If you are new to golf, and would like to start at the beginning, and I'm talking about square 1, you've come to the right place.
The Solid Foundation Lesson Program will show you the basics of the setup position and how to put yourself in an athletic position when getting ready to hit the golf ball. (this is called "addressing" the ball). There are several things to consider when addressing the ball and even before you get ready to swing.
Let's start with a little song
I went to golf camp as a kid. "Dr. Don" Cardea was my teacher at a public course in Blackwood, NJ. Dr. Don had a song that I still remember to this day about setting up to the golf ball. If you sing it with a little cadence, you'll remember it for life. I have, and I'll always have a pretty darn good setup to the golf ball.
Your feet....are....shoulder width apart, and your knees are bent, and your butt is out, and your back is straight, and your hands are forwaaAAArrdddd!.... SWING!
Dr. Don had it figured out. With this little song in mind, let's kick things off my visualizing the shot by making a mental picture.
A Mental Picture
There are many schools of thought when addressing the ball, or "setting up" to the ball, or entering the "setup position". Most instructors would like you to have what's called a pre-shot routine.
If you watch golf on television, you'll see the tour professionals seemingly staring off into space and what appears to be contemplating the meaning of life. They might squint or look into the distance, and you might be wondering what could possibly be happening.
They are envisioning the shot. Creating a mental picture of what they would like the ball to do (or hoping at least). Jack Nicklaus was a master at this. Jason Day also has a spot on pre-shot routine (I think he even closes his eyes).
I read Jack's book "Golf My Way" when I was growing up, and in the book he talks about this same technique. Seeing the ball in its flight, whether it be high or low, arcing left or right, but the point is to see the ball flying exactly how you intend.
Now that you have an awesome mental picture of what you hope the ball will do, it's time to step up to the ball and make it happen. But how far away do you stand? And how wide apart should you place your feet? Should they be straight in line with where you are aiming? And how do I aim? Breathe.
Aligning Yourself to the Target (Taking Dead Aim)
I always have trouble to this day aligning myself to the target. Your target is where you want to hit the ball (obvious?). Sounds easy enough. But when you are aligning yourself to a target, and your body is "sideways" it can be pretty tough to visualize "aiming" yourself and many golfers have issues with making sure they are aligning their body to where they want the ball to go.
Many golfers pick a spot right in front of their golf ball (maybe a foot or two) to make it easier to align your body properly to the target. If you pick a spot, whether a piece of grass or an ant (make sure he doesn't move!) you only have to make sure that your body is parallel to the imaginary line drawn from your ball to that spot.
This is the same technique they use in bowling. "Pick a board" or use the arrows on the lane to align yourself. Its much easier to make sure your body is parallel to a line that is very near to your line of sight than to try and align your body parallel to the flagstick 400 yards away. Make it easy on yourself.
Many golfers (myself included) will use what are called "aim sticks" that will help you align your feet and body to the target when you are practicing on the driving range. They are inexpensive, light, and I keep mine right in my golf bag.
An Athletic Position
Ok, so you don't have to be athletic to play golf, right? Wrong. Go hit a bucket of 100 balls with a driver and let me know how sore you are the next day. I bet your left side is screaming and your legs won't be happy with your decision either.
I always think "don't push me over" when I setup to the golf ball. If you take your stance and someone pushed on your chest, you should be tilted forward enough (imagine a shortstop in baseball) to where you can hold your position athletically and not topple over backwards.
Im not saying to lean so far over that if that same person pushed on your back you would fall forward, but make sure that you have a stable base with which to make a controlled, balanced, athletic golf swing. Weight slightly towards your toes will help you "feel" this forward lean of your body. Stick your butt out a little to help achieve this balanced position.
Shoulder Width Apart
Your feet (for a full swing golf shot) should be shoulder width apart. Someone told me years ago to imagine an upside-down bucket on the ground in between your feet when you address the ball. The angles of the bucket would be parallel to your legs. The wider your feet, the more stable your body, but too wide and you can lose stability.
Again, think athletic position, no one can push you over, you are creating a stable foundation for your golf swing. Shoulder width apart or a hair more to create more stability (typically with longer clubs like your driver or fairway woods - we will talk about that more later too).
Bend Your Knees
You should maintain a decent amount of knee flex in your golf swing. Your lower body holds an enormous amount of energy and you want to take full advantage of the large muscles in your legs.
A good rule of thumb is to bend your knees so they are just about over the top of your toes. This should be the correct amount of flex. Don't lock your knees in a straight position or you won't be able to make a good turn with your lower body, and we will talk about that later on.
Think of a shortstop in baseball. He is in the "ready position" and if a ball is hit to him, he can react quickly and handle the ball. In golf, it's not as imperative to "react" to a ball hit at you, but you need to put yourself in a position to make a controlled stable golf swing.
To Tilt of Not to Tilt
You may find yourself wondering how your shoulders should "be", or maybe not, but you should take a moment to be aware of your shoulder tilt. Should your shoulders be tilted? Parallel to the ground?
If you think about it, when you grip the golf club, one hand is lower than the other, right? So it would make sense that one shoulder would also be lower than the other.
Since your trail hand (right for right-handers) is farther down the grip on the club shaft than your lead hand, it stands to reason that your trail shoulder would be lower than your lead shoulder.
So the answer is, your shoulders should be slightly tilted. The trail shoulder slightly lower than your lead shoulder. But just how far should they tilt?
This all depends on what club you are using and we are going to have to talk about ball position to address this point adequately. For now, just make sure your trail shoulder is slightly lower than your lead.
Ok so now you have your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and are in an athletic position. So where is the ball? After all, the point of this whole exercise is to HIT the darn thing.
Again, many schools of thought on this topic too. I was taught to start with your shortest club (usually your pitching wedge) and make sure the ball is directly in the center of your stance. As you "move up" and choose a longer club, say your 9-Iron, move the ball about an inch forward in your stance.
By the time you get to your longest club, the driver, the ball should be perpendicular to the inside of your lead foot (heel). So the distance to move the ball between clubs as you go from pitching wedge to driver should sequentially change, not by much, but it should be tangible (I generally use an inch, or 3/4 of an inch as my "step" between clubs). Ben Hogan did it this way, and he did ok.
I know, this seems like a lot of information all at once, but, it'll become second nature after you do it for a while. But, it's important! You are setting the foundation of your golf swing, and like they say, you can't build a great house without a great foundation.
If you are ready to get started and would like some assistance getting into that elusive setup position, you can send in your video and have Swingbot analyze your position. You can check out the Solid Foundation Lesson Program to get started. This program will teach you a bit more than I talked about here, and I think you'll appreciate learning the basics.