The “thunk” of a fat shot sounds as bad as it feels. It means you've hit behind the ball, which will momentarily land a very short distance in front of you.
Unlike a thin shot, the fat or “chunked” shot rarely reaches its target because little or no clubface actually contacts the ball. It's especially devastating when hitting over a hazard like water or sand, where the fat shot usually lands.
Most fat shots occur when:
- The golfer fails to transfer weight from the right side to the left (for a right-hander) during the downswing. The swing arc moves to the right and the club bottoms out before reaching the ball.
- The swing is too steep, causing the club to impact the turf before the ball.
- The ball is too far forward or too close to your body. If the ball is to the left of the spot where your swing naturally bottoms out, you'll either hit it thin or fat. Standing too close to the ball creates an overly upright (steep) path.
Now for the cures:
- Heel-up drill: 1) On the range, using any club from 6-iron through the wedges, assume your address with the ball near the middle of your stance. 2) Lift your right heel so that only your toes are touching the ground. 3) Make your normal swing. Lifting the heel raises your right shoulder and makes it easier to transfer weight to your left on the downswing while promoting a downward strike on the back of the ball.
- Lift your head: Not during the swing, but before it. If your head is bowed toward the ground, you'll take the club back steeply and return it to the ball the same way. At address, your chin should be clear of your chest to allow the left shoulder to turn easily underneath it.
- Adjust your ball position/stance: Fixing your fats may be as painless as moving the ball closer to the middle of your stance. If that doesn't work, inch slightly farther from the ball to flatten your swing and put the clubhead on a shallower attack angle.
Causes and Cures – Fat Shots
Hitting the ball fat is one of the worst feelings in golf. As soon as your club digs in to the turf, you know that the shot is going to come up short of your target. You don't even want to look up to watch the ball fly, because you know the end result is not going to be a good one. While every golfer hits a fat shot from time to time, you need to limit the number of these frustrating shots you hit during each round if you wish to lower your scores. Not only do fat shots usually lead to missed greens, they can also lead to penalty strokes if there is a pond or other hazard waiting short of the target.
It is hard to work on correcting the problem of hitting fat shots because there can be a number of causes at the root of the issue. Even if you watch your swing back on video, you might not be able to identify the problem right away. Therefore, it is important to understand all of the various possible causes of hitting the ball fat. The more ideas you have in your head as to what could be causing your swing mistakes, the better chance you will have of fixing the problem on the go. It is great to work with an experienced instructor to improve your golf swing – but that instructor will be nowhere to be found when you are in the middle of a round and you can't stop hitting fat shots. Understanding basic swing mechanics as they relate to hitting the ball fat can save you a lot of frustration – and a lot of strokes.
While most fat shots occur with the short irons, you can actually run into this problem with any club in the bag. It doesn't really matter what club you are swinging when it comes to fat shots, because a breakdown in your technique is going to lead you to hit the ground behind the ball regardless of which club is in your hands. From a sand wedge all the way up to the driver, no club is completely safe from the prospect of hitting a fat shot.
It is important that you remember to keep your temper under control when struggling with this issue on the course. Hitting the ball fat over and over again is highly frustrating, but you can't let that cause you to lose sight of working on a fix for the problem. Channel your frustration into focus, and use that focus to correct your mechanics as quickly as possible. The longer you allow yourself to be angry about the fat shots, the more strokes are going to be added to your score.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Five Potential Causes
There are a lot of ways to hit a fat shot. That is both good and bad news. The bad news is that you will have to work through many different potential causes before you really get down to the heart of the problem. At the same time, having a lot of places to look means that you will have a good chance of finding the actual issue. There isn't much that is more frustrating in golf than having a problem that you don't know how to fix. In this case, you should be able to eventually fix the problem and put an end to the fat shots – it just may take you a little while to get there.
To help you work through the process of locating the root cause of your fat shots, there are five potential problems highlighted below. One by one, work through this list until you discover the specific point that is leading to your club hitting the ground too far behind the ball.
- Lack of lower body rotation. This just might be the leading cause of fat shots among amateur golfers. When the club reaches the top of the golf swing, your lower body should take control and begin to rotate to the left. That rotation is what sets your swing in motion going forward, and it pulls your body into the perfect position to strike the ball. Unfortunately, many golfers never learn how to use their lower body correctly. Instead, they use only their arms and shoulders to make the downswing, and their body gets 'stuck' behind the ball. When that happens, a fat shot is almost inevitable. Pay attention to your finish position to determine if this is a problem in your swing. When you finish, is the majority of your weight on your left leg? If not, you are not rotating the lower body correctly. Get your legs moving right from the top of the swing and your fat shots just might go away.
- Overactive right hand. One of the big challenges in the golf swing is to use your hands without having them get in the way. The right hand is important in your swing because it can supply tremendous power through the hitting area when deployed at the right time – but it can also ruin your swing if used too early. If your right hand takes over control of the swing early in the downswing, you will run the risk of forcing the club into the turf prior to reaching the ball. Ideally, your right hand will only get involved at the very last moment so it can supply some speed without altering the path of the club. To alleviate this problem, working on feeling the sensation of pulling the club down toward impact with the back of your left hand. As long as the left hand is leading the way down toward the ball, your right hand shouldn't be able to get in the way.
- Losing your level. The stance you take at address is very important because it establishes your 'level' for the swing. Ideally, you would like to keep everything at roughly the same level throughout the swing, because moving up and down will make it much more difficult to achieve solid contact at impact. If you lose your level and drop your entire body down during the golf swing, hitting the ball fat is the likely outcome. Most of the time, your knees are to blame for this swing fault. During the backswing as well as the transition, focus on maintaining the same amount of flex in your knees. By keeping your knees stable, your entire body will remain at the same level, and you should be able to deliver the club squarely into the back of the ball without hitting any turf first.
- Poor ball position. Placing the ball too far forward in your stance – especially when hitting a short iron shot – is a recipe for disaster. There shouldn't be much lateral movement in your swing when hitting a short iron, but you will have to slide laterally to reach the ball if you have placed it up near your front foot. Work on centering the ball in your stance with the short irons and you should be able to catch the ball cleanly more often than not.
- Lack of commitment. Golf is a game that requires tremendous confidence, but confidence is something that most players lack. When you are swinging down toward the ball, you need to trust in your swing completely. When that trust starts to waver, you may slow down the movement of the club in an effort to 'guide' the club face to the ball. This is a losing strategy, and one that will likely lead to a fat shot. Once the downswing has started, it is too late to make any corrections anyway, so you might as well let the club rip through the hitting area. Slowing down your swing at the last moment is never going to help you hit a good shot, and it will often lead to the kind of fat contact that you are trying to avoid.
Most likely, you will find the cause of your fat shots in one of the five points listed above. Take a moment to think about your swing and decide which of those points is most likely to relate to your game. During your next visit to the driving range, work through them one at a time until you stop hitting the ball fat. Once you locate the root cause of the problem, spend plenty of practice time rehearsing the corrected technique so you can prevent that old mistake from popping up in the future.
Faulty swing mechanics aren't the thing that can cause you to hit fat shots on a regular basis. Beyond having your swing get off track, you can also be led into hitting fat shots by bad equipment. Many golfers take their equipment for granted, simply playing with whatever they happen to have in the garage, or whatever they picked off of the shelves at the local pro shop. In reality, your equipment plays an important role in your overall game, and you will need to pay attention to the clubs that you are using if you hope to reach your potential on the course.
It is important to note that while equipment is important to the success of your game, you don't have to buy the most expensive equipment in the store in order to be a good golfer. There are plenty of affordable club models that will offer you all of the performance characteristics you need to play well. The most important thing is that the clubs you are using fit you and your swing perfectly. Your body is unique to you, and your swing is as well. Only when you get clubs that match your swing shape and your body type will you be able to strike the ball solidly hole after hole.
The length of your golf clubs is one variable that needs to be addressed. Clubs that are too long can lead to fat shots simply because you won't have enough room to swing them down to impact without first catching the turf behind the ball. Golf clubs can be adjusted either longer or shorter based on your needs, so visit a professional club fitter to have your set checked. If your clubs do need to be adjusted for length, the club fitter should be able to do the job for a reasonable fee.
Another equipment issue to check on is the lie angle of your irons. The lie angle refers to the angle that is formed between the ground and the shaft of the club when the club head is resting flat on the turf behind the ball. If your clubs are too upright or too flat in terms of lie angle, that issue can cause trouble in your swing. When you find yourself hitting the ball fat over and over again, there is a good chance that your clubs are too upright. Clubs that are too upright for the player behave similarly to clubs that are too long – they tend to get stuck in the ground behind the ball. Most irons can be bent to adjust the lie again, which is another job that can be completed by a qualified club fitter.
Finally, the shaft flex that you are using in your clubs can also lead to fat shots. Shaft flex is perhaps the single most important element that you need to look at when picking out clubs, because the shaft is like the engine of each club in your bag. With the right engine, your clubs can give you great performance, but the wrong engine can lead to big trouble. Shafts which are too stiff for your swing may cause you to hit the ball fat because you won't be able to bend the shaft properly in the downswing. When in doubt, always error on the side of using shafts that are a little too soft rather than too stiff. Soft shafts should still allow you to play quality shots, but shafts that are too stiff will make it hard for you to get the ball off the ground.
Learn to Master Club Selection
Most amateur golfers are lousy when it comes to club selection. That might sound harsh, but it's true. Picking the right club is a very important skill on the golf course, but unfortunately many players just aren't able to reach for the correct stick on a consistent basis. Not only can using the wrong club lead you to hitting shots that miss the green, you can also develop a habit of hitting the ball fat when you are unable to put the right club in your hands.
There are two different ways in which having the wrong club can lead to fat contact with the ball –
- Too much club = Slowing down prior to impact. This point was covered somewhat earlier in regard to slowing the club down before contacting the ball. In this case, when you pick a club that you suspect might be too much for the shot, you may subconsciously slow down your swing heading into impact. If that happens, a fat shot is the likely outcome. It is hard to make a confident swing when you think the club you are holding is capable of sending the ball clean over the target.
- Not enough club = Swinging too hard. There is never a time on the golf course when swinging extra hard can be viewed as a good thing. You always want to be swinging 'within yourself' – meaning you are not trying to swing any harder than you are capable of doing comfortably. If you are thinking that the club you are holding isn't enough to get the job done on a particular shot, you will likely swing too fast, making a fat shot a possibility. Swinging fast can lead to fat shots because your lower body won't have time to clear before the hands get down toward the ball.
Obviously, the only way to solve the problems above is to learn how to pick the right club time after time. It all starts by taking careful notes during each round that you play on the course. For every iron shot that you hit, write down the distance to the target along with the distance that you actually hit the shot in the air (and what club you used). As the rounds go by, you will quickly amass a wealth of information that you can use to determine how far you hit each of your clubs. Don't let your ego get in the way of this exercise, either – simply write down the numbers and do some math later on. Once you have an accurate chart of your distances with each club, you should be able to select the right stick far more frequently.
One additional note on club selection – never use driving range distances to gauge your power on the course. Driving range balls have been hit thousands of times and rarely will they fly the same distance as your real golf balls. Only consider on-course numbers when learning your distances if you want the most accurate results. Simply by learning how to pull the right club for every swing, you can start to reduce the number of fat shots that you hit.
Judging the Conditions
One final factor that can play a role in hitting fat shots is the condition of the golf course. Even if you have only played a few rounds of golf in your life, you probably already know that soft conditions can frequently lead to fat shots. When the ground is soft under your feet, it is easy to catch the leading edge of your club into the grass before you have actually made contact with the ball. You don't even have to be off by much to hit the ball fat when the ground is soft – even just a fraction of an inch can be enough to cause you to hit the shot fat and leave the ball well short of the target.
When you are faced with soft conditions, make the following adjustments in order to avoid fat shots –
- Move the ball back slightly in your stance. This shouldn't be a major adjustment, but just moving the ball back an inch or two will go a long way toward helping you make good contact. You may hit the ball slightly lower when you make this adjustment, but lower approach shots usually work just fine when playing on soft conditions.
- Choke down on the grip. Another way to avoid catching the ball fat is to choke down slightly on your grip. This is another minor adjustment that can have a major impact on your game. Choking down just a half an inch will help you keep the club head out of the turf before you get to the ball. Again, this adjustment will result in a lower ball flight, so plan your shots accordingly.
- Play a fade. If you are capable of hitting either a draw or a fade depending on the situation, favor your fade when the ground is soft. Since a fade requires you to bring the club from outside-in during the downswing, you will be coming in from a steeper angle of attack. That steeper angle will keep the club head higher off the ground, lessening the chances of a fat shot. Not every golfer will be able to use this tip, but favor your fade if you have one available to you.
Hitting the ball fat is no fun. A fat shot just doesn't feel right coming off of the club face, and the ball will almost always fall from the sky prior to reaching the target. Use the instruction above to iron out any errors in your mechanics that may be causing fat shots and you will be able to limit the number of times you make this frustrating mistake.