Fundamentals is the foundation that all great swings — and ultimately great results —are built on. In other words, if you do not start or finish properly, you will not become consistent from shot to shot.
Consistency is the key to lower scores. It is true that we would all love to hit the ball further as this is the number one goal for most golfers. For most, hitting the ball further quite often means hitting the ball further into the bush or water.
The bottom line is that although distance is an important factor to lowering your scores and consistency in your shots, ultimately keeping the ball in play is the key factor to posting lower scores.
One of the first things that I do when a player comes for golf lessons is find out what his/her goals are. This is extremely important for both the student and I as it becomes a tool that we measure their success with. Part of the process is also determining how much an individual plays and practises.
The purpose of this is to help players understand that their goals must be achievable. All goals are achievable if we play and practice enough to achieve the goals set.
In other words, do not expect to become a zero-handicap golfer if you do not intend on practising and play only five games per year.
Once we have discussed the player’s goals we have to ensure that their playing and practising habits are in line with their goals. From here I ask the player to start hitting some balls. It becomes irrelevant to me as I watch the players hit the ball as to their skill level. Players of all levels will take lessons because they are either having difficulty and/or they want to play and score better than they already do.
Having said this, if there are 10 million golfers in Canada, then there is 10 million different swings in Canada! This is due to the fact that our strength, flexibility, knowledge and ultimately our body limitations are all different.
We can not expect to swing the same way as we are all built differently.
This is obvious when we stand on the range and watch players hit balls. Although there is truly only one book swing, it is applied differently to each and every player. The bottom line is it goes right back to your goals.
If you want to hit the ball better than you already do, then you need to make changes. Although different for all players, the first thing that teaching professionals will look at or check is whether their set-up positions are correct. In the following paragraphs, I shall talk about all the important pieces that make up a great set-up and finish position. These will include the stance, ball position, alignment and of course the finish position.
Regardless of your current ability, most poor results can be attributed to a poor set-up and/or finish position.
The stance — There are seven key components to a good stance. They include the facts that your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart, knees slightly flexed, bum pushed out to help create good posture (straight back), arms relaxed, chin up and eyes on the ball.
When stepping up to the ball you need to ensure that your feet are not too far apart. Having too wide of a stance will restrict your lower body movement throughout the swing forcing you to use only your arms. This will directly influence your distance. Ensure that your feet are no wider that the width of your shoulders.
Flexing of the knees helps put you into a more athletic and balanced position and will also assist you in creating torque (which creates distance) in the backswing. Arch your lower back or stick your butt out. This helps create a straight back and great posture and helps eliminate tension in your upper back.
The next two are extremely important. They include allowing your arms to hang from your shoulders. What we want to avoid is extending your arms away from your body at address or reaching for the ball. This can cause you to top the ball and lose plenty of distance.
Secondly, you want to make sure that your chin is up. This is to ensure that you have room for your shoulder to move under your chin in the backswing. If your chin is down in your chest then you will likely bend your arms or lift up in your backswing, creating inconsistent ball contact. Finally, ensure that you keep your eyes on the ball until you make contact. Keeping your eyes fixed on one spot (the ball or grass between the ball and club) will limit the amount of improper movement during the back and down swing, making it easier to make consistent contact with the golf ball.
Alignment – Most players have a problem ensuring that they are aligned to their target. What is important here is to line yourself up to your intended target line (where you want the ball to start). What this means is that if you are a right-handed golfer and have a 20-yard slice on most of your shots, then you have to be sure that you align your body in such a way that allows for that slice. In other words you have to align yourself approximately 20 yards to the left of where you want the ball to finish.
By doing so your ball will start left of your target fading into the green.
To align yourself properly, ensure that your feet, knees, hips and shoulders are all traveling towards your intended target line. This will allow the path of your club to travel towards your target through impact.
Ball position — There are two basic philosophies on exactly where the golf ball should be positioned between your feet. The first is that the shorter clubs (sand wedge, pitching wedge) should be positioned in the middle of your stance, and then as the club gets longer the ball moves forward (towards your front foot) in your stance. The driver, which is the longest club in your bag, will be positioned no further forward than opposing your big toe. Although correct, I find that for most players this becomes confusing and therefore the ball position moves too far back in your stance for the appropriate club.
I prefer that most players use the two-ball position theory. For all clubs in your golf bag, position the ball two inches inside your left heel (for right- handed golfers, opposite is true for left-handed golfers). The driver will be positioned directly opposing your front foot big toe. There are many factors that can influence the correct ball position for each individual and a teaching professional should be consulted for confirmation of what position might be appropriate for your golf swing.
The finish position — Considered the most important position in golf. This is where all of your weight transfers onto your front foot (the foot closest to your target) after impact, with your hips and shoulders facing the target. Your hands and golf club are above your shoulder with the club pointing towards the ground and your back foot is rolled up on its toe.
By doing so you ensure that you have used your whole body and that the golf club is at its maximum speed when you make contact with the ball. This position should not be under-estimated and is guaranteed to increase distance, accuracy and a solid ball contact.
Spend some time working on your set up and finish positions as they will assist you in hitting the ball further and straighter time after time.
Scott Bergdahl is the head professional at Lakewood Golf Resort near Sylvan Lake. His column appears Tuesdays in the Advocate.