Contrary to popular belief, lifting the head – as in, turning it too early away from the ball and toward the target – does not cause topped and thin golf shots. If the head comes up as a result of your upper body rising, that's a different story.
In reality, raising your spine angle prior to impact is the root cause of many (if not most) topped and thin shots. Coming up and out of your posture pulls the club away from the ball, and you strike it with the bottom of the clubface.
The key is to maintain your spine angle from setup to impact and into the follow-through. A great mental cue is to imagine your shirt buttons lined up and pointing down toward the ball at address, then returning them to the same spot at impact. This will promote a proper motion going back and through in which you rotate around the spine rather than lifting.
Remember: Buttons over the ball for solid contact.
Thin Shot Golf Drills
There are few things in golf that feel as bad as hitting the ball thin with one of your irons. Even if you aren't an experienced golfer, you will know that you have hit the ball thin as soon as you make contact – the vibration that comes up through the shaft and into your hands is all the feedback you need to know that something went wrong. A thin shot will barely get up off the ground – if it gets off the ground at all – and the ball will usually find its way into some kind of trouble. Needless to say, if you are going to manage to improve your golf game going forward, you need to take thin shots out of the picture.
So what is a thin shot, exactly? Quite simply, it is a shot that is struck too low on the club face. Rather than hitting the ball with the sweet spot of the club (which is right in the middle of the face, a few grooves up from the bottom), you will hit the ball down near the leading edge of the club. While it is possible to hit a thin shot with any club in your bag – even the putter – this is a problem that usually is an issue when playing iron shots. A player who regularly strikes his or her iron shots thin will always have trouble placing the ball close to the hole.
As you might imagine, there are going to be some fundamental swing flaws which need to be corrected in order to break free of the thin shot pattern. It is certainly possible to get right of this frustrating miss, but it isn't necessarily going to be easy. You will need to be willing to put in some work in terms of correcting any technical flaws in your swing, and the results that you get from that work won't always show up right away. It takes patience to improve at this challenging game, and only the players who have the patience necessary to stick with a plan will wind up getting better in the long run.
In this article, we are going to look first at some of the common causes of thin golf shots. Once you understand what it is that you are likely doing wrong in order to create your thin shots, we will then move on to some drills that you can use to work on correcting the issue. If possible, it would be best if you can avoid playing any actual rounds of golf while you are working on making this fix. By visiting the driving range several times in a row without going out onto the course, you can allow your mind to focus solely on solving the problem. You may have to sacrifice a couple of opportunities to play while you are working on your technique, but you will have more fun once you do get back on the course because the thin shots will be a thing of the past.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
If you find that you are consistently hitting the ball thin with your irons, you need to quickly look for the underlying cause of that problem. This isn't an issue that is likely to just go away as you continue to play – you will have to take an active role in improving your performance by working hard to find answers. To help you along in that process, we have compiled the following list of the most-common causes of thin shots. While all golf swings are unique, there is a good chance that your specific mistake can be found within the list below.
- Getting stuck on the right side. Balance is the single most important element of a good golf swing. When you are unbalanced as you swing down toward the ball, there are any number of bad things that can happen – including hitting thin shots. Specifically, it is getting stuck on your right side that is going to cause you to hit the ball thin with your irons. Generally speaking, the club is going to 'bottom out' directly under the location of your center of gravity in the downswing. So, if your center of gravity is to the right of the ball as you swing down, the club will bottom out too early, and it will be on the way back up by the time you hit the ball. Striking the ball on the upswing is a sure recipe for a thin shot, and that pattern is going to repeat until you are able to fix your balance issue. Only when you can successfully get your weight onto your left side during the downswing will you be able to hit the ball cleanly without any concern for thin impact.
- Looking up early. This is a classic mistake that is usually made by inexperienced players. When you can't wait any longer to see where your shot is going to go, you might find yourself looking up even before impact has been reached. The act of looking up early might seem harmless enough, but it is going to affect other parts of your body – which will in turn affect the performance of your swing. As your head is lifted up out of the shot, you will likely straighten up your posture and your shoulders will be picked up as well. In the end, the path of the club will be raised just a couple of inches, which is enough to ruin a good swing. You will frequently hit the ball thin when you look up early, so commit yourself to staying down all the way through the shot.
- Trying to lift the golf ball. For this point, the mistake is going to be closer to the 'mental' category that it is the physical side of the game. Many amateur golfers get into the habit of thinking that they need to help the ball get up in the air, when that simply isn't true at all. The loft on your clubs will do the job of getting the ball up into the air, as long as you strike the ball cleanly at impact. By trying to lift the ball with your hands, you are going to raise the level of the club head and you will run the risk of hitting the shot thin. The correction that you need to make if you struggle with this problem is simply to change your way of thinking. You don't need to help the ball into the air, so commit yourself to hitting down through impact. When you hit down properly, the ball will take plenty of backspin from the club and the shot will soar beautifully up into the sky.
- Ball position mistakes. For the last point on our list, we are going to discuss the importance of ball position. When playing an iron shot, you ideally want to strike the golf ball just an inch or two before you reach the bottom of your swing arc. To do so successfully, you not only need to have a consistent swing path, but you also need to place the ball is the right spot in your stance. Putting the ball in the right place will make it easier for you to make clean contact time after time without hitting shots either thin or fat. Unfortunately, there is no one 'perfect' ball position for all golfers. The right ball position for you is going to depend on the dynamics of your swing, so you will have to get this point sorted out on the range. The key to success with ball position is to be consistent once you determine where you are going to place the ball within your stance. Find a good ball position for each of your irons and then use that same set up time after time to see positive results.
There are plenty of different mistakes that can cause you to hit thin golf shots, including all of the points on the list above. Before you set out to fix your thin shots, the first thing you need to do is accurately identify why you are hitting the ball thin in the first place. You may be guilty of just one of the mistakes listed above, or you may be guilty of two or more. Take your time in reviewing your current technique in order to pinpoint all of your mistakes before you move on to making the necessary changes.
For most people, hitting thin shots is a balance issue. Amateur golfers in general have trouble with balance during the golf swing, and often that poor balance is manifested in the form of a thin iron shot. As you looked at your current swing technique to figure out why you were hitting the ball thin, there is a good chance that you noticed some degree of balance problems within your technique.
To stop hitting the ball thin, you are going to need to make sure you are getting off of your right side properly in the downswing. Or, put another way, you need to make sure you are getting your weight onto your left foot by the time impact arrives. To work on that key fundamental, consider using the following drill during your next trip to the driving range.
- To start, take your seven iron from your bag and set yourself up with a place to practice and a bucket of balls to hit. You could really use any of your short or mid-irons for this drill, but the seven iron is a great place to start.
- As always, you are going to want to pick out a target for this drill. Even though you are going to be making some major changes to your usual technique for the purposes of the drill, you still want to aim at a target with each shot you hit. Golf is a target-oriented game, and you should never miss out on a chance to work on your aim.
- For the first shot, you are going to want to place ball down on the ground in front of you, and take your stance as you would for a standard seven iron shot. However, before you start your swing, you are going to make some adjustments. First, you are going to choke down on the grip of the club and move your feet slightly closer to the ball. Next, you are going to open your left hip to the target while allowing your weight to shift onto your left side. You should feel that approximately 60% of your weight is on your left foot.
- With your altered stance completed, go ahead and hit the first shot. Obviously, you are not going to be able to make your normal swing because of the adjustments you have made to your address position. As you hit this shot, focus on keeping your weight on your left foot throughout the swing. You will wind up with a significantly shorter swing overall, and you will only be able to hit the ball a fraction of the distance that you would see with a full turn.
- Hit as many shots as you would like using this altered setup, making sure to take a moment to focus on your target prior to each swing. The swings you make should be short and controlled, and your weight should be steady over your left foot the entire time.
When done with the drill, take a moment to think about what you have learned. How was your ball striking during this drill? Did you hit the ball thin at all? Most likely, you will have been able to avoid thin shots thanks to the positioning of your weight on your left foot. This drill doesn't really give you a chance to get stuck on your right side, and that is a good thing. By learning the feeling of striking the ball cleanly while staying on your left side, you should be able to recreate this sensation when you shift back to your full swing.
Playing from Bad Lies
As a golfer, you always want to find your ball sitting in a nice position on the course. After all, drawing a good lie in the fairway allows you to hit just about any kind of shot you would like, and that good lie will give you the best chance to send the ball in close to the hole for a birdie putt. With that said, there is also a positive that can be drawn from hitting out of a bad lie from time to time. Specifically, playing from a bad lie will force you to go down through the ball at impact, something that you may be having trouble with if you are prone to hitting the ball thin.
You aren't going to get enough chances to play from bad lies out on the course (hopefully) to make a difference, so it is a good idea to give yourself some bad lies in practice from time to time. If you are able to practice on a grass driving range (as opposed to one which uses artificial mats), look around the range to find a spot where someone else has practiced previously. If there are divots that have not fully healed, use those spots to give yourself some ugly lies. The lie shouldn't be so bad that you can't even hit the ball at all, but it should be significantly worse than a clean lie on top of the fairway cut.
As you work on hitting a few practice shots from poor lies, focus on hitting down through the ball aggressively. You are going to have to hit down on the ball in order to make solid contact, and your weight will need to be on your left side by the time you reach impact. Basically, everything that you should be trying to do in your regular golf swing takes on extra importance when playing from a poor lie. You don't need to hit a ton of shots from poor lies to get a benefit from this drill – try adding just a few of these kinds of shots to each of your practice sessions.
The benefits of using this drill are going to come to you in a couple of different ways. First, hitting from bad lies on the range is going to help you get into better habits that will help your swing when hitting a shot from a good lie. You should be more likely to get onto your left side properly, and you should find that you are hitting down nicely through impact. As another benefit, you will find that you are less afraid of poor lies out on the course, since you have been practicing them on the range. You will still want to place your ball in the fairway as often as possible, of course, by chopping your ball back into play from a poor lie will no longer seem like as much of a challenge.
Thin Shots in the Short Game
While it is never a good thing to hit a thin shot with a full swing, hitting the ball thin in the short game may even be worse. When chipping or pitching from around the green, hitting the ball the correct distance is your primary objective. It is easy to get the ball online when chipping or pitching, so your only task is to control distance. Of course, in order to control distance successfully, you need to hit the ball cleanly on the sweet spot of the club. Thin contact is going to cause the ball to shoot across the green, and you will likely wind up in even more trouble on the other side.
As you might expect, hitting the ball thin in the short game is somewhat different from hitting the ball thin with a full swing, although there can be similar causes in some cases. Specifically, the issue of looking up early is one that is going to be seen in the short game as well as the long game. It is crucial that you keep your head down all the way through impact while chipping and pitching, as it only takes a slight movement up and away from the ball to ruin the shot. You aren't going to be able to help the shot get closer to the hole by looking at the ball early anyway, so keep your eyes down and only look up after you have seen the club strike the back of the ball.
All areas of your golf game take practice, but the short game is at the top of the list because of the touch and feel involved in hitting good shots. If you fail to practice your short game, you will never develop the comfort and confidence required to play solid shots time after time. Make sure to carve out a significant portion of your practice time to dedicate to the short game, even if you don't find it to be quite as fun as launching the ball down the range with your driver. Learning how to chip and pitch the ball cleanly, which includes learning how to avoid thin contact, is key to your development as a golfer.
There is nothing fun about hitting the ball thin, and thin shots certainly aren't going to help you shoot lower scores. If hitting the ball thin is a problem that you are currently facing in your game, use the advice contained in this article to work toward a solution as quickly as possible. While it might take a bit of time to successfully break the habits that are causing thin shots, the reward will be work the effort in the end.