Feet-to-Ball Setup - Pick Up the Quarter
by Geoff Mangum
How far out should the ball be away from your feet? It's a matter of balancing the shoulders above the feet, so try this: treat the ball like a quarter you just spotted on the ground, walk up to it to pick it up, and when you plant your foot to bend down, that's the right distance back from the "quarter" -- usually about two putterheads.
The Changing Center of Gravity
The human body by about age 10 is just great at balance. The whole system of muscles, spine, inner ear, eyes, head, cerebellum, and motor cortex have learned by this age how to react to innumerable situations that threaten our balance. These fast-acting reflexes don't tax our thinking -- they just react.
One pattern of reaction is when you bend over to pick something up (like a quarter or a golf ball). The center of gravity in males is usually just a bit below the navel between the hips, and in females the center is a little lower. But this is when the person is standing upright. If you bend forward to pick up something on the ground, your center of gravity changes by moving forward from between your hips and actually relocates outside your body. That's because your heavy upper torso and head are bending out over your hips and feet, redistributing the weight as your body's overall shape alters. No problem -- the spine, legs, and feet just react to keep you in balance with the new center of gravity. Your feet separate, with one forward near the object, and one back for balance. The tops of your thighs tighten and the pressure in the soles of your feet migrates from evenly distributed to concentrate in the balls of your feet. As you extend your arm to the ground to pick up the object, your body is working with a newly stabilized center of gravity, so the move is safe and controllable. As your shoulder lowers the arm and hand to the object, the head and eyes position themselves naturally above the object with a gaze that is more or less straight out of the face. The shoulders lowering carry the head down, too, and the eyes guide the whole movement with a steady focus on the object as your hand gets nearer and prepares the fingers to pick it up. At the end of the motion when the fingers reach the object, your shoulder socket of your outstretched arm is pretty close to directly above the balls of your foot and your eyes are directly above the object. Like this:
If you freeze this picture, you will see that your feet are in a balanced position with respect to the canted-forward weight of your shoulders and head. The distance from front foot to object has been defined by the natural balancing process of the body in bending over. This distance depends upon the shape and weight distribution of your body and its segments or parts. For people with "normal" adult physique, this distance from foot to object is about the same as the distance from eyes back to the shoulder sockets, which is the same distance as from the object back to the balls of the feet or perhaps a little farther. While each person is slightly different, most people's bodies have a shoulder socket-to-pupils distance of about 8 to 10 inches. A putterhead is typically 4.5 inches from heel to toe, so two putterheads gets you in the ballpark setting the distance of your feet back from the ball.
Once you move the rear foot up to a square position beside the front foot, with feet about shoulder width apart, I think you'll find this is a very comfortable and natural ball-to-feet distance. Your shoulder sockets will be balanced just above the balls of your feet, with a slight bend in your knees.
Make this Part of Your Game
When you walk into your setup for a putt, your objective is to set a balanced relationship between your shoulders and the ball so that the stroke of arms of shoulders will be stable over balanced feet and lower body and the head and eyes focused on the ball. You can get this way quite naturally by pretending the ball is a quarter you just spotted and intend to pick up. When your lead foot plants itself for the balanced bending down of the shoulders, it will be very close to a top-notch setup distance back from the ball. Square the other foot up to this same distance so the toes make a parallel line offset this distance from the target line or startline of the putt, and you're in business. If the setup feels a little off, you probably need to back the feet away about a half an inch. Try it and see.
For more tips and information on putting, including a free 10,000+ database of putting lore and the Web's only newsletter on putting (also free), visit Geoff's website at http://puttingzone.com, or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.