Hot List 2008January 3, 2008

Instruction Tips

The complete guide to ball position

Spine angle is the key to determining your setup.

Spine angle is the key to determining your setup.

You don't have to read very far into the Hot List package to see how much technology is available to help you hit better shots. Of course, if you don't understand the basics of ball position relative to the club you're hitting, you're going to waste some of that newfound advantage.

To know the right ball position and why it should change depending on the kind of shot you're hitting, you need to understand spine angle. Basically, your spine should tilt away from the target more for longer shots with longer clubs. The optimal ball position for each shot is a function of that spine tilt.

Let's start with short irons. When you're hitting a pitching wedge, you're much more concerned with precision than power. The club is shorter, and you swing it on a more upright plane. You also hit the shot with a distinctly downward strike. That means ball position should be just ahead of center. You can find this by dangling the club from the buttons of your shirt and setting up with the ball just ahead of an imaginary line extending down from the club. This way, you're set up so the bottom of your swing arc comes just past the ball--ideal for that downward strike.

For a middle iron (5-iron through 7-iron), your stance gets a bit wider than it was for the short iron, and ball position moves closer to your left foot by two inches. You have more spine tilt for this shot (to create more leverage and speed), but the swing arc still bottoms out on the target side of the ball.

When you get to your long irons, hybrids and fairway woods, you're trying to sweep the ball off the ground with a flatter swing. The bottom of your swing arc should come right at the ball, so ball position moves to about three inches inside the left foot.

When you get to the driver, you're actually hitting the ball on the upswing--and doing that effectively is the best way to take advantage of the weighting technology that has been engineered into the big 460 cubic-centimeter clubheads.

To get that upward strike, you need a more significant spine tilt away from the target, because power and leverage are more important than precision. By setting up with the ball two inches inside your left heel, you'll be able to extend your arms through impact and generate maximum clubhead speed.

Getting the ball-position fundamental right is particularly important with the driver. If you play the ball too close to the center of your stance with such a long club, you're going to launch the ball too low or hit weak shots to the right because you're scooping your hands to try to compensate for the low launch.