The pop-up or “skied” drive isn't quite as embarrassing as topping the ball, but its close. Whats worse, the pop-up often leaves a scar to remind you of this humiliation in the form of a “beauty mark” on the clubs crown.
The pop-up goes nearly vertical and lands much shorter than your usual tee shot. It typically occurs when the club hits down on the ball from a steep angle, with impact high on the clubface or even the top of the club.
Lets examine some causes and cures:
Your head is ahead of the ball: Another source of steep swinging. With driver in hand, your head should be slightly behind the ball at address and impact. To instill this fundamental in practice, hover the clubhead about six inches above the ball, then swing over the top of the ball. This will flatten out your swing as well, producing a shallower angle of approach.
The Frustrating Problem of Hitting Pop-Ups with the Driver – and How to Solve It
Have you ever stepped up to the first tee with all of your buddies watching, pulled out your driver, made your best swing, and looked up – only to see that the ball went straight up into the air? If you have ever hit a popped-up drive off the first tee, or any tee, you know just how embarrassing it can be. The ball may only go 10 or 20 yards, and you might have made an ugly mark on the top of your driver at the same time. Hitting pop-ups with the driver is something that every golfer wishes to avoid. Fortunately, with a little practice and a good understanding of what causes a pop-up, you should be able to eliminate this frustrating shot from your game once and for all.
Putting aside the embarrassment of hitting a pop-up with your driver, this kind of miss-hit can do serious damage to your scorecard. After the ball lands, you will still have to deal with nearly the full distance of the hole and you wont be able to tee the ball up again. Should the ball happen to land in the rough around the tee box, you will have even more trouble recovering to make a good score. Most of the time, hitting a pop-up with your driver is going to lead to at least a double bogey.
Hitting just a single pop-up with your driver doesn't necessarily mean you have a serious swing problem that needs to be fixed. All golfers make poor swings from time to time, so don't overreact to just one pop-up off the tee. However, if this starts to become a pattern in your game, you will need to start working on a solution as soon as possible. It is in the best interest of your scores and your confidence to correct whatever swing flaw happens to be causing this issue.
In many ways, your driver is the most important club in the bag. While many golfers would argue that the putter is the most important club, you cant get to the green to use your putter without first hitting some good drives. Poor driving will leave you with almost no chance to score well at the end of the day – it is just too difficult to continually hit good shots from bad positions around the course. Only when your driver is a consistently reliable performer will you be able to set yourself up to hit nice approach shots and quality putts. Solve the problem of hitting pop-ups with your driver first and the rest of your game will have a much better chance to be successful.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Its Probably Not Your Tee Height
The majority of golfers have the same reaction when they hit a pop-up with their driver – I must have teed the ball up too high. Since the ball hit off of the crown of the club and went straight into the air, it is a logical conclusion to think that the ball was simply teed up too high to begin with. However, that is rarely the case. Most likely, the pop-up has more to do with the technique of your swing than the position of the ball on the tee.
If you watch any golf on TV, you will notice that the vast majority of professionals tee the ball up rather high when hitting a driver. The reasoning for that is simple – they want to be able to hit up into the shot at impact. Unlike an iron shot, where you want to hit down through the ball, it is best to hit your driver shots while swinging on a slightly upward angle. Allowing the driver to bottom out prior to reaching the ball will enable you to produce the combination of low spin and high launch that is so effective for generating great distance. In order to do this successfully, you have to tee the ball up high enough to create space for your driver to be moving up at impact and still strike the sweet spot of the club.
So what is the optimum tee height when hitting your driver? For most golfers, the perfect tee height will have half of the ball above the top of the driver head at address. That means that when you set the driver down behind the ball at address, half of the ball should be higher than the top line on the face of your club. Assuming you use a modern driver with a 460cc head, you will need to tee the ball up rather high to find this position. Make sure you have some long tees in your bag before you head out onto the course, because the traditional length tees that are carried in many golf shops simply aren't long enough to get the job done anymore.
When hitting your driver on the practice range, make sure you are teeing the ball up at the exact height that you will be using on the course. Your swing needs to match up perfectly to the tee height in order to create a quality ball flight, so it would be a mistake to practice at one height and then use a different height on the course. Your practice conditions should always be as close to on-course conditions as possible, and that includes the height of your tee when hitting a driver.
There is very little chance that your pop-up drives are being caused by teeing the ball up too high off the ground. With the proper swing mechanics you should be able to hit solid drives even when the ball is teed up high, so cross this off of your list of potential causes of the embarrassing pop-up. Make sure you are teeing the ball up so that half of the ball is above the top of the driver, and move on to other aspects of the equation that are more likely to be at fault.
Take a Look at Your Balance
Tee height is unlikely to be the cause of popped-up drives, but poor balance could very well be to blame. Balance is a key to playing good golf, and an improper weight shift during your driver swing could contribute to hitting a pop-up from time to time. Before you change any other parts of your swing, take a good look at your balance to see if it might be the root cause of your problems off the tee.
When it comes to hitting pop-ups with your driver, the concern is that you dont want to get too much of your weight on your left foot prior to impact. If you are leaning too far left, the club is likely to travel down toward the ball on a steep path – increasing the chances that the club will slide under the ball and pop it up into the air. You want to be swinging through impact on a flat plane so that the club head can impact the ball just slightly after it has bottomed out. A steep downswing can be okay for an iron shot, but it can lead to disaster with the driver.
To work on improving your balance with the driver, try checking on the following three points during your next practice session.
- Don't move left early. A common mistake among golfers who struggle with the pop-up drive is moving their weight left almost immediately after the swing begins. Some golfers refer to this as a reverse pivot – whatever you call it, the result is a swing that can create a pop-up with your driver from time to time. When your weight moves onto your left took during the takeaway, it will likely remain there for the rest of your swing. As you swing down into the ball, you wont have as much rotation to the left as you need to get your body cleared out of the way to allow the club to swing through properly. Instead, the club will just continue to head down toward the ground and may slide right under the ball as a result. If you ever take a divot when hitting a driver, you very well may be suffering from this swing fault. Work hard on maintaining your balance during the early stages of the swing so that you don't get stuck on your left foot.
- Keep your swing compact. A long golf swing can lead to poor balance, which can lead to pop-ups with the driver. If you allow your backswing to get too long, your weight will start to drift onto your left foot before you start to move the club back down toward the ball. The result is frequently a pop-up drive because you will have created a steep angle thanks to your long backswing. You want to make a full shoulder turn in the backswing, but don't let your arms continue on after your shoulders have stopped. Once the rotation of your shoulders is finished, its time to start down toward the ball.
- Don't over-swing. The classic amateur mistake is simply to swing too hard with the driver, in an effort to hit the ball as far as possible. Swinging harder wont necessarily help you hit longer drives, but it will make it easier to hit a pop-up off the tee. The best drivers are the ones who maintain control over their swing from start to finish, even if it doesnt look like they are giving it full effort. Balance and timing are what will allow you to hit long drives – not sheer force using every muscle in your body. Relax your muscles and use great balance to hit powerful and accurate drives.
Without a doubt, balance is the most-overlooked aspect of the golf swing. Most average golfers could greatly benefit from simply thinking about their balance and spending some time on the practice tee correcting basic balance mistake. If you are hitting pop-ups with your driver, there is a very high likelihood that you have some sort of balance issue in your swing. Once you take care of that problem and get your balance under control, you can expect the pop-up problem to pretty much take care of itself.
Other Swing Issues
While there is a great chance that poor balance is to blame when you start hitting pop-ups with your driver, there are also some other swing problems that could be to blame. If you are convinced that balance isnt the underlying cause, consider the following three fixes to other parts of your swing.
- Stay connected. Another way to create a downswing that is too steep is to let your arms get away from your body during the backswing. Many amateur golfers lift their arms up and away from their torso as they get near the end of the backswing – the result is a swing that comes down from too high and is prone to hitting pop-ups. During your practice sessions, work on creating a connected feeling between your arms and your torso that you maintain all the way through the backswing and downswing. When your arms and torso work together to turn the club through the shot, your chances of hitting a pop-up will go way down.
- Use the right hand. Most of the time, you don't want to be actively thinking about using your right hand in the golf swing. Ideally, the release through impact will just happen naturally, and you wont have to consciously think about making it happen. However, if you are struggling with pop-ups, it might be necessary to force your right hand into action. The pop-up drives that you are hitting could be a result of pulling the club down toward impact too much with the left hand only. At some point, the right hand needs to get involved and release the club through the shot. Try hitting a few drives on the practice range where you think about actively using your right hand as the club approaches impact. If you like the results that you get with this approach, continue to work on your release until it becomes natural and you no longer need to think about making it happen.
- Lack of confidence. Golfers who struggle with their confidence often end up hitting a pop-up drive from time to time because they don't turn through the shot as aggressively as they should. When your confidence is down, your whole swing becomes more passive, which is exactly what you want to avoid. Once the downswing phase of your swing gets started, you should feel like you can turn the club loose and rotate your body hard to the left to create as much speed as possible. Players who lack confidence aren't able to really turn it loose in the downswing, so they don't get their body rotated through the shot in time. When this happens, a steep swing path is created, and the pop-up drive becomes a real possibility. Make sure you are spending enough time on the practice range to build up your confidence so that you can execute your swing properly during an actual round of golf.
No matter what the underlying cause of your driver pop-ups happens to be, the answer is going to be found on the driving range and not on the course. Only on the driving range can you free your mind from worrying about the outcome of the shot and just focus on your technique and execution. Only when the problems have been solved properly on the practice range can you expect to find good results on the course.
The Connection between Pop-Up Drives and the Slice
There is a close relationship between the swing mistakes that contribute to hitting pop-up drives and those that lead to a slice. In fact, players who struggle with the slice are often the same ones who will hit popped-up drives from time to time. Hitting a slice requires a steep swing that comes from outside-in during the downswing – the same characteristics that lead to pop-ups. If you have been dealing with a slice throughout your time as a golfer, there is a good chance that you have hit some pop-up drives along the way as well.
At first, it might be frustrating to have to deal with two different ball flight problems. The slice can be difficult to deal with on its own, and adding a few pop-up drives into the equation is enough to make you want to just give up. All is not as bad as it seems, however. Since the slice and the pop-up drives have the same cause, they also have the same solution. If you are able to make changes to your swing in line with the suggestions made above, you should be able to take out both of these frustrating outcomes all at once.
It all comes down to getting the club to swing into the ball on a flatter plane. A steep downswing is a recipe for disaster with a driver, even if you can get away with it on your irons shots. Once you are able to make tweaks to your swing that lead to a flatter approach into the ball, both the slice and the pop-ups should be quickly forgotten. Making that change will take some time and effort, but it is worth it if you have aspirations of raising the level of your game. You are never going to score consistently well while dealing with either of these issues, so invest your practice time in fixing them and you will be rewarded with great improvements.
One of the additional gains that you can make from improving your downswing plane is more distance on your drives. Not only should be able to get rid of the pop-ups when you flatten out your swing, you should also start to hit the ball longer thanks to a reduced spin rate and better contact. The ideal conditions for hitting the ball long off the tee is a high launch with low spin – and both of those things can be achieved when you swing slightly up into the back of the ball. Hitting down on your driver is something that should be avoided at all costs. If you have been hitting your driver this way for many years, you will be amazed at the distance potential that has been hiding in your swing once you unlocking it by fixing your downswing path.
You should want to fix your slice simply for the benefit of hitting straighter drives, but the opportunity to get rid of your pop-ups as well gives you an extra dose of motivation. Both the slice and the pop-up have the potential to leave your ball in a terrible position to play the rest of the hole – if your ball is even still in play at all. Playing good golf isnt as much about the great shots that you do hit as much as the bad shots that you avoid hitting. Pop-ups and slices are two of the worst shots that you can hit on the golf course, so steering clear of these two mistakes is going to go a long way toward helping you reach your potential. Without the fear of those two misses in the back of your mind, you will be free to turn the club loose and play up to your ability.
If you are getting tired of being embarrassed in front of your friends by hitting pop-ups with your driver, the time is now to get to work on making the necessary corrections. For most golfers, correcting this error is going to come down to improving balance throughout the swing. Use the tips found above to guide your practice sessions so that you can make steady progress in the right direction. After just a few trips to the range and some focused practice, you will hopefully be able to leave the pop-up drives in the past as you move forward with your new and improved golf swing.