A Wider Stance for Longer Clubs?
Did you ever wonder why folks teach you to have a wider stance for longer clubs? There is actually a good reason for it — but the explanation that is typically given doesn’t make much sense…
Did you ever wonder why folks teach you to have a wider stance for longer clubs? From Ben Hogan through Jack Nicklaus (back when I was studying the game), that has been the standard. (They’re probably still teaching it, although it is also possible that things have changed.)
The standard explanation is that you take a wider stance for “stability” with longer clubs. But that’s nonsense. If you get into an athletic stance (knees bent, feet a little wider than shoulder-width, back straight, with hips tilted slightly forward), there is no way that a 10-ounce club exerts enough force to pull you off balance, even at speed.
The answer came to me a few weeks ago, after watching One Idiotic Golf Thought that Actually Works on YouTube, where the idea of “throwing the club at the ground” is presented, instead of throwing it “at the target”.
His explanation was that it was like swinging a bat at a baseball — you want the club/bat perpendicular to your body when it makes contact, and that focusing on the target leads to slices, as the club/bat lags behind the ball.
I tried it the last time I played at my local short course (Sunken Gardens, in Sunnyvale, CA). It worked well. Really well. On the long par 4 where I could pull out my driver, instead of my all-too-frequent slice into the right fairway I hit a straight line drive over the trees and into the left fairway — hole high! Best I’ve ever done on that hole. One pitch, one chip, and one putt later, I had a par.
“Why did I overshoot?”, I asked myself. I was happy to have eliminated the slice that has plagued me with the long clubs, but why did the over-correction put the ball in the left fairway?
Since the ball went straight, the clubface was where it needed to be, perpendicular to the swing path. That was a good thing. (A hook would have been less good.) But the swing was still aimed left of where it needed to be.
That was when I realized: It’s all about the point of release — the point at which you stop “holding back” the club, and let its momentum take it to the ball. Of course, the point of release needs to be timed with the hips and shoulders. That timing makes the swing tricky. But where exactly is that point of release?
Since my short clubs were never a problem, but my long clubs were, it seems reasonable to assume that point of release is slightly earlier for a longer club — not a lot earlier, but a bit earlier, because physics suggests that a longer shaft, like a longer pendulum, will take a fraction longer to get to the ball.
So… If the ideal point of release depends on the length of the shaft, how do you release the club at the right point, consistently and reliably?
The answer, I think, is in the stance. I believe that the back foot identifies the
point of release. When the elbow and upper arm are passing between your head and that foot, I suspect that is the point at which you “let go” the club, and let it have its way.
Of course, maybe the trigger is your hand. Or the left elbow, or right elbow, or an imaginary line between your chest and elbows. But something like that identifies the ideal point of release, I think.
That would explain why the best golfers in the world (Hogan, Nicklaus, and others) recommended a wider stance for longer clubs: They were unconsciously using the positioning of the back foot to trigger their release.
The two remaining problems to solve are 1) Which body part is the trigger, in
relation to the foot, as discussed a moment ago, and 2) How to position the foot consistently for different length clubs. (I look forward to further insights inspirations, and comments!)
As the author of Comprehensive Keys to the Green, Eric has deciphered the science of feel, as it relates to putting. Perhaps more importantly, Eric finds that spending time on the golf course gives you a chance to practice the kind of energy-flow meditation he teaches — a happy-making practice that can connect you to the greater energy of the universe, with a bit of golf thrown in!
Learn more: About Eric (golfer)