You may have heard baseball players talk about “staying back” when hitting. The idea is to keep the body from spinning out before bat meets ball. Rotate too early and the hands lag well behind the hips and shoulders, sapping power and causing poor contact.
A similar concept applies in golf.
While the golf ball doesn't come whizzing in at 90 MPH, it's still important to stay behind the ball when hitting the driver. Otherwise, you'll lose not only power but accuracy – and we all know golfers must play their foul balls.
The first step to staying behind the ball is setting up that way. With the driver, the ball should be positioned off the left heel (right-handers), with about 60 percent of your weight on the right foot and the right shoulder slightly lower than the left.
You are now behind the ball; concentrate on returning to this position at impact. Keep a mental image of the clubhead chasing the ball after contact, which will prevent the left side from spinning out and up too soon. The ability to stay behind the ball at impact is one of the key ingredients to hitting quality shots. If you feel like you struggle with this part of the golf swing, use the information below to start solving the problem as soon as possible. After just one or two trips to the range you could find yourself making better swings, and hitting better shots.
How and Why You Should Stay Behind the Golf Ball
Although you stand next to the golf ball while making a swing, staying 'behind the golf ball' is actually one of most important fundamentals in the game. So what does it mean to stay behind the ball? When you arrive at impact, you are behind the ball if your head has not drifted past the ball and closer to the target. Ideally, your head will be slightly behind the ball (or right over top of it) so you can attack down through the shot aggressively. Players who get past the ball during the downswing will always struggle to hit powerful shots on the correct line.
Getting past the ball in the downswing is a common amateur mistake. It is easy to fall into the trap of allowing your weight to slide toward the target during the downswing, which will inevitably carry your head past the ball by the time you reach impact. The downswing should be about rotation, not lateral movement, and rotating correctly is the best way to ensure that you stay behind the ball throughout the swing.
All golfers love to hit with power, and staying behind the ball will help you do just that – but the real benefit to staying behind the ball at impact is being able to hit your shots on line time after time. Accuracy will always be critical in golf, because it doesn't matter how far you hit the ball when it lands in the trees or the water. Staying behind the golf ball will allow you to get the face of the club square to your target line at impact for frequently, leading to straighter shots. From your wedges all the way through your driver, keeping your head back at impact is a fundamental that requires your attention.
Another reason it is important to stay behind the ball is the fact that keeping your head in the proper position is a great sign that you have done everything else right in your swing. With your head behind the ball at impact, you can be confident that you are on balance and your lower body is leading the way nicely through the downswing. Also, if you are able to keep your head back in the downswing, there is a good chance that your eyes are looking down at the ball. Staying behind the golf ball isn't the only important fundamental in golf, but it is a good way to check on the overall health of your swing mechanics.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
The Many Benefits
As was alluded to above, there are a number of benefits to be gained from staying behind the golf ball at impact. If you can learn this important fundamental and successful add it to your technique, you will notice the overall quality of your ball striking will quickly improve. Keeping your head behind the ball is a powerful position which allows you to unleash all of your potential power through the shot. On the flip side, sliding your head position to the left of the ball at impact is a harmful mistake which will most certainly damage your game.
Following is a list of some of the many benefits you can enjoy simply by staying behind the golf ball at impact.
- Added distance. This is probably the point that will sell you on trying to keep your head behind the ball in the golf swing. Everyone loves to add distance to their shots – especially off the tee. Not only will you be able to impress your friends when you blast a few long drives down the middle of the fairway, those long drives will also help you shoot lower scores. Shorter approach shots usually equal more birdie opportunities, which will add up to the better score at the end of the day. Distance isn't everything in golf, but it certainly helps – and keeping your head behind the ball is crucial to reaching your distance potential.
- Hitting your line. There are two parts to every golf shot that you hit – distance, and accuracy. You want to get the distance right, of course, but you need to get the line correct as well. By staying behind the ball, you will improve your ability to start the shot on the intended target line. No golfer is able to hit their line with every shout throughout the day, but even hitting two or three extra shots at your target over the period of 18 holes will greatly help your scores.
- Simplicity. When you take reduce the amount of movement in your swing, you will improve your overall consistency. Staying behind the ball is a good way to reduce the amount of movement in your swing because you will be taking out most of the lateral motion that you may have been using. The best golf swings are the ones that stay balanced from start to finish, as good balance is the best way to simplify your technique. With minimal lateral motion taking your body left in the downswing, you will instantly have better balance – and your swing will be simpler as a result.
- Proper angle of attack. Players who get too far past the ball at impact tend to hit down steeply through the shot, which is not always a good thing. When you stay behind the ball properly, you can avoid this problem and create an angle of attack that will allow you to take a shallow divot while generating plenty of spin. You want this angle of attack to remain constant from shot to shot, and the best way to do that is to stay behind the ball at the bottom of the swing.
Simply put, good golfers stay behind the ball at impact. This is an important fundamental, and it is one that you really can't afford to get wrong. While some of the other 'fundamentals' in golf aren't really required to play well, this one is nearly non-negotiable. You will have an uphill battle ahead of you if you try to hit good golf shots while allowing your body to drift left past the ball prior to impact. Learn how to stay back and you should begin to enjoy some or all of the benefits listed above.
Setting Up Correctly
The process of getting your head behind the ball at impact starts before the swing even begins. Building a quality stance prior to starting your swing can help you get in the right position at impact, so it is important that you take this part of your game seriously. Many amateur golfers make the mistake of not paying close attention to their stance, and they pay for it in the way of an inconsistent ball flight. A large number of these players mistakenly believe there is something wrong with their actual swing when it is actually a pre-swing issue. You might be surprised at how many great shots you are capable of hitting by simply starting of your swing from a fundamentally sound stance.
Now that you understand the importance of a good stance to the eventual success of your swing, consider the tips below for building a great all-around address position.
- Balanced. Of course, you want to be balanced in your stance – this one should go without saying. Balance is important during the golf swing, and you will have almost no chance of being balanced while the club is in motion if you aren't even balanced to start with. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed between your feet at address, and avoid leaning out onto your toes or back onto your heels. You should feel like you are in an athletic position that would allow you to move in any direction at a moment's notice.
- Head behind the ball. As you might suspect, you want to start with your head positioned slightly behind the ball so it is easy to find that same position at the bottom of the swing. To do this, you will need to set up with the correct ball position based on the club you are using for the shot at hand. With a wedge, you want to have the ball positioned in the middle of your stance, so that your head is basically right over top of the ball. As the clubs get longer, your ball position should move farther and farther up in your stance. By the time you get to the driver, the ball should be aligned with the inside of your left heel. Getting your ball position just right is crucial to finding a good impact position. Practice ball position on the driving range just like you would work on any other fundamental in your game.
- Slight forward lean with the shaft. The ideal impact position will have your head staying behind the ball while your hands are slightly past it. You want your hands to be past the ball when you make contact so that you can hit down aggressively through the shot and use all of the power that you developed in the downswing. At address, lean the shaft just slightly toward the target and you will have a much easier time putting your hands in front of the ball at impact.
- Consider opening your right foot. This is not a position that every golfer needs to use, but it can come in handy for some players – especially those with limited flexibility. You want to make a great turn with your shoulders in the backswing to ensure that you are getting behind the ball, but a lack of flexibility can make that turn difficult. To help put your body in the right position, consider opening your right foot slightly at address. By turning that foot out even just a few degrees, your body will encounter less resistance as you rotate away from the target. Again, this is not a tip that all golfers need to employ, but it can be a game changer for those who need a little extra help finishing the backswing.
Getting the right address position is half the battle when working on your golf swing. Believe it or not, a good address position can actually fix many of the problems that you deal with while the club is in motion. Most golf teachers can evaluate their students before the club ever goes in motion just by looking at the way they stand over the ball. Professional golfers take great care to build quality stances, and you should follow their lead by placing this fundamental high on your priority list. With a great stance in place, staying behind the ball at impact will become a relatively easy task.
Staying Behind the Ball during the Swing
With a great stance supporting your swing, it's time to put the club in motion. If the only thing you want to change about your swing is your ability to stay behind the ball, there is no need to make radical mechanical adjustments at this time. In fact, it is better if you keep everything else about your swing the same while you are working on this issue. Once you have improved your ability to stay back at impact, you can then move on to improving other elements of your swing, if you so choose. Working on just one thing at a time is always the best choice when it comes to the golf swing.
As you start the swing, the first thing you need to watch for is any lateral movement to your right early in the takeaway. You want your body to be rotating to the right as you take the club back, but your weight shouldn't be sliding onto your right foot. If you notice that you are sliding, stop your swing and start over. It is absolutely essential that your backswing consists of a full turn without a slide to the right. When you slide, your center of gravity moves too far right, and you will be forced to slide back to the left just to recover your balance. As you slide left, your body will move past the ball, and any hope of keeping your head behind the ball at impact will be lost.
Once you have completed the takeaway, you shouldn't have to worry any more about sliding to the right. The rotation of your swing will carry you through the rest of the backswing nicely, and you should be able to arrive at a balanced position at the top. The only issue to worry about as you complete your backswing is swinging the club back too far. An extra-long backswing is another way to lose your balance, so stop the club when it reaches a position that is parallel to the ground (roughly). Carrying your backswing too long can drag your weight onto your left side, which will again make it hard to stay behind the ball during the downswing. You don't need to worry about this problem much when hitting short irons, but it is an issue to watch for specifically when hitting the driver.
Assuming you were able to stop the club in a good position at the top of your swing, you are now ready to transition into the downswing. It is during the transition from backswing to downswing where so many golfers go wrong. The correct move is to rotate your lower body to the left so that your hips open up to the target. Unfortunately, many golfers replace that rotation with a slide to the left, and they move their body right past the ball before the club ever has a chance to get down into position. If you regularly hit weak shots that float off to the right of the target, you are likely guilty of this mistake.
To correct this error, work on the motion of your left hip right from the top of the swing. Instead of letting that hip slide closer to the target, you should work on turning it back and to the left (as if it were trying to move away from the golf ball). It might help to think about it this way – when your swing is finished, you want to have your belt buckle pointing at the target. In order to make that happen, you can't slide to the left because your hips will never have a chance to rotate enough by the time the swing is completed. Get started on your hip rotation right from the very top of the swing and you will be well on your way to success.
The final piece of the puzzle is the moment of impact. As you send the club head into the back of the ball, think about posting up on your left leg. When the left leg goes straight at impact, there is a great chance that you have stayed behind the ball nicely. Players who slide past the ball in the downswing usually have a soft left leg at impact, with a bent left knee. Hit into a solid left side and it is almost a certainty that your head will be behind the ball at the bottom of your swing.
Expect Some Changes
If you go from hitting shots with your head to the left of the ball to staying behind your shots successfully, you can expect to see some changes in your ball flight. These changes will be a good thing, but you need to understand them so you can play to your new patterns. Aiming your shots expecting your old ball flight and then seeing your new one sail through the air is a recipe for a frustrating day on the links.
Some of the changes you should expect to see to your ball flight are as follows –
- Higher launch angle. Hitting from behind the ball is going to allow you to start your shots on a higher trajectory, which should help you achieve more carry distance. The higher launch may take some getting used to if you are accustomed to hitting low shots with most of your clubs. Getting the ball up into the air will open up a number of new options for you on approach shots, as the higher trajectory will allow the ball to stop quicker when it lands on the green. Remember, this higher launch will make your ball more susceptible to windy conditions, so be sure to check the wind prior to hitting each shot.
- Higher spin rate. Along with that higher launch angle should come a higher spin rate on your short irons (and maybe your other clubs as well). The additional spin can be attributed mostly to the quality of contact that you achieving at impact. When you strike the golf ball cleanly on an iron shot, the face of the club is able to impart maximum spin on the ball. There is nothing wrong with a higher spin rate on your short iron shots, and it can actually be a great advantage, but it is something that you need to be aware of when picking your targets.
- Less sidespin. Whether you play a draw or a fade, you should expect to see less side spin on all of your shots when you stay behind the ball properly at impact. The club head will be moving in a more-direct line toward the target, meaning less side spin will be imparted on the ball. Hitting straighter shots is great news, but you will have to adjust to not playing as much of a draw or a fade into your targets.