The set up is one of the most important, if not the most important aspect of the game. From the proper grip to the proper posture, it is from here that everything begins. First and foremost we will discuss the grip. It is widely believed that the grip is the most important factor in golf, it is the only connection you have to the club and depending upon how “weak” or “strong” your grip is you can have an open, square, or closed club face at impact.
Before we discuss the proper grip, I first must stress the importance of getting fitted for the proper size grips on your club. It is basically worthless to have a good grip with the hands if you are playing with grips on your clubs that are too small or large for your hands. This will result in too much hand action or too little hand action in the swing. I would strongly suggest getting fitted for the proper grip size from a certified club maker/fitter in conjunction with learning the proper grip. This allows you to make the proper grip and be comfortable and relaxed and it also allows your hands to work in the proper manner throughout the golf swing. I would also recommend that a teaching aid for the grip be purchased. I am sure we have all seen these; they are the grips with all sorts of ridges and molds running through them that teach the proper position for the hands. They are very effective in giving one the proper feel for the grip and they are also relatively inexpensive. You can buy one and put it on a spare club to work with. Pick it up while watching the television, make swings with it in the yard; you are simply giving the muscles in your hands memory for the proper grip. It is much easier to learn the proper grip when you can feel what it is like rather than just reading about it.
I consider the proper grip to be mostly in the fingers. A good method to get the proper positioning is what many teachers and players have suggested over the years. You take the index finger of your left hand (for right handed players) and you hook it around the club, then you rest the butt of the club on the bottom of the pad on your palm. This puts the grip in the fingers. From here you simply wrap the rest of your fingers around the club and your thumb should point straight down the shaft towards the club or you can have the thumb slightly to the right side of the grip. This is where the proper grip size comes into play. With the proper sized grips, you should only see 2 -2 1⁄2 knuckles. This is a good start for the grip, it would be considered a somewhat “strong” position, but it isn’t too strong. Most amateur golfers have a hard time squaring the face at impact and a stronger grip will allow them to do so. You want all the pressure of the left hand to be in the last three fingers, the pinkie, ring and middle finger and you should have about a 1⁄4 inch between your left hand and the butt of the club. You do not want to place your hands at the very end of the club; this will reduce the control you have.
Now comes the right hand, if you look at the bottom of your hand towards your wrist, you will see a low spot. You have the joint of the thumb and on the other side you have the pad of the palm, in between those two is a low spot in the hand. This low spot goes over the left thumb. From there, your middle and ring fingers will wrap around the club, these are the two fingers in which all the grip pressure of the right hand comes from. The pinkie finger is based on comfort. You can “interlock” it with the index finger of the right hand (which is recommend for people with smaller hands) or you can “overlap” it which is also known as the Vardon grip, invented by Harry Vardon. This is where the pinkie will wrap over the index finger. Some people like to put it directly on top of the index finger and others like to put it in the low spot between the index finger and the middle finger.
The index finger of the right hand should be hooked underneath the club and the thumb should be towards the left side of the shaft and it should pinch the index finger, making a straight line. There should be no real effort to hold on to the club with these two fingers. Also, the tips of the fingers should not connect. You should be able to put a tee in-between the left thumb and index finger, the left thumb and the low spot of the right hand and the right thumb and index finger. You should be able to hold these tees in position without letting them drop through the entire swing.
The old analogy for how tightly you should hold the grip “Like a bird, tight enough so it doesn’t fly out of your hands, but loose enough so you do not suffocate the bird” You want to apply enough pressure to have control over the club and prevent it from slipping/twisting in the hands, but you do not want to put a death grip on the club. This will induce too much tension in the hands, wrists and forearms. The key is to grip the club tightly with the fingers and relax all other parts of the arm/wrist. You should be able to rotate your arms and wrists freely and without restriction. If you find that you are restricted from rotating your wrists and arms, then you are gripping the club too firmly.
You certainly would not hit a baseball by standing straight up; you would take an athletic stance and posture that allows you to react much faster. In general, the golf club swings at a faster speed then that of a baseball bat so it is imperative that one has an athletic position so their body can react quickly and precisely with balance and grace. You want to have flex in the knees and feel like you are light and bouncy. You should not feel like you are sitting down on the shot and are stuck into position, likewise you should not have your legs fully extended. From the proper position, it allows the golfer to rotate and use the legs much more effectively.
Open, closed and square is the terms used for where your feet are aimed relative to your target. This is really based on the individual. Some golfers perform better with an open stance, some like to be square, others like to be closed, you as the golfer really have to experiment with this and find what you prefer. That being said, I believe for most amateurs, they will benefit from keeping their feet slightly closed, or in other words, aimed slightly to the right of their intended target. It allows you to more easily keep the club coming from the inside on the downswing, but be careful here. This does not mean that you should aim to the right with your body; you are simply closing your stance the slightest bit. Your shoulders, hips and clubface and eyes are still aimed at the intended target or square. To check your alignment place one club on the ground parallel to your feet, then with another club you can place it parallel to your hips, then to your shoulders, then to your eyes. Where the eyes are positioned is an often forgotten step. If your head is cocked open or closed you can feel like you are never lined up properly. This can result in hitting good shots that are not going towards the intended target, it can also lead to the golfer making compensations in the swing to try and get the clubface square to the eye line. This will result in you actually closing or opening the clubface.
I like to see the feet just at shoulder width apart for the driver. This puts the golfer into a good balanced position from which they shift their weight properly and have their legs react in the proper manner. From there, you will narrow your stance as you go down in clubs, we will discuss this when we get to ball position. You can experiment and find the width that works best for you, but this is the best starting point and works the best for most golfers. I find that the best positioning for the feet is your left to be flared outward by approximately 15 degrees and the right to be flared about 5 or even square. This allows the weight to be positioned on the inside of the feet, which is essential to the golf swing; it also allows less flexible golfers to rotate with more ease.
Your weight should not be on the outside of your feet; I must stress the importance of this. Your weight should NOT be on the outside of your feet. This can lead to problems in the backswing as well as the downswing. Also, you should feel the weight on the balls of your feet. You do not want to be on your toes or on your heels. At address you should feel that 65 percent of your weight is on the right foot with the driver, with the 5 iron you should be 50-50 and with the short irons you should have 65 percent of the weight on the left foot. This will change the angle of your shoulders and spine, which is necessary do to the length of the shaft. With the driver your left shoulder and should be angled upward and more towards the target. This promotes more of a sweeping blow to the ball. As you go to shorter clubs, your swing will become more upright and you will need to hit down on the ball more, by moving your weight more to your left side, it will make your shoulders and spine more level and this will promote a more downward blow which is essential for good contact and accuracy. Your shoulders should never be completely level because your right hand is below the left when you grip the club.
A person’s posture must be good, but I find that it is not necessary to have perfect posture in the golf swing. Trying to achieve this leads to tension or stiffness. I would much rather see the person with slightly sloping shoulders, but relaxed then with a perfectly straight back, but full of tension. As long as the person is not completely hunched over the ball and their chin is away from the chest, there is nothing wrong with a slightly hunched over appearance. Having relaxed muscles takes priority over perfect posture. If one can achieve perfect posture, but still be relaxed, that would be the ultimate, but again, it isn’t necessary.
I find the easiest way to achieve good posture is to do 3 steps. Stand straight up, get the proper knee flex and then bend from the waist. Hold the club with only one hand and let the other dangle freely, match up the hand you are holding the club with to the one that you are hanging freely. This is the proper distance your hands should be from the body when holding the club. I also want to address something that by now you have read me go over a few times. When I say that I don’t want you to have tension in the body, I mean that as I do not want you to be overly stiff and by relaxed, I don’t mean like a noodle. You want to be ready, like a boxer. A boxer is not stiff because it slows him down, but he is not completely relaxed because he could get caught off guard, he is simply “ready” This means that there is some level of tension, but there is also a level of relaxation. Just be aware of what you are doing in the swing, make sure you are not too stiff or too loose.
Ball position is something that has been debated for some time now, some teachers think you should play everything off the left heel, others think you should play only the driver off of the left heel then more towards the center and back of your stance as you go to shorter clubs. I have a little different view of this and one that is shared with the likes of Hogan and Nick Price (to name a few). With all clubs, you should play the ball off of the left armpit. With the driver and fairway woods the feet should be shoulder width apart like we discussed earlier, as you go to shorter clubs, rather than placing the ball in different positions in the stance, you should keep the same position relative to your body (left arm pit), but move your right foot closer to your left foot or in other words, narrow your stance. This will automatically change the position of the ball. You should go from just outside shoulder width for the driver to just inside shoulder width for the wedge. Also, you should begin to open your stance more as you narrow your stance. With the shorter clubs, you are not going to be swinging as hard and opening the stance allows the body to get out of the way with more ease.
You can check many of these positions with a mirror; you want to ingrain these into your body so you no longer have to think about it. It is still necessary to check your set up from time to time. Even the best golfers in the world get out of position if they are not careful. If you find that you are not hitting the golf ball as well as you should or want to, the set up is the first place to look. The set up is where good golf swings are made or broken, without a good set up; a good swing cannot function properly.