By Charlie Levis
Minnesota in spring – does it get any better? I think what I enjoy the most is the feeling of a fresh start; a new beginning to what we know will be an active summer. For many of us, our golf game is much the same; a new beginning. I have always cherished the first practice session of the new season. No bad habits. The expectation level is low, the excitement level is high and usually the results are better than expected. There is a good reason for that. As it is in my case, I start by focusing on the sound fundamentals in the first session. I concentrate heavily on set-up, alignment and ball placement. The results are overwhelming: good contact, accurate ball flight – not too bad for such a long, cold winter layoff. I truly believe that a “back to the basics” attitude is good to take with you to the first practice session.
Getting Started: Posture
Focus on taking a proper set-up (see Photo 1). Posture is critical in this regard. To hit accurate golf shots you need to be set-up in a strong athletic position. The first key is standing tall with your feet hip width apart. Next, slightly tilt your upper body forward at the hips as if to bow toward the ball. It is important to keep your back straight. Now simply unlock your legs, let you hands and arms hang straight down. If you are in the correct position your arms and hands will fall away from your legs. It’s a good idea to practice this set-up position prior to taking it to the course. Try to make a routine of setting up for an imaginary golf shot on numerous occasions throughout the day. It will help you to become more comfortable when you need it most – on the course. This set-up will put you in a strong position and allow good rotation needed to achieve solid, consistent contact.
Even the best shots, when misaligned, will end in poor results. For those of you that have done it, there is nothing more frustrating than hitting a great golf shot into a bad location. To align yourself properly, you must have a basic understanding of two things: target line and body alignment line. The target line is a direct line from your intended target that runs straight through, and continues past, the ball. The body alignment line is a line that is parallel left of the target line. Many teaching professionals explain it as an imaginary railroad track with the ball on one side and your body on the other. Keys to proper alignment are keeping your knees, hips and shoulders in alignment parallel to the target line.
It is said that golf is a game of inches – I suggest this is an understatement at the very least (see Photo 2). Even the most perfect golf swing will not attain desired results if impact on the ball is early or late. Impacting the golf ball one inch prior to or after the club is square to the target line is disastrous; therefore I consider ball placement one of the most important details in hitting accurate golf shots.
To understand the importance of ball placement I’d like you to run through the following exercise during your next practice session; it will give you 2 separate ball positions to work with for a specific shot and the results should be vastly different. Start with a 6 iron, after taking alignment put your feet together across from the ball, next move your front foot 4″ toward the target and your back foot 6″ away from the target – this set-up will put the ball slightly forward of center in your stance. Hit a few shots and observe the results.
Now reverse the set-up for a different ball position – slightly back; set-up again taking your alignment with your feet together across from the ball, now move distance of the front foot 6″ forward and back foot 4″ back; the result is a ball location slightly back in your stance. Take a normal swing and hit a few shots – are the results different. Watch the shot results of the different ball positions during your practice sessions and make your adjustments based on ball flight after each set-up. In most cases if your ball flight starts to the right of your target the ball placement is too far back in your stance.
Set-Up, Alignment and Ball Placement are three key fundamentals in the game of golf. Each spring I return to these basic fundamentals. My practice sessions are simple – I focus on each fundamental separately and then try to put them all together; each has equal importance in the results you achieve and one is no good without the other two. It’s a good spring tune-up, but don’t be afraid to revisit them throughout the year if your not achieving your desired results.