Two Schools of Thought (one University of Confusion...)
The Modern Fundamentals of Golf was first published in 1957, nearly 50 years ago. For thirty-three of those years I have been teaching golfers of all levels. During all of that time there have been two schools of thought in the golfing fraternity regarding ball position. One was called the 'Constant Ball Position' whilst the other was named the 'Progressive Ball Position'.
The Constant Ball Position placed the ball just inside the golfer's left heel for all clubs, the idea being that that the position of the right foot would be adjusted to create the ideal width of stance for the club being played (i.e. the widest and fullest stance for a driver, narrowing progressively as the player worked down through to the shorter irons, the narrowest stance, quite naturally, being reserved for the Wedge. (Note: This method still has a hint of 'progressive ball position' about it, for whilst the left foot does not move the narrowing of the stance creates a 'central' ball position for the Wedge.)
The 'Progressive Ball Position, meanwhile, sets the ball opposite the Left Heel for the Driver, left centre of the stance for the 6 iron and dead centre for the Wedge (with progressive increments taking care of all clubs in between). In other words, by placing the ball opposite the Left Heel for the Driver, the ball position moved progressively nearer to centre as the club became shorter.
As with the 'constant' ball position, the width of the stance is widest with the Driver and narrowest with the Sand Iron. Both of these schools of thought on what is one of the key fundamentals in golf contain some truth. So, for nearly fifty years they have become blurred in the way of communication and confused in their application.
On Page 125 of Ben Hogan's book The Modern Fundamentals of Golf (and. as ever through this series of articles it will help you to have a copy to hand) is a very simple graphic by Anthony Ravielli. This little drawing is, to me, the second most important picture in the whole book (the 'Pane of Glass' image on Page 78 being the first).
To my mind it is puzzling that this illustration should appear so late in the book, some three pages from the end, in the “Summary and Review” section. The picture - which we have recreated here using as reference simply the Driver, 6-iron and Wedge (right) - gives us 6 principles that relate to the Set-Up and the Golf Swing itself:
1. Alignment of Body
2. Alignment of Shaft (more of that later)
3. Distance from Ball
4. Swing Path
5. Swing Plane
6. Ball Position
As I have stated previously, 90% of all Swing Faults can be traced to a faulty Address Position (and the other 10% originate at Address as well!). Of the six areas listed above, I believe that understanding the Ball Position fully and properly will lead to the most effective application of the remaining five. If we get the Ball Position right at the outset, everything else will fall into place.
Hogan's Ball Position - Visually "Constant", in Practive "Progressive"
If you were ever lucky enough to observe Ben Hogan face on (i.e. at 90 degrees to the target line) as he went through his bag hitting full shots, you could be excused for believing that Hogan utilised a 'Constant' ball position (just inside his left heel) for all his full shots. But the fact of the matter is that Hogan did not stand square to the ball-totarget line on all shots; he varied his alignment according to the nature of the shot he was preparing to hit (as I have recreated above).
Thus, he was “shut” with his Driver (i.e. his feet were aligned to the right of the target line), he stood “square” with his 6 iron (the middle club in the set) and “open” with his wedge - and it is vital to understand these subtle adjustments in order to appreciate the fundamental principle of the ball position.
The ball position that matters most is the one that relates to a golfer's swingpath and swing-plane, NOT the ball position in relation to the “ball-to-target line.
DRIVER As I have mentioned, Hogan assumed a 'shut' (or 'closed) stance with his Driver, the idea being that this alignment of the feet and lower body enabled him more easily (automatically) to swing from 'in-toout', and thus fire the ball down the right-hand side of the fairway with draw-spin.
This is the ideal way of hitting a long, controlled drive. If we were to draw a line across Hogan's toes, we would see that the ball position is actually opposite his
left instep. You will note in this photograph (above) that the shaft, like Hogan's, is a touch behind the ball when talking about his intended swingpath.
MID-IRON Using a 6 iron (the mid-point in a full set of clubs), Hogan adopted a square stance, i.e. parallel to the ball-to-target.
So, in this case the ball position is left-centre, both visually and physically! The rod across my toes is “square”; the row of balls is clearly at 90 degrees to the ball-to-target line.
There are 13 balls in the row you see above (equating to the 13 clubs in a full set) so I am addressing the ball that is in the middle of the row; the shorter shaft means that I am now much closer to the ball. (Note: See how the butt of the club is now aligned over the row of balls, not behind them as with the Driver.)
WEDGE Moving down to the shortest of clubs, the Wedge, Hogan drew his right foot closer to the ball, thus creating a distinctly 'open' stance. I am addressing the ball nearest to me in response to the wedge's short shaft. At first look one could be forgiven for thinking that my hands are behind the ball and that the ball is still opposite the left heel.
However - and this is vital - if you walked around to your right and stood opposite me, two things would immediately be obvious:
1. The ball is in the Centre of my stance, in relation to the dowel rod, and
2. My hands, in terms of my swing-path, are now placed correctly, slightly ahead of the ball.
As a result of this ball- and setup position, the swing-path is destined to be slightly 'out-to-in' with the blade being adjusted to aim directly at the target. Remember, you cannot slice a wedge so you are entitled to try! So, to clarify, Hogan appeared (visually) to play all his shots from a 'Constant' ball position that was inside his left heel. But, because he was 'Closed' with a Driver, 'Square' with a 6 iron and 'Open' with a wedge, in real terms, the ball position was 'Progressive'.
This subtle distinction has already had an effect on the alignment of the body, the direction of the swing-path, the swing-plane and the alignment of the shaft as well as the ball position itself. So, we now understand that judging ball position in relation to the ball-to-target line is a waste of time. It is far more effective to talk about ball position in relation to the swing-plane and the intended path of the clubhead through impact. After all, what is the point of swinging 'in plane' on the correct path if the ball position is not sympathetic to that plane or path?
A thought on 'Shaft Alignment' With the driver the shaft appears just behind the ball, with a 6-iron the butt of the club is over the ball and with a wedge the butt of the club is just ahead of the ball. All of this coincides/ helps you to produce the type of strike you are looking for. Shaft alignment is appropriate to type of shot you are about to hit: a neutral draw with driver, solid and accurate mid-irons and precision wedge play.
A new name and a new industry standard: The 'Radial Ball Position'
The terms that I have coined to take into account the nature of Hogan's set-up practice is the 'Radial Ball Position'. This gives us the best of both worlds: we can understand the visual aspect of our ball position and ensure that we apply it correctly in a physical sense. So let's now look at the correct way of aligning ourselves to the target and how to 'open' and 'close' our stance using the 'Radial Ball Position'.
To start, here (left) I am demonstrating a 'square' stance with a Driver. The ball is opposite my left heel and the shaft is at 90 degrees to the target line.
How not to 'open' and 'close'
1. This position illustrates the wrong way to 'open' your stance (as you might to hit a fade). Simply dragging your left foot back does not necessarily realign you torso to the left of the ball-to-target line - i.e. your shoulders could still be square. Worse than that, however, is that the ball is now actually way back in your stance in real terms. Relative to the desired swing-path, the ball position is actually opposite the right heel (see inset).
2. And here's the wrong way to 'close' your stance! Again, just pulling your right foot back does not guarantee that your whole body will be re-aligned to the right of your target (which it needs to be if your objective is to offset your body alignment with target line to initiate side-spin). As before, the ball position still appears to be off the inside of the left heel; in reality the ball is now outside my left foot. Here is the classic recipe for a “double- crossed” shot when attempting the draw shot.
Going Through Hoops to Improve Bunker Play
The Radial Ball position is extremely helpful in understanding and improving your bunker play. Try it next time you practise. Place a Hula-Hoop in the sand and position a ball at its centre. Then take a 'Square” stance (above left). Then, rather than just pulling the left foot back (to assume an open alignment), walk around the hoop to your right (this keeps both feet an equal distance from the ball). Finally, re-align the clubface so that it points at the target, even a hint open if you like (above right.)
All you need to focus on then is swinging the club back freely, with plenty of wrist cock, before cutting through the sand (beneath the ball) along a slightly out-to-in path. The shot should be played without tension - don't be afraid to really zip the clubhead
through the sand with some gusto (you can actually hear the fizz of a well-executed sand shot).
So, there we have it, the fourth of our 'lost' fundamentals, the Radial Ball Position. The small drawing on Page 125 carried far more information than we realised; so often we thought that Hogan's ball position was 'constant' when, in fact, it was 'progressive'. The point of history is that it provides us with the benefit of hindsight. Hogan worked tirelessly on his game; we can save ourselves some pain by examining in detail what he did. So, next time you play a delicate splash shot or a controlled draw with a Driver using the Radial Ball Position, remember whom to thank. One Ben Hogan.