Wide Stance vs Narrow Stance in Golf

Wide vs Narrow Stance In Golf

Written by Michael VanDerLaan 

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A common way to remember the fundamentals in golf is by using the acronym “P.G.A.” This stands for “posture, grip, and alignment” and represents the essential fundamentals that every golfer should focus on. It is one area that you definitely see professionals obsessing over and amateurs reluctant to pay attention to until they are completely lost and desperate. Going hand in hand with alignment, understanding the concept of wide stance vs narrow stance in golf is a key to long term success.

The difference is that high level players are constantly in the process of maintaining certain setup checkpoints, with or without thinking about it, and work on these things as routine maintenance rather than a reaction to a complete disaster of a shot or round. Also, while many players may play with a variety of setup tendencies, they are very consistent with those tendencies.

While there are millions of tiny things that can be focused on when taking your setup, the width of your stance is something that comes naturally to many top golfers. But that may not have always been the case, and many have experimented with different stance widths to see the effects on their own game.

Finding the proper stance width for you is one of the all time great ways to get better at golf without taking lessons. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you can learn from the advice of golf instructors and professionals when deciding what an appropriate stance width is for you, and how wider vs narrower stances can affect your game.

How Wide Should Your Golf Stance Be?

There really is no “right or wrong” answer to this, although we can - and will -  arrive at some pretty common-sense guidelines. More holistically, we cannot answer this question without answering the question “what are you trying to accomplish?” Is it stability? Or power? Or both? Are you trying to win a long drive competition, or are you trying to stick a wedge to tap-in range? Do you struggle with irons, but not with a driver, or vice versa? All good players will vary their stance width situationally, depending on the shot, the lie, and the club they are using. Many do this subconsciously or based on “feel” or just an expertise about the impact conditions they are trying to create, and how to set themselves up to encourage success out of a particular lie or for a particular ball flight.

It’s because of these things there is not a hard-and-fast rule about stance width, but rather good golfers become educated about why certain stances are better for some clubs or some situations than others, and learn to apply these lessons seamlessly as each situation arises on the course.

As a baseline, however, let’s define a “neutral” stance width as the following:

Proper stance width when hitting a mid iron

Feet shoulder width apart for a mid-iron

Proper stance width when hitting a driver

Insteps of the feet just outside the shoulders for a wood

Proper stance width when hitting a wedge

Outsteps of the feet just inside the armpits for a half wedge or putter

Granted, every human has different sized feet, shoulders, chest, etc. so this is far from scientific, but most players will hover around these ranges, even if they trend towards a more narrow or wide stance in general, and most will progressively stagger their stance width if they are “between” these categories (for example a long iron stance would be somewhere between the driver stance and the mid-iron stance). Some players also change their preferred stance width throughout their careers due to age, injury, or just tinkering.

The above are great guidelines for a beginner or anyone who wants to start experimenting with different stance widths. Many players will have stances narrower or wider than these recommendations and still compete at the highest levels, and we’ll take a closer look at why these variations occur and what they mean throughout the rest of this article.

Benefits Of A Wide Stance

A wider stance helps to create more coil and power

The benefits of a wide stance are generally: more “stability” as well as more power. But understanding why these things are said can also help understand when you’ve gone too far with it or when a wide stance might not be appropriate.

The key is that narrowing/widening the stance can very easily be overdone. Generally speaking, a wider stance can help a player generate more power by using their legs more and freeing the whole body up to pivot more and make a longer, harder swing without losing balance. Essentially stemming from a more stable base.

However - imagine, or even try out for yourself - an exaggerated situation where you are almost trying to do a split, and hit a golf ball. There is NO power and NO stability in a stance like that. Your hips cannot turn, your weight cannot shift from heel toe or from left to right. It’s completely the opposite of what we hope to achieve when appropriately widening our stance.

However, done properly, it is ideal for a club like driver.

RELATED: Top 10 Best Driving Range Tips For Beginners

Problems With A Wide Stance

A stance that is too wide doesn't allow for a full range of motion

If your stance gets too wide, it can become a problem. Even without the problems illustrated above with a ridiculously wide stance, even with a fairly “normal” wide stance some players can suffer some difficulties.

For most people, widening the stance allows them to turn their hips more. But for some people, it doesn’t, depending on a variety of factors. If you are somebody who can turn LESS with a wide stance, you are the exception to the norm, and will probably hit the ball better with a narrower trend in your stances.

The trade off with a wide stance is that it allows a lot more room for the player to shift their weight off the ball and back. Which can produce some miraculous results with a massive transition and slide but is also a consistency killer, and the trend with the best ball strikers is to stay more centered. Many amateurs also tend to drift onto the back foot and stay there, especially when they start to get tired.

The most obvious fallout from this is that low point control becomes very difficult, but also can throw several other things completely out of whack if you are prone to swaying too much.

RELATED: Most Forgiving Irons For Beginners And High Handicaps

Benefits Of A Narrow Stance

A narrow stance is good for accuracy and contact, like a wedge shot

A narrow stance is generally associated more with “control” and “good contact” and more finesse shots.

The great thing about a narrow stance is that it completely discourages any kind of weight shift. This is why narrow stances are best suited for putts and chips that require precise contact but absolutely no power or speed, and many expert players will chip with their feet almost completely together, or about a fist-width apart.

This helps a player basically pre-set where the club is going to bottom out, and then try to guarantee great contact by having a very consistent low point.

Problems With A Narrow Stance

A stance that is too narrow

The issue with a narrow stance is that it is hard to make a big swing. And it is especially difficult to do so while using the ground for power and turning the body through the shot like most modern ball striking coaches tend to encourage.

Given these limitations, we can kind of see a range of stances that golfers can use - without going TOO wide or TOO narrow - and it makes sense that as the clubs get longer, we are going to look for more power, but the closer we get to the green the more we are going to prioritize repeatability and precision.

The cool thing about golf is that there are brands that produce clubs to help with all kinds of shortcomings from different setup conditions. 

Pro Golfers With Narrow Stances

Jim Furyk has had a hall of fame career with an unusually narrow stance

Jim Furyk stands unusually close to the ball with a very narrow stance

Two famous golfers with narrow stances are Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson. These two also make a great example of how there are very few “absolutes” in golf. While narrow stances tend to promote contact over distance, we have perhaps one of the most accurate iron players of all time in Jim Furyk and one of the most prolific drivers of all time in Bubba Watson both favoring narrow stances.

Bubba is especially a great example of not overdoing it - while he has what is considered a narrow stance width for his driver, his feet are still about shoulder-width apart. You will still always see him making a huge turn, shifting his weight beautifully, and using the ground to generate power. For many, a stance that is too narrow would prevent them from doing these things, but if it doesn’t then you may be able to play with a narrower stance and still generate plenty of power.

Pro Golfers With Wide Stance

Rory McIlroy's power comes in part from his wide stance

Rory McIlroy stands very wide to create a stable base and lots of power

The two most iconic “wide stance” golfers might be Ben Hogan and Moe Norman. Their swings are notable also for having some of the most “slide” that you will see amongst all-time-great ball strikers, which is a possible matchup for a wide stance. The issue with a “slide” is that almost all golfers stop rotating through the shot and get “stuck” when they start to slide. This is a common cause of a hook. Ben Hogan and Moe Norman blended their slide with pure rotation through the ball and developed a very long, consistent “flat spot” at the bottom of their swings with this combination.

In modern times, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Matthew Wolff are all known for having wide stances, while staying very centered in their swing, and all three are regarded as some of the best performing drivers of the golf ball, which is probably not a coincidence.

Wide Stance For Senior Golfers

Older golfer using a wide stance to help with balance

Especially for those learning to play golf at 50 or older, rather than just subscribing to a “fix” without understanding it, the key is to look at hip mobility, and reconciling that with being able to stay balanced. 

Without stretching or forcing anything you want to set up in a way that allows the skeleton to have a large range of motion, not your tight muscles/tendons/etc.

Many seniors might get the recommendation to widen their stance for better stability, but for some a wide stance or too wide of a stance can immediately make them feel locked up and restricted.The goal is to find a stance that allows you to turn your hips around 45 degrees comfortably while staying balanced. As you are experimenting with the best stance width for you, it is important to keep an open mind and remember that your baseline is likely unique and cannot be compared to anyone else’s.

RELATED: Best Driver For Seniors (Distance-Forgiveness)

Narrow Stance For Senior Golfers

A narrow stance can help a senior golfer prioritize consistency

A narrow stance is great if you aren’t worried about a power game. This can cut both ways for senior golfers. Some change tees and have a different outlook on the game. They might play better and have more fun by putting a premium on consistency of contact, in which case we could use what we know about narrow stances to trend in that direction.

However, the fact that many seniors start to lose swing speed makes getting absolute maximum distance a priority, and they have played long enough that they are confident they will make good enough contact but just want to get those yards back. This is when adopting more of a “long drivers” approach and focusing on a wide stance that encourages a big turn will help get some MPH back.

RELATED: 12 Best Golf Tips To Improve Your Swing And Your Game

Wide Stance For Junior Golfers

Junior golfer hitting an iron

There is no stance that is objectively better or worse for a junior golfer, but rather they can use a narrow stance vs wide stance to try to adjust for tendencies as they go.

One thing to look out for with junior golfers when it comes to stance width is that they are growing so fast, they are very often playing with clubs that are either hand-me-down that they will grow into, or clubs they may have slightly outgrown already before coming up on a replacement set.

If a player has clubs that are too long for them, it will be very difficult for them to get an appropriately wide stance, and if they do, they will have a tendency to hit the ball too low because they will naturally have to de-loft the club to make contact. This is great if you are Dustin Johnson and swing it 120+ mph but can be very suboptimal for a ten year old.

Narrow Stance For Junior Golfers

Junior golfer teeing off with a narrow stance

Narrow stances can be fun for junior golfers to try. In general junior golfers tend to have long swings and naturally need to generate a lot of speed pound-for-pound in order to get the ball up in the air. A narrow stance can hurt the chances of this.More than anything, however, it’s important for junior golfers to develop the ability to hit balls from a wide variety of stances, and develop more feel and athleticism around the ball rather than trying to be a robot that is completely dependent on laboratory-like conditions in order to pull off a golf shot.

There are several popular drills where golfers will hit balls with their feet touching (zero stance width) or standing on one foot only (generally the lead foot). It is good however for junior golfers to spend some practice time hitting balls from ridiculous stances and lies in order to train creativity and athleticism around the golf ball. 

This helps develop a deep understanding and “feel” for why, for example, they might not want to hit a driver with their feet together, or why players get really wide when they go to hit a flop shot or high-faced bunker shot. It’s because the handle is lower and that adds even more loft to the face. Many golfers do this without ever thinking about WHY, they just know what they are trying to accomplish and can automatically position themselves for the shot because they have just developed that intuition.It’s this “intuition” for their proper stance more than being biomechanics experts that all good golfers have when it comes to visualizing a shot and automatically or naturally adjusting your setup to encourage the result you want.

Wide Stance For Women Golfers

Wide stance for women golfers

Women golfers are a similar subset to juniors and seniors in that they might put a different emphasis on “power” versus “control” than a male professional would.

Oftentimes this difference could be counter-intuitive. You will actually see a lot more short, compact swings from big, muscular men who have plenty of power and need to develop consistency. In the women’s game, however, there are a lot more golfers who feel comfortable with their contact and shot shapes and have no problem going for more speed, especially off the tee.

Because of this “need for speed” and also the fact that anatomically women naturally are built differently, you can see a tendency towards wider stances amongst a lot of women golfers and LPGA tour pros. That said, keep in mind there are always outliers and some women may just not be able to balance themselves or turn well with a certain stance width, even if a magazine or instructor says it should work.

Narrow Stance For Women Golfers

Narrow stance for women golfers

Narrow stances are appropriate for women golfers in the same situations that they are for all other golfers - on short, controlled shots where the premium is on contact and precision with almost no need for power.

This includes putting, chipping, pitch shots, and wedges.

Once again however this is not mandatory. You never want your feet so close together that you feel like you can’t stay stable and balanced, and this point of “going too far” could be different with many golfers. There are plenty of examples of amazing putters who used a wide stance and plenty of short game situations where a wide stance is also preferable.

Wide Stance vs Narrow Stance With A Driver

Using a wide stance can improve power with the driver

Generally speaking, your driver stance is going to be wider than any other stance you take. This still doesn’t mean that you can’t have a narrow driver stance - like we saw earlier with Bubba Watson.

If we define a “normal” driver stance (ignoring, for now, that “normal” is a dangerous concept in golf) as having the insteps of the feet aligned with the outside of the shoulders, a player with a narrow driver stance might only have half of their foot outside their shoulders, and an extremely narrow player might play their driver with their feet shoulder-width apart, like how many players would address an iron shot.

It really depends on the player whether these setups are “okay”, an advantage, or a hindrance. Generally wider stances are associated with longer drivers of the golf ball, but there absolutely are diminishing returns and you can be too wide and end up losing all ability to generate speed or repeatable contact.

RELATED: Best Driver For High Handicappers And Beginners

Wide Stance vs Narrow Stance With Irons

Wide stance with an iron

When it comes to stance width with irons, a big factor that is often overlooked is the length of the club compared to a player’s height. For various reasons, a lot of taller players don’t have clubs that are long enough and end up having to find ways to set up closer to the ball.

Of course having properly fit clubs is best, but sometimes there is a limit for extremely tall players because at some point off-the-shelf components simply cannot produce reasonable swing weights for the extreme cases (super long clubs need super light clubheads to stay balanced, and at some point you just can’t take any more metal away from the clubhead).

When this is the situation, by far the best way for a player to adjust is to widen their stance, even with drivers or wedges. The other common ways of compensating - bending over at the waist too far, crouching down at the knees, standing too close, or reaching excessively with the arms to get to the ball - are extremely counter-productive approaches in most cases.

Conversely, many young players who learn to play with hand-me-down clubs that are too long will have a hard time getting wide enough because there’s just not enough room for them to swing unless they stay very tall. 

RELATED: The Best Iron Sets Under $500

Wide Stance vs Narrow Stance With Wedges

Chipping is best done with a very narrow stance

Almost all golfers use their narrowest stance with their wedges. This could be anywhere from “just inside shoulder width” for a full swing wedge shot to just a few inches between the feet for a little bump-and-run chip from just off of the green.

The concept players are experimenting with here is low point control and contact. Narrowing your stance allows for less “play” or “sway” for most golfers and allows them to make a pendulum-type swing over a very stable low point and ensure premium ball-first contact.

A wider stance is good for hitting a high lofted short game shot

The exception would be on a full swing flop shot or a high-faced bunker escape, when a very wide stance would be used for a very short shot. This stance helps generate the necessary speed for a proper flop shot and adds even more loft to the face in order to really max out the height of the shot on such a short distance.

RELATED: The Complete Guide To Chipping vs Pitching: What’s The Difference

Wide Stance vs Narrow Stance For Putting

Narrow putting stance
Wide putting stance

Raymond Floyd said he liked to see his players “chip like they putt” and vice versa. Becoming a better putter in golf is about finding the method that makes you the most consistent you can be. The same stance width logic is appropriate here, with the idea being to take out any of the variables of sway or hip movement and just make a repeatable pendulum stroke with the shoulders/arms/hands unit on a very stable base with a pre-set low point.

RELATED: 11 Most Forgiving Putters With Expert Reviews

While all of these things are mechanically true and you will see some golfers setting up with extremely narrow “chipping-like” putting stances, the vast majority set up with the feet shoulder width apart or just inside of it.

However, there are plenty of putters who feel that their lower body stability is better with a wide stance (Matthew Wolff is one pro who putts with a rather wide stance). Some prefer a super short putter and this is the stance that matches up best with it. Others just feel that, with their center of gravity lower, everything is easier. Others might move around too much if they widened their putting stance.

Putting is by far the #1 area of the game where you can get away with something that is outside of what the biomechanical models would say is “optimal” including having an excessively wide or narrow stance. 

RELATED: Best Putter For The Money - Expert Reviews

Can A Wide Or Narrow Stance Fix A Slice Or Hook?

A narrow stance can help you straighten out your ball flight

Anything is possible! And one of the best ways to “troubleshoot” any golf swing is to start with setup, grip, posture, and alignment before moving on. That said, any human swinging a golf club is going to be an extremely complex chain of moving parts, each of which absolutely affects the next - which is why “catch-all” tips implemented without the context of the other numerous habits that a golfer has are rarely effective for long.

RELATED: Proper Golf Swing Sequence

The best way to remedy a slice or a hook is by understanding ball flight laws and then understanding how different stances, grips, and intentions can encourage different impact conditions and different face/path relationships.

RELATED: Best Driver For A Slice – With Expert Reviews

The tricky thing is that every golfer also reacts to all of these factors - their perception of where the target is, where the club head is, and other factors are all being updated in real-time in a split second reaction during the downswing and - even if they are completely wrong about their perception of these things they still will react according to them. Changing something like stance width (which can also change a million other feels for the golfer or even their perception of where they are aimed) could be very good for one golfer and very harmful for another.

So in a very general sense. There are some common problems with stance width that could produce wild results, and we can keep an eye out for these:

  • Golfers who set up too wide can have a very hard time shifting pressure properly. This can result in swaying onto the back foot and staying there, which could produce a slice or a block/hook depending on how the golfer recovers. The other end of the spectrum is a golfer can rely very heavily on a big slide move if they are too wide that can suffer from timing issues, produce extra wear on the body, and cause tons of face control and low point issues if not executed masterfully. This is often the cause of a chicken wing golf swing as well!
  • Golfers who are too narrow can lose a lot more than just power, too. The main issue with being too narrow is you can restrict the amount of foot, knee, and hip rotation you can get both in the backswing and the through-swing. A limited, “armsy” swing is a recipe for a big over-the-top move or a big sling hook, again depending on how the golfer tends to recover from that position.

RELATED: Golf Slice vs Hook: Causes And How To Fix Them

Final Thoughts

Stance width is kind of an overlooked aspect of the setup, but it is one of the best and most functional variables for a golfer to play around with. Because of that, you will see a wide variety of players having success with both wide and narrow stances.

VERY generally speaking, the tradeoff we are playing with is wider = more powerful, narrower = easier contact. However, like all things in golf, this statement comes with a lot of caveats and a big dose of “when a doctor gives you a prescription, you’re not supposed to take the entire bottle!”

So, some players, whether due to habit, anatomy, or personal preference, will tend to be narrower or wider in general - but practically all of them get wider than their baseline when they hit longer clubs and narrower than their baseline when they hit shorter shots.

A great reference for “neutral” - not necessarily best - is to just start with shoulder-width feet on a mid iron, then for a driver put the insteps of your feet on the outside of your shoulders/biceps, and for a wedge or putter put the outsteps of your feet inline with your armpits. Then blend between these three main positions when you are dealing with the other clubs in your set.

This is just a baseline to experiment from and keep yourself from getting too far out into left-field while you are trying things. It is good to experiment with different widths and develop an understanding of why certain ones work and certain ones don’t and develop that invaluable “golfer’s intuition.”The goal is not to memorize some method and measure inch-by-inch on every shot but to make these positionings natural and second nature, as a response or reaction to the situation or shot you are visualizing, as an athlete. Experimenting with different stance widths and testing out the extremes and seeing for yourself is paramount in understanding why it's easier or harder to do certain things from a stance that is narrower or wider than what you’re used to.

Plus it is a way more useful method of actually learning than trying to understand the biomechanical theories behind different setup positions. 

Now that you have the information to set up your own experiments and eliminate some of the more bizarre combos (like trying to win a long drive competition with your feet touching), all that’s left to do is get out there and start testing out what’s best for you!

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Michael VanDerLaan

Michael is an Associate Editor here at Golf Gear Advisor. He is a playing professional with a passion for finding the best equipment through product testing and evaluation. He has an intimate knowledge of the golf swing and a very effective way of communicating his knowledge to those that are interested in learning more. As an Associate Editor at Golf Gear Advisor, Michael shares his knowledge about the golf swing, fitness and finding the right equipment for your game.

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