During the golf swing, there are very few fixed points of reference as the motion requires the movements of multiple body parts with hardly any staying still, the head, however, is a different matter.
Most of the greatest players throughout history have always kept their heads very still throughout the back swing and impact. This allows the swing to flow around a fixed point and stops any large amount of lateral movement back or through the ball.
During the wedge and iron swing where golfers need to strike down and through the ball, the head should be level with or slightly behind the ball during the back swing and down swing. As the club fires through impact, the head should be allowed to follow the natural body motion forward after the ball is struck. If the head was to hang too far back on a wedge or iron shot, there is chance of thinning or fatting the ball as the club arc will bottom out too soon. If the head moves forward of the ball at impact, bad strikes and a steeper angle of attack will be created. Keeping the head in a fixed position level or just behind the ball is a more consistent option. There are exceptions to this rule such as Lee Trevino whose head moved down and forward during impact. However, players like Trevino have highly individual swings, are the exception to the rule and should not be copied.
During the driver swing, it is even more essential to keep a nice stable head position. Because the driver has so little loft and the club shaft is so long it becomes even more important to keep the head slightly behind the ball at impact. The driver is different than the irons because the club arc bottoms out at a much shallower point (just above the ground) and for optimum drives, the ball should be struck slightly on the up. This is why the ball position for a driver is forward of center in the stance, just inside the left heel (for right handed golfers). This ball position allows the player to catch the ball slightly on an upward arc, sweeping the ball into the sky. If the head was to move forward of the ball at impact, the club arc would move forward, possibly causing the driver to strike down instead of up. Because of the already low amount of loft on the driver, a downward strike could cause an extremely low ball flight.
Although players can allow the head to move forward of the impact zone, after the ball has been struck every effort should be made to keep it level or slightly behind the ball when the ball is struck.
Should Head Move Beyond the Golf Ball at Impact?
Controlling the movement of your head in the golf swing is an important skill for any golfer to develop. While you may usually think more about other parts of your body – such as your arms, hands, shoulders, legs, and more – your head actually dictates a lot of what you are able to do with your swing. When your head 'behaves' properly from the start of the swing on through to the finish, the rest of your mechanics can begin to fall into place nicely.
In this article, we are going to talk about one specific part of your swing in relation to head position – the moment of impact. Where should your head be when you contact the golf ball? You certainly don't want to be thinking about this on the course during a round, it is something to monitor during your practice sessions. Managing to position your head properly at impact is going to make it easier to strike the ball cleanly time after time. There is very little in golf which is as important as clean ball striking, and the position of your head can help you sharpen your performance in this crucial area.
Even though we are going to work on your head positioning in this article, you should not lose sight of the rest of your fundamentals while practicing. Head position is just one of many important keys that you need to work on in your swing, and it would be a mistake to sacrifice other mechanics just to move your head into a certain spot. Remember, the golf swing is a complex motion with plenty of room for individual style and technique. Use the information below to take yourself in the right direction, but don't go so far as to change the rest of your swing to facilitate this one point.
One other warning which should be included in this introduction is this – don't rely too much on the techniques you see from the best golfers in the world. Yes, professional golfers can be a great resource of information and ideas for technique, but you shouldn't be trying to copy the swing of any one player. For instance, just because a specific player puts his or her head in a given spot at impact does not mean you have to do the same. There are plenty of ways to get the job done, and forcing yourself to copy one pro golfer's technique is a recipe for failure.
Once you have an understanding of what it is you are trying to do with your head in the swing, visit the practice range for a few sessions before you make a tee time. It is going to take some time to adjust to the changes you may be making, and you don't want to try making those adjustments on the course. Give yourself plenty of practice time to make the needed tweaks to your mechanics and only go back to the course when you are happy with your progress.
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.
Understanding the Basics
Before we get to the moment of impact, let's first walk through what your head should be doing leading up to that point. After all, if your head is not in the right position earlier in the swing, there is little to no chance that it will be positioned correctly when impact rolls around. Your golf swing builds gradually from address on through to the finish, and any mistake you make along the way is going to be reflected in the shots you hit. Take time to iron out your basic fundamentals on the range and your swing will be far more reliable on the course.
The following points outline the way your head should behave in the early stages of the swing.
- Chip up at address. There isn't much that you need to do specifically with your head when setting up over the ball, but you do need to make sure your chin is away from your chest. Many players make the mistake of forcing their chin down into their chest at address, and those players struggle to make a good shoulder turn as a result. With your chin up, you can move your left shoulder under your chin cleanly to make it all the way back to a full turn.
- Hold steady in the backswing. A good backswing is an incredibly simple action. You should be rotating your shoulders away from the target, you should be setting the club with your wrists – and that's about it. With regard to your head, the goal is to have as little movement as possible in this area of your body. When you hold your head still, you should be able to do a good job of staying on balance, and balance is key in the golf swing. It's okay to have just a small amount of lateral movement in your head while you swing back, but any major movements should be corrected immediately.
- Don't dip at the top. One of the biggest mistakes made with regard to head position in the golf swing is dipping during the transition. When the club changes directions at the top, many golfers allow their heads – and the rest of their upper bodies – to dip down closer to the ground. This is a big mistake. When you make this move, you change the entire level of your swing and it becomes far more difficult to achieve solid contact at the bottom. The transition should be led by hip rotation going forward while your upper body holds in place and lags behind. Letting your hip turn lead the way should make it easier for you to avoid the dreaded dip, and you will build extra power as well.
There is nothing included in the three points above which should be particularly difficult for you to handle. In fact, if you think about it, those points aren't asking you to do much of anything. As long as you keep your chin up at address and hold your head steady through the rest of the swing, you should be in good shape. Of course, everything in golf is easier said than done. You may understand what you need to do, but making it happen is another matter. Hard work on the range is going to be required if you want your head to remain in the proper place all throughout your swinging action.
Head Position, Balance, and the Bottom of the Swing
To understand where your head should be at impact, you need to know where the bottom of your swing arc is supposed to be located. Basically, you want your head to be directly above the bottom of your swing on each and every shot that you hit. Why? Simple – you will have a far easier time remaining on balance if your head and the bottom of your swing match up perfectly.
It is important to note that the bottom of your swing is not necessarily the point at which contact with the ball is going to be made. In fact, rarely will that be the case. Instead, you are usually going to make contact either slightly before or slightly after the bottom of your swing arc, depending on the shot at hand. Review the following points for a clear understanding of how the bottom of your swing relates to the point of impact on various shots.
- Hitting a driver. When hitting your driver from the tee, you want to make contact with the ball slightly after your swing has bottomed out. For this reason, most players will choose to place the ball up near the front of the stance. By positioning the ball somewhere around the inside of your left foot, you should have room to let your swing bottom out and move back up again slightly before you reach impact. Since you want your head to be directly over top of the bottom of your swing, you are obviously going to have your head behind the ball when you make contact. This is a classic position for players who hit long, accurate drives. The head stays back, the lower body leads the way, and the club explodes through the hitting area.
- Hitting an iron shot from the fairway. Playing an iron shot from the fairway is, in many ways, the opposite of hitting your driver from the tee. In this case, you need to hit down on the ball to get it up into the air, as you don't have the advantage of teeing the ball up before the swing. By definition, the bottom of your swing needs to be slightly in front of the ball when you hit down. Therefore, your head too should be just past the ball. However, your head placement should not be a result of any intentional movement to the left, but rather it should be past the ball simply because of the fundamentals of your swing. By staying over the ball in the backswing, and by playing your shots with a ball position near the center of your stance, it will be easy to have your head just beyond the ball at impact. Don't slide left in an effort to force your head in that direction – let the swing happen naturally and your head should be in the right spot thanks to your overall balance.
- Hitting chip and pitch shots. When chipping and pitching from around the green, you want to position your head in the same way that it will be positioned for full iron shots. You need to hit down on these short shots, so your head should be just past the ball at impact. Of course, there is little to no body motion during the chipping action, so you want to start with your head in front of the ball and leave it there until the shot is complete. Set up with your weight slightly on your left side to promote the downward hit and then use your arms and shoulders to rock the club back and through.
- Putting. This is the only time when you want to make sure that your head is directly over the top of the ball at impact. Since you want the putter to be moving parallel to the ground when you stroke your putts, it makes sense to set up with your head over the ball. There should be no lateral movement in your body during your putting stroke, so setting up with your head over the ball should mean it is still over the ball when the putt is struck. Do your best to keep your body as quiet as possible while your shoulders rock the putter. A good putting stroke is a simple putting stroke, so set up with your head over the ball and take out as much movement as possible. It is usually the players who move very little while putting that will come away with the best results.
What seems like a potentially complicated topic can actually be made very simple when you think about it as described above. For tee shots with the driver, keep your head just behind the ball at impact. On iron shots and chip shots, place your head slightly in front of the ball to promote a downward blow. On the greens, set up with your head right on top of the ball and make a steady, quiet stroke.
It could be difficult to evaluate the position of your head while practicing on the range or putting green, so consider enlisting the help of a friend. As you practice, ask your friend to watch your head position. Based on their feedback, you can make adjustments as necessary until you end up in the right spots. Also, you could choose to use video to take a look at your head positioning for yourself. It will take some serious effort to fine tune your head positioning, but that work should be rewarded with better play.
Gaining Control Over Your Swing
Generally speaking, amateur golfers are obsessed with distance. Many players will do just about anything possible to hit the ball as far as they can, and that desire winds up cause them to swing too hard. Not only does swinging so hard make it difficult to strike the ball cleanly, it makes it difficult to control the movement of your head as well. To gain control over your swing, and your head position at the same time, you would be well-served to turn down the effort you use to hit each shot.
You don't have to swing as hard as you can in order to maximize your distance potential. In fact, if you turn your swing down a bit, you may actually gain distance thanks to the improvements you will make in quality of contact and balance. Your body can rotate faster when you are on balance, so there may be more swing speed for you to work with in the end when you don't strain to force the club through the hitting area. Let the swing develop naturally and use your tempo and mechanics to create distance.
When you watch golf on TV, does it look like the professional golfers are swinging as hard as they possibly can? With a few exceptions, the answer to that question is no. Most pro players use smooth, relaxed swings which rely on excellent technique to create power. The average male professional golfer can move the ball nearly 300 yards from the tee, and some can hit it much farther than that. With so much power available from relaxed swings, it should be obvious that you don't need to go all out when hitting your shots.
During your next trip to the driving range, commit yourself to hitting all of your shots at something less than full effort. You will likely notice straight away that your ball striking is improved, and you may not hit any bad shots throughout your session. Even if you do lose a little distance, that loss will be more than made up for in the fact that you will have greater control over your ball flight.
The task of gaining control over your head position may be as simple as turning down the 'volume' on your swing a little bit. Players who have the discipline to swing softer on most shots will find that they have no trouble at all controlling the position of their head. It may take a few practice sessions to get used to these softer swings, but most players who make the change find that they love how the new swing feels in the long run.
If you think that your head position has become a problem in your game, but you can't quite pin down where you are going wrong, use the tips below to spot trouble.
- Hitting the ball fat. If you are regularly hitting your iron shots fat, there is a good chance that your head is hanging back to the right of the ball at impact. This comes down to what we discussed earlier about the position of your head matching up with the bottom of your swing. Hitting the ball fat means that your swing is bottoming out prior to impact – so it is almost certain that your head is staying back too far in the downswing. Work on holding steady in the backswing and then rotating hard to the left as your downswing begins. With the right body rotation toward the target, it will be nearly impossible to make this common mistake.
- Hitting the ball thin. Surprisingly, hitting the ball thin can be caused by the same mistake as hitting the ball fat. If your swing bottoms out before impact – but you miss the ground with the club head – you will hit the shot fat. The same advice from the previous point applies here. Work on that essential body rotation to the left and keep your head over top of your center of gravity to improve your ball striking.
- Taking deep divots. Some amateur golfers tend to unearth massive divots each time they hit an iron shot. If that sounds like you, it is likely that your head is too far to the left at impact. You are probably sliding toward the target, rather than rotating, and your swing is steep as a result. Focus on maintaining your head in a position which is over top of the ball throughout the backswing and in the early stages of the downswing. With better head control, your swing should shallow out and you will hit better shots.
Any of the three mistakes above are enough to frustrate even the most patient golfer. Fortunately, these issues may be solved just by working on your head position at the moment of impact. You don't want to get too far past the ball at the bottom of the swing, but you don't want to hang back too far either. Place your head somewhere near the position of the ball and you should be able to make decent contact at the very least.
To get back to the question posed in the title of this article, you don't really want to let your head move much beyond the ball at impact. Yes, it should be just slightly beyond the ball when hitting iron shots, but only slightly. If you go much farther than an inch or two to the left of your ball position, a steep swing will be the result. Do your best to keep your head steady in the swing, and always maintain your balanced. By making a balanced swing which places your head over top of the bottom of your swing arc, it will be easy to create the right kind of impact for the club you are holding. Good luck!