Surprising Facts About Ball Position & Its Effects

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Published: February 16, 2014

Eliminate Incorrect Ball Position and Improve Your Whole Golf Swing

Let's talk about the effects of improper ball position on your golf swing. Having the ball out of position even by a few inches, whether it's too far back or too far forward in your stance, is going to do two things:

  1. It's going to affect the way you set up to the golf ball.

    We spend a lot of time discussing how important the setup is, and how the fundamentals of the setup really ensure that we're in a good position to make a good, correct golf swing.

    It's something you should be able to do correctly 100% of the time, once you understand the fundamentals and have gotten some practice.
  2. It's also going to affect the rest of your golf swing.

    It's very important to understand the effect that improper ball position has on your swing, especially weight transfer and origin of movement from the top of the swing.

Having the Ball out of Position Affects Your Body

Our bodies are a lot smarter than we are when it comes to this game. The body can actually sense when something's not right, and when failure is inevitable, it tries to compensate.

You're obviously not going to be able to develop a very consistent golf swing if your body is constantly trying to correct for things you do wrong at setup.

Many golfers line up the ball with their sternumMany golfers line up the ball with their sternum

We've found that about 8 out of every 10 golfers who take lessons, either online or in-person, struggle with this very issue, and 90% of those who have this problem are setting up the golf ball directly in front of their sternum, like in the photo at right. The golf ball is placed on the center line of the body, directly under the sternum or the chin.

Why do so many players do this?

A lot of times, golfers who are struggling with catching the ball a little on the fat side start to ease the golf ball back in their stance.

Others complain about high ball flight, which may actually be caused by something else that's going on in their golf swing. They may have it in the right position, and they don't like how high their ball is going, so they start to scooch the ball back, thinking that that's a quick fix.

There are no quick fixes in this game, only temporary ones. Moving the ball back in your stance is simply a Band-Aid, and eventually Band-Aids get wet and fall off.

Where Is the Bottom of the Swing Arc?

First, let's talk a little bit about the swing arc. When you realize where the bottom of the swing arc is, you will begin to understand where the golf ball should be placed in relation to your stance.

You can ask a dozen golfers about the bottom of the swing arc, and get a dozen different answers. This is a result of the instruction we've all received over the years, but we're going to lay that question to rest once and for all.

Line up the ball with the logo on your shirtLine up the ball with the logo on your shirt

The bottom of the swing arc is opposite your left shoulder, and in a perfect golf swing, that never changes. That's where the left arm reaches maximum extension in the golf swing, and it's the bottom of the swing arc. It is the lowest point in your golf swing.

It would only stand to reason, then, that in the correct setup position, we want to place the golf ball slightly behind the bottom of the swing arc.

Since the bottom of the swing arc is opposite your left shoulder, a simple trick is to line up the golf ball off the logo of your shirt.

That's a pretty good point of reference. If you don't have any logoed shirts out there, go get one. Get something with a little logo, and that will really help you get the golf ball in the right position.

A second marker you can use is your left ear. You want your left ear to be set up behind the golf ball at address. Your head should not be out in front.

Lining up your left ear slightly behind the golf ball at address provides you with proper axis tilt, and it ensures that you have the golf ball in the correct position as well.

What Happens When You Set Up with the Ball Directly Under Your Sternum?

Let's examine what happens if you line up the golf ball off your sternum and get it directly beneath your chin. Start by looking at what happened to your setup.

If you set up incorrectly, with the ball directly underneath your sternum, you will find that your head is now out in front of the golf ball. Furthermore, you will have almost no axis tilt because your shoulders are almost completely level.

What's the result?

  1. You set yourself up to be out in front of the golf shot, right from setup.

    Obviously, we never want our head to get out in front of the golf ball once we start to make the transition and come down into impact.

    If you're already set up with your head out in front of the ball, you're going to have to compensate in the downswing to make sure that doesn't happen and you don't get out in front.

  2. Once you remove the proper axis tilt from your body, you've changed the path and the plane that the golf club is going follow on the upswing. Again, this is detrimental to the rest of the golf swing.

The club has not reached the groundThe club has not reached the ground

Let's examine the two most common swing faults that result from the golf ball being placed back in your stance, lined up with your sternum.

Line up the ball with your sternum and get into your address position. Bring the club back, and then come down. If you do everything properly - transfer your weight properly so you sit into your left heel, pull with your left oblique - as you can see in the photo to the right, as the club comes down you're not even to the ground.

Your club is going to bottom out approximately three inches in front of the golf ball, opposite your left shoulder, but the golf ball is way back under your sternum.

Theoretically, if you make a proper weight transfer with the ball in that position, you should either:

  • Top the very, very edge of the golf ball, driving it directly into the ground so it pops straight up in the air, or
  • You should whiff altogether.

Obviously, neither one is a very desirable result, and kind of embarrassing for your buddies. You're going to lose those $2 in your Nassau match, guaranteed, if you're hitting shots like that all day, and your partner's going to want a new one.

Your Body Tries to Compensate

If you're here reading the Rotary Swing Tour articles and watching the videos, you're probably a pretty good athlete; you have to have good hand-eye coordination or you wouldn't be able to play the game.

However, as we said before, our bodies are a lot smarter than we are. What happens is, the body begins to realize that it's in trouble. You may top that ball once, or you may whiff it once, but your body's not going to allow that to happen again. It starts to compensate with strict hand-eye coordination, to prevent that from happening again.

The next time you set up the ball in the improper position, you take the club back and you start to transfer your weight. Your body senses, "Uh-oh. I'm in trouble if I continue to rotate properly," and the rotation of the lower body shuts down, letting the arms and hands take over the golf swing.

Now you've just got a very arms-y, slapping kind of motion at the golf ball, usually tending to be over the top. You haven't been able to keep that club on plane because you have an improper origin of movement from the top of the golf swing.

Hanging back on the right sideHanging back on the right side

The second major problem we see, and the most common result of this ball position, is you take the club back and you start the transfer, but again your body realizes you're in trouble.

This time, you never get off your back foot as you come down into the impact zone. You'll still be hanging back on the right side, as shown in the photo.

A lot of golfers have a very flat-footed appearance at impact, and more often than not we can trace it right back to their ball position keeping them stuck on their right side.

It seems like such a little thing, but getting that ball back under the sternum is incorrect, and it's going to have a dramatic effect on your entire setup and downswing.

You Can Overdo It Both Ways, All the Time

Conversely, you can go too far the other direction. That's the beautiful thing about this game; you can overdo it both ways, all the time.

Problems in the other direction are much less common, but we'll look at it because inevitably there will be a few players who have the golf ball too far forward in their stance.

Excessive axis tilt with the ball too far forwardExcessive axis tilt with the ball too far forward

Once again, improper ball placement is going to be a problem at setup. You'll have all this excessive axis tilt, which your spine doesn't like very much. It's not meant to have all that excessive side bend in it, and the discs in our back aren't very happy with us right now. They don't like that position.

Again, that unnatural position is going to affect the path and the plane as you take the club back. The body is going to try to get comfortable and compensate for everything that's going on.

The major effect of it is that you're never going to get to the golf ball before thunking down into the ground behind it, probably by an inch or two.

The divot, in theory, should go farther than the golf ball, but once again your body's not going to allow that to happen. You're inevitably going to slide your hips, trying to get back to the ball.

Incorrect alignment caused by improper ball placementIncorrect alignment caused by improper ball placement

You can see the result in the photo to the left. With your knee outside of neutral joint alignment, all the stress and rotational forces are going into that left knee. You'll feel it in your hip as well, not to mention that your momentum won't be working correctly anymore.

Your left hip should be working behind you to create rotary movement and use the centripetal forces that you're trying to create. Instead, you have linear movement down the target line with your whole body.

You've lost all your speed, all your power, all your consistency, and your swing path, once again, is nothing more than a weak arms-y slap of the golf ball, because you've slid. You have nothing to use as grounding.

All that good work you did at setup—trying to ground yourself and use your lower body for base and leverage in order to plant that left heel and rotate and pull with that left oblique—you can't very well brace yourself when you've slid forward like that, so you can see that getting the ball too far forward, once again, is very detrimental.

Not paying attention to a few inches at setup is going to cost you many, many yards, out there in the fairway.


Checkpoints for Practice

  • If you have a tendency to whiff or top the ball, you may be lining the ball up below your chin or your sternum, which is too far back.
  • If your club is coming down and taking out a divot behind the ball, you may have placed the ball too far forward.
  • Use the logo of your shirt or your left ear as a marker to place the ball at the bottom of the swing arc and ensure an anatomically correct position.

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