Pros commonly advocate the practice of “hovering” the driver head – holding it just off the ground -- before starting the backswing. Jack Nicklaus is among the biggest proponents of this method.
What do you gain by doing this? Hovering the club:
You might also try this technique with fairway wood or hybrid shots when using a tee. Be careful not to lift the club too far off the ground, though, as this can make the club's path too shallow and the swing plane too flat (horizontal).
While hovering the club on iron shots from the fairway isn't widely recommended – it can lead to thin and topped misses – it is a good idea when your ball is perched on high grass, loose leaves or pinestraw. In these cases, grounding the club can disturb the lie and cause the ball to move, incurring a penalty stroke.
Hover the Driver for Smoother Swing
As a serious golfer, you probably think that you have thought of everything in terms of how to get better at golf. It can be an all-consuming quest for the serious player, so you likely have sat around your house at night thinking about ways you could shave even a single stroke from your score. Some of these ideas are winners – and some may actually make your game worse. With a game as challenging and frustrating as golf, it is tempting to continually tinker with your technique and your strategy until you stumble on to a winning formula.
Even the smallest of details can be important when it comes to the golf swing, so don't make the mistake of overlooking seemingly mundane pieces of the puzzle just because they are minor in scope. By combining a bunch of minor pieces that you do well, you may end up with a great swing in the end. One of those seemingly minor pieces is the decision to hover the driver at address. Basically, you have two choices when you stand over the ball to hit a drive – you can rest the driver head on the ground behind the ball, or you can hover it in the air. Golfers are split on this topic, and you will see players have success with both methods.
If you have traditionally kept the club head on the ground at address, the act of raising it off of the turf may offer you some advantages. Of course, if you are currently driving the ball great, there is no reason to mess with a good thing. Stick to what you have been doing and keep splitting fairways one after another. However, if you are struggling with the driver and you usually ground the club at address, switching to the hover may be all you need to get things on track.
One of the great things about trying this adjustment is that it doesn't require any major changes to the rest of your swing. You can still make the same overall motion that you are used to making with your driver swing, with the only adjustment being the position of the club at address. Raising the club head just an inch or two off of the turf will change some things about your takeaway and your swing plane – each of these points will be addressed later in the article. It might not seem like a major change, and it isn't, but you just might be amazed at how different your ball flight could be as a result.
As with anything else, be sure to practice this change on the driving range before using it on the course. For one thing, you don't even know if it is going to help you hit better drives, so starting out with it on the course could lead to lost golf balls and wasted strokes. Also, even if it is going to work for you, there will be a period of adjustment needed to build some confidence and get comfortable. Even if you only try the hover out in one or two practice sessions, that will be much better than trying it 'cold turkey' on the first tee.
All of the content contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Potential Advantages
If you are going to change from grounding your driver to hovering it at address, you want to be sure that you are actually going to get better as a result. One of the worst things you can do in golf is to make changes that won't wind up helping you get the ball in the hole in fewer shots. The goal of everything you do with your game should be very simple – to shoot better scores. If a swing change isn't going to get you closer to that goal, you should forget about it as quickly as possible.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the potential gains that could be enjoyed if you decide to hover your driver head at address.
- Cleaner takeaway. When you start your swing, you want everything to move as cleanly as possible in order to set your tempo and rhythm up for success. If there is any hesitation or inconsistency within your takeaway, those problems will show up later in the swing. Sometimes, when you ground your driver at address, you will hit a little bump or even a small rock in the grass which affects the path of your takeaway. Obviously, this isn't going to happen when you use the hovering method. Free and clear from any inconsistencies on the ground, hovering the driver will let you make a smooth 'getaway' from the ball as you start each swing.
- Flatten out your plane. With the driver, making a relatively flat golf swing is almost always a good thing. Since you aren't trying to hit down on your driver (you simply want to pick the ball off the tee cleanly at impact), a flat golf swing is ideal to build speed without taking a divot or putting too much backspin onto the ball. Lifting your club head a couple of inches off the ground at address Isn't going to dramatically flatten your swing plane, but it can be enough to round it off at the top and help you create a beautiful ball flight. One of the hidden keys to your distance abilities off the tee is the trajectory that you create with your driver - a flat, boring trajectory with minimal backspin will almost always lead to the longest drives.
- Relaxed at address. It is easy to become too tense and tight when you address the golf ball, especially if you are letting the club rest on the ground. By picking it up, you will find that you need to relax your arms and your grip in order to hold the club still and let it hang down in position properly. There are a number of benefits to letting the club hang freely, including the relaxed grip pressure that will allow you to develop more speed in the swing. Achieving a relaxed feeling at address is something that most amateur golfers never reach, but it will become much easier to find if you decide to hover the club head with your driver.
As every golfer is different, your experience with hovering the club will vary. You may find that you only enjoy one of the benefits above (or even none), while another golfer may find all three to be true (and maybe even more). This is why the practice part of the process is so important. You need to test out the hovering idea to yourself to decide if it actually does help you play better golf. Although you will need to spend some time practicing to learn how to use this method effectively, it should become clearly relatively quickly whether or not this technique will be a viable option in your game.
Give It a Try
To get started learning how to hover your driver at address, you will simply need to head to the driving range with your driver, a bucket of balls, and tees that allow you to position the ball appropriately. This last point is an important one. If the ball is teed at the wrong height while trying to learn the hover, you will make your job dramatically more difficult. Be sure to have the proper tees available if you are serious about making this work.
Even if you are going to hover the driver at address, you are still going to start the process by placing the club head down on the ground behind the ball. Therefore, the initial stages of getting ready for your swing don't need to change at all. Go through the same pre-shot process as you always use for your driver swings, and stop when are just about ready to take the club back. With all of your other preparation out of the way and your body in a great position to swing, the last thing you will do is switch from a grounded club head position to a hovering one.
Just prior to starting your swing, lift the club head an inch or two off the ground so that the sweet spot of the club face is perfectly aligned behind the ball. It is important that this lift is done with the arms rather than the hands – this point cannot be emphasized enough. You do not want to hinge your wrists upward in order to lift the club head, as this will affect your mechanics for the rest of the swing. Instead, keep your wrists in the same position while just lifting your arms up slightly to position the club head in the air. This move might feel a little bit awkward or uncomfortable at first, but it won't take long for you to get comfortable.
Another point that you need to pay attention to when setting the club head up behind the ball is the exact height that you start from when initiating the takeaway. While hovering the club head means it is obviously going to be starting from off the ground, you don't want to hover it so high that you wind up hitting down on the shot. Your club head should be moving slightly upward through impact with the driver – or, at the very least, it should be moving parallel with the ground. If you were to start your swing with the driver head above the level of the driver, you would likely be left with a swing that moves downward through the ball. Hitting down on your driver will make it harder to achieve solid contact, and you will lose distance due to the high rate of backspin.
To give yourself the best chance at success, start with the sweet spot of the club face just barely below the equator of the ball. Being able to do so brings us back to the topic of tee height. If the ball is teed too low – which is a common mistake made by amateur players – you won't have enough room to both hover the club head and keep the sweet spot below the middle of the ball. Tee the ball up high enough so that you have plenty of space to use the hover and still hit up on the ball aggressively through impact. With today's modern drivers that are often 460cc's in size, that means you will need a long tee to get the ball high enough off the ground. Before any round or practice session, make sure you have enough long tees in your bag to tee the ball appropriately.
Even in the best case scenario, you are probably going have a few issues on the way while changing from grounding your club at address to hovering it in the air. Any change you make to your swing technique is a tricky one, as your habits are deeply engrained in your mind and your body currently. Changing just a small portion of your golf swing is harder than you likely understand, so expect bumps in the road before you reach a successful conclusion.
The following three points are among the various issues that could come up as you try to learn how to hover the driver head behind the ball at address.
- Rushing the takeaway. There is something about hovering the driver off of the ground that makes some players want to rush through the takeaway phase of the swing. Obviously, this would be a mistake. You want to start your takeaway smoothly just as if you were starting with the club on the ground – nothing should change from that perspective. Use your shoulders to start the turn away from the target while your hands and wrists stay out of the way for the time being. A slow and even takeaway is the best option to get your swing off to a great start.
- Popping the ball up. A steep golf swing will not only lead to too much backspin on the ball – it could also lead to popping the ball straight up into the air. This is a distinct possibility when you hover the club too high and wind up hitting down on the ball through impact. Hitting a pop up off the tee is not only embarrassing, but it is also extremely damaging to your score. Focus on hovering the club head at the proper height in order to avoid making this dreaded mistake.
- Hitting a hook. Generally speaking, flattening out your swing plane is a good thing when it comes to hitting the driver. However, if your swing gets too flat, you might suddenly find yourself fighting a hook. A swing plane that is extremely flat can lead to the club coming through the hitting area too far from the inside – and with a shut face – meaning a quick hook is a likely outcome. You don't have to give up on hovering the club head if you start to hit some hooks – instead, work on using your wrist hinge a little earlier in your backswing to add elevation to your plane and you should be able to straighten things out right away.
In reality, there is are any number of potential problems that could crop up in your swing when changing to a hovering position at address. The best thing to do is simply to watch your results closely as you are making this change to see what effect it is having on your shots. Did you gain yardage from the tee, or did you actually lose a little power? Is your ball flight following the same pattern as usual, or has it started to go in a new direction? By paying close attention and adapting to any changes that pop up in your game, you can make this transition as quick and painless as possible.
Hover the Rest of Your Clubs?
While the driver is the most popular club to hover at address, it is technically possible to hover all of your clubs prior to starting a swing. Whether or not that is a good idea for you depends on your swinging style, your personal preference, and more. Just as with the driver, it is certainly possible to succeed doing it both ways. There are top players who ground every club in their bag at address, while there are others who prefer to hover at all times. You shouldn't be looking for a right or wrong answer on this point – it is simply a matter of personal preference and finding what works best for you.
If you find success hovering your driver at address, it is a natural progression to at least take that idea into the rest of your fairway woods. The swing that you make with a fairway wood is nearly identical to the one you use for your driver, so hovering all of the clubs in this 'category' only makes sense. You may choose to hover both your driver and fairway woods just when on the tee, or you could choose to hover the fairway woods at any time – even when you are hitting them from the fairway. Experiment with hovering your fairway woods in all different situations around the course to see where it works and where it doesn't.
The picture gets a little cloudier when you start to think about hovering your irons at address. On the one hand, it makes some sense – after all, you want to hit down on your irons, so hovering them slightly above the level of the ball should make it easier to do just that. However, on the other hand, hovering the club will flatten out your swing plane, which is generally the opposite of what you want to do with your irons. If your swing plane gets too flat, you will start to hit big draws or hooks to the left of the target, and you will probably hit plenty of shots fat as well. While it is certainly possible to hover your irons and hit good shots, this should be one of the last places you turn in an effort to get your game on track. For most players, it is going to be better to continue grounding irons prior to starting the takeaway.
With that said, you may choose to go back to the hover when it comes to chipping and putting. Since these are short swings, you don't have to worry about the swing plane that will be established by hovering – the swing isn't going to be long enough to create any kind of plane anyway. The advantage that can be gained by hovering the club on your short shots is the rhythm that you may be able to find. Good rhythm is essential for success in the short game, yet many golfers struggle with that point. Lifting the club up off of the turf at address will let you get off to a clean start when you take the club back, and the end result could be a swing that moves beautifully through impact and sends the ball the perfect distance toward the target.
Hovering the driver at address is not a technique that will work for everybody. Some will find this method uncomfortable, while others will find that it simply doesn't lead to better golf shots. Even if it doesn't wind up working for you, it is at least worth a little bit of time to experiment with this kind of set up over the ball – especially if you are currently struggling with your driver. Switching to a hovering position rather than grounding your club is a relatively minor change, but it could potentially lead you to great gains in terms of both distance and accuracy. Give this method a try using the tips contained above and hopefully will find wind up with a new element that gives you improved confidence and performance with one of the most important clubs in the bag.