Tee It Up with The Little Pro: Ch. 3

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Golf Digest Round Table. From left to right: Sam Snead, Bill Davis, Paul Mennig, Eddie Merrins, Cary Middlecoff
Golf Digest Round Table. From left to right: Sam Snead, Bill Davis, Paul Mennig, Eddie Merrins, Cary Middlecoff

Welcome to the third tee box in our Tee It Up with The Little Pro series. Today we are going to continue our analysis of the “Set Up”. We’ve covered Posture and Balance and will now talk about the critically important element, Ball Placement.

It has been my experience that golfers have a tendency to speed through the initial elements of the “Set Up” in an effort to arrive where the action is, the swing itself. I encourage you to not treat the “Set Up” casually as once you master all of the collective elements, your swing will produce better shots thereby affecting your confidence, which in turn will yield better results. An upward cycle of performance is emotionally uplifting and breeds more confidence.

The proper “Set Up” will have the ball positioned just inside the left heel, for each and every club, as the ball position within the stance will determine the direction of the clubface; square, open, or closed at the time it impacts the golf ball. Positioning the ball in the same place for each club will help deliver consistency with each shot.

The stance is widened as the shots become longer by moving the right foot back away from the target to adjust for terrain and to provide the required balance with the longer clubs. Playing the ball opposite the left heel forces you to thrust your legs properly toward the target as you begin the downswing, or as I like to call it, the forward swing. This lateral motion actually happens in that very short time frame between the backswing and the forward swing. The lateral movement of the legs helps the weight shift onto your left side and delivers a downward strike through the ball.

The only valid departure from this ball placement is if we have a tight lie or a pronounced downhill lie, at which time we move the ball back toward the right foot so that the strike makes contact with the ball first before the ground. A further tip is to use a more lofted club when faced with a downhill lie as the slope will cause the shot to have a lower than normal trajectory.

You may have noticed the tour players on television first take their grip and then place the club behind the ball before taking their stance. I believe the club should be lowered to the ball in this fashion, except that you should keep the club just off the ground. This vertical lowering of the club will unhinge your wrists in the proper manner and help you focus on measuring to the ball and not the ground. The clubhead should be aimed slightly to the right of your intended target so that it will be perfectly squared to the target line when it reaches the ball at impact.

Remember, the purpose is to move the ball around the golf course by choosing one target after another as you move one shot at a time through each hole. From the longest tee shot to the shortest putt, the focus is on a target.  Consistent ball placement removes a variable and allows you to be target focused and produce consistent shots.

A great example of being focused on the target was raised by the great Sam Snead during a Golf Digest teaching panel that I participated in. The panel consisted of a dozen teachers and players and we would meet periodically to develop teaching editorial content for the magazine. The editors would ask provocative questions and we would go around the table and deliver our opinions, often leading to disagreement and controversy, but always providing interesting content for Golf Digest.

During one such exchange, the topic was how to conduct a playing lesson. Bob Toski, Jim Flick, myself, and John Jacobs all answered with our respective viewpoints, and then Sam Snead stopped us all in our tracks, and said, “The best playing lesson is without a ball”.

Sam continued after we all collected ourselves and explained, “ you take a student out on the golf course and move him from station to station, from the tee to a place in the fairway where he would have to hit his approach into the green. From there, he imagines what his next shot will be, he then makes an imaginary swing and proceeds to the next position. By taking the ball out of the equation, the student focuses on the target and strategy of moving the ball from target to target through the green.

I have spiritually thanked Sam profusely over the years for this nugget of teaching gold that I have used to better help my students picture where they want the ball to go and what they want the ball to do.

We will move on to discussing Stance Width, Weight Distribution, and Alignment on the next tee. Until then, keep swinging the handle.

Eddie Merrins "The Little Pro"

Affectionately known as “The Little Pro”, Eddie Merrins has long been revered as a golf guru. “The Little Pro” has had success at every level throughout his career.

During his 14 years as UCLA men’s golf coach, the team reached #1 and won an NCAA National Championship. Eddie also had a stellar professional career playing in over 200 PGA Tour events including 8 US Opens, 6 PGA Championships, and 2 British Opens. While playing professionally he managed to leave his mark as a Club Professional at some of the most famed clubs in the United States, including Merion and Bel-Air Country Club where he is currently the Golf Professional Emeritus after a 40 year run as the Director of Golf.

Throughout his career he’s had the opportunity to instruct some of the biggest names in entertainment, as well as some of the highest-level professional and amateur golfers. His teaching philosophy propelled him into a class of few peers. He’s listed as a Top 100 Golf Magazine instructor and has been elected to numerous Halls of Fame, and most recently, as an inductee to the PGA of America Hall of Fame.

“The Little Pro” has a unique ability to effectively communicate the golf swing, as he displayed by authoring a best-selling book “Swing the Handle, Not the Clubhead”. This book led to the success of the “Swing the Handle” video series. You can purchase both here.

"The Little Pro" is passing along his knowledge through these articles with the help of his longtime friend Rick Oldach.