You are on the golf course and you have a shot over water or a tree, or you just require height.
You take the appropriate club for the job and you are ready for the shot. You get to the top of the backswing and suddenly attempt to change what you would normally do by trying to lift the golf ball, therefore your body weight moves away from the target. This moves the centre of gravity behind the ball resulting in the ground behind the golf ball being first, in other terms, a fat shot, which is the golf club contacting the ground behind the ball.
Fault - This fault results in the golf ball only travelling a small percentage of the total distance and the golf ball tends to finish very short of the intended target. Leaning back and scooping the club under the golf ball to obtain height when hitting an iron results in poor weight transfer and inconsistent contact with the golf ball leading to a shot hit behind the ball. Fat golf shots can also lead the golfer into hitting more of the same shot, as without the correct guidance, the golfer could attempt to fix the problem by leaning back and scooping even more to get the golf ball airborne.
Fix - This drill is designed to help create the feeling of transferring the weight towards the target on the downswing and producing a much cleaner strike. This is just a practice drill. Do not attempt to do this drill in actual play. Set up to the golf ball as normal with any iron you struggle to strike well. Once you have set up to the golf ball, move the golf ball about three to four inches further forward toward 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. This may take some practice at first, and 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 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 you have practiced in the drill.
This will help improve the striking of the golf ball first, then the turf after the golf ball, and will fix the dreaded fat golf shot.
How to Stop Fatting Iron Shots
Hitting the ball fat is no fun at all. When you catch one of your iron shots fat – meaning you hit the ground before you hit the ball – the shot is almost certain to come up short of the target. This is an obvious problem, as you will frequently find hazards such as bunkers and ponds lurking short of the green, just waiting to swallow up your ball and add strokes to your score. One of the keys to playing good golf is catching the ball cleanly time after time, because that clean contact will allow you to hit your shots (roughly) the right distance. Every golfer hits the occasional shot thin or fat – it's just part of the game – but taking this mistake out of your game as much as possible will have a positive impact on your scores.
One of the difficulties that you will face when hitting fat shots with your irons is trying to figure out what is at the heart of the problem. This is an issue that can actually be caused by a variety of mistakes, so you won't immediately know what is going wrong until you work things out on the range. In the content below, we will highlight a few of the potential problems so you will know where to start looking when you head out to search for a fix for your fat shots. While the initial process of fixing your fat shots can be a little bit time consuming and frustrating, it should get easier every time – once you find the fix the first time, you will know the most likely place to look for answers should you fall back into the habit of hitting the ball fat.
The condition of the golf courses that you usually play will also have a role in how often you hit the ball fat. It is far easier to hit a fat shot on soft and/or wet fairways, as the ground will give easily under your club as you come in to the hitting area. So, for example, if you hit just an inch behind the ball on a wet fairway, the grass is likely to grab onto your club head and you will lose a significant amount of speed before you hit the ball. On the contrary, hitting an inch behind the ball on firm, dry fairways may be no problem at all, as your club might be able to skim the top of the grass and still catch quite a bit of the ball at impact. In this way, you can often 'get away' with hitting shots just a little bit fat on firm ground, where you will have no such forgiveness when the grass is soft. With that in mind, golfers who regularly play on soft conditions will have to be extra careful to catch the ball prior to the ground, as there will be serious consequences for shots hit fat on a wet course.
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.
The Hands Need to Win the Race
Before we get into the mechanical faults that can lead to fat iron shots, there is one crucial concept that you must understand – the hands need to win the 'race' against the club head down to the ball. What does that mean? Basically, as the club comes down toward impact, you can imagine that the club head and your hands are racing. In order to steer clear of fat shots, you need to make sure that your hands win this race each and every time. In other words, you need to get your hands over the ball before the club head reaches the point of contact. If you 'win' this race successfully with your hands, you will stand a great chance to hit the ball cleanly. If not, you will very likely make fat contact and the shot will come up short.
If you have ever heard another golfer, or perhaps a golf teacher, talk about 'lag' in the golf swing, they are talking about this very concept. By lagging the club head behind your hands on the way down, you create a downward path that makes it much easier to strike the ball solidly. Every professional golfer you see playing on TV has mastered the art of lag, and you need to work on it in your own game in order to both avoid fat shots and to add power to your game. Lag will unlock an impressive amount of power that wouldn't be available to you otherwise, and you just might be surprised to see how far you can hit the ball when you start to use the leverage that is offered through lag.
To work on helping your hands win the race down toward impact, start by hitting some short shots on the driving range with one of your wedges. By hitting short shots, the swing will slow down and you will be able to get a better feeling for how impact is achieved with the hands ahead of the ball. Even if you have to boil it all the way down to chip shots at first, it is important that you take the time to learn this concept. Once you figure out a way to get your hands to beat the club head to impact, you can gradually make longer and longer swings until you are all the way up to your full swing.
One of the challenges that you are likely to face related to this point is the fact that swinging your hands down in front of the club head will make your swing steeper – meaning it might feel like you are going to hit your shots fat, even though you are on a good track. This is why many golfers get 'tricked' into hitting fat shots. Since swinging down steeply feels like it could lead to a flat shot, many players flatten out their plane, only to catch the turf before the ball when the club head passes the hands. You are simply going to have to trust what you have learned and allow your hands to lead the way, even if that doesn't feel 'right' at first. Hopefully, after a few practice sessions, you will be able to trust what you are feeling and your downward angle of attack will lead to some great shots.
Three Likely Problems
If you are hitting fat shots, you are likely making one of three mistakes listed below. Of course, there is no guarantee that your underlying problem is actually going to be found on this list – the golf swing is a complicated movement and there are many other potential mistakes that you could be making. However, these three points are a great place to start, as they are the most common mistakes made by amateur players when it comes to hitting fat iron shots.
- Lack of lower body movement in the downswing. This is easily the #1 point on the list. If you are currently hitting a large number of your iron shots fat, you should first take a look at the way your lower body is working in the downswing. It is crucial for your lower body to turn aggressively toward the target in the downswing, as that rotation is going to move your center of gravity slightly to the left of the ball – which is exactly where it needs to be in order to strike a descending blow at impact. Players who are 'lazy' with their legs coming down are prone to hanging back to the right of the ball, meaning the club will bottom out too early and the shot will be hit fat. The lower body should be the first thing to get started moving left right from the top of the swing, so don't allow yourself to fall behind on this key fundamental. As soon as you reach the top of the swing, initiate your lower body rotation by turning your left hip open toward the target and keep that rotation going all the way through the shot.
- Leaning to the left in the backswing. A fat shot isn't always the result of a mistake that you make during the downswing – sometimes, the mistake is made much earlier in the action. In this case, leaning your body to the left during the backswing will put you out of position at the top of the swing, and in the process of trying to recover, you may hit the ball fat. If you are leaning left by the time you get to the top of your swing, your body is naturally going to work to get back on balance in order to avoid falling over. That means you are going to automatically shift some of your weight back to the right side, even as the club swings down toward the left. You will be essentially 'fighting yourself' in this kind of swing, and the results are rarely pretty. Most likely, the process of moving your weight back to the right will stop any lower body rotation that you might have had otherwise, and you will hit the turf before the ball. The fix for this problem is simply to stay on balance nicely in the backswing. You should strive to get to the top of the backswing with your weight nicely balanced between your feet. With balance at the top, you will be free to move aggressively to the left on the way down, and you will have a great chance to make clean contact.
- Lack of confidence. This point is difficult to address for many players, because obviously it can't be seen on a video tape or noticed by an instructor during a lesson. However, that doesn't change the fact that a lack of confidence in your swing is one of the leading causes of hitting the ball fat. When you lack confidence, it will be difficult to convince yourself to swing aggressively through impact – and without the necessary aggression, the club is very likely to come up short of the ball at the bottom of the swing. You have to be accelerating all the way from the top of the swing down to impact if you wish to make solid contact. To find confidence, you need to spend time on the range refining your technique so that you can believe it in when the time comes to hit the course. If you only ever go out to the course and you never spend time practicing, it is unlikely you will have the confidence you need to perform under pressure.
There is a good chance that the underlying cause of your fat iron shots can be found in one of the three points above. Work through these points one at a time in an effort to determine whether or not each is the actual problem that you are dealing with. Of course, it is possible that more than one of these issues is at play in your swing, so consider all of them equally with an open mind. Once you have done the homework necessary to diagnose your problem, you can then spend time on the practice range working toward a solution.
Check on Ball Position
Aside from the dynamic aspects of your swing, you can also create the possibility of a fat iron shot simply by placing the ball in the wrong spot in your stance. Specifically, if you put the ball too far forward at address, you will have trouble reaching the ball at impact, and a fat shot could result. To become a player who can consistently strike the ball cleanly swing after swing, hole after hole, you have to nail down your ball position during practice so that it doesn't change out on the course.
One of the tricky things about ball position is the fact that it is different from player to player. Depending on a number of variables within your swing, the ball position that you use may be different from that of other players on the course. For this reason, it would be a mistake to simply copy the ball position of another golfer – even if that player is an accomplished professional that you are watching on TV. Ball position is one of the most personal elements of golf, so don't try to copy others while working on your own.
To get started on the process of finding your ideal ball position, head to the driving range with a bucket of practice balls and at least a few irons. To start, take your pitching wedge from the bag and set up over a shot with the ball perfectly in the middle of your stance. For most players, a ball position in the middle of the stance is going to be a good choice with a wedge in hand. However, depending on the specifics of your swing, you may wish to move the ball slightly forward from that point. Hit a few shots and check on the results as you move your ball position around slightly. Don't move on to other clubs until you have settled on a position that you are happy with while using your wedge, as the position that you use for the rest of your clubs is going to depend on the starting point you establish with the short irons.
Now that you have a 'base' ball position that you can use for your short irons, you can start to hit longer and longer clubs while moving the ball forward slightly. For each extra club that you take, move the ball approximately an inch or so forward in your stance. So, a nine iron shot would be played from one inch in front of your wedge, and an eight iron would be two inches from the starting point that you have established. Continue with this pattern all the way up until you are swinging your longest iron, which will be played from near the front of your stance (often on a line coming out from the inside of your left foot).
Playing from a good ball position that is comfortable for your swing won't automatically lead you to avoiding fat shots, but it will be a big step in the right direction. Think of it this way – playing from a poor ball position is one of the 'ingredients' that can lead to a fat shot. Take that ingredient out of the recipe, and there is one less thing that can go wrong. When you combine solid in-swing fundamentals with good ball position and plenty of confidence, you will have a great chance to leave fat iron shots in the past.
Fat Shots in the Short Game
Making full swings with your irons is not the only time you can hit fat shots – it is certainly possible to hit fat short game shots as well. When chipping and pitching from around the green, it is critical that you make clean contact with the ball if you want to leave yourself a makeable putt. Unfortunately, many golfers catch their short game shots fat on a routine basis, which frequently leads to shots that come up short of the hole– in fact, a fat short game shot might not even get on the green at all. Needless to say, this is a serious problem in terms of trying to get up and down to save as many strokes as possible. It is the short game that has the biggest say in your score at the end of the day, so working hard to eliminate fat shots from chips and pitches should be at the top of your priority list.
The causes of fat shots in the short game are not all that different from the causes that we covered above for the full swing. One of the main causes that affects the short game is again a lack of confidence. Players who have doubt in their ability to hit good short game shots will often decelerate the club prior to impact, leading to fat contact. If you have ever 'flubbed' a chip shot from somewhere around the green, you know exactly how this feels. As you stand over the ball, you start to get nervous about hitting the shot cleanly, knowing that you have to pull it off just right in order to achieve a good result. With that fear in mind, you slow the club down prior to impact, and the shot is hit fat. Just as with the full swing, the best way to solve this crisis of confidence is through practice. Work on your chipping and pitching in the short game practice area to build up your confidence, and then rely on those positive feelings when on the course.
Also, you need to get your hands past the ball at impact in the short game just as you do in the long game. However, this point is much easier to accomplish successfully when chipping and pitching than it is when making a full swing. Since you can set your hands in front of the ball at address on a short shot, all you need to do is rock your shoulders back and forth to clip the ball cleanly and send it onto the green. To make this task a little bit easier, be sure to also lean slightly left at address to set up a downward angle that you can use to avoid any grass which may be guarding the back of the ball.
Hitting the ball fat is a problem that can do some serious damage to your scorecard. Fat shots rarely end up anywhere near the target – and often, they find their way into bad spots such as bunkers, water hazards, deep rough, and more. Use the instruction included above to work on correcting any mistakes you may be making in your game that could be leading to the dreaded fat iron shots. With some hard work and attention to detail, you just might be able to cross this issue off of your list of golf swing problems.