If you’ve just started playing golf or you’re trying to improve your game, then chances are you will understand that feeling that golf seems impossible at times, so getting the fundamentals figured early can save you a lot of trouble and lay the foundations for continuous development.
A lot of beginners or higher handicap golfers don’t get this part right and to be honest that is just making things harder than they need to be!
There is a lot of misdiagnosing going on in golf where people revert to a technical swing fault for their golfing deficiencies. In actual fact I find that a lot of issues stem from the set up and this would save a lot of technical ‘searching’ on the range!
Interestingly, the set up fundamentals are not at all confined to beginners or higher handicap golfers. It is one of the first things that I check before every practice session. It’s like having your very own feedback system. If you know what your set up should be then you can keep it in line with some simple checks. If you find that something is still going awry, then you have eliminated the set up being an issue.
In light of that, this post will provide the more basic understanding that you may want if you are a beginner, but you can also find some tips on how to maintain your set up and some specific fixes for issues which often begin with the set up.
Some people prefer to play with a baseball grip or an interlock grip, but I would recommend using an overlap grip.
In my opinion, this allows your arms to match up better and still gives you a good mix of control and feel in your hands. I will talk you through building the grip, but the detail of an overlap grip is that the little finger of your bottom hand will overlap the index finger of your top hand.
This part is quite technical so stick with me and read it through again if you got lost!
- You will start by placing your top hand (arm closest to target) on the club with your index finger slightly hooked around the underside of the grip, with the grip going through your palm by your little finger (not quite in the lifeline of your hand, but not in the fingers either).
- Your thumb should lie mostly central, slightly over to the backside of the grip. Now you can place the lower hand on, overlapping that little finger on top of the upper hand index finger.
- The upper thumb will be placed in the lifeline of your lower hand. The three remaining fingers of your lower hand will hold the grip in the fingers (not the fingertips), with your lower index finger able to create a hook around the underside of the grip, if you wish to feel extra stability.
- The lower thumb is less centered than the upper thumb, over to the front side of the grip.
For a neutral grip, you would be able to see between two and two and half knuckles on your upper hand when you look down as you address the ball. If you can see more than this, it would be a strong grip, less would be weak. You want the entirety of your lower thumb to be lined up relatively central to the grip. It shouldn’t be too far under or over the grip.
Having said this, a neutral grip is not for everyone. Teaching this assumes that we all have a body which can move a certain way. Once you understand the grip more, you can actually use it to tweak things out on the golf course. If you are a right handed golfer missing the ball to the left consistently, then try weakening your grip a little. This makes it a lot harder to miss to the left as it will change how your club face looks when you make impact. The same logic can be used if you are struggling with a right miss or a slice; you can strengthen your grip and this should help to line up the club face at impact.
Slight warning – You shouldn’t be changing your grip on course too much as it is only a short term solution, but you can use it to your advantage in certain situations. Maybe there is out of bounds to the left and you just want to increase your chances of avoiding it, then this sort of tweak can give you a little extra freedom and help you to hit a great shot.
P.S. If you ever make a grip change it is going to feel absolutely awful. Don’t worry about this, it does for everyone and it requires a bit of patience and ideally some driving range practice to iron out that awkward feeling. Don’t be put off by it though, the grip is a particularly tricky area for changes so I just want you to be aware of that if you do make a change here!
Your feet should generally be about shoulder width apart, with that becoming wider as you use your woods and longer clubs, while becoming more narrow with your wedges and chipping. The stance is one of the less technical parts of your set up and you should do a bit of your own research for what feels comfortable.
You don’t want to be standing with a big wide stance for a wedge, but some people do prefer to feel more grounded, where others prefer a more relaxed feeling that allows them to rotate more. If you struggle with hip mobility and rotation then it could be better for you to have a narrower stance as this produces less resistance to that turn.
If you are struggling for balance, please don’t assume that you can just make your stance wider and that will solve the issue, it may just limit your movement in other ways. First of all you should check if your balance issue is due to weight being too far in your toes or heel, then you can move on to a wider stance if that was not the issue.
Your posture in golf is a little different to some other sports, like tennis or baseball. In golf you are mainly bending from your waist, so it is less of a squat or ‘sitting down’ posture. You do need to have a slight bend in your knees, but don’t sit too much.
After that you can lift the club up so that you are looking straight ahead (over the ball, not towards your target) and the club is at a 90 degree angle to the ground, from there you simply tilt your waist and torso until the club meets the ground. This also helps to show how far you should stand from the ball.
Your arms should be able to hang relaxed here. A lot of people go a bit ‘hunched’ with the shoulders at this point, so be sure to feel that your shoulders are still wide and in good posture, otherwise this hunched look makes it very difficult to rotate!
If you can find yourself in this position then you are giving your body a better chance to use bigger muscles and reduce the moving parts in your swing.
This is an area which can be as advanced as you want it to be. Some players even use ‘weight plates’ to see how their weight transfers throughout the swing. For this article I will keep it fairly basic, but I want to impress how big of an impact it can have.
Where your weight is will intrinsically impact your balance throughout the swing. Rory McIlroy is a wonderful example of a player who looks to be in perfect balance at all times. He is so strong and ‘set’ during his follow through and this helps him to repeat his motion. If you find that you lose balance after hitting the ball, then chances are you are not set up with your weight in the right spot.
It’s a good idea to become more aware of where your weight is. I feel it through my feet personally, trying to feel like all of my weight comes down to that point in the middle of my feet. If it feels like I am on my toes, then I’m going to fall forward through the swing, and in my heels I’ll be falling backwards.
Efficient lower-body movement and balance can make up for many deficiencies in your swing and generally improve your consistency. It will also give you better power as you are building that from the ground up. When I feel totally in balance, I feel like I can hit the ball further than usual while leaving something in the tank.
One of the drills that I do here is to practice my golf swing without any shoes on. I do this on the range, but you can just do it at home if that feels a bit odd. You need to really focus on where you feel your weight is, then tweak it around a bit until it feels centered and comfortable. Don’t just get it to where you are centered, but it feels forced and horrible.
Play around with your knee bend, torso position, squat feeling etc. and get to that comfortable balanced spot, it will only take a few minutes. It’s a great drill to give you slightly more accurate feedback of where your weight is.
Ball position will vary from the center of your stance for wedges, to just inside your front heel for the driver. You can nudge the ball position slightly forward each time you use a longer club. In terms of distance from the ball, that is part of the stance, so you want your arms to be able to hang loosely but with control. You shouldn’t feel like you are reaching or that your elbows are tucked.
It is common that amateurs will place the ball too far forward (closer to the front heel) in their stance as they want to ‘lift’ the ball up, but this is actually counter intuitive to what you are trying to achieve. It’s important to understand that the golf club will do this job for you, your job is to make solid contact which will use the club’s capabilities to its maximum.
Remember, in order to hit the ball up, you should be hitting down on the ball. This is particularly important to remember with chipping and bunker play. This is the flaw which I see most commonly in amateur golfers.
The best part about having the ball further back in your stance (even too far back is much better) is that the strike will improve. You may not get the height to keep the ball close to the hole, but at least you will be able to avoid the hazards and get the ball onto the green. We don’t always have to play the perfect shot, sometimes the job is to simply play a solid shot and not make a mistake!
A lot of amateurs aim both their club face and their body at the target, but this is incorrect. You should align your club face to where you want the ball to start, then you align your body parallel to the club face. This gives you more ‘neutral’ alignment and helps you to hit the ball with less curve.
A good tip for aiming is to pick a small spot on the ground in front of your ball which is on your target line. You will find it much easier to line up to this target than by moving your entire head to look up. It may take some getting used to when aligning your body parallel to the target line so give yourself a chance to familiarize yourself with what this looks like for you.
If you want to check your hip and shoulder alignment while you are training, you can use an alignment stick. You place the alignment stick through the belt loops in your trousers and this gives you an elongated line to help visualize where you are aiming. It would be more helpful if you could film this from behind, but you will see a benefit even if you can’t do that.
Many people starting out in golf will find that they aim “open”. This means left of the target for a right handed golfer, or vice versa for a left handed player. This fault causes a slice which means the ball curves a lot from left-to-right for a righty (again, vice versa).
It is important to understand that your body will unconsciously react to your alignment, to a certain extent. The further left you aim, the more your body will get that club moving left to try and bring it back to the center. I don’t want you to worry about playing with that too much at this stage, but understanding it should give you some motivation to neutralize your set up and avoid more variables to mess around with!
Each of you will find that you have different tendencies with where you set up is spot on, and where you cause problems for yourself. There are a lot of areas to cover, as you have seen here, so it is a good idea to write down which areas you want to work on or check up on every couple of weeks.
Managing your golf performance is a lot to do with keeping things between an error margin. Your body and game will never be the same from day to day, but if you can keep it within those margins, then you will reduce the number of rounds when you feel like you haven’t got a clue, and introduce greater consistency to your game. This will have a substantial impact on your ability to keep bringing your handicap down and enjoying the game each time you play.
I am a big advocate for having a good set up and understanding your own set up intimately. Your set up needs to be right for you, it doesn’t need to be perfect. What I value so much in this is that it is not a swing thought. You can do these checks before you play and have an understanding of which things impact your shots, then you are just swinging without technical swing thoughts.
There is a lot of information in this article so I would like to suggest that you take it one at a time if you want to go and check out multiple points in your set up.
As golfers we are all tempted to fix everything at once, but that rarely works and we end up making it harder for ourselves. Pick the area which you feel might be your biggest area for development and see how just working on that one aspect can improve things immediately.