"Thin to win" is an old golf proverb signifying that a thin shot – where the ball is struck near the bottom of the clubface – is better than a fat shot, or one where the club hits the ground before the ball. While that's true more often than not, it's really a lesser-of-two-evils proposition.
In other words, thin contact isn't something to strive for.
Thin shots present a two-fold problem. With longer clubs on full swings, they tend to fall short of the target because they miss the sweet spot. With wedges or partial swings from 100 yards and in, thin shots usually sail too far – as in over the green.
Here are a few common causes of – and cures for -- hitting the ball thin:
- Ball too far forward in your stance: It's quite simple, really. If the ball is forward of the point where your swing naturally bottoms out, the club will be traveling upward when it reaches impact. With the driver, play it off your left heel. As clubs get shorter, the ball should move closer to the middle of your stance. Experiment to find what works best for you.
- Trying to lift the ball into the air: When you consciously try to lift the ball by hitting up on it, you'll strike the bottom of the clubface more often than not. A downward strike is what you want with the irons, whose loft is designed to do the lifting for you.
Failing to maintain posture: If your upper body raises up before impact, the club goes with it. The clubface is now too high relative to the ball, producing thin contact. Keep the knees flexed while maintaining a level head and shoulders throughout the swing and your ballstriking will instantly improve.
Thin Golf Shots – Causes and Cures
A thin golf shot is one that is struck below the sweet spot on the face of the club. There are a range of thin shots, from ones that are hit only a groove or two below the sweet spot, all the way to shots that miss the club face completely and are only hit with the leading edge. You will know immediately that you have it a thin shot because of the feedback that is transferred into your hands. Hitting the ball thin is a 'harsh' feeling, and it can even sting your hands – especially on a cold morning. Since thin shots tend to fly low and out of control, it is important that you learn how to correct this swing fault as soon as possible.
Every golfer hits the ball thin from time to time. Even the best golfers in the world miss the sweet spot, and some of those misses come off as thin shots. You shouldn't expect perfection from yourself in terms of ball striking – instead, your goal should be to consistently improve as you practice and gain experience. An occasional thin shot is inevitable, but you want to make sure that your swing mechanics aren't leading you to hit thin shots on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, there are a variety of errors that can lead to hitting a thin shot, so you are going to have to work through your own swing carefully to find the true cause of the problem. It is impossible to fix a problem until you first identify it accurately, so that is your job at the start. Once you are clear as to why you are hitting too many thin shots, you can then go about the business of fixing the mistake.
One of the most important skills you can possess as a golfer is the ability to hit the ball the right distance time after time. Hitting shots off line is part of the game, but if you can improve the control you have over the distance of your shots, you will instantly become a better player. To do that, you need to find the sweet spot as often as possible. Thin shots will actually fly on line quite frequently, but they will rarely travel the right distance. Prioritize the ability to make contact on the sweet spot and you will find that the game becomes much easier.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Popular Causes of Thin Shots
The first thing you want to know when you hit any bad shot is 'what went wrong?' It is important to analyze your poor swings so you can avoiding repeating your mistakes on future swings. Good golfers think about their bad shots far more than they think about their good ones – there is simply more to learn from what went wrong than what went right. Learn to think critically about your poor shots and you will be moving in the right direction with your game.
As far as thin shots are concerned, there are a few common swing mistakes that can lead to this frustrating problem. If you are hitting thin shots on a regular basis, the underlying problem is likely found within one of the following three points -
- Reverse pivot. There are a number of poor outcomes that can result from using a reverse pivot in your swing, and thin shots are definitely on that list. A reverse pivot occurs when your weight moves to the left in your backswing and to the right in your downswing – the opposite of what should be occurring as you swing the club. As your weight moves to the right and away from the target in the downswing, you will be moving the bottom of your swing arc back away from the ball. The result is that the club contacts the ball up the upswing – and too low on the club face. Players with a reverse pivot in their swing frequently hit thin shots, especially with their short irons.
- Quick tempo. Solid ball striking is about more than just finding good positions in your swing. To hit the ball cleanly time after time, you also need to have a consistent rhythm that you can use to find the center of the club face. Players who rush their tempo will always run the risk of hitting the ball thin because they won't give their body a chance to catch up with the club. Your body should be aggressively turning left in the downswing to get through the shot. However, if you were to rush your transition, the club may 'win the race' to the ball, meaning that your body will be out of position for the strike. With your body trailing behind the swinging motion of the club, a thin shot is the likely outcome.
- Trying to help the ball into the air. Many amateur golfers don't trust their clubs to get the ball into the air. Your irons are designed with various amounts of loft so they can launch the ball up into the air when you hit down through the ball solidly. Unfortunately, some golfers don't trust the loft of the club to do its job. Because of that, they will try to 'help' the ball by lifting up through impact. Of course, this is a bad idea, and it will result in hitting thin shots when your timing is off by even a fraction of a second.
For most golfers, hitting a thin shot can be traced to one of the three mistakes listed above. After reading that list, you might have a good idea of which one of the mistakes is present in your game. Perhaps, you are guilty of more than one of those mistakes. Don't let thin shots get the best of you on the course – use the content that follows to correct each of the three swing problems highlighted above.
Fix Your Pivot
If you are struggling with a reverse pivot, you should get it fixed as soon as possible – not only to get rid of the thin shots, but simply to improve your swing as a whole. The way you use your body during the swing will have a lot to do with the kind of shots you can hit. By moving your weight in the wrong direction throughout the swing, you will be putting a limit on your overall potential as a golfer. Even if you don't make a single change to your arm swing, you can become a much better player simply by correcting your pivot.
The first thing that you need to understand is that it is critical to start your swing from a balanced position. Many players who fight a reverse pivot don't take a proper stance over the ball to begin with – making it nearly impossible to create a proper weight shift. As you take your stance, focus on an even distribution of weight between your two feet. Flex your knees slightly, and settle in to the stance until you feel comfortable and athletic. The golf swing is an athletic motion, so a balanced and stable stance is vital to having success.
Once you have built a good stance, the next step is to make a backswing without losing track of the balance you created at address. One of the biggest myths in golf is that you need to make a 'weight transfer' during the backswing. That is wrong. In reality, you don't want your weight to move at all during the backswing. Ideally, you will be able to keep your center of gravity directly between your two feet while you rotate your upper body away from the target. It is important to make a full turn, but that doesn't mean your weight should slide to the right. As you make practice swings on the driving range, focus on maintaining your balance throughout the backswing – your weight shouldn't be leaning left, but it shouldn't be leaning right either. Only when you can make a fully balanced backswing will you be able to kick the reverse pivot once and for all.
As you transition from backswing to downswing is when you actually start to move your weight toward the target. As the club changes direction, you should be actively using your lower body to rotate your body to the left. By starting that motion with your legs, you should be able to gradually move your body weight toward the target while unleashing all of the potential energy you created during your backswing rotation. It is important to note that you still don't want to be 'sliding' toward the target – sliding your weight in either direction is always a bad thing on the golf course. The move to the left should be mostly rotational, but that rotation will also bring your weight along for the ride.
To check your success in moving left toward the target, hold your finish position and note the distribution of your weight. If done correctly, your weight will be mostly on top of your left leg, with your right foot supporting a very small percentage of your weight. Those with a reverse pivot will notice that they have most of their weight on the right foot when the swing is complete.
In order to get your pivot under control, remember the following three keys – start balanced, stay balanced in the backswing, and move left in the downswing. If you can hit on those three points successfully, your reverse pivot will be gone and the thin shots you have been hitting will start to disappear.
Building a Reliable Tempo
Just like eliminating the reverse pivot, building a reliable tempo in your golf swing is something that is good for your game as a whole, not just for eliminating thin shots. Tempo, along with balance, is one of the key building blocks within any good golf swing. Tempo leads to things like solid ball striking, consistency under pressure, control over your trajectory, and more.
The tricky thing about trying to improve your tempo is that the right tempo for another golfer might not necessarily work for you. Tempo is a personal thing, and you need to work through some practice sessions in order to find your own natural rhythm within the swing. Some golfers play great while swinging with a slow tempo, while others are more comfortable with a faster swing. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to tempo – but you do need to find the right tempo for your own swing, and then stick with it round after round. If your tempo isn't consistent, you will struggle to produce predictable shots over the course of 18 holes.
It is important to understand the difference between a 'fast' swing, and a 'quick' swing. While it is certainly acceptable to use a fast swing, there are very few golfers who can play well with a quick swing. You want your swing to build speed and momentum gradually from the takeaway through impact, and quick swings don't typically allow that to happen. Instead, those who swing the club quickly are prone to jerking it away from the ball, as well as rushing through the transition. Both the takeaway and transition phases of your swing need to be smooth, regardless of what kind of tempo you are using to hit your shots.
To create a tempo that you can trust, try working through the following drill –
- Head to the driving range with your golf clubs and a bucket of balls.
- For this drill, you will be hitting two different clubs – your driver, and one of your wedges. It doesn't particularly matter which wedge you choose, so grab your favorite one to get started.
- Set aside ten golf balls to use during the drill. You will be hitting five shots with each of the two clubs.
- While holding your wedge, place one ball down in front of you and take your stance. You should be aiming at a specific target, and be sure to go through your normal pre-shot routine as you would prior to any shot. Don't rush through the process – the more you pay attention to the details, the better the results will be.
- When you are ready, go ahead and start your golf swing. However, you are going to be counting to four out loud while hitting these shots. So, as the club begins the takeaway, you should say 'one'. When the club is halfway through the backswing, say 'two'. At the top of the backswing, say 'three'. Finally, when the club reaches impact, say 'four'.
- It is important that the counting is even between each number. You can move as fast or slow as you are comfortable with, but be sure to maintain an even rhythm throughout the swing. If you feel like you have to rush to say one of the numbers, you will know that you are rushing that part of your swing.
- After hitting a wedge while counting out your swing, change to the driver and repeat the process. Your driver swing will be longer than your wedge swing, but the idea is the same – maintain an even rhythm from start to finish.
- Go back and forth between the two clubs until you have hit all ten balls.
At first, this drill is probably going to be a little bit awkward. Most amateur players rush through their transition, meaning the time between 'two' and 'three' in your counting sequence might feel hurried. Work at improving your tempo and try to gather your body at the top of the swing before making the transition into the downswing motion. If you are able to successfully even out your tempo by using this counting drill, don't be surprised if you no longer struggle with thin shots.
Gain Trust in Your Loft
This final reason for hitting thin shots is far more mental than it is physical. You can be hitting all of the correct positions in your swing, but if you don't trust your club to launch the ball into the air, you may still 'scoop' the shot at impact. To make good golf swings, you have to not only trust your own abilities and your own swing, but also your equipment. You spend time on the practice range to improve your technique, so you need to rely on that preparation when you hit the course. Believe in yourself, and your clubs, and you will see an improvement in your performance.
Part of the problem, in this case, is visual. When you look down at your club, it doesn't necessarily look like you could hit down on the ball and actually have it go up into the air. This is especially true of short irons and wedges. Many amateurs feel like they are going to go right under the ball if they hit down on the shot, so they use their hands too actively through the hitting area in an attempt to help the ball.
Of course, the ball doesn't need any help, and neither do your clubs. As long as you hit down aggressively through the shot, and you make solid contact on the face, the ball will climb nicely into the sky. This is the kind of thing that can really only be learned through experience. Once you know what it feels like to hit down through your iron shots, you won't want to do it any other way. However, if you have never really gotten to that point with your game, there may be a level of fear involved with trying to hit down through your shots.
Also, it is important to mention the role that driving range mats play in this equation. If you practice on a driving range which only offers mats to hit from (as opposed to grass), you may have conditioned your swing to not move down through the ball. After all, you can't take a divot from a driving range mat, so many players simply scoop the ball right off the top. This is a bad habit to get into, and it can lead to the problem of hitting thin shots down the road. It is fine to practice from mats from time to time, but try to find a range with a natural grass hitting area when you plan on doing a lot of work on your iron game.
The best way to build the necessary trust in hitting down on your shots is to start small and work your way up. Head to the practice chipping area and hit some pitch shots from 20 or 30 yards. As you hit these shots, be sure to take a small divot after contacting the ball – that will confirm that you are hitting down all the way through the shot. Slowly add distance to these shots before heading back to the full range to make bigger swings. From your wedges all the way through to your mid-irons, you should see a nice divot come flying up out of the turf each time you hit a shot. Without that divot, you can't be sure that you are going down through the ball properly.
Any of the three swing problems that have been highlighted above could be causing your thin shots. If you aren't sure which problem may be giving you trouble, the best option is to just work through them one by one until you notice an improvement. The great thing about these three tips is that they aren't just good for fixing thin shots – they are good for your golf swing as a whole. Remember, it isn't the end of the world if you hit a couple of thin shots from time to time. Every golfer misses the sweet spot, and some of those misses are going to come off low. However, if thin shots are a regular problem in your game, work through the instruction above to get your swing back on track.