A Step-by-Step Guide to a Great Golf Setup

The single most important—and frequently overlooked—full-swing fundamental in golf is the setup position. Your swing evolves from your setup. If you focus on this vital pre-swing fundamental, you are more likely to improve your performance. A good setup does not guarantee success, but it improves your chances immensely.

01
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Alignment in the Golf Setup

Step 1 in a great golf stance is understanding how important it is - and proper alignment
Kelly Lamanna

At address, your body (feet, knees, hips, forearms, shoulders, and eyes) should be positioned parallel to the target line. When viewed from behind, a right-handed golfer appears aimed slightly left of the target. This optical illusion is created because the ball is on the target line and the body is not.

The easiest way to conceptualize this is the image of a railroad track. The body is on the inside rail and the ball is on the outside rail. For right-handers, at 100 yards your body appears aligned approximately 3 to 5 yards left, at 150 yards approximately 8 to 10 yards left and at 200 yards 12 to 15 yards left.

02
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Foot Position

Foot position in the golf stance
Kelly Lamanna

Your feet should be shoulder-width (outside of the shoulders to the inside of the heels) for the middle irons. The short-iron stance should be 2 inches narrower, and the stance for long irons and woods should be 2 inches wider. The target-side foot should be flared toward the target from 20 to 40 degrees to allow the body to rotate toward the target on the downswing. The back foot should be square (90 degrees to the target line) to slightly open to create the proper hip turn on the backswing. Your flexibility and body rotation speed determine the proper foot placement.

03
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Ball Position

Ball Position in the Golf Stance
Photo by Kelly Lamanna

The ball placement in your setup position varies with the club you select. From a flat lie:

  • Play your short irons (wedges, 9-iron, and 8-iron) in the center portion of your stance. These clubs have the most upright lie angles. They must be swung at the steepest angle, and you should take a divot in front of the ball.
  • Your middle irons should be played one ball toward the target-side foot from center (a ball left of center for the right-handed golfer). These clubs have a slightly flatter lie angle, so you should take a slightly shallower divot than with the short irons.
  • The correct ball position for the long irons and fairway woods is two balls toward the target-side foot from center (two balls left for the right-hander). With these clubs, the ball should be struck directly at the bottom of the swing arc with very little divot.
  • The driver is played farthest forward (three balls left of center for the right-hander) so you strike the ball on the upswing.
04
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Balance

balance in the golf stance
Kelly Lamanna

Your weight should be balanced on the balls of the feet, not on the heels or toes. With short irons, your weight should be 60 percent on the target-side foot (left foot for right-handers). For middle-iron shots the weight should be 50/50 or equal on each foot. For your longest clubs, place 60 percent of your weight on the backside foot (right foot for right-handers). This helps you swing the club on the correct angle on the backswing.

05
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Posture (Down-the-Line View)

Proper posture in the golf stance
Kelly Lamanna

Your knees should be slightly flexed and directly over the balls of your feet for balance. The center of the upper spine (between your shoulder blades), knees, and balls of the feet should be stacked when viewed from behind the ball on the target line. Also, the back knee should be cocked slightly inward toward the target. This helps you brace yourself on this leg during the backswing, thus preventing lower body sway.

Your body should bend at the hips, not the waist (your buttocks protrude slightly when you are in the correct posture). The spine is the axis of rotation for the swing, so it should be bent toward the ball from the hips at approximately a 90-degree angle to the shaft of the club. This right-angle relationship between the spine and the shaft help you swing the club, arms, and body as a team on the correct plane.

Your vertebrae should be in a straight line with no bending in the middle of the spine. If your spine is in a slouch posture, every degree of bend decreases your shoulder turn by 1.5 degrees. Your ability to turn your shoulders on the backswing equals your power potential, so keep your spine in line for longer drives and more consistent ball-striking.

06
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Posture (Face View)

Face-on view of correct posture in the golf stance
Kelly Lamanna

When viewed face-on, your spine in the setup position should tilt to the side, slightly away from the target. The target-side hip and shoulder should be slightly higher than the back hip and shoulder. The entire pelvis should be set an inch or two toward the target. This places the hips in the lead and it counterbalances your body, as your upper spine leans away from the target.

Your chin should be up, out of your chest, to encourage a better shoulder turn. Your head should be tipped at the same angle as the spine, and your eyes should focus on the inside portion of the back of the ball.

07
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Arms and Hands

How the arms and hands are positioned in the golf stance
Kelly Lamanna

At address, your hands should hang just forward of your pants zipper (just off the inside of your target-side thigh). The hands-to-body distance varies depending on the club you are hitting. A good rule of thumb is to have the hands a palm's width from the body for short and middle irons (4 to 6 inches) and a palm's length—from the bottom of the wrist to the tip of your middle finger—for long irons and woods.

08
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The Final Setup Positions

Golf setup positions with different lengths of clubs
Kelly Lamanna

The shaft of the club appears to lean slightly toward the target with your short irons because the ball is positioned in the center of your stance. With your middle irons, the shaft of the club leans only slightly toward the target (or not at all), since the ball is forward of center. With long irons and woods, your hands and the shaft of the club appear to be in line. Again, as the ball position moves forward, the hands stay in the same place, so the lean of the shaft disappears. With a driver, the shaft leans away from the target.

Your arms and shoulders should form a triangle and the elbows should point to the hips.

And a Final Note About Tension


At address, the upper body should be tension-free. You should feel tension only down the inside of the back leg.

Michael Lamanna is director of instruction at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.