Golf is a sport of endless variation: Clubs. Shafts. Clothing. Stance. Swing path. Swing plane. Ball flight laws, to name a few.
To anyone starting out in the game, the language of golf is something that can make about as much sense as trying to play a flop shot off a cart path.
While the golf swing and everything influencing it is one of the most complex movements in any sport, there’s one point in the swing where you have complete and utter control: the set-up.
With the right pointers and practice, anybody can set themselves up perfectly to play the perfect golf shot – unfortunately the execution from here onwards is the tricky part.
One of the key elements of the set-up is where to position the golf ball, and getting it right can make or break your swing before you even start moving the club.
So, where should the ball be in your stance?
The golf ball should be placed in the middle of your feet when playing a wedge shot, but moved a little forward of centre as you progress into the mid-irons. For longer clubs like hybrids and woods, the ball should be about a clubhead inside your left foot (for a right hander). Finally, a driver should be played with the ball teed up inside the left heel.
Let’s explore why this is the case in a little more detail.
Ideal ball position: Wedges, irons, woods, driver
The positioning of the golf ball will generally start towards the middle of your stance for higher lofted clubs before working its way forward to the left heel for a right hander’s driver.
It is important to note, however, that this shouldn’t be a constant transition, as most of the edging forward in the stance happens within a couple balls-width of centre, before making a large hop forward when hitting driver.
A great training aid you can use to perfect your set-up position with every club is the Graves Golf Alignment and Ball Position Trainer. This device has markers showing exactly where you should place your feet for each club to get the best result.
But if you don’t wish to splash out on a training device, read on – I’ll explain in detail where the ball should be positioned for every club in the bag.
Wedges and short irons
For wedges through to about 8-iron, the ball should be fairly close to the centre of your stance.
Some players might even like to hit wedges with the ball positioned slightly behind centre, which is OK with the higher lofted clubs, but not recommended for anything longer than a mid-iron.
Once you reach the mid irons (6- and 7-iron) the ball should start to creep forward a little – maybe half to a full ball width – to promote a slightly shallower attack angle.
By playing with ball positioning, you can perform similar swings which make slightly steeper or shallower contact, working in tandem with the different lofts of your clubs.
Long irons, hybrids and fairway woods
This will, once again, promote a shallower – but still downward – attack, ensuring contact isn’t chunky and leaving your hands wringing.
The same stance should be applied when using a driving iron.
Finally, the driver is played with the ball quite far forward in your stance, just inside the left heel, as it is the only club that – usually – is played with an upward attack angle.
The ball being positioned forward in the stance helps the arc shallow out well before contact, helping you strike the driver long and high despite it having a very low loft.
If you find yourself hitting driver low or even along the ground, ball positioning is the first thing to pay attention to as it could be an instant fix.
Golf instructor Todd Graves in the video below gives a fool-proof, easy way to ensure your ball positioning is perfect every time (you can purchase the alignment aid used in the video on Amazon).
Where should the golf ball be positioned for chipping and putting?
When putting, the ball should be positioned slightly forward of centre in a spot that best suits your dominant eye. When chipping, you either want the ball positioned by your front or back foot (depending on whether you’re hitting a high or low shot), but never in the middle.
When putting, there’s really no strict requirement beyond what feels right for you, but generally people will feel most balanced with the ball fairly close to centre.
Better golfers will likely argue – with good reason – that the putter stroke should have a slightly upward contact, with the bottom of your swing arc occurring just before the ball.
A slight shift forward of the ball position in your set-up can help you create this contact with a natural stroke.
When chipping, there is a key decision you have to make before arranging the ball position in your stance: am I going high or low?
If your chip is to be high, the ball should be closer to your front foot. If you’re going low, take it back in your stance.
For both shots, however, your weight should be forward to help keep the attack angle moving downward at impact.
If you are high on confidence and willing to take on the mesmerising flop shot, it’s played in a similar way to the front foot chip – ball towards your left foot, weight forward, open your clubface and lengthen your swing.
A great way to practice chipping in your backyard is with the DuraRange Pop-Up Golf Chipping Net, which has three different targets to aim for (all at different heights) to help you master high and low shots.
It also comes with some foam balls so that you won’t break any windows with stray shots.
Where should the golf ball be positioned for bunker shots?
The greenside bunker shot is essentially a flop shot, but from the sand. Considering this, when setting yourself up at address in the bunker, the ball should be positioned on your front foot. This will help promote a downward strike, but with an open, lofted club face that takes plenty of sand.
Just remember to keep your weight forward and keep your pace through the strike to blast the clubhead out the other side.
For more tips on how to play out of fairway bunkers, which requires a different technique to greenside bunkers, check out our detailed how-to guide here.
What happens if the ball is too far forward in my stance?
Golfers who place the ball too far forward in their stance often struggle to make solid, consistent contact. Placing the ball forward at address will increase your angle of attack which, if not timed correctly, can cause fat or thin strikes and make it difficult to produce enough shaft lean for optimal compression and control.
One of the biggest reasons ball positioning is crucial in golf relates to the arc of your swing.
Thin shots occur when the bottom of the arc occurs too early, meaning you hit up – or excessively up – on the ball at impact. Even worse, this can lead to topped shots.
If you play certain clubs with the ball too far forward in your stance, you’ll likely reach the bottom of your arc too early, clipping the ball and no turf, causing it to come out low or along the ground.
Simply shifting the ball back a little in your stance may be enough to bring the contact point perfectly in sync with the swing arc’s lowest point, allowing you to cover the ball better for ideal compression.
Additionally, if the ball is too far forward, you may find yourself having to reach for it at address when resting your club behind it.
What this will do is open your stance and potentially lead to an out-to-in swing path at impact.
The result can be a left-to-right curving shot (known as a fade or slice for right-handed players) that, if combined with my first point about swing arc, may fly undesirably low.
Where should the ball be in my stance on a slope?
When playing off an uphill lie, it’s important to address the ball with it positioned slightly forward of centre. When playing off a downhill lie, you should set-up to the ball with it positioned slightly back of centre. These positions will help counteract the camber of the slope to produce a straight shot.
If playing from a slope – uphill or downhill – it is important you adjust your set up, as your standard flat-lie swing and weight distribution, along with your ball positioning, will be affected by having the ball above or below your feet at impact (as this will change the path of your swing arc).
Let’s explore this in more detail.
If playing from an uphill lie, you need to ensure you lean back a little at address, shifting some of your weight onto the back foot, and position the ball slightly forward of centre.
Your shoulders should line up, roughly, with the angle of the slope.
If you don’t shift weight back and keep it 50-50 on each foot, your swing arc is likely to come in too steep, digging the club deep into the ground and leading to a heavy shot.
In addition, to promote this shallower, but still downward-at-impact swing, a more forward ball position will help you make contact at the right angle.
If playing a downhill lie, opposite to an uphill lie, you need to shift your weight forward again, to mirror the angle of the slope.
Much like an uphill lie, ball position here needs adjustment too, with a movement to middle or back of centre in the stance necessary.
If you have too much weight on the back foot and the ball too far forward, the camber of the slope can cause you to swing upwards too early, topping the ball or thinning it through your target area.
YouTube golf instructor Rick Shiels gives a comprehensive explanation on ball positioning for different lie angles in the video below:
Can ball position cause a slice or hook?
Ball position can have a big impact on ball flight. Setting up with the ball too far forward in the stance can lead to a slice, while addressing the ball with it back of centre can promote a draw.
As discussed earlier, when exploring problems with positioning the ball too far forward in the stance, if you take your stance with the ball too close to your left heel you may, as a result, open up your shoulders and promote an out-to-in path.
If, at contact, your club is on this path, it will impart sidespin on the ball and likely lead to a left-to-right, slicing ball flight (for a right-handed player).
If you take your stance with the ball too far back, the opposite will occur.
The shoulders close off and an in-to-out club path is likely, delofting the club and causing the ball to come out low.
This club path will also impart sidespin on the ball and a right to left shot shape, with the concerning result of a low ‘duck hook’ possible – one of the most damaging shots in golf.
Do I top the ball because of my stance?
If you find you are topping the ball, your swing arc is quite possibly the reason, with a change to ball positioning a quick, easy and potentially instant fix (providing other common swing faults like swaying or early extension aren’t to blame).
If you top the ball, it could be because your swing arc bottoms out too early, at a point before you make contact with the ball.
Shuffle the ball back a little farther in your stance, make the same swing and your contact could be vastly improved.
Failing this, you may be topping the ball because of your head position. Check out another article on this topic for more guidance.
With golf being an unbelievably complex game where the slightest of errors can be brutally punishing, it’s vital for players to focus most of their attention on the things they can control.
How you set up and address the ball is almost solely based on knowledge, understanding and discipline, giving you the perfect foundation to make that satisfying, pure swing.
Next time you are out on the range or tweaking things in the short game area, use our advice on ball positioning and you’ll be surprised at how good it feels to actually be in full control of an extremely important aspect of your game.
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