The Picture Clears – It’s The Setup Balance

Just to show you how pernicious the effects of dropping one’s guard on the setup (most have already said, “one careless swing ruined my round,” but was it the swing or the setup before the swing?), I believe I’ve found my bugaboo of the last five years.

Well, of course, the final bugaboo, because I’ve had to change my grip (’19) and finally late in ’21 figured out I was swinging with the wrong side dominant – the last bugaboo in my personal swing modeling is what I was doing wrong with my setup balance.

Believe it or not, if you have improper balancing in the setup, you will not be able to find your swing bottom, as it will actually move.

Meaning, the swing bottom you believe you have (and where you’ve placed your ball in relation to that believed swing bottom) will actually shift when you swing back and then down.

Not only that, if you are consistently making swings with improper balance, it can move in either direction.

Which means on one horrific mishit, you snap-hook the ball off the planet and with another bad swing, you push-slice the ball two fairways over.

I’ve done that in the same round.

Hence my favorite reaction Gif.

There are two things that make your setup absolutely key:

  1. You are holding the club in your hands & that’s the only contact you will have with the club as you swing to strike a ball and,
  2. You are standing on two legs (most of us, I’ll assume) and the only contact you’ll have with the ground upon which the ball sits will be with your feet.

In a way, this should make it ridiculously easy to make a swing back and then down and through, because hey – a machine that doesn’t move on the ground can strike a stationary ball perfectly each time if you set it up properly to the ball and target line, correct?

Setup Is King

So, instead of trying to make contact with a ball that is not only moving but could be curving (baseball) or even curving and bouncing (cricket, tennis, ping-pong), you’re just standing there looking down at the thing.

Your move.

You see, this is virtually the universal problem of everyone who struggles to make clean contact with a golf ball, if you combine the grip in the setup.

When your grip is not optimal or even worse, problematic, you will not be able to swing freely as you have to control the clubface at impact – right off the bat, you’re slowing down your swing due to manipulation.

Same with problematic pivot actions or setups – you won’t make contact with the ball from where you’re setup or with that no-hip-turn pivot, so now you have to make compensations mid-swing in order to deliver the clubface to the ball.

Ideally, you should be able to strike a ball in the dark or blindfolded (I’m not saying perfectly, but you get the idea), because if you’re relying on hand-eye coordination to make contact with the ball, you’re dead in the water.

That’s what happens when a player “chokes” and hits a really bad shot under pressure – under duress, hand-eye coordination is hampered by adrenaline and nerves, and therefore one’s usual compensations or manipulations fail to work as designed and disaster strikes.

And it’s madness, because golf is likely the one game or sport where virtually no hand-eye coordination is required if you swing under optimal conditions.

When you measure yourself to the ball using the proper method, neither you nor the ball will move from that spot until post-impact.

Once the club is firmly in your hands with the optimal grip, a square face at address should be a square face at impact.

So what is going wrong?

Only two things, really  – either a faulty setup or a faulty pivot, or both.

I am not claiming these things as facts, just in case you’re cracking your knuckles in preparation to respond to this post.

I claim them as theory, and from having played a number of sports in my life.  I’ve experienced both the agony of choking under pressure, but also of having the confidence because of practice and technique to perform very well and without turning a hair.

And this is exactly what I’ve been talking about for years.  The swing begins and ends with the setup, and once in motion, only a bad pivot can hurt you.

More to come!

For those who enjoy my anecdotes from my sporting days in my youth:

I find myself reminiscing about my younger days and sports, the more the older I get, so I’ll just indulge myself here.  This is a sport-related blog, after all.

Another not-so-quick anecdote using again my basketball experience since I loved playing the game once I took it up.

You’ll recall my last anecdote was on having to make 5 free-throws on the line with the entire gymnasium watching, and how my endless practice ensured I came through it unscathed.

Fast-forward to my last year in high school (different school, I grew up having moved houses probably 10 times before starting college), and my basketball team was slated to play a regional powerhouse from a big city, with a player who was averaging something crazy like 35 points per game.

We were both off-guard, so we were to defend one another.

This shot isn’t from the game I’m about to recount, but I had an OK pull-up jumper to go with my other shots:

We should have been blown out of the gymnasium but they only bested us by 8 points (92-84 if I recall correctly) – I scored 50 with ten 3-point buckets and my competitor scored 30 give or take – had I scored less than 30, it would have been the proverbial blowout.

And you know what I remember about that game?  Virtually nothing.  I was on auto-pilot and I wanted us to win that game, even though it was a suicide mission.

If you’ve worked on your stuff, you have two choices in this situation – you can go ahead and choke, or you can raise your game.

I do remember I made just about every 3 point shot I took (I wasn’t even a 3 specialist, I just had to score points and fast), to the point that after my 3rd or 4th, my center asked me what the hell was going on as we jogged back up court, and I gave him a shrug, stone-faced.

Potted every free-throw I was awarded as well, and by the end of the 3rd quarter, the opposing coach was dancing on the sideline screaming, “21! 21! Get on 21!” which was my number.

In fact, I remember only one particular shot from that whole game, when we were probably only down a half-dozen point with a few minutes left in the 4th quarter:

Received the ball probably four or five steps from beyond the arc, turned to the basket and saw my off-guard opponent (who was probably 6’4″ to my 6’1″) jumping out at me, arm out-stretched for the block.

I hit an impossible fall-away shot that seemed to go straight up and then straight down through the basket without touching the rim.

At one point, I believe we actually thought we might upset this squad.

Other than that, I remember that we lost, but we put a scare into them.

I should have choked, facing such a staggering opponent, right?


I had spent the better part of my waking hours playing and practicing when not in class, so I took their swagger and confidence personally, saying to my teammates before tip-off something to the effect, “They may beat us, but they’re going to have to beat us. We’re not lying down.”

At the final buzzer, I was more impacted by the fact we’d lost than by how many points I’d scored.  I was even unfazed that the opposing team, including the coach, all shook my hand warmly and complimented me in the post-game handshake.  I didn’t want to hear it.

I wanted to win that game, dang it.

I never got to finish that season as I once again transferred schools just a couple of weeks after that tournament.

But here’s a different sort of video for you, WAX Nation – I was an extra in an American-made television movie that included a basketball game, and trust me, in a real match, my side (white and blue) would have won, since we were all extras and there were no actors on our side.

Yes, even in a made-up game, I was peeved to have to be on the scripted losers’ side.  I’m just that competitive.

I was No. 5, white and blue.

PS – The man who played our coach, the one pointing and yelling and waving his rolled-up programme – that was my high school coach from the same school that this anecdote takes from.  Mr. Cutler was a great guy.

Enough of the trip down memory lane, see you all in the next post!

2 thoughts on “The Picture Clears – It’s The Setup Balance

  1. Mark

    I was disappointed with your effort on D 😁

    Your comments on hand-eye coordination struck home. I’ve never been able to divorce it from my swing. Basically, wherever I fix my gaze is where I will bottom my swing. Happens naturally with no thought or manipulation.
    I had to learn to pick a spot a few inches in front of the ball if I wanted to make clean contact. If I look at the ball, I hit it fat. In fact, I can pick a spot in front of the ball that is a little offcenter, farther or nearer to me, and it will slightly alter my path and cause either a draw or fade. I wish I could just set up, close my eyes, and swing.

    to chang the topic a bit… how ’bout Lyles in the 200? And your guy De Grasse showed up BIG in the relay!

    1. DJ Watts Post author

      That was quite the 200, Mark, and I’m happy De Grasse withdrew, he wasn’t match fit and would have been pulverized with those times. His split in the relay was eye-opening. The man never misses out on a medal, does he?

      As for stepping up, closing one’s eyes and swinging, that’s how it really should work in principle – if you could keep your eyes open and make great contact consistently, I’m sure you’d settle for that! 😉

      As for the terrible D, all of those plays where the red team scored were choreographed, but none of the white/blues were happy about letting those bums look like winners, rest assured. 😂


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