Generally speaking, hitting drives high in the air is a good thing. But problems arise (so to speak) when the ball “balloons,” meaning it starts relatively low and flies higher and higher before falling steeply and rolling very little.
Ballooning is caused by too much backspin, robbing your drives of both carry distance and roll. It's especially problematic playing into the wind, which causes the ball to spin even more. If you notice a ballooning pattern in your tee shots, your equipment could be the issue. Specifically, if your driver's shaft is too flexible for your swing speed, it may produce excess spin.
More likely, the cause lies in your setup and swing. Striking the ball with a downward blow is good with the irons, but not the driver. Ideally you'll catch the ball on the upswing, or at least on a flat angle, to launch it high with minimal spin (hence the “high-launch, low-spin” mantra often heard these days).
Here's the correct setup to eliminate ballooning and hit longer drives:
- Tee the ball high, with at least half the ball appearing above the top edge of the clubface.
- Play the ball opposite your left heel (right heel for left-handed golfers).
- Hover the club behind the ball, holding the clubhead slightly off the ground.
- Make sure your spine is tilted a touch to the right, with your right shoulder below the left. This will happen naturally if the ball is positioned properly.
When swinging, focus on keeping your head behind the ball through impact, and “chasing” the club toward the target through the shot. This will prevent you from coming up and out with the left shoulder.
What is a Ballooning Ball Flight and How Do You Fix It?
The ball flight you use to get around the golf course is going to have a lot to do with the score you post at the end of the day. There are a number of ball flights that can lead to great scores, but you need to be able to repeat yours over and over again. Also, you need to avoid using one of the ball flights that makes it difficult to score well, such as a large slice or a quick hook. In addition to those obvious problems, another ball flight can make it hard to play well even though it doesn't look that damaging – the ballooning ball flight.
A ballooning ball flight is one that climbs and climbs higher and higher into the air, before eventually falling nearly straight down back to the ground. At first, you might think this ball flight looks pretty good. After all, the ball soars way up into the air, which means it is going to land softly, and the ball usually doesn't curve significantly in one direction or the other. However, if you have ever tried to play with this ball flight, you will know that it actually has several drawbacks. In most cases, players who are fighting with a ballooning trajectory will struggle to reach their goals on the course.
One of the main problems with a ballooning ball flight is the lack of distance that will accompany it. As the ball spins higher and higher into the air, it is spending more of its energy going up than it is going toward the target. You might hit your shots impressively high with this kind of ball flight, but you will almost always be disappointed in the distance they eventually travel. A driver that it hit on a ballooning path may struggle to even go 200 yards, and your short iron and wedge shots can be particularly short-traveling as well. You don't have to be a long bomber in order to play good golf, but you do want to have at least a modest amount of distance to get yourself around the course. With a ballooning trajectory resulting from your swing, it will simply be difficult to get the distance you need to score well.
Another one of the big problems with this ball flight is the wind. If you are playing on a windy day, your shots are going to be left up to the whims of the breeze. You won't be able to control your ball once it is up in the air, so the wind will be free to blow it around until it comes back down – likely nowhere near your original target. Playing good shots in the wind is part of being a quality golfer, so this is a major issue. In order to have your game ready for the various conditions you may encounter on the course, you need to know how to keep the ball down when necessary.
In the content below, we will cover the causes and cures of a ballooning ball flight. All of the instruction you will find is based on a right handed golfer, so be sure to reverse the directions if you happen to play left handed.
What Leads to a Ballooning Flight?
Simply put, a ballooning ball flight is the result of too much spin. Backspin is generally considered to be a good thing in golf, but it is almost always possible to have too much of a good thing – and that is certainly the case here. When there is too much backspin on your golf shots, the ball will climb straight up into the air without traveling very far down the fairway. So, the goal then is obviously to figure out how to take spin off of your shots in order to bring your ball flight back down to a reasonable level.
Backspin is a result of hitting down into the ball, so you may need to change the path of your downswing in order to reduce your spin rate. When you hit down on the ball, the ball actually compresses against the face as it is launched off into the distance. Hitting down steeply will cause the club to pass a high rate of backspin to the ball, leading to the potential of a ballooning shot. While hitting down on the ball to create some spin is a good thing, you have to be careful to avoid hitting down too much through impact. There is a fine line between an appropriate amount of spin and too much, and it is your job as a golfer to walk that line successfully.
You shouldn't need to do much other than watch your current ball flight to decide if you are ballooning your shots with your present swing. In fact, you probably don't even need to hit any shots – you likely know how your ball flight looks just from memory. If you feel that you are currently floating the ball too high up into the air, now is the time to take action to make the necessary corrections. The content below will get into the specifics of how you can change your swing technique in order to shallow out your approach to impact in order to flatten your overall shot shape.
There is another part of this discussion that needs to be mentioned first, however, and that has to do with equipment. Specifically, there are two elements of your golf equipment which can play a large role in creating a ballooning ball flight – your club shafts, and the golf ball you use. Each of these pieces of gear have a lot to say about the ball flight that eventually results from your swing. When using the right ball and right shafts for your swing, an excellent ball flight can be the outcome. Unfortunately, if you have the wrong ball or wrong shafts, you can get all kinds of bad results – including a ballooning trajectory.
- Problems with the golf ball. If your golf ball is too soft for your swing speed, it will likely carry too much spin and balloon up into the air. Golf balls come in a variety of firmness levels to suit the needs of various golfers. Golfers who have a high swing speed need a firmer ball in order to achieve optimum results, while golfers who swing slower should be using a softer ball. There will be a little bit of experimenting required in order to find the right golf ball for your swing, but you should be able to stick with the same model for a long period of time once you find a winner. Finding the right golf ball for your swing should help you in terms of both distance and trajectory, so this is a point that is worth your time and effort to get exactly right.
- Problems with the club shaft. The problem that you may be having with the shaft in your clubs is actually much the same as the issue that you could be having with the golf ball. If your club shafts are too soft, they will bend excessively in the downswing, and you will hit the ball too high in the air with too much spin. This is another case of needing to get your equipment just right, as a club with a shaft that is too stiff will also cause issues. For the best possible results, consider working with a professional club fitter who will help you find locate a set of shafts which will compliment your swing perfectly. Once you have shafts that are neither too stiff or too soft, your ball flight should come into shape nicely (especially when paired with the right ball).
There are both swing technique issues and equipment issues that can lead to a ballooning ball flight. Fortunately, all of these problems can be solved by spending a little bit of time and effort addressing the issue. You might be hitting a ballooning ball because of a faulty swing, or because you are using the wrong gear – or both. Take a close look at your game to decide which path of improvement is going to lead you to success.
Flattening Out Your Swing
If you have decided that a steep swing is at least in part to blame for your ballooning shots, you will need to find a way to shallow out your path through the hitting area. The good news is this – you shouldn't need to rebuild your entire swing just to accomplish this goal. Even by making just a few minor tweaks, you can successfully come into the ball on a flatter plane without overhauling your whole swinging action. Use the tips below to take steps in the right direction on this point –
- Maintain knee flex throughout the swing. Your knees should be slightly flexed as you address the golf ball before starting the swing, and they should remain that way until after you have struck the shot. Proper knee flex will keep your body in position throughout the swing, and it will help to shallow out your angle of approach successfully. Most amateur golfers lose their knee flex during the transition from backswing to downswing, so pay particular attention to this part of your mechanics. As long as you can hold your knee flex properly through the transition, it should be relatively easy to keep it steady all the way down into impact.
- Keep your hips turning left. Another way to create a steep golf swing is to stop the rotation of your lower body as you come down into the ball. Your hips should keep turning aggressively all the way through the downswing and into the follow through. If you stop turning on the way down, your hands and arms will be forced to the outside, and they will then come down steeply into the ball. Focus your attention on the left hip in your downswing – as long as it keeps moving, you should be able to come into impact on an appropriate plane.
- Stand slightly farther from the ball. This last tip is the easiest of the three to put into use, but it just might be the most effective. If you would like to flatten out your approach into impact, simply stand slightly further away from the ball at address. This increased distance between your body and the ball will work to automatically flatten your swing, as you will have to swing around your body in order to reach the ball comfortably. When you stand close to the ball, an upright swing is automatically encouraged – which is what you are trying to avoid in this case. Even moving just an inch or two farther away from the ball will do wonders for your swing plane change.
The first step in this process is simply getting comfortable with the idea of swinging into the ball on a flatter plane. Once you are comfortable with that style of swing, you can then work on learning how this change in swing plane has affected your ball flight. With any luck, you will find that this change to your technique has successfully eliminated the ballooning ball flight from your game.
Adjusting to a Flatter Flight
Through a combination of better equipment and an altered swing path, you should be able to get your ball flight to come back down closer to earth. Once that objective has been accomplished, however, your work isn't exactly finished. Now that you have a ball flight you are happy with, you have to learn how to use it in order to shoot good scores. After all, there is no point in finding a way to develop a good ball flight if it isn't going to lead to better results. Use the tips below to get the most out of your new and improved trajectory.
- The ball will fly farther. This is the first point that you need to understand, and it is also the most important. When you start to hit the ball lower while creating the same swing speed, you are going to inevitably hit the ball farther. This is good news of course, but it will also require you to adjust your distances in order to pull the right club the majority of the time. If you are basing club selections on your old distances, you might find yourself flying the ball clear over the green on a regular basis. Quickly adjust your distance expectations to your new ball flight in order to place your ball in position to make pars and birdies.
- Plan on more bounce and roll. This point is either a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Off the tee, added bounce and roll will simply mean more distance, which is almost always a good thing. On the other hand, extra bounce and roll on your approach shots can make it a bit more difficult to stop the ball near the target. Fortunately, there shouldn't be much change in the way the ball behaves after landing when you are hitting short irons and wedges. The biggest change you will notice is in the way the ball acts when it lands after a long iron, fairway wood, or driver shot. Take the bounce and roll into account when you are picking your target for any long shot that you face.
- Less wind effect. Now that you are hitting the ball on a lower trajectory, you won't have to plan on the wind having as much of an effect on your shots. Of course, the wind is still going to be a factor that needs to be considered, but it won't be as influential as it was previously when your ball was ballooning into the air. When you find that you are playing a shot into the wind, try moving the ball back in your stance slightly to bring the flight down even lower to the ground.
- Think twice about hitting over trees. One of the few advantages of a ballooning ball flight is the ability to hit the ball over trees with relative ease. Now that you are hitting the ball flatter, you might not be able to clear trees that you once went over without a problem. Unless you are absolutely sure that you can clear a tree with your shot, the better choice is to play around the obstacle and keep your ball out of trouble.
Golf is a game of constant adjustments. Even though you have made your game better by getting rid of the ballooning ball flight, you are still going to have to learn how to play properly with your new flight. If you don't adjust to the new flight you are now featuring, you may find that your scores don't come down at all – despite your better trajectory. Take the time to learn how to play with this new and improved flight so that you can get everything possible from your game.
Going Back Up
Here is the ironic point when it comes to getting rid of your ballooning ball flight – from time to time, you might actually want to hit the ball way up into the air. So, after all of the work that has gone in to eliminating the ballooning shot from your game, you will now want to work on your ability to hit it high on command. This is never a shot that you are going to want to feature as your go-to ball flight, but it is important for any golfer to be able to hit a high approach shot from time to time.
The first thing you should do when you want to create a high shot is to move the ball up in your stance. This will allow you to hit it high the 'right' way, rather than hitting it high due to excess spin. You will catch the ball on a flatter plane when you move the ball up, which will allow you to use all of the loft on the club. However, since you need to be able to reach the ball in order to hit it cleanly, make sure to keep your balance throughout the swing. If you lean a little bit right in the backswing, you will never be able to get back to the left far enough to hit to shot properly. Balance is always important in golf, but it is specifically critical when you try to hit the ball high.
Once the ball is moved up in your stance, you then will need to open up the face of your club slightly. You don't want to lay the club face wide open as if you were hitting a bunker shot, but you do need to add loft in order to get maximum height out of your trajectory. Also, you may wish to open up your stance slightly, which will encourage the kind of outside-in path required to send the ball way up into the sky. Between an open club face, an open stance, and a forward ball position, you will be well on your way to a high ball flight. As long as you are able to make clean contact while staying nicely balanced, you should be able to look up to see the ball climbing way up into the sky.
There aren't very many good things that you can say about a ballooning ball flight. Sure, the ball flies high in the air, but you don't have very much control over it – and it will rarely travel a good distance toward the target. If you would like to improve your game consistently moving forward, one of the best things you can do is to eliminate your ballooning ball flight. Using the information provided above, combined with plenty of practice time, you should be able to lower your flight and play better golf in the very near future.