Topping the ball can become a big problem for senior golfers as the tendency to try and scoop or lift the ball into the air increases with age.
The topped shot occurs when the club's leading edge makes contact with the top quarter of a golf ball. The impact transfers almost pure topspin on the ball, sending it toppling off the tee and only a short distance down the fairway.
For senior golfers, fixing the topped shot could drastically reduce scores and boost confidence. Listed below are three sure fire ways to ensure you're getting on top of that topped shot:
1. Weight transfer is key - One of the most common causes of the topped shot is shifting body weight on to the back foot during the downswing. The reason for this, especially amongst senior golfers, is an attempt to hit underneath the ball. However, as a senior begins to lean back through impact, the club reaches the bottom of it's swing arc too early and is already rising upwards, striking the top of the ball. To help stop this 'reverse pivot' taking place, seniors must make sure their weight transfer is working correctly. On the backswing, the body weight should move on to the inside of the right foot, and when coming through, the weight should shift on to the left side. This will help ensure the senior golfer strikes down and through the ball with the irons, and strikes the ball from the centre of the club face with the woods.
2. Stay down and through the ball - Another reason senior golfers top the ball is the tendency to stand up through impact, losing their posture. Again, this is usually caused by the golfer attempting the lift the ball into the air. To try and fix this problem, try to maintain posture through the swing. The senior should feel the hips stay back at impact, not shunt forward. It can also help to feel the chest is 'on top' of the ball throughout the swing and feel the right shoulder is driving through the shot.
3. Stay loose, don't be tense - Tension in the hands can have the unfortunate effect of shortening the swing arc causing the arms to bend at impact, hitting the top of the ball. To help stop this happening, the senior golfer must relax the hands at address and keep the tension in their hands to a minimum throughout the swing. The old maxim of having a grip pressure soft enough to hold a tube of toothpaste without spraying the contents, is a good feeling to have when holding the club. Ernie Els advocates keeping the forearms 'as relaxed as possible' at address to alleviate tension.
By practising these tips, you will allow yourself to get on top of that topped shot!
3 Good Cures to Stop Topping the Golf Ball
Nobody likes to be embarrassed on the golf course – or anywhere else, for that matter. When playing golf, you obviously want to do your best to shoot the lowest score possible each time you venture out on the course. However, on those days where your game isn't quite right and you aren't going to shoot a low score, there is probably another goal that quickly pops into your head – avoiding embarrassment. If you aren't going to be able to card a score you can be proud of, at least you can get off the course with your dignity intact.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of different ways in which you can embarrass yourself between the first tee and the last green. You can accidentally make a noise when someone else is trying to play. You can drop your bag while trying to set it down, causing your clubs to spill out all over the grass. The list goes on and on. It isn't hard to find embarrassment on the course, and one of the easiest ways of all to embarrass yourself in front of your friends and playing partners is to simply top the golf ball.
There is nothing quite like a topped shot in terms of causing you to feel embarrassed out on the course. When you top the ball, your shot will usually just roll along the ground in front of you, and it may not stop until it finds a particularly nasty spot to hide. That is, if you even hit the ball hard enough to cause it to roll in the first place. If you barely make contact with your topped shot, the ball will hop up off the ground a few inches before coming to rest right back where it started. In fact, it is even possible to have the ball move backwards by a foot or two after a top. As you look up to the sky to see where your ball is flying, your friends will all be laughing as they stare at the ball – right there by your feet where it started.
It is obvious that any player who struggles with topping golf shots would like to eliminate that mistake as soon as possible. Not only will topping your shots make it nearly impossible to finish with a good score, you probably won't even have very much fun along the way. To get your game back on track and moving in the right direction once again, it is crucial that you make the mechanical – and mental – changes necessary to avoid topping the ball. You are never going to be perfectly consistent with your ball striking as a golfer, as the game is just too hard to ask for perfection. However, you can greatly improve on your ability out on the course, and you should be able to eliminate the top from your game once and for all.
All of the content 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.
The Anatomy of a Topped Shot
Before we move on to outlining the three cures that you can use to work toward eliminating the top from your game, we first need to become a bit more familiar with what is actually happening when you top the ball. That might seem obvious at first, but there is a little more to this errant shot than meets the eye. Only after you have a complete understanding of what goes in to a topped golf shot will you truly be prepared to fix this issue within your own swing.
The following points outline the basics of what is happening when the ball is topped.
- Coming in high. This is probably an obvious point, but it needs to be touched on anyway because it clearly defines what happens when the ball is topped. If you top a shot, the club head has come in to the hitting area too high. It's just that simple. Instead of moving the club down into the ball in a way that matches up the sweet spot and the back of the golf ball, you have delivered the bottom edge of the club to the top of the ball. This is – of course – why the shot is called a 'top' – you have hit the ball of the ball, resulting in a poor outcome. There are a number of potential causes for this kind of mistake, which we will cover later in the article, but on a basic level all topped shots stem from this common root issue.
- Swing plane problems. Most golfers who struggle with topped shots fight this issue because of an underlying swing plane problem. For example, if you are coming down too steep into the hitting area, you will run the risk of hitting the top of the ball as the club swings through impact. Or, you could make the opposite mistake by swinging in on a plane that is too shallow. Either way, using a steep or shallow plane is going to make it difficult to consistently avoided a topped shot. By correcting your swing plane and moving it into a more-neutral position, you should find that it becomes much easier to achieve solid contact.
- Head position often a factor. When you find that you are regularly topping the ball, there is a good chance that the position of your head during the swing is an issue. Specifically, it is likely that you are lifting your head up as the club approaches the ball. If your head and eyes come up in an effort to see the shot before it has left the club face, the level of your entire swing will rise, and you will be prone to hitting a topped shot. The classic golf tip that says you need to 'keep your head down' certainly applies in this case. You don't need to hold your head perfectly still during the swing – do so could limit your rotation and your power – but you do need to stay down until after the ball is gone. Coming up even a fraction of a second early can lead to disastrous results.
Watch for poor lies. While it is certainly possible to top a shot from any kind of lie, there is a greater likelihood of this shot appearing when you try to play from a bad lie. If the ball is sitting down in some grass, or if it is in a little depression in the ground on a relatively bare lie, you might to 'pick' the ball without really hitting down through it properly. This is when a topped shot will occur. Even if you have a poor lie, you need to stay down through the shot and give the bottom of the club a chance to move under the ball. Of course, you shouldn't try to hit a 'miracle' shot from any kind of poor lie, as trying to do too much is a recipe for trouble. When you do draw a bad lie, be smart and play a conservative shot with a solid swing that allows you to get out of trouble and back in position.
When you are out on the course, you aren't going to particular care why it is that you topped the ball – you are just going to want to make sure it doesn't happen again. To give yourself the best possible chance to steer clear of topped golf shots in all of your future rounds, review the following three ideas for how you can cure this frustrating mistake.
Cure #1 – A Quick Drawing
What does drawing have to do with curing the mistake of hitting topped golf shots? This tip might seem a little bit odd at first, but it will be effective for a great number of players. If you are having trouble with topped shots and you think excessive head movement might be to blame, consider drawing on your golf ball in order to correct the problem. What should you draw? Anything that will allow your eyes to focus on the ball rather than being tempted to look up prematurely.
Before your next round, consider taking a few moments to draw on some of your golf balls. While the subject matter of your drawings is totally up to you, it is important that you draw on several locations around the ball in order to make sure your drawing is visible no matter how the ball happens to be lying on the grass. Remember, you can't touch your golf ball once it is in play, so you won't be able to adjust it in order to expose a specific side of the ball. Draw in a few locations and you will be covered no matter how the ball stops.
Some ideas for your drawing project include something simple like your initials or your name, or the names of your children. If you are feeling more artistic, you could draw things like flowers, animals, or anything else you have the ability to recreate on a small sphere. The point is not the actual drawing, but what it represents – a point for you to focus on during the swing. Instead of a plain white ball to stare at, you will now have something interesting and personalized that you can use to hole your gaze until the ball has been struck.
To use this method successfully, you will need to include a step in your pre-shot routine where you 'lock on' to a spot on the ball with your eyes before the club goes in motion. As you are standing over the shot, pick out a specific part of your drawing to stare at during the swing. Then, as you swing, fully commit yourself to keeping your eyes on that part of the ball until impact has been made and the ball has flown off into the distance. This might not be easy at first, but it will get easier and easier as time goes by. With a bit of practice, you should find that it is no problem at all to hold your gaze on a specific marking on your golf ball as you swing. And, hopefully, once you start to use this method, you will notice that topped shots are no longer a part of your game.
Not only is this a good tip to help you avoid topping the ball, but it is also productive on the putting green. When putting, you shouldn't really have to worry about topping the ball – but keeping your head still remains an important fundamental to your success. To putt your best, you need to be as steady as possible over the ball. Do the same thing while putting as you did while making your full swing with regard to watching a specific spot on the ball and you will likely improve your performance on the short grass as well.
Cure #2 – A Ball Position Tweak
It is frustrating when the worst problems in your golf game can be solved by simple solutions. Once you do find the fix, you will probably spend weeks or months asking yourself the same question – 'why didn't I think of that sooner'? That is going to be the case with this point. To stop topping the golf ball, it may be that the only thing you need to do is move the ball a bit back in your stance.
Moving the ball back in your stance can be an effective way of curing the tops because it will change the point at which the bottom of your swing arc contacts the ground (or gets closest to the ground). If you are playing the ball too far forward in your stance currently, the club may already be on its way back up away from the ground by the time you reach the ball. If that is the case, you are going to be at risk of topping your shots. By moving the ball back slightly, you will be making contact closer to the bottom of your natural swing arc, which means you will have a much better chance of avoiding a topped shot.
Many players who hit shots with the ball relatively forward in their stance get comfortable with this setup and refuse to make adjustments later on – even though the setup is hurting their game. When the ball is forward in your stance, the only way you can make solid contact is by sliding your weight toward the target in the downswing. As you swing down from the top, you won't be able to reach the ball with rotation alone – so you have to slide to the left in order to put the club on the back of the ball. Even if you do so successfully, the slide will have cost you significant swing speed along the way. Or, if you don't slide all the way to the ball in time, you will hit a top. Either way, your game is going to be diminished by something as simple as positioning the ball in the wrong spot.
To correct this error, you should work on improving your ball position by starting with your shortest clubs first. With one of your wedges, hit a few shots on the driving range while having the ball directly in the middle of your stance. When you hit shots from this position, you will likely have an easy time avoiding topping the ball – even if you aren't particularly comfortable at first. Once you get comfortable hitting wedges from this position, gradually move up to longer and longer clubs while moving the ball forward in your stance an inch or so at a time. By the time you get to the driver, your ball position should be lined up off the inside of your left heel. So, in other words, every shot that you play from your driver on down to your wedges should come from a ball position that is between the inside of your left foot and the middle of your stance.
While adjusting your ball position could instantly remove the top from your game, it is not going to immediately turn you into a great player. You will have to work on learning your new ball positions and the new trajectories that they produce before you can really raise the level of your game. Adjusting your ball position is a big change that will force you to put in plenty of practice time before you can feel in control of your game once again. However, if faulty ball position is causing you to top shots currently, this is a change you are going to need to make.
Cure #3 – A Flat Left Wrist
The first two cures we have listed above – drawing on your golf ball, and adjusting your ball position – stayed away from the realm of mechanical tweaks to your swing. However, at some point, you may have to make a physical change in your swing if you are going to get rid of the tops. On that point, one of the most-important things you can do to ensure you hit the ball solidly is to get your left wrist into a flat position at impact.
You may have never before thought about your left wrist as an important part of the impact equation, but it is crucial to your ability to hit solid shots. When the club comes in contact with the ball at the bottom of the swing, your left wrist should be in a flat (or, at least, relatively flat) position. If there is a significant bend in the back of your left wrist – in other words, if it is cupped – you are going to struggle to hit the ball solidly. Countless amateurs have trouble with this point, which is why topping the golf ball is such a common problem.
So how do you get your left wrist into a flat position at the bottom of the swing? It all comes down to holding your angle properly. On the way down, you need to hold the angle that has been formed during your backswing between your left arm and the shaft of the club. At the top, your left arm and the club shaft should form roughly a 90* angle – and it is that angle which you need to maintain deep into the downswing. In fact, the angle should only be given up just prior to impact as you are about to strike the ball. Holding this angle for as long as possible will not only help you to avoid topping your shots, but it will also help you to deliver more club head speed at the point of impact.
While it is easy to say that you should hold your angle in the downswing, this is a point that has proven difficult to many amateur golfers to master. Most likely, you are going to have to put in some significant work on the driving range in order to actually swing the club in this manner. To give yourself a good chance at success, start by hitting short, soft shots with your wedges in order to get comfortable with the idea of lagging the club down toward the ball. Just pitch the ball 20 or 30 yards while focusing on that solid left wrist position at impact. As your confidence grows and your technique improves, gradually add more and more speed to the equation.
Topping the golf ball is no fun – that much goes without saying. Not only will your score quickly rise when you hit a few tops during a round, but you will probably feel embarrassed as well. However, you don't have to be stuck with topped shots for the rest of your golfing life. Put yourself to work on improving your swing by using the tips included in this article, and you should be able to find solid contact on an increasingly-consistent basis. Good luck!