on a regular basis, working on finding the bottom of your swing will be time well spent. Golf is never easy, but it is certainly a little easier when you can make clean contact swing after swing, all day long.