Are you standing too far from the ball? Here’s how 2 Tour pros check
Welcome to Play Smart, a game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen (who you should follow on Twitter right here).
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The gaps are small on the PGA Tour, and the players know it. It’s why players rarely go searching for an overhaul. Their money is made in the margins, and the gains found within.
It’s why pros spend most of their time ironing-out creases in their games. Tweaking this or keeping an eye on that. They’re inching away at the little things. Not taking leaps, but rather, lots of continuous steps forward.
“At this level, we’re fine-tuning Ferraris,” says GOLF Top 100 Teacher Jamie Mulligan, who teaches Patrick Cantlay, Luke List, and the Korda sisters, among others. “We’re helping get them in a position where they can compete to their fullest potential every time they tee it up.”
You’ll often see this mindset come through when pros start talking about things like stance width, posture, ball position — the boring stuff the rest of us tend to gloss over that pros spend lots of their time locking down.
I was reminded of this earlier this week at the Players Championship when I noticed two different players, Louis Oosthuizen and Keith Mitchell, practicing the same move before they hit each of their shots. They did it before every swing, and the goal is simple: To get their setup into a consistent spot without having to think much about it.
Both players popped into contention during the early part of the rain-soaked event, so watch closely whenever play resumes, and you’ll be able to spot it.
Here’s a picture of Oosthuizen on the 16th hole during his practice round earlier this week. In the left frame you can see him executing the move: He settles into his golf posture, and then stretches his arms out slightly so his clubhead is past the golf ball, before returning it to rest behind the ball.
It’s a subtle move, but an intentional one, designed to be a checkpoint to ensure he returns to the same, ideal setup position every time. It’s even more apparent in Mitchell’s pre-shot routine. He extends his arms and club past the ball, usually while looking at the target, then brings them close to his body so the clubhead is inside the ball. That one-two move helps him find the sweetspot right in between.
It’s a pretty simple formula both players use to make sure their standing the correct distance away from the ball, which is exactly the kind of small-but-super-important thing pros care a lot about.
One of human beings’ strongest instincts is to prevent themselves from falling over and, by extension, injuring themselves. That requires maintaining balance. The way the human foot has evolved, that means spreading the support of your body weight mostly across the ball of your foot and your heel. Your weight will move around as you swing, and that’s OK. But it’s important to remember that as it does, your primal, human instinct to balance yourself will also kick in.
“The body will always try to return to its most balanced point,” GOLF Top 100 Teacher John Tillery says.
Which is why taking extra care to build a balanced setup position is so important. For most male golfers, their head, trunk and arms combine for almost 70 percent of their total body weight. If those are all tilted too far forward because you’re standing too far from the golf ball, like you see on the below left, you’re likely going to spend the rest of your golf swing trying to shift your weight around to correct that imbalance. The opposite is true if you’re standing too close to the ball, with too much weight on your heels, like the middle picture below.
And that’s why pros do it. Because it’s really important and can be a root cause of a range of other problems if you get it wrong. Along the way, it also speaks to an essential trait that tour players share: a steadfast ability to cut through the noise and highlight the stuff that’s truly important in the golf swing — however unglamorous it may be.