Are golfers athletes? The debate never seems to end.

But with pro golfers increasing in size, fitness and muscle every year, those on the “yes” side seem to be winning. Many of today's pros starred in other sports growing up, and the skills learned playing baseball, basketball and even football can translate to the golf course.

Obviously, making an athletic golf swing requires a degree of athletic ability. That doesn't mean you must run fast, jump high or possess great stamina. Rather, balance, rhythm and core strength are the foundation of a supple, dynamic swing.

Naturally, it all starts with the setup. Here's how to start your swing in an athletic position:

1. When hitting the driver, stand so the insides of the feet match the width of your shoulders. Your stance should narrow slightly when using shorter clubs, but the outsides of the feet should never be less than shoulder width apart.

2. Flare the left toe toward the target by about 15°. The right foot should be perpendicular to the target line, or flared a touch to the right.

3. Flex the knees enough to feel balanced and dynamic, but don't overdo it.

4. Bend at the hips, not the waist, when putting the club in position.

5. The spine is straight from waist through the neck.

6. Relax, beginning with a loose jaw (no clinching).

Other elements of an athletic swing include full rotation of the shoulders and hips (ideally, reaching 90° and 45°, respectively, at the top of the backswing), and a powerful coiling and uncoiling of the torso.

Athletic Golf Swing Begins with Setup

Athletic Golf Swing Begins with Setup

To most people, golf doesn't really seem like an athletic game. After all, the players are wearing nice clothes, they never have to run, and they can even have a drink and a snack while they play. When compared to other sports that require all sorts of running, jumping, and sweating, golf looks quite tame. However, if you are going to make a quality golf swing time after time, you actually do need to tap in to your inner athlete.

When you make an athletic golf swing, you will be able to use all of the various parts of your body to produce as much speed and power as possible through the hitting area. Far too many golfers think that they just need to hit a series of positions throughout the swing in order to find success. That just isn't how this game works. Copying positions out of a golf textbook is a great way to make a pretty swing – but that swing might not actually be very effective. To make a swing that winds up producing quality shots, you need to hit the right positions while being athletic at the same time. The timing and rhythm that come along with an athletic swing are paramount to your success.

In order to give yourself the best possible chance to make an athletic swing, you should first work on taking a great stance over the ball. The setup is an element of the game that is commonly overlooked, yet it has a profound impact on the shots that you can hit. A good setup will promote an athletic swing which repeats time after time. A poor setup, on the other hand, will get in your way and will actually make it harder to play good golf. Since the setup takes place before the club even starts in motion, there is no excuse for making mistakes in this part of the game. Take the time to learn how to position your body correctly over the ball and your game will improve as a result – it really is that simple.

While there is a little bit of room for individual style when it comes to the stance, there are also some key fundamentals that all golfers should understand. In this article, we are going to look at the keys elements that make up a proper address position. Also, we will discuss how it is that you can customize your stance in order to suit your personal needs perfectly. In the end, you will hopefully be left with a stance that is comfortable, athletic, and ready to lead you to great results out on the course. Working on your stance might not be the most exciting thing that you get to do in the game of golf, but it is one of the most productive ways you can spend your time.

All of the content included below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Key Setup Fundamentals

Key Setup Fundamentals

To get started, we are going to first highlight the key fundamentals that all golfers should make sure are present when they stand over the ball. These aren't points that are up for debate – they are keys that would be agreed upon by (nearly) every golf teacher in the world. If you aren't hitting on all of these points when you stake your stance, you are making the game harder than it needs to be. It shouldn't take long to learn how to incorporate all of these keys into your setup, so there is no excuse for continuing to play without using these proper fundamentals.

Balanced at address. Perhaps above all else, you need to be balanced before you start your swing. Even if you do a number of other things wrong before and during your swing, you can still wind up with a decent shot if you manage to keep yourself balanced properly. When addressing the ball for a 'normal' swing, you want to have your weight distributed evenly between your feet so that your center of gravity is perfectly in the middle of your stance. This might seem like somewhat of an obvious point, but there are plenty of golfers who go wrong right from the start when it comes to balance. A big part of being athletic in your swing is keeping yourself balanced, and the focus on balance should begin before the club even starts in motion.

  • Flat back. Another one of the elements of athleticism that you should focus on in your swing is a great shoulder turn. Most golfers know that they need to turn their shoulders fully during the golf swing in order to create speed, but many players don't understand that they need to set the stage for that turn during the setup. When addressing the ball, make sure your back is in a flat position from your belt line all the way on up to your neck. With a flat back position achieved, you will have a much easier time making a full turn away from the ball. In fact, combining good balance with a flat back will take you most of the way toward a quality backswing.
  • Flexed knees. It is almost impossible to imagine a quality golf swing which does not included flexed knees at address. Every player that you see competing in professional golf events on TV will have his or her knees flexed over the ball, and for good reason. Flexed knees make it easier to complete an athletic swing, and you will find that you are able to hold your balance far more successfully when your knees are bent. Of course, it isn't enough to have them flexed at address – you need to maintain that flex throughout the swing. The amount of knee flex that you use is ultimately up to you, but make sure that there is at least some bend in your legs when you stand over the ball.
  • Chin up/eyes down. These two points are combined into one because you need to get them both right if you are going to setup properly from the neck up. When you take your stance, you want to have your eyes down on the ball – but your chin needs to be up away from your chest. This is a concept that is difficult for many golfers to understand. A large number of players, thinking they need to 'keep their head down', force their chin down into their chest at address. Pushing your chin down might make it easier to see the ball, but that move will make it nearly impossible for you to make a full shoulder turn in the backswing. So, by keeping your chin up and eyes down, you will still be able to see the ball, but you will also give your shoulders room to rotate back and through.

Any player who is able to successfully hit on all four of the fundamentals listed above is going to be in good shape at address. While addressing the ball properly doesn't guarantee that you will make a good swing, it certainly is an important first step. A quality stance sets you up for success in the swing, so you will be well ahead of all the players who don't take the time to refine their setup appropriately.

The Matter of Timing

The Matter of Timing

You might think of timing as something that is important once you get your swing started, but you should actually be concerned with timing before you even put the club in motion. Believe it or not, there is an element of timing to the setup that needs to be mentioned as part of this discussion. This point is specifically important to this article because it will help you to make an athletic golf swing over and over again.

As you position your body into the setup, you need to make sure that you don't get 'stuck' at this point. It is common for golfers to take their time to position their bodies perfectly over the ball, which is fine, as it does take a few seconds to make sure everything is just right. However, after that job is done, too many players wind up stuck in that setup position like a statue. Rather than getting on with the swing, many players will hold still at address for several seconds or more, even after the stance is finished. This is a problem. By holding still for so long before starting your swing, you will be robbing yourself of any rhythm and tempo that you had going into the process. You will have to start from a cold stop, and that is a very difficult thing to do.

If you would like to make sure that your swing remains as athletic and fluid as possible, it is best to take very little time between the completion of your stance and the start of the swing. You don't want to rush, but you don't want to get stuck either – it is crucial to find an appropriate middle ground between those two extremes. For many golfers, the best thing to do is use a look up at the target as a trigger to start the action. It works as follows –

  • Take your time in building your stance. Make sure you are aimed properly at the target you have picked out for the shot, and get your body in a position that checks off all of the points on the list we provided earlier. You should have practiced this process on the range so that it comes naturally to you on the course.
  • With your stance completed, turn your head slowly to the left to allow yourself to take a look at the target. You shouldn't need to adjust your aim at this point, but rather you should just be confirming the picture of the shot that you have in your mind before starting the swing.
  • Once you have seen the target, move your eyes and head back down toward the ball. As soon as your eyes reach the ball, the swing should begin. You are using the action of your eyes locating the ball as the 'trigger' to initiate your swing. By starting the swing as soon as you see the ball, you will safely be able to avoid the problem of getting stuck in your stance.

It isn't always easy to bridge the gap between the stance and the swing, but following the simply process above should help you to do so successfully. Once you get comfortable with the timing of this process, you should find that your swing begins almost 'automatically' without any thinking on your part. In the end, you should be left with a swing that is athletic, repeatable, and reliable under pressure.

Customizing Your Stance

Customizing Your Stance

As was mentioned earlier, there are parts of the stance which can be customized in order to meet your needs. By customizing your stance to match up with the way you swing the club, you should be able to optimize your results. Of course, at the same time, you need to be sure that you are still hitting on each of the key fundamentals that were listed earlier in this article. Combining those fundamentals with your own personalization is the best way to make your stance work for you.

So what kind of customizations might you need to make to your stance? Consider the following possibilities.

  • Ball position. This is an important part of the stance, but it is hard to teach because it is so variable from player to player. Some golfers like to play with the ball up near their left foot, while others like it back near the middle of the stance – and neither group is wrong. You can play well from a variety of ball positions, as long as the one you choose to use is a good fit for your needs. The best way to settle on the right ball position for your swing is simply to experiment with several different options as you work on your setup. Hit shots from a number of different ball positions on the range and stick with the one that provides you with the best results.
  • Aim. Of course, the aim that you use for your shots is going to be an important piece of your setup, and this is another point that needs to be personalized to match your game. Very rarely will you want to actually aim directly at the target – instead, you are going to usually aim out to the right or left slightly in order to play a draw or fade into the target. Which way do you like to turn the ball in the air, and how much? Every player's ball flight is unique to their game, so you need to know your shots and know how to aim in order to make them work. This is another point that should be worked out on the range prior to playing on the course. Figure out how much to the right or left of the target you need to aim with each of your clubs and then trust those adjustments during your rounds. As long as you are paying close attention to your aim and to your ball flight, you should be able to gradually improve your performance on this point over time.
  • Closed or open. To help your swing path move through the ball properly, you may wish to customize your stance by opening or closing your feet with relation to the target line. So, for instance, if you tend to attack the ball too far from the inside, you could open up your stance slightly to counteract that problem. You don't want to play from a dramatically open or closed stance, but using this adjustment to a minor degree is a good way to get the best possible performance from your swing. Also, you can use these kinds of adjustments 'on the fly' in order to curve the ball to the right or left on command.

If you watch golf on television, you will notice that the best players in the world generally don't deviate much from a 'standard' address position when hitting their shots. There isn't a ton of customization to the stance done at the highest levels of the game, which should tell you that it is best to keep your stance mostly neutral as well. However, there is nothing wrong with making slight tweaks in order to get optimal performance out of your game. Also, you want to be as comfortable over the ball as possible, so making minor changes to your stance in order to promote comfort is a good choice.

Setup Keys in the Short Game

Setup Keys in the Short Game

While there isn't as much athleticism involved in the short game as there is in the full swing, you will still want to key on a solid setup as the foundation of your technique on short shots. Whether you are putting, chipping, or playing from the sand, using a fundamentally sound setup is crucial to your success. Below, we will quickly break down the key elements of a good setup in each of the three key areas of the short game.

  • Putting. When putting, there are two keys that you need to keep in mind with regard to the setup – balance, and comfort. Since the task at hand only involves swinging the putter a short distance back and through, there isn't going to be much asked of your body during the stroke. You will see plenty of variance out on the course when it comes to putting stances since it is possible to putt well from a variety of positions. As long as you are balanced and comfortable, you should be good to go. As one other important point, make sure your eyes are out over the ball far enough to give you a good view of the line during the putt.
  • Chipping. If you find yourself facing a chip shot, you are going to want to break with the fundamentals that you have been using in the setup for your other shots. For a chip shot, you actually don't want to be balanced at the start – you want to have a majority of your weight leaning into your left side. Setting up with weight on your left side will make it easier to hit down on the ball naturally, which is exactly what you need to do in order to make clean contact. Many golfers struggle to hit down on their chip shots, and that is due in large part to a poor address position. Lean left while standing over the ball and the task of hitting a clean chip will get much easier.
  • Sand play. For greenside bunker shots, you need to sink down into your stance in order to make it easier to move the club under the ball. Use plenty of knee flex, and dig your feet down into the sand at least a couple of inches as you get set. The idea behind the basic greenside bunker shot is to slide the club completely under the ball so that the sand can lift the ball out of the trap and onto the green. Also, you should usually have the ball up toward the front of your stance in order to give the club time to get down into the sand before it reaches the ball.

Using a great address position is one of the keys to making a quality golf swing. You want to have as much athleticism in your golf swing as possible, and learning how to setup correctly over the ball is a key toward success on that point. With a great stance and good timing to start your swing, you should be able to consistently make an athletic move that will lead to impressive shots. Good luck!