Golfer Geek setting up to putt

Setup and alignment are simple steps in the putting routine but can account for many mistakes. 

Years of playing, teaching, and coaching golf have led me to focus on the importance of ball position in putting.

Many successful golfers have unique setups with a unique different ball position when putting. 

  • Jack Nicklaus famously “crouches” with his feet pointed to the left of his start line and his arms close to his body. (*can we add a picture of this*) 
  • Tiger Woods has an “athletic” looking set up over his putts with his eyes directly above the ball. (*can we add a picture of this*) 

As an LPGA Class A T&CP Instructor, I would not have changed these putting setups. The setup enables Jack and Tiger to make their natural putting stroke. And.. well… it WORKS for them. They are two of the best clutch putters of all time. 

Your putting stroke is also unique. Your goal is to help you set up so your stroke works to the best of your ability. That said, certain fundamentals exist in a ‘good’ putting setup.

If you’re struggling with sinking putts, review these fundamental tips to identify and fix any issues.

When setting up for a putt, there are five key elements: 

  1. Ball position
  2. Hand position
  3. Head position
  4. Hip direction
  5. Body distance from the ball. 

These fundamentals are crucial in determining the ball’s position when putting.

Five Key Elements of an Effective Putting Setup 

Correct Ball Position

Check this by placing an alignment stick from the ball towards the inside of your stance. 

Place a tee directly in front of the big toes of your left and right foot, then step away. 

Looking from straight on, where is the ball positioned between your feet?
The ball should be in the middle or slightly forward in your stance.(1)

  • If the ball is positioned forward of center (towards the left foot for right-handed golfers), it might cause you to hit “up” on the ball and affect the contact. 
  • If it’s positioned back of center (toward the right foot for right-handed golfers), it might encourage you to hit “down” on the putt. 

How to practice this

Set up a putting station by placing an alignment stick between your feet.
Step into the station and practice feeling and seeing the ball positioned in the middle of your stance.

Distance Away from the Ball in the Putting Setup

How to check this 

Grab an extra golf ball. Once you are over your putt, hold the ball right between your eyes. Drop the ball. 

Where does the ball land?
Does it land on the ball you are putting?

If the dropped ball lands ‘inside’ the stationary ball, you are standing too far away from the ball in setup.
If the dropped ball lands ‘outside’ the stationary ball, you are standing too close to the ball in setup. 

How to practice this

I have seen PGA Tour professionals and their caddies use the “ball drop check” on the practice green before teeing off. It is a simple and effective way to keep a consistent distance from the ball at setup. 

Hip Position in the Putting Setup

How to check this

Grab your alignment stick (and ensure your pants or shorts have belt loops). 

  • To align yourself correctly, place a stick through the front belt loops in a way parallel to the target line.
    • Once you’ve done that, check if the stick is aligned with the ball/target line. Adjust your position if it points to the target’s left or right.

You want your hip line to run parallel to the target line at setup. If the hip line is too far open or closed, it could affect your putting stroke takeaway path. 

How to practice this

The alignment stick is helpful, but having someone video you from the side can help notice issues with your setup.

Hand Position in the Putting Setup

There are three potential positions for your hands at setup.

  1. Ahead of the ball. Also called a forward press and will deloft your putter. (A little is okay- don’t overdo this)
  2. Even with the ball.
  3. Behind the ball…which adds loft. A no-no. 

How to practice this 

Using a mirror or picture of yourself at setup can show you where your hands are. 

If you have an off-the-rack putter, be careful of adding or subtracting loft to it by leaning the shaft forward of the ball (toward the hole) or behind the ball (away from the target). 

It’s worth spending $100-$200 to work with a club fitter and ensure the putter fits you rather than trying to fit it yourself.

Head Position in the Putting Setup 

When looking at a golf ball straight on, draw an imaginary line (can also just grab an alignment stick) up from the ball and check if your head is behind, on, or ahead of the line.

The goal is to have your head even with the ball line. Too far forward or backward of the line can affect the weight distribution at setup. 

You can achieve a stable foundation over the ball by maintaining a comfortable posture with your head and eyes centered over the ball.

Final Thoughts on Finding Your Best Ball Position When Putting

My main question is, “Are you making putts?” If the answer is “No,” I ask you to consider where your ball is positioned in your setup when putting. 

These five elements we’ve covered here will help you develop a strong foundation for your putting stroke. 

  • You want a smooth end-over-end roll on your putt
  • Your ball position when putting will affect your roll.(2)

In my experience, I’ve found a mixture of what is unique to each of us and what is fundamental in golf. These fundamentals can be tedious to check and fix, but they can help you unlock better putting and lower scores.