If there's one thing a seasoned golf instructor can do, it's spot a solid setup, even from 50 yards away. One look is all it takes for an experienced teacher to recognize athleticism and balance. The reason why? Any instructor worth his or her salt will stress the fundamentals of a solid setup if solid results are what the student seeks.
A proper setup requires a number of things. I'm sure you've been taught them all. Over my many years of teaching, however, I've learned that there are only four that truly matter. These magical setup elements are comprised of four different angles. If you can learn and attain these four angles at address, you'll positively affect your contact and shotmaking skills.
The four angles are: Spine bend, spine tilt, hip bend and knee flex. Each angle plays an equal and important role in helping you create an athletic and balanced address position and enables you to swing the club with precision and power. You'll also find that if you focus on the four angles, the remaining setup elements take care of themselves.
1. Spine Bend Your body's forward bend toward the ball is crucial. More important, however, is the amount of bend. Most amateurs bend over far too much; my recommendation is to err on the tall side. If a number must be assigned to the amount of forward bend, I'd use 25 degrees from vertical. This will vary between taller and shorter players but, nevertheless, it's a decent average.
When you're bent forward correctly (left), your shoulders, knees and feet should line up vertically. I call this being stacked. Too much forward bend will typically put your shoulders too far forward and not stacked up well over your knees. During the swing, our subconscious mind senses the bend is too drastic and will intuitively protect the body–whether we like it or not–and decrease the amount of bend. In other words, stand up. A too-deep bend places so much strain on the lower back region that the auto response is to rectify that and stand out of posture._Ê Furthermore, an improper forward bend restricts the turn, which by itself can destroy the desired path and power delivery system into the forwardswing and beyond.2. Spine Tilt The second critical angle is the one your spine makes from vertical as it leans slightly right at address (for right-handed players). A slight tilt of the spine to the right presets your upper body in the desired backswing position, eliminating the need to move off the ball as you bring the club to the top.
It's important to grasp that a spine tilt to the right isn't a spine bend to the right. Our spines are very flexible, and it's common for golfers to bend the upper half to the right and leave the lower half behind. This is not spine tilt. If you incorporate improper spine tilt into your address position, you can expect the full gamut of poor swing errors, including standing up, stranding your weight on your right side on the downswing, losing left-arm extension through impact, hitting behind the ball and many more.
Plus, think of the injuries that one can create with a poor, unhealthy bend and, of course, all of the compensations that are required to make decent contact. This can cause a lot of spine shearing and dangerous results and undue strain on the lower back.
3. Hip Bend The third critical angle, hip bend, is closely related to spine bend. In fact, hip bend establishes the relative amount of spine bend. The hip bend angle must be set correctly at address and maintained throughout the swing. The common error is to bend from the stomach and not from the pelvic area, a mistake that places too much pressure and strain on the lower body delivery system. _Ê Improper bending from the pelvic region is a pet peeve of mine since it forces the hips to overreact on the downswing. When you bend from the stomach and not the hips, the hips won't function in their usual role, which is to help stabilize the lower body during the swing. Instead, they're given too much freedom to move and often will scoot toward the target on the forwardswing. This immediately causes a variety of swing problems, not the least of which is a loss of power angles and path on the downswing. It doesn't matter who you are, with improper pelvic flex, you'll have to compensate somewhere in the swing to create decent contact.4. Knee Flex The last critical angle is knee flex. The bend at the knees is more important than you might think. The key is to realize that the knee flex you establish at address should be retained during the course of the backswing and into a portion of the forwardswing.
The desired amount of knee bend should again favor slight over drastic. The reason for this is simple: The greater the amount of knee bend at address, the more the knees will have to unflex to create a posted left leg at impact. The move from deep to tall is tough even for the most coordinated of players. Similarly tough is the task of holding a deep knee flex throughout the downswing. From a deep-knee bend start, most golfers will wildly move the knees. Contrast this scenario to what you see on TV. Today's great players employ simple knee and hip movements so it becomes much easier to return to impact consistently.
Don't fall into the trap that says strong leg and knee action in the swing creates power and leverage. Sure, we use the lower body, but only to assist our upper body to deliver the clubhead into the back of the golf ball on the proper path. In my opinion, standing taller is better, and learning how to coordinate a taller body is a much simpler task than one that is bent, cramped and flexed at address.
Practicing The Four Angles To practice a postured, well-balanced start position, begin with a fully erect standing position, then bend your knees–slightly. Next, place your forefingers in your hip joint and find the crease where your hip and pelvis intersect. This is called the inguinal ligament area (I also refer to it as the pelvic triangle). With your forefingers still in place, bend forward from the inguinal ligament area. Feel your pelvis bending, not your stomach. As you do, refrain from rounding the upper back. Bend forward approximately 25 degrees, making sure to keep your spine intact. If you find this position uncomfortable, it's a sign that you've been bending incorrectly for quite some time.
Next, tilt your spine slightly to the right (for right-handers). Remember, tilt your entire spine, not just the upper half. As you tilt, feel your weight move toward the balls of your feet. You also should feel balanced. A helpful drill for checking balance is to rock back and forth without changing any of the angles until you find a centered, balanced position. I check my students' balance by gently pushing them from all directions to see if I can move them out of their setup positions. If they're balanced, they'll remain rock-solid, whether they're seven or 75 years old.
Practice this new posture without a club daily for a few minutes. I recommend checking yourself in a mirror on occasion. It takes a commitment for a week or two to capture this taller and properly tilted position, but once you capture it, you'll find it much easier to maintain during the swing compared to one that features deep knees, too much hip bend and a rounded back. When hitting shots from your new posture, start small. Begin with 40-yard wedge shots and move incrementally into full swings, then into your longer irons and woods. Within a short time, you'll be hitting shots with the power and precision previously reserved for the world's best players.
Joe Thiel, a veteran teacher and PGA Master professional, instructs at World Wide Golf Schools in Olympia, Wash.