The three worst words in golf might be You’re still away, but close behind are You looked up.
Among golf’s many ironies, topped/thinned shots – where the club strikes the top of the ball and sends it scurrying along the ground – are often caused by trying to lift the ball into the air. The left shoulder and the head come up before impact, pulling the club with them. Hence the term looking up.
If this sounds familiar, the first thing to do is check your golf ball position at address.
If it’s too far forward in your stance (i.e. toward the left foot for right-handers), your swing will bottom out before reaching the ball and catch it on the club’s sole.
With the driver, the ball should be placed opposite your left heel; it should move progressively closer to the center for shorter clubs, ending up in the middle for wedges.
If your ball position is correct and you still hit tops, poor posture may be the problem. Make sure you’ve got plenty of flex in the knees and a comfortable hinge at the waist. Maintain this position throughout the swing.
Remember, there’s no need to help the golf ball into the air – the club’s loft will take care of that.
Drills to Stop Topped Golf Shots
Keep your head down, you picked your head up, might be the most common phrase uttered by playing partners after a topped golf shot. While your buddies are just trying to help, a topped golf shot is typically the result of a physical breakdown during the backswing or forward swing. The following drills to stop topped golf shots will help limit excessive movements and usually practiced without the help of others.
Improve Contact from Over the Top Motion
Many amateurs create an over the top move that starts the downswing with the arms swinging the club too steep down toward the ground. The over the top move often leads to misses such as topping the ball. The following drill will help eliminate the over the top move and improve contact at impact. Place a tee about 5 inches behind the ball and 2-3 inches on the outside of the target line. The over the top move creates a steep downswing with an outside to inside swing path. If you swing over the top you will hit and break the tee. In the beginning practice the swing in slow motion and go faster when it becomes more comfortable. When you swing and hit the ball without breaking the tee you have created the correct inside path to the ball rather than the out to in swing path. This is a simple drill to stop topped golf shots and teach a better swing path.
Spine Angle Drill
There are several drills to maintain your spine angle throughout your swing. Obviously, the better you maintain your spine angle the less vertical movements you create in the swing. Maintaining your spine angle will cut down on topped golf shots. Begin by taking your normal set up, however, place an alignment stick vertical in the ground behind you so your backside is touching the stick. Now start making practice swings or hitting the ball. If you maintain your spine angle the stick will touch your backside during the backswing and forward swing. If you come out of your spine angle at any point in the swing your backside will no longer touch the stick. The drill is simple and effective to help maintain your spine angle throughout the swing. In fact, this could be one of the best drills to stop topped golf shots.
Improve Impact Position
The perfect impact position swings down and through the golf ball. The left arm is straight with a flat left hand while the club head lags behind the hands. The following impact drill will help stop topped golf shots. Take your set up position and place the club on the ground. Take a few tees and place them in the ground at approximately a 30-45 degree angle so the top faces the club face. Next, take a slow swing and try to return to impact so you drive the tees into the ground. If the tees pop up and out of the ground you create an upward motion into the impact position. When you drive the tees down into the ground you have achieved a solid impact position with a straight left arm, flat left wrist so the club head lags behind the hands. The proper impact position creates a forward shaft lean necessary to hit the ball up in the air and avoid topped golf shots.
Maintain a Steady Head
Maintaining a steady head helps maintain the spine angle and prevent lateral sways during the swing. A good drill to stop topped golf shots is to have a friend or coach stand in front of you and place his stretched out hand on your head while you make swings. Your coach has to stand far enough away you don’t hit him or his feet. If you attempt to move your body or head your coach will help stabilize any movement. It only takes a subtle movement to cause a topped golf shot. When you are by yourself you can imagine your head placed against a wall to keep it in place. The arms should freely swing around your spine angle without your body creating any excessive vertical or lateral movements.
Topping the Ball with the Driver
Regardless of your ability, everyone at some point has stood on the first tee and dribbled the ball off the tee box. Topping the ball with the driver might be embarrassing, however, there are several techniques you can use to help prevent the problem. The following tips are fixes to common faults that lead to topping the ball with the driver.
Develop a Warm Up Routine
Professional players arrive at the course hours before their tee time and go through a significant warm up routine. The routine typically consists of several dynamic and static stretches that prepare their body for the upcoming movements and also help prevent injury. Next, they go through a routine of hitting balls from the shortest club to the longest club, the driver.
Amateurs often arrive at the golf course minutes before their tee time. They spend little or no time warming up and the first few holes result in bogeys or worse. While you don’t need to experience the same routine as a tour professional, you will benefit by spending a few minutes warming up before your round. Topping the ball with your driver on the first hole occurs regularly when your body is stiff and not properly loosened up. In addition, aggressive swings without a proper warm up risk the chance of injury.
When amateurs swing as hard and fast as possible they tend to create inconsistent contact. The problem with the swing is the body and arms out of sync. Moreover, the really hard swing pulls the body out of the necessary positions for solid contact. You can still swing fast, however, you need to create a smooth swing and maintain a perfect balance. Think about terms such as smooth and easy to describe the swing, not grip it and rip it. When your tempo and balance are cohesive the result is generally a solid golf shot.
Tee the Ball Up Correctly
The driver is the one club intended to catch the ball on the upswing to maximize distance. Drivers represent the longest club in the bag with a maximum 460 cc club head. Teeing the ball with the correct height allows you to strike the top part of the clubface and produce a high launch with low spin. In addition, less spin produces a better chance of additional roll once the ball hits the ground. The ball should not be teed any higher than half the ball above the top of the club face and any lower than the ball slightly above the top of the driver. Teeing the ball any lower makes it difficult to launch the ball and increases the chance of topping the ball with the driver.
Swing the Club Around Your Body
Avoid lateral movements and sliding through impact with the driver. Every mistake is magnified as each club gets longer and the loft decreases. Therefore, focus on a rotational swing around your spine angle. The goal is to swing the club around your body, not swing your body with the club. Make sure your shoulders turn and hips rotate. The hips are an integral part of the swing. Allow the hips to rotate, but never move to the right during the backswing and slide left during the forward swing. Lateral movements such as sliding the hips are one of the quickest ways to start topping the ball with the driver.
Topping Ball with Irons
Many players struggle with a tight lie in the fairway and end up topping the ball with irons. The biggest reason is their inability to properly hit down on the golf ball. Proper impact position basically assures the ball will go up in the air.
An efficient swing creates a rotational move around a fixed spine angle. Ideally, the head moves less than an inch during the backswing and forward swing. Keeping the head still will help assure you minimize lateral movements.
The average PGA Tour player shifts 75% - 90% of his weight on his left leg and foot at impact. Amateurs often dramatically fail to get 75% or more of their weight on the front side at impact. In fact, many amateurs create a fall back move where their weight is shifting to the back leg and foot at impact. This creates a significant problem. The correct impact position creates a downward angle of attack. Unfortunately, with a reverse weight shift the angle of attack shifts to scooping motion that often catches the ball on an upward angle of attack. The result is topping the ball with the irons.
The ideal swing rotates around a fixed spine angle. In addition, you maintain your spine angle during the backswing and forward swing. There are several instances that result in a loss of the spine angle. Topping the ball with irons is a common result when you come up and out of your spine angle.
Over the Top
Amateurs lose their spine angle for a variety of reasons. The most common tendency results from over using the arms while neglecting to use their body. The result is an upright swing known as over the top downswing. The over the top move generates an upright swing that causes the body to raise up while the arms swing down.
Setting up too close to the ball is another cause for an upright swing. Flattening out the swing promotes a swing around the body. Unfortunately, crowding the ball makes it difficult to swing through impact. When you stand too close the body must stand up out of the spine angle so the arms have room to swing down and through the ball. Standing farther away will naturally flatten the swing and help eliminate a steep swing.
Many amateurs suffer from physical limitations that impact their ability to swing the club correctly. Players that lack flexibility sometimes raise the left heel way up off the ground during the backswing. When the left heel is raised, some amateurs allow the entire spine angle to straighten up during the backswing. This complicates the entire swing since the left foot needs to get back down before impact. In addition, the spine angle must lower back down to the original position or create a compensation to hit the ball. The left heel creates too much vertical movement in the spine angle.
Another important fundamental requires the swing to maintain knee flex throughout the swing. When the knees lose their flex players create an upward movement in the spine angle. Additionally, the right knee commonly straightens complicating the swing with a reverse weight shift. All of these excessive movements make it difficult to maintain the spine angle. Impact is generally inconsistent with all of these extra and unnecessary movements.
Since you can not see your swing it makes it difficult to pinpoint flaws. Many players do a nice job with the correct takeaway when the club and arms are parallel with the ground. However, avoid coming up out of your spine angle as your hands and arms swing up to the top of the backswing. Again, this is a movement that requires precise timing to create a solid impact position. Vertical movements in the spine angle promote topping the ball with your irons.
Topping Ball with Fairway Woods
One of the most difficult shots in golf is the low lofted fairway wood from a tight lie in the fairway. Every flaw in the swing is magnified with longer clubs and less loft. Even the driver offers a little forgiveness since you are teeing the ball up. For many amateurs, the fairway wood is one of the most difficult shots to successfully pull off. Topping the ball with fairway woods is one of the most common misses in golf.
Take Lessons and Video Your Swing
Golf is an extremely difficult game and it is complicated since you can not actually see what you are doing. The perception of what you are doing is often completely different from the reality of what you are doing. Therefore, seek the expertise of a PGA Professional for instruction and coaching. PGA Professionals can instantly pinpoint flaws and limitations in your swing. In addition, have a friend or coach video your swing to check you are making progress after your instructional sessions. When you visually see what you are doing it makes it much easier to accelerate the learning process.
Set Up Correctly
Setting up correctly promotes the ability to make a solid swing. Start with a slightly wider stance and make sure to create shoulder tilt in your stance. The shaft should lean forward toward the target at address. Shoulder tilt positions the left shoulder higher than the right shoulder and promotes the correct downward angle necessary to launch the ball in the air.
The ball is positioned toward the front of your stance, a few inches inside the left foot. The driver is the only club that catches the ball on upswing. Avoid playing the ball too far forward in your stance since you still deliver the club head on a downward angle of attack. Impact sweeps through the ball and takes a slight divot. Longer clubs produce naturally flatter swings with a shallower divot. Topping the ball with fairway woods occurs when the swing bottoms out and catches the ball on the upswing. Poor ball position and flipping the hands through impact are usually the culprit of topping the ball with fairway woods.
Proper Weight Shift
The lack of loft on fairway woods tends to freak out many amateurs. The end result is topping the ball with the fairway woods. Problems usually occur when you hang back on the right side as the club swings down toward impact. The lower body needs to start the forward swing and allow the majority of weight to shift to the left leg and foot at impact. Amateurs complicate the swing when they allow the club head to pass the hands before impact. The result is an upward angle of attack, poor weight shift and a topped golf shot. Trust that hitting down on the ball allows the loft of the fairway wood to hit the ball in the air. Golf is a game of opposites, if you want to hit the ball in the air swing down to make the ball go up.
Topped Golf Shots
Even the best players in the world prove they are human and dribble the ball off the tee box. In 2013, Tiger Woods started the second round at -2 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. On the first hole Tiger took his normal big swing at the ball and failed to hit the fairway. Now Tiger Woods missing the fairway isn’t especially a big deal, however, in this instance he topped the ball 50 yards off the tee and came up short of the fairway.
In Tiger’s case, maybe he didn’t have a productive warm up session or just made a bad swing, it happens. While it doesn’t happen regularly, many professional players have topped shots.
Mark Calcavecchia is guilty of one of the most painful collapses in golfing history. During his singles match against Colin Montgomery, Calcavecchia needed just a halve or win on any of the final four holes to win the match and assure the U.S. would win the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island. Unfortunately, Calcavecchia popped up a drive, topped the ball in the water and missed a 2 foot putt to lose the final four holes of the match. Ironically, Bernhard Langer missed a short par putt giving Hale Irwin and the U.S. team the victory.
Tiger most likely made a terrible first swing of the day, however, Calcavecchia clearly crumbled under the immense pressure on golf’s biggest stage. The following techniques are all used to help reduce anxiety under pressure.
Stay relaxed and maintain a light grip pressure on the club. On a scale of 1 to 10, maintain a grip pressure around 4. Tension starts in the hands and extends through the arms and shoulders making it extremely difficult to hit a good shot. Tension in the body prevents your muscles from working properly. Tension creates stiff swings that can lead to topped golf shots.
Develop a Pre-Shot Routine
Develop a pre-shot routine that helps reduce anxiety before a shot. Regardless of skill level, a golfer can not focus for four to five straight hours. However, you can focus for the 30 to 60 seconds before each shot. If you watch any golf professional you will notice they go through the same deliberate routine before each shot. During the routine visualize the shot and then take a practice swing to develop the physical feel required to hit the shot. Finally, pick out a specific target. The absolute worst thing you can do is think, don’t hit it into the water, bunker, etc. The result is often a topped golf shot or a poor golf shot that ends up in the hazard. Learn to focus exclusively on the target.
Control Your Breathing
Work on your breathing. Take a slow deep breath before and after each shot. Take advantage of this technique if you hit a bad shot. Stress and anxiety will raise your heart rate in pressure situations. Controlling your breathing should help keep you calm and focused, especially after any missed or topped golf shot.
Practice the Weak Link
The weakest link in your golf game is typically exposed under pressure. Only play a shot you have practiced. Keep it simple and stick to your natural shot pattern. If your normal shot pattern is a draw don’t stand on the final hole and attempt a fade. In a pressure situation, stick with what you know will work 9 out of 10 times. Attempting a hero shot easily turns into a disaster such as a topped golf shot. Most do not enjoy practicing a skill when they are not very good, however, it is the first skill that falls apart in a pressure situation. Manage the situation and try to play to your strengths. Players dedicated to improving practice their weak link.
Stay in the moment. Pressure is good if you learn to focus and concentrate. However, pressure is not good if it gets you out of your game. Play within your natural rhythm. If you are a faster player, avoid slowing your play down and vice versa if you are a slower player. Topped golf shots, slices, hooks, etc. occur when you lose focus and rhythm.