You are playing the best golf course you have ever played and you are faced with a shot in the middle of the lush green, immaculate, pristine fairway.
You are ready to hit the shot into the green from this perfect lie on the fairway. You take your weapon of choice and you aim and fire.... However, you end up catching the ball thinly and the ball shoots towards the green, over the green and out of bounds. You look down and realise you have been aware of not ruining the pristine piece of turf and instead hit the ball clean off it. Should you have taken a divot? Of course you should have done. Watch the pros play and they almost always take a divot with a mid to short iron to encourage a nice downward strike and a great connection. The aim, however, is not just to take a divot anywhere but to take a divot beyond the golf ball so that you make contact with the ball first then the turf after.
Fault - Not striking the floor when hitting iron shots can result in bad contacts and inconsistency when striking irons. A common error is the thought process of not knowing you should strike the ground. Many golfers almost aim to strike the ball too cleanly off the surface and this is very difficult to execute every time.
Fix - Learn to strike the ground beyond the ball making sure you strike the ball first then the turf after. Start by setting up without a golf ball, to a certain spot on a practice mat or practice tee area. Aim to swing the club, making sure you transfer your weight towards the target and strike down beyond the spot on the mat to encourage a much later hit after the golf ball. Another good way of checking is to practice on grass with the golf ball sat on top of a tee peg that is pushed fully into the ground so that you can use it to identify where the golf ball started from. Continue to swing and notice if your divot mark has made it past the original ball position at set up.
Top tip - Once you have set up to the golf ball, move the golf ball about three to four inches further forward towards the target. Keep the golf club where the ball would be normally. The task is to strike the golf ball cleanly by transferring the weight towards the target on the way down.
Now this may take some practice at first. If you are not currently transferring your weight correctly, this drill will feel strange and a challenge to complete. Once rehearsed and practiced, you will be able to strike the golf ball even if the ball is three to four inches ahead of the club head at set up.
Once you have mastered striking the ball first and cleanly in the drilled position, place the golf ball back to where it normally would be positioned. From this point, picture the intended impact point to be the same three to four inches beyond the golf ball as the drill had you practicing.
Should I Hit the Ground/Take Divot When Hitting Golf Irons?
When you hit your iron shots on the golf course, you have two basic options – pick the ball cleanly off of the top of the turf, to hit down through the shot and take a divot. So which one is correct? Well, it is possible to play good golf both ways, but for most people, hitting down into the ground on iron shots will be the preferred way to play. By hitting down on your iron shots, you should be able to maximize both power and backspin, meaning you will be able to hit the ball higher and farther than if you were to pick the ball off the turf. If you are able to learn the proper technique for hitting down on your iron shots, you will find that you quickly become a much improved player overall.
Watching golf on television is a great way to learn about the game, as the players you see on your TV are among the best in the world. During the next tournament that you are able to watch, take notice of how many players are taking divots when they hit iron shots. Most likely, you will find that nearly every player in the event is unearthing large pieces of grass when they strike their irons. Unless the course they are playing is exceptionally firm (making it difficult to take divots), pros typically work their irons aggressively down through impact and into the ground.
The ability to hit down through the ball is going to come down to using proper fundamental technique. If you are out of position in your downswing, you will struggle to hit down and take a divot, even if that is the goal that you have for your iron swing. The golf swing happens far too quickly to make adjustments in the middle of the action, so the only way to achieve the results you are hoping for is to use good fundamentals and a repeatable, reliable technique. Of course, improving your technique in golf means one thing – spending time on the range. The driving range is an invaluable tool for improving your performance on the course, so make sure you dedicate yourself to regular practice as part of your goal of becoming a better golfer.
Before we move on into covering the technique necessary for hitting down on your iron shots, as well as some other tips related to this topic, we should quickly discuss the point of replacing your divots. Part of your job as a golfer is to care for the course that you are playing, which means either replacing your divot after hitting a shot, or filling that divot with sand (depending on the policies of the course you are playing). It only takes a few moments to take care of the course after taking a divot, and your actions will go a long way toward improving the condition of the course for everyone. If all golfers would take the time to fix their divots (as well as repairing ball marks on greens and raking bunkers), the game would be better for everyone across the board.
All of the instruction 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.
Setting Up to Hit Down
Much of the success or failure of your golf swing is determined by the set up position that you use. Setting up correctly based on the type of shot that you are trying to hit will make it far easier to succeed, while using a poor setup position is going to significantly handicap your chances of hitting your target. When it comes to trying to hit down on your iron shots, there are a few things specifically that you need to do well at address in order to easily take a divot at the bottom of the swing.
The following points should all be considered as you build your stance before swinging an iron.
- Even weight distribution. Your balance is going to have a lot to do with whether you are able to take a divot or not. To give yourself the best possible chance of hitting down through impact, you are going to want to start out your swing in a nicely balanced, even position. Make sure your weight is even distributed between your two feet at address and then hold that balance well into your backswing. This is a point that is important for a number of reasons beyond the desire to take a divot, so working on your balance at address is effort that will be well-spent.
- Good ball position. The positioning of the ball between your feet is an important part of this process as well. With a short iron such as a wedge, you want to have the ball evenly placed between your two feet, so that it is resting in the middle of your stance. As the irons get longer, you can move slightly forward from this point, but do not let the ball get too far forward near your left foot. If you play the ball well up in your stance, it will be hard to hit down properly simply because you won't be able to reach. Spend some time on the practice range working on your ball positioning with various irons until you find spots that are comfortable for you and allow you to hit down with ease.
- Hands over the ball. This is a subtle point, but it is one that should not be overlooked. At address, you need to have your hands over the ball rather than over the club head. That means, obviously, that your hands are going to be slightly in front of the club head at address. Why is this important? Because that is the same position that your hands will need to find at impact. You have to get your hands past the ball in order to hit down successfully, so starting out your swing in this position is going to make things easier the rest of the way. Create a slight tilt toward the target with the shaft of the club by placing your hands over the ball at address, and then make it your goal to recreate that shaft lean when you get back to impact in just a few moments.
- Chin up. While the influence of this tip on your ability to hit down on the ball might be indirect, it is no less important. At address, you need to make sure that you keep your chin up off of your chest so that you have plenty of room to turn your shoulders away from the target as you swing back. If your chin is down into your chest, you will have to slide at least slightly in the backswing because you won't have enough room for your shoulder turn – and that slide will put you off balance and behind the ball. Don't let that happen. Set up with your chin comfortably off of your chest, and then remain in that position throughout your takeaway (and throughout the rest of the swing, really).
It might not be terribly exciting to work on your address position at the driving range, but doing so would be time well spent. It is crucial that you stand over the ball in a manner that gives you the best chance for success later on in the swing, especially when you are trying to hit down effectively. Work on the points above during your next driving range visit and you should find that it is suddenly easier to take a nice divot with your iron shots.
With your address position sorted out, it will be time to get the swing started. While that solid address position is going to help you greatly, you still need to make a quality swing if you are going to hit down, take a divot, and produce a quality shot. Just as was the case with your address position, success with your swing is going to come down to fundamentals. If you can get your fundamentals in place within your iron swing, you will find it to be no problem at all to hit down through impact.
Take note of the following swing tips that relate to hitting down, and work on these in an upcoming practice session.
- Keep the backswing tight. This just might be the single most important tip that you can receive when it comes to hitting down on your irons. When you tighten up your backswing, you will improve your ability to stay on balance all the way through the swing – and it is balance that is crucial to your success. Long backswings often lead to a loss of balance, which then makes it extremely difficult to hit down cleanly through the shot. You aren't going to gain anything by making a particularly long backswing, so keep everything tight and leave yourself in a great position for the strike down into impact.
- Go slow early on. Another way to lose your balance is to rush through the takeaway – this action will usually pull you to the right, and you will likely not get back on balance until after the shot is completed. Work on making a slow and smooth takeaway to start your swing and you should find that you have a much easier time remaining balanced and under control. At first the slower takeaway may feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but you should be able to get used to it after just a bit of practice.
- Eyes on the ball. You may take this point for granted, but it is quite important when it comes to hitting down through your iron shots. If you allow your eyes to come up and away from the ball prior to impact, you entire upper body is likely lift up as well – meaning you will no longer be in a good position to hit down. Pick out a spot on your ball to use as a point of focus, and keep your eyes there the entire time you are making your swing. Even something as simple as keeping your eyes on the ball will have a major impact on the quality of your swing, so don't get lazy and overlook this crucial point.
The three tips above are all relatively simple, but they will have a profound impact on your ability to take a divot with your iron shots. Follow these 'rules' in your own swing and the results you experience are sure to improve.
Evaluating Your Divots
As soon as you start to regularly take divots with your iron shots, you will begin to appreciate the many benefits of this kind of golf swing. In addition to the impressive ball flight that you may be able to achieve by hitting down on the ball, you will also have another advantage over players who do not take a divot – you can use the divot as an evaluation tool in an effort to improve your swing.
In many ways, a divot is like evidence left behind at a crime scene. While you can't go back and watch your swings during a round of golf, you can take a look at your divots to see what they tell you about the swing that was made. By learning how to properly 'read' your divots, you can uncover problems within your technique that you may be able to fix on the fly. It would be a mistake to ignore this source of free information, so use the following pointers to learn how to take advantage of the story that your divots are telling.
- Direction. The first thing you want to look at is the direction of your divot. After you have hit your shot, quickly take a step back and stand behind the divot so that you are looking directly down the target line. Did you swing on a path that took the club straight toward the target, or did you swing off to one side or the other? If your divot is pointed to the left or right of the target by a significant margin, you will know there is a problem with your swing path that needs to be taken care of as quickly as possible.
- Depth. In addition to the direction of your divots, you can also evaluate the depth of your divots to learn more about the path of the club as it approached impact. If you are taking extremely deep divots with large clumps of dirt attached, you will know that you are swinging down on a rather steep plane. On the other hand, if you are barely ripping up the top of the grass on the way through, your swing plane is on the shallow side. You can actually hit good shots on either end of this spectrum, but it is ideal to land somewhere in the middle with an 'average' divot. Divots that are either really deep or extremely shallow are usually signs of poor balance, so work on getting your weight back into the center of your stance at impact to create a 'medium' divot that leads to a nice ball flight.
- Shape. There is one last point that you can check on with regard to your divots – the shape of the divot, specifically at the beginning. Look at the end of the divot where the club first went into the turf – is that leading edge a straight line, or is it slanted from one side to the other? If the divot is straight along the back, you should be in good shape. However, an angled divot means that either the toe or heel of the club is going into the ground first, and that is a problem. If you are entering the turf with one end of the club head before the other, consider having your equipment checked to make sure it is a good match for your swing.
You don't want to hold up the pace of play while you are looking at your divots, so learn to do this analysis in just a moment or two. You can always work on your swing later with the information you have gathered, so don't stand there making practice swings trying to get it right – just take a look, remember what you have seen, and move on. Slow play is a threat to the future of golf, and it is the responsibility of every player to keep it moving while on the course.
Hopefully, your divots will look great and you won't need to make any changes to your swing technique. There is a good chance, however, that taking a close look at your divots will expose at least one or two problems that need to be corrected. Now that you have physical proof (in the form of a divot) of an issue in your swing, you can get down to work right away on fixing that problem and improving your overall play.
Divots in the Short Game
The full swing is not the only time you need to think about divots. When playing short shots from around the green, you may also need to swing down through the ball. Not all short shots require divots, however, so it is important that you understand how to decide when to hit down, and when to pick the ball off of the turf. Obviously, there is no decision to be made when putting – you should never take a divot out of the green while putting.
When chipping, the main deciding point on the path that you are going to take into the ball is whether or not you want to use spin to stop the shot. If you are planning on using backspin to take at least some of the speed off of the ball when it lands, you will need to hit down aggressively. On the other hand, if you simply want to lob the ball onto the green and let it bounce and roll to the hole, you don't need to hit down. For that kind of a shot, you can skim the club along the top of the grass and allow the ball to jump up into the air using the loft of your wedge.
In addition to the spin factor, you also need to think about the lie that you are facing when you chart your path into the ball. Hitting down is important when you have a less-than-ideal lie to deal with. So, for instance, if your ball is sitting down in some short rough, or even in a divot hole, you will want to hit down in order to achieve clean contact. You should note, however, that the ball isn't going to spin as much when coming from a poor lie, so don't plan on this kind of shot stopping quickly even if you do hit down nicely.
As far as the greenside bunker is concerned, you will be taking an entirely different kind of divot from that situation. Instead of hitting down into the sand steeply, you usually want to swing along the angle of the ground in order to gauge out a long swath of sand from under the ball. You aren't even going to hit the ball itself – you are simply going to wipe out the sand which will carry the ball up and out for you. Basically every greenside bunker shot you hit will use this kind of 'divot' to get the ball out of the bunker and onto the green (hopefully close to the hole).
Divots are a part of golf – they always have been, and always will be. Not only should you learn how to take a proper divot as part of your golf education, you should also learn how to read those divots in order to learn about your swing technique. By regularly taking good divots with your iron shots, you can put plenty of backspin on the ball while sending it accurately at your selected target. Play well!