Fundamentals. Fundamentals. Fundamentals.
You hear or read about it all the time, the importance of the fundamentals, focus on the fundamentals, get back to the fundamentals.
Well I tend to agree, a great golf swing starts with great fundamentals. We can't all swing like Tiger or Annika, but there is absolutely no reason we can't setup like them! It is the one position in golf where regardless of age or skill type, you can setup exactly like a tour pro.
But let me simplify the fundamentals of setup so it is clear and easy to understand...
Why focus on setup fundamentals? It's very simple, the more faults you have at address, the more faults you will have in your golf swing. Faults in your golf swing kill distance, consistency and in some cases, cause injury. It just makes sense to give yourself the best chance of having a decent swing by setting up properly.
Understanding the grip. There are many ways to hold the golf club, and many right ways to hold the golf club. Very simply, get your hands on the club so that you can grip it both lightly and firmly at the right time. Imagine the golf club is a whip and you want to be able to crack it at maximum speed. Hold it like you would a whip, mostly in your fingers supported by the meaty pad at the base of your hand. Then visit a local pro to make sure you've got it right!
Alignment. Even Jack Nicklaus couldn't hit the ball well and at his intended target if he was aligned incorrectly. In fact, if you make the best swing that you can, but are misaligned, the ball will not go where you want it to. Not only will the direction be off, but the quality of the strike will be negatively affected, you'll mishit the shot, toe it, heel it etc. because the club path and plane will not be right.
To align properly I would follow the example of Tiger and Jack - pick an intermediary target between your ball and the target. It can be a tuft of grass, a broken tee - whatever - about 5 feet in front of your ball, and align yourself to it. You'll be amazed at how much we misalign when picking a target in the distance.
Alignment dramatically impacts ball flight. Your feet, hips and shoulders at address dictate where the ball is going to go. If you want to fade or cut the ball, align left of the target line. If you are trying to hit it straight, align parallel to the target line. And if you want to hook or draw it, align right of the target line.
Posture. Golf is an athletic motion and you must have an athletic posture at address. I like to refer to it as a ready position, you have got to be ready to pivot right and pivot left. I advise my students to think of a tennis player getting ready to return a serve, or a baseball player getting ready to field a ball. Or a weightlifter getting ready to clean-and-jerk a few hundred pounds.
Simply stated - you want to stand as tall as possible but with as much athletic readiness as possible. That usually means a little knee flex, which activates your quads and creates tension in your buttocks. You should be able to jump to the right or jump the left, and you should be in balance. It is the ready to jump position that prepares you physically and mentally to make an athletic swing motion.
Stance and ball position. There are two schools of thought on stance and ball position. One being that the ball position should change as you change your club. The other is that the ball should always be in the same position regardless of the club.
I advocate a combination of the two. Because you are driving your weight to your front foot prior to and at impact, the ball needs to be forward in your stance. I like to see the ball an inch in front of your belt buckle with every club except the driver. The ball should be two inches ahead of your belt buckle with the driver because you are hitting it on the upswing whereas you are hitting it on the downswing with every other club.
Stance width depends on your athletic suppleness, but a great rule of thumb is your feet should be shoulder width apart with every club, except the driver. A couple inches wider than shoulder width with the driver will help you make a dedicated weight transfer throughout the golf swing on a solid base.
Remember - the setup is the only static position in the golf swing, and there is no reason not to get it exactly right!