‘Alignment and ball position are so important in leveraging accuracy’
Sean Foley fine-tunes technique through technology... and wants you and your coach to do the same
Sean Foley is reluctant to give too much away about his work with Justin Rose. Not out of spite, we might add, but because he’s got a nine-year relationship and business to protect. His passion for technology means everything he does is rooted in analytics, and infinitely more detailed than your average coach. When we meet him, he’s carrying a Trackman and about to pour through a bunch of data from his lesson with Danny Willett. “Using data helps you to understand the why,” he says. Before Trackman was even popular, Foley would visit their website and read case studies, so he could understand exactly what happens at impact between the club and ball. While he admits it’s an extreme example, he believes all golfers would see improvements if they paid attention to ball flight data and stopped relying on guesswork in their set up and swing. That includes the basic fundamentals, which is where Foley wants your education to start…
When I’m coaching Justin Rose or Danny Willett, a lot of our focus is on alignment and ball position. That stuff is so important because the ball is just sitting still. You can stand to it in a way that gives you a mechanical advantage to leverage power and accuracy. In golf, so many people aim right, get the ball position too far forward and then try to get the ball back to the target. One thing we are always focused on is making sure everything is neutral. It’s not very sexy stuff, but it helps with consistency and competency.
Whatever the club, the ball position with an iron should be in the middle of the stance, just behind your left pec, with the hands slightly forward. That presets a downward strike at impact, with the low point of the swing coming in front of the ball position. When I watch amateurs preparing to hit an iron, some set up like they’re going to hit a driver. They look ready to scoop it, not compress it. Keeping a little bit more pressure in the lower body and on the left side will help to produce a better strike.
If you look at really long hitters, they make a big movement to their right side and stay over there. You don’t want to do that with a 9-iron. The way you come into the ball and attack the ball with an iron is slightly different. Where most golfers go wrong is that they sway too much and move off the ball in the backswing. They then have to stand up through the shot to achieve a full body turn, which affects their sight line and hand-eye co-ordination, and throws the swing out of sequence. When you set up to the ball, try to picture a pole running straight down your head, down your spine and into the ground. Staying grounded, rotate around that pole (central axis) in your backswing, and let your pelvis turn away from the target to complete a full backswing. As you swing down, focus on moving that pole – the centre of your sternum – forwards and towards the target in the downswing. That will ensure you compress the ball and strike down on it, just like the pros do.
It would really help most club golfers if they made a bunch of swings from a downhill lie. That will keep you more centred. It will also shallow out the attack angle, which makes the shot a lot more difficult. I think most people massage their ego by trying to do stuff they’re really good at already. To get past that threshold and learn, you need to make it more difficult. If you’re having a hard time with your wedge play, don’t just hit shots from a perfect lie. Hit from the dirt. That way you’ll figure out, within the set up, what’s imperative before you even start the motion.
Most people struggle to hit a long iron because the club has less loft, is moving at a higher speed and is further away from the body. Even on the PGA Tour, I would guess that only half the players still have a 3-iron. The rest have rescue clubs because trying to get a 3-iron to land on the right trajectory and land soft isn’t easy. Most people struggle, simply because it’s a lot harder to hit. That’s why I would recommend amateurs swap their long irons for hybrids. Spin is your friend and the more the ball spins, the softer the landing. Plus, the gear effect helps as well. So, if you toe a hybrid, it will draw back and if you
heel it, it will fade back. It’s a big advantage. If you want to maximise your game, understanding data is important. Launch rate, spin rate, clubface position, path and attack angle are the numbers you should be looking at in a fitting or if you’re hitting on Trackman. Spin axis is the one people forget about as well, and shows how much the ball is tilted right or left. A ball with a two-degree spin axis to the right is just a little fade, whereas a ball with a 30-degree spin axis to the right is a big slice. So, that tells you a lot about your shot shape. Justin and I have spent a lot of time on Trackman over the
last decade, and I think one of the reasons he is one of the better ball strikers on tour is because of his understanding of the why. He knows enough that if he’s hitting a certain shot, he knows how not to hit that shot again. When you know the why, you can play ugly better.
Most amateurs have the wrong idea of why the ball is doing what it’s doing. The only way you can change and improve is if you understand the principles of ball flight. If I deliver 20 degrees of loft and I’m five degrees down with my attack angle, I’m going to have 25 degrees of spin loft. You need that “a-ha” moment that if you hit down, the ball goes up with an iron. If you top it, that’s probably because you’re trying to scoop it.
A lot of tour players put an alignment stick on the ground, and then put a ball position stick down to make sure they set up correctly. Over time, their eyes get used to that position, but they still keep using them on the range so they don’t slip into bad habits. Most amateurs think it takes too much time, so they don’t bother. There are many ways to get better, but you need to be disciplined.
Getting fitted is very important. I look at the detail Justin goes into making sure that the set he has is optimal, so why would the same process not help you and my dad? Taylormade, for example, has so many clubs to choose from, but there are also lots of shafts out there which load and kick differently. That’s really important because people don’t load the force and torque into the club the same. Golf is not a cheap game, but if you’re going to invest in it, try to get the most out of it by getting fitted. Shaping the ball is not as hard as people think. As far as set up goes, you need to know that where you want the ball to start is where the clubface points. So, if you want to draw it, you’ve got to get the clubface closed to the path and if you want to fade it, you’ve got to get the clubface open to the path. What happens is that people try to hit different shots from the same set up. There are nuances in how you can set up to make the ball curve differently, so play around with and use an alignment rod. Get the stick pointing to the right, set the feet to that line and try to draw the ball back to the target. If you want to fade it, just do the opposite.
Don’t just go to the range and hit your favourite club. My dad, for example, hits a lot of wedges during a round. So, it makes sense that he practises hitting those clubs on the range. My advice would be to get an idea of which clubs you use the most often, and then try to get better using them. For instance, because Cameron Champ is such a long hitter, 80 per cent of his practice time is spent hitting shots from 160 yards and in. I love watching Cameron hitting 4-irons, but he’s really not going to hit that many.
‘I put a lot of trust in him with my game and I believe in his abilities to help me with my game’ JUSTIN ROSE
Willett hired Foley in August 2017, and has found his form again after slumping to 442nd in the world rankings.