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

The single most important - and frequently overlooked - full swing fundamental in golf is the setup position. So here's a step-by-step illustration of how to take your stance and achieve a great golf setup. 

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Alignment in the Golf Stance

Step 1 in a great golf stance is understanding how important it is - and proper alignment
Use the image of railroad tracks to help conceptualize good alignment in the setup position. 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 will appear 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 will appear 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.

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Foot Position

Foot position in the golf stance
Your feet should start out shoulder-width apart, but adjust depending on whether you're playing woods/long irons, middle irons or short irons. Kelly Lamanna
The feet should be shoulder width (outside of the shoulders to the inside of the heels) for the middle irons. The short iron stance will be two inches narrower and the stance for long irons and woods should be two 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 back swing. Your flexibility and body rotation speed determine the proper foot placement.
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Ball Position

Ball Position in the Golf Stance
The position of the golf ball in one's stance varies depending on the club used. 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 and 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 and 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) to strike the ball on the upswing.
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balance in the golf stance
Keep your weight on the balls of your feet in the setup position. 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 will help you swing the club on the correct angle on the back swing.

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Posture (Down-the-Line View)

Proper posture in the golf stance
Don't slouch in your stance - 'keep your spine in line' for more power. 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 towards the target. This will help you brace yourself on this leg during the back swing, thus preventing lower body sway.

Your body should bend at the hips, not in the waist (your buttocks will protrude slightly when you are in this correct posture). The spine is the axis of rotation for the swing, so it should be bent towards 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 will 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 the shoulders on the back swing equals your power potential, so keep your spine in line for longer drives and more consistent ball striking.

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Posture - Face View

Face-on view of correct posture in the golf stance
Golf setup posture places the hips in the lead. Kelly Lamanna

When viewed from 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 counter-balances 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. The 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.

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Arms and Hands

How the arms and hands are positioned in the golf stance
A palm's width for short and middle irons; a palm's length for long irons and woods. 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 hands "a palm's width" (photo, left) from the body for short and middle irons (4 to 6 inches) and "a palm's length" (photo, right) - from the bottom of the wrist to the tip of your middle finger - for long irons and woods.
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The Final Setup Positions

Golf setup positions with different lengths of clubs
Putting it all together: good setup positions with different-length clubs, from the shortest to longest (left to right).. Kelly Lamanna

The shaft of the club will appear 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 will lean 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 will 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 will lean 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 may feel tension only down the inside of the back leg.

Remember: "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; however, it improves your chances immensely.


Michael Lamanna is Director of Instruction at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.